3 Days in North Carolina: Sights, Eats, & More

Hello there, blog friends. It has been a while. So how have your last two weeks been? Good?

An aerial view of the clouds with a wingtip of a plane.

Mine too. Between Ohio and Tennessee and North Carolina, I’ve been getting to be a pro at vacation.

An image of an isolated pathway in a park.

A pro, I tell you. I’ve eaten well, in the homes of friends and in quality restaurants; I’ve seen new places, from Nashville parks to Durham campuses; I’ve, mostly, spent time with great people, all over the country, and I’ve loved every bit of it.

An image of a tree with the rays of the sun peeking through.

Now, while I work on getting good at other things — namely, the everyday tasks of working and cooking and so on — why don’t we talk about my last trip, the one to the Research Triangle of North Carolina, a destination chosen for, what else, the food.

An image of a pool with cabanas at the side and at the back the hotel building.

It was the most relaxing vacation I’ve taken in years, one which we did little else but eat and lounge around, a practice that has seriously opened my eyes to what vacation is supposed to be like.

A close up image of a plate filled with potato fries and a delicious sandwich.

So in true Food Loves Writing form, here are all the details:

The HOTELS: We left last Wednesday and returned Saturday, for a grand total of three nights in three different hotels, all totally free with credit card reward points that my generous dad saves up for my brother and me to use.

An image of a facade of a hotel in North Carolina.

Night One: The Carolina Inn, 211 Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill // Night Two: The Franklin, 311 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill // Night Three: The Umstead Hotel & Spa, 100 Woodland Pond Drive, Cary.

An outside view of an entrance of a hotel in North Carolina.

Of those three, The Umstead was my favorite hands down, not just because it was GORGEOUS but because of the workout room (which I really did use, I swear), the restaurant, the pool where people brought me ice water and spray misters and frozen grapes on sticks. Now that is vacation.

An image of an elegantly designed interior of a hotel.

As far as the RESTAURANTS: we ate our first dinner at Lantern Restaurant, which was walking distance from The Carolina Inn, and split the drunken chicken, a beef special and chaat — a mix of organic cauliflower, chickpeas, potatoes, pickled red onions and mint chutney.

An image of a dish of split the drunken chicken topped with green peas.

Lunch Thursday was probably my favorite meal, only partly because it was at Watts Grocery, 1116 Broad Street, an adorable Durham spot focused on locally sourced ingredients, mostly from within a two-hour radius away. It was also where we met up with my long-time blog/food/LOST/how-have-we-not-met-already friend Kendra, of My First Kitchen.

A collage image of a Watts grocery entrance, menu board, and different plates of food.

(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Kendra is every bit as awesome in real life as she seems from her blog: totally sincere and open, transitioning from serious topics like the false perceptions we have of ourselves to practical ones like how her family’s getting beef from a local farmer. She told me about how she met her husband, what got her interested in starting a business, how she wants everyone to be able to find something they are passionate about and love.

A close up image of various small servings of side dishes.

After two easy hours of conversation, I walked away so grateful for blogging and the people it’s brought into my life — all of you reading included — and I still get a little overwhelmed thinking about it.

A beautiful dish of cucumber slices and meat.

Plus, the next day, Kendra wrote a recap post of our lunch that made me full-on cry while I read it on my phone in the rental car. I want to say she’s kind, but it’s really more than that: she’s incredibly generous with her time and her words and the way she communicates.

A close up image of a colorful salad dish.

It amazes me. Anyway. Moving on.

Other meals: Thursday dinner at Coquette Brasserie, 4351 The Circle at North Hills, Raleigh: highly rated French food right off a shopping mall, with ambiance that’s Cheesecake Factory meets small bistro.

A close up image of a meat dish drenched in thick delicious sauce.

We split steak frites, a beet salad and croquettes. // Friday breakfast courtesy of our hotel, The Franklin, 311 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill: eggs sunnyside up, a spinach-cheddar-onion omelette // Friday dinner at The Umstead Bar (because the hotel was so gorgeous, we didn’t want to leave), 100 Woodland Pond Drive, Cary: a cheese tray, boneless pork ribs, a B.L.T., a roast natural hen with morels and sweet peas, some crazy chocolate dessert with apricots and pistachios; all the photos below are of that final meal.

An image of creamy scoops of delicious pistachio ice cream.
And there’s more!

Lunch Saturday was at Market, 938 Blount, Raleigh, a restaurant that calls itself West Coast-inspired and features all natural, unprocessed foods from local sources. (Bonus! It’s right next to Escazu Chocolate, a Raleigh-based artisan chocolate maker whose dark chocolate bar with sea salt was so good, we bought it and split it twice!)

A close up image of a white plate of tempting chocolate dessert.

At Market, we had zucchini latkes with avocado creme fraiche, a pan-fried fish sandwich with a side of kale chips, a roasted vegetable sandwich on hearty grain bread, fresh strawberries and cracked black pepper with a balsamic glaze on mascarpone ice cream, coconut and avocado gelato topped by Escazu chocolate curls.

A close up image of a delicious creamy dessert.

Somewhere in the midst of all the eating and lounging, we also saw some pretty downtowns, beautiful flowers, even the state farmers market on the hot, hot, hot, hot, Saturday morning.

An image of the entrance of Farmers Area in North Carolina.

And then, just like that, vacation was over, and I was back home — well, that’s not true. It was more like, after five hours at the Raleigh Durham Airport and a crazy delayed flight and a few hours flying through the sunset and over thunderstorms, I was home, finally, at 10 PM Saturday night, happy to be back.

A close up image of delicately colored blooms.

I mean it. I’ve missed you all.

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.

23 thoughts on “3 Days in North Carolina: Sights, Eats, & More

  1. oooh, that is a perfect weekend. that’s my home and where my heart is, and i miss it so. so glad you had enjoyed the triangle — it’s got so much to offer. i yearn for it often.

  2. What a wonderful vacation. I am absolutely jealous, and totally thrilled. Some day, I hope we will get to do that whole “oh yeah we can be real life friends too” thing. Some day! I do want to see Chicago, I really do!

  3. ahh carolina on my mind!

    i lived in asheville during college and i miss carolinians enthusiasm for the eat local movement, i miss the farmers markets and how GREEN it is there. while chicago has its ups, carolina has better ups.

  4. Yay! So nice to see you back here. 🙂

    I love reading your vacation recap posts; they totally whisk me away from my decidedly non-vacation-y week, and give me so many interesting ideas to feed my wanderlust (literally and figuratively; your meals are to die for). How great that you got to meet a sweet fellow blogger, too!

  5. That looks like some lovely traveling! I’m still in awe over the frozen grapes on sticks 🙂 What a beautiful picture of you, too!

  6. Oh my gosh! All of these photos are amazing. I cannot wait to visit North Carolina. I hear nothing but amazing things about it and you definitely seconded that!

  7. Love, love, love this post. I’ve been dying to visit North Carolina, TN, Georgia…I’ve really never been to the South (besides Austin, TX which I’m not really sure counts) and have been trying to find a good excuse to go. It is a bit of a haul all the way from California. But I’m absolutely bookmarking this fabulous post and going to try and work to get there soon–maybe in the fall when it’s not quite so hot??

  8. You packed a lot of fun into those three days! My husband LOVES chaat, so I’ll be adding the lantern to my NC list of places to eat! Actually I’ll be adding everything because that food looks good! LOL.

  9. redmenace – thank you!

    Elizabeth – well happy birthday! hope you have a lovely time!

    Cate – Glad I could give ya a little taste of home!

    Jacqui – Glad to be back! Thanks, friend!

    Kim – Oh, I agree. Someday!

    Nikki – You are so welcome! Thanks for reading about it!

    Bodelou – Yes, that is what I appreciated, too. Eating locally must be a lot easier down there, what with all the farms and so on… it makes me a little jealous!

    Maddie – You are such an encourager. Thank you for your sweet, sweet words!

    Sue – Ha! Right? I think I have talked about it approximately 28 times since. I’m easily amazed. 🙂 And thanks about the picture – I totally get going curly down there… my hair refused to do anything else!

    Jessica – I’m so glad you enjoyed them!

    Megan – Seriously, you read my mind. Go in the fall! I bet it would be GORGEOUS and so much more enjoyable to walk around. Thanks for your very encouraging comment, btw. I loved reading about your China trip, too!

    Kamran – thank you so much!

    TJ – It was my first experience with chaat, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I liked it!

    Kasey – Indeed. I hope you have a wonderful time, wherever you’re going. Seeing new places is so fun.

  10. hi shannalee – just found your blog and love reading it so far! i had to skip back a few posts when i saw your RTP trip. i’m from NC but now live in Chicago and have for 6 years. I miss so many things about it, and who knows, one day may end up back in raleigh after all. i wasn’t a big “foodie” then, but things have certainly changed since i lived there with all the new rest’s. i do remember the farmer’s market though :).

    can’t wait to keep reading your stories and the great recipes – love the natural focus and am impressed that you’ve been able to successfully, gracefully do it !

  11. I live in Raleigh and found your blog. I have eaten at the Carolina Inn – fabulous food and beautiful. Also, have eaten at Watts since my return. If you are ever back – Mez, 411 West, 518 West, Fosters Market are all great local places to eat. I love Chapel Hill best out of the area. Durham Farmer’s Market is amazing and local – much more local than the Raleigh one (but smaller). Thanks for highlighting my area. I love RDU – it is an amazing place to live and eat and have fun!

    • Hi ReCookie, I’m not sure what camera I was using in 2010. Did I have a dSLR yet or was I using a point-and-shoot? I can’t remember. Regardless, I can tell you that we currently use a Canon 40D!

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