Downtown Raleigh is all abuzz about Busy Bee Café (225 S. Wilmington St.; 424-7817; www.busybeeraleigh.com), which opened April 6 in a renovated historic building. The restaurant is owned by David "Woody" Lockwood and Chris Powers, both formerly with Rocky Top Hospitality (which operates Michael Dean's and Bogart's, among others), and real estate developer David Meeker. The partners named their restaurant for the Busy Bee Cafe that inhabited the building in the 1920s.
But the new Busy Bee is emphatically not your grandfather's -- or even your father's -- café. It's a multilevel, multifunction gathering place that caters to the wants and needs of the modern urban professional crowd from sun up to long past sundown.
On the first floor is a coffeehouse/restaurant/bar that begins serving pastries and Counter Culture coffee at 6 a.m. At the back of the room, stairs lead up to a mezzanine, where wireless Internet access is available. A separate entrance leads to the upstairs Hive bar, where live music and DJ play on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights. A rooftop patio affords a honey of a view of the downtown skyline (and the option to smoke, if you like; indoors is smokefree).
Chef Jeremy Clayman, whose Southern-inflected molecular gastronomy wowed foodies at The Mint, has taken a more mainstream direction at the Busy Bee. Mainstream, that is, but hardly boring. Clayman's streamlined offering of small plates, sandwiches, salads and large plates covers the spectrum from beet, goat cheese and orange bruschetta to salade niçoise to tomato risotto to organic chicken with hoppin' John and collards, all within the space of a single page. If there's anything retro about this menu, it's the prices, which range from $2 for Tater Tots (gotta smile at that one) to $14 for steak frites.
Just as impressive is the bar, whose intoxicating nectars include a small, delightfully quirky wine list and specialty cocktails such as the Queen Bee (Plymouth gin, honey, elderflower liqueur, pineapple juice, lemon juice and champagne, shaken and served up). The selection of draft and bottled beers rivals the best in town in terms of variety and quality, with Belgians a particular strong suit. Powers, who assembled the list, is eagerly awaiting delivery of an authentic Berliner Weiss that he custom ordered from Aviator Brewing Company in Fuquay-Varina.
What's that, you say? You've never heard of Aviator Brewing Company (5633-C Piper Drive; 975-5310; aviatorbrew.com)? That's understandable. Brewmaster John Doble (who happens to be a hobby airplane pilot) just opened the brewery in late November in a hangar at the Triple W airport.
If you're a fan of local brews, though, it won't be long before you're familiar with the Aviator label. The beers -- a diverse assortment from Hot Rod Red (an unusually hoppy Irish ale) to Old Bull Dog ESB to Devils Tramping Ground Tripel -- are already showing up on the taps at several local pubs.
Of course, you could always just pay the brewery a visit when it's open to the public, Thursday-Saturday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Better still, drop in for a brew tour (with free sample!) Saturdays from 3:15 p.m. to 4 p.m.