“I don’t know when we will re-open…” the woman sputtered out over the phone. There was a brief silence, some muffled tears and then she hung up. It was the fall of 2009 and I had called up to check on my lunch favorite, Korean Grill Buffet up on Capital Boulevard. During my last attempt to visit, a “Closed Due to Remodeling” sign was hung up at the front door so we waited a couple of weeks before trying again for lunch. But I figured it would be wise to call beforehand and there you go. Korean Grill Buffet, a wonderful, family run restaurant that offered All You Can Eat (AYCE) Korean barbeque and Korean favorites like japchae and bulkogi was probably no more.
And I was angry, probably hungry too, but how could a great restaurant like KGB (my affectionate abbreviation) not survive? How could people not appreciate this wonderfully delicious Korean food at a total bargain price? And that’s when I decided I needed to do something, I needed to start food blogging and help tell the story for these great restaurants in the Triangle that were NOT getting credit and exposure to the general dining population.
And that’s the origins of how 10 years ago, I jumped into the food blogging scene for the Triangle. Starting out as Foodalicious Follies, I moved from off the cuff Yelp reviews to a format where I could tell a fuller story and offer up higher quality pictures to support restaurants I cared for. I can tell you that over the past 10 years of blogging and social media that a LOT has changed in the Triangle food scene. Mostly good, some not so good but that’s part of life and moving forward. With all the exposure this region gets showing up on Top 10 lists and articles in national publications, the dining and restaurant scene has really taken off along with all the people moving in!
But it wasn’t always that way. Back in 2009, the region was just entering the national recession along with the rest of the country. And all those cranes you see in the area?! There wasn’t much of that heavyweight building construction, either! Smaller developments like the Bloomsbury Estates in Raleigh would literally give you a Mazda Miata if you bought a condominium! What a difference 3,500+ days can mean and it got me a bit nostalgic about what has changed since I started blogging 10 years ago and what you may have missed…
- I remember when City Plaza was boarded up with scaffolding from end to end. You could barely walk through the square as a pedestrian but wow, what an amazing urban renovation which was unveiled in 2009! All those nights I’ve spent at City Plaza for a variety of events have made all that work appreciated.
- The impressive DPAC opened in late 2008 and I was a Broadway theater season subscriber early on. The DPAC’s arrival heralded all the amazing development in downtown Durham with regards to restaurants, bars and more. I never imagined it would have SO much impact on the area.
- Being served by Chef Ashley Christensen when she headed the kitchen at the old Enoteca Vin. She would hustle out eggs benedicts to brunch customers and she hasn’t stopped hustling after opening up her own restaurants starting with Poole’s Diner! She’s been a major reason why the food scene has changed so much in the area but y’all know that.
- The loss of Rocky Top Hospitality’s Red Room, Bogarts and Hi 5! This trio of restaurants anchored 500 Glenwood and you would grab dinner, get a wrist-band and then bounce between three different parties and dance floors at each restaurant. So much fun!
- Discovering Chef Mike Lee who owned Sono in downtown Raleigh, one of the few bright spots on the food scene for me. Watching him leave for Durham was tough but I’m really happy at how well he’s done in bringing Asian eats to the Bull City with his M Restaurants group.
- The start of the Yelp community in the Triangle and becoming the first Yelp Elite in the NC Triangle. If you missed it, the original Triangle Yelp Community Manager Christina G threw the best parties and you’d mark them off in the calendar and get your costume/gear ready.
- Meeting Chef Cheetie and her husband Paul after they opened up Garland Restaurant on Martin Street. What started as a take-out window offering casual Asian-fusion cuisine is now a restaurant with a James Beard nominated chef! So happy to see these two do so well on the food and music scene.
- Soo Cafe opening up on Hillsborough Street and dishing out the area’s first Korean fried chicken, oh yeah! I remember my first bite (amazing) and while we have more options for KFC in the area now, the original is still running up on Capital Boulevard.
- Watching the cocktail scene blow up in the area with Foundation and C. Grace! Mixologist Matt Bettinger really was the man behind the cocktail program at C. Grace and has continued his success at SideBar in Cary, very well-deserved.
- The continued development of the Rigsbee Avenue corridor was all started by Fullsteam Brewery and Sean Lilly Wilson. He took a chance on this street and supported the Pop the Cap movement legalizing higher ABV beers. Over the years we’ve added Surf Club, Motorco, Hutchins Garage, Boxcar and much more. Such a cool little neighborhood to hang out in.
We’ve seen so many changes in the region when it’s come to food and drink and I’m glad to have been a part of the evolution. When I first arrived in North Carolina in 2005, downtown Durham was still a place people would avoid and everyone drank Bud Light and bad beer as their primary beverage of choice. Finding decent NY pizza and Asian food was really difficult, causing me to drive all over the Triangle in search of decent eats; many miles were covered. And here we are now with more great food choices then we know what to do with, not bad!
So you may be asking, what’s changed in the area that’s not so good?! I think that as we’ve seen the food scene boom here locally, we’ve also seen a boom in promotional food content, influencers and infomercials (social media, posts, magazine articles) that just don’t tell the whole story.
And unfortunately, not all of this sponsored content (or collabs as they call it) whether it’s in the form of free food, monetary payment or offering marketing services is being called out as such to the public. The FTC calls this issue “truth in advertising”. I just don’t believe that sponsored content or collaborations will really reflect the experience you will have as a diner which bothers me. I mean, who doesn’t like free food or being paid to pitch a restaurant? But does it really reflect what your experience will be like when you dine there? Oh yeah, and in no way does an Instagram photo tell you if food is really tasty or if a restaurant is really good, shocker. It’s really hard to distill out what’s really good in the area given all this online chaff.
So an honest opinion (both good and bad) where money and prices are taken into account is crucial to help you find the best eats in the area. Constructive feedback is also important for restaurants to keep improving their product and services. I know as well as anybody else that accepting free food can influence your thoughts about a restaurant and handcuffs your opinions and words. A hat tip to the N&O’s food critic Greg Cox who keeps things real and the review bar, high. While I may not always agree with his restaurant opinions, I certainly respect his honesty, anonymity, and perspective.
I’m not the most nostalgic person, but I’ve really enjoyed chronicling the progress and evolution of the food scene here in the NC Triangle over the past 10 years. It’s been a lot of fun! And I still think it’s important that people can get an honest and unbiased opinion, even more so given what’s changed in the food scene. So if you’ve been following me for 10 years, 10 months or just 10 days, thank you so much! I’m honored that you’re willing to spend some time with me in your busy day and I hope I can bring you some news, insights and entertainment around the best food and drink in the area.
My pledge to you is to always keep it real and honest, you deserve that amount of transparency and I’ll continue to do my best to meet that expectation. One of my co-workers once told me that I was his “secret weapon” to keep up to date on the local food scene and surprise his daughter with hidden gems and great restaurants. And that’s fine by me, I’m hoping to be YOUR secret weapon in finding the best food in the Triangle in the years to come.
Ron at NC Triangle Dining
PS: There is an AYCE Korean barbeque down in Charlotte (Let’s Meat) and I’m dying to try it!