Restaurant News & Reviews

Repasts gone, not forgotten

Halloween -- what better time to take a stroll through the gastronomic graveyard and pay our respects to restaurants whose stoves have gone permanently cold. Bwaaahahaha -- I mean, join me, won't you?

Here, near the cemetery entrance, we find the fresh earth mounds of the recently interred. There's Joe & Jo's Downtown, a little Durham eatery that has surely already donned angel wings on the strength of the heavenly burgers it served. Nearby is Jezebel's, a North Raleigh seafood place that served up some mean soft shell crabs in its day, but whose unfortunate name may raise questions at the pearly gates. And over there is the aptly named Ever Which Way, whose menu was all over the place. Let's hope it finds its direction in the afterlife.

Walk with me a little farther, and we come upon those establishments that have succumbed over the past decade or so. They're a diverse lot, and you'll search in vain for a common thread explaining their demise. For every Hartman's Steak House cut down in its prime, there's a Pyewacket finally giving up on the hippie vegetarian dream. For every Aurora, which glowed for two decades before its sun finally set, there's a Southern Star, whose brilliant flash was extinguished in mere months. For every Butterflies, which soared to gourmet heights never before seen in North Raleigh, there's the down-to-earth Ballentine's Cafeteria inside the Beltline.

Over there, in that shady corner under headstones so weathered you can barely make out the names and dates, are the cemetery's oldest residents. There's the Frog and Nightgown, a popular nightspot that croaked after a decade - I think the stone says 1968-1977 - in Cameron Village. There's the Flying Cloud, a favorite venue for sorority formals, which sank during that same period. And there's Villa Teo, where the legendary Bill Neal worked before winning national acclaim at Crook's Corner.

Only the bravest souls dare venture into the other corner of the cemetery, which is said to be haunted. Every full moon, they say, you can hear the howling ghost of Coyote Café, a Southwestern restaurant that used to pack them in on weekends in Cary. Spookier still is Est! Est! Est!, an Italian restaurant in downtown Raleigh that closed in 1997 after 13 years - that's right, 13. Six years later, the restaurant rose from the dead, reopening in the very spot where it had originally gone under. Est! Est! Est! closed again last year, but was it for the last time? Who knows?

Of course, these are just a few of the Triangle's dearly departed culinary souls. As you look across row upon row of headstones, you might spot one or two that you remember. Feel free to share your memories on my blog at blogs.newsobserver.com/epicurean - if you dare, that is. Bwaaahahaha!

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