It's been the week of the phoenix in the local restaurant scene. In the past seven days, two area restaurants have risen from the ashes of their previous incarnations and opened their doors again.
Pending health inspections, Poole's Downtown Diner (426 S. McDowell St.; 832-4477; www.poolesdowntowndiner.com) is finally on schedule to reopen today after several months of delays. New owner Ashley Christensen has spiffed up the dining room but wisely retained the retro look, including the '50s vintage double horseshoe counter and chrome stools.
The weekly evolving menu, however, is anything but a rehash of the previous Poole's offering. Christensen, whose work as chef at Enoteca Vin has garnered national praise, is serving up an earthy offering that might be described as Southern-diner-meets-French-bistro. On the opening weekend's menu, that translated to a starter selection that included smoked pork French onion soup, mussels in Dijon cream sauce, and duck hearts with sherry and bacon, followed by entrée options such as wine-braised short rib pot roast, calf's liver with rosemary pan gravy, fried flounder and venison meatloaf with juniper sauce.
The menu, which is written on bistro-style chalkboards, reflects the chef's strong emphasis on local and organic produce. And her famous attention to detail shows in everything from side dishes such as cider-braised local greens and buttermilk fried (red) Sunburst tomatoes to house-churned butter. Even the cocktails are made with freshly squeezed juices and garnishes cut to order. The bar also dispenses a rotating selection of two artisanal draft beers (one light, one dark) and a thoughtfully chosen, reasonably priced selection of wines by the glass.
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Poole's is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to midnight Wednesday-Saturday, with a late-night bar menu available until 2 a.m. The restaurant also serves Saturday brunch.
Meanwhile in Morrisville, Rub's Smokehouse has been reincarnated as Smokey's Shack (10800 Chapel Hill Road; 469-1724; www.smokeysshack.com). The name is about the only thing that has changed, according to Kim Lee, who reopened the barbecue joint with new partner Kevin Mote on Dec. 5. The menu, whose Memphis style spareribs, beef brisket and pulled pork earned a cultlike following among barbecue aficionados, is substantially unchanged. Even the wait staff have returned to work. Or, as the jocular Lee puts it on the restaurant's answering machine, returning Rub's fans can expect "the same great food and the same questionable service." Also like Rub's, Smokey's is open Monday-Friday, for lunch only (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
Greg Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org