Watts Grocery in Durham has long been at the top of my list of the great Triangle restaurants to visit. For one reason or another I’ve never managed to make the trip over from Raleigh to dine there until very recently when I was invited to attend a special “Strange Seafood” event hosted there last month. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing! My first experience at Watts Grocery was exceptional and the culinary creations by Chef Amy Tornquist were fantastic.
The “Strange Seafood” event I attended was a partnership with the Walking Fish Cooperative, an award winning community supported fishery that links fishermen on the coast of North Carolina to seafood-loving consumers in the Triangle. Attendees enjoyed a 5-course dinner that showcased an array of sustainably harvested strange seafood from North Carolina paired with wines from Hope Valley Bottle Shop. Proceeds from that night went to benefit Saltwater Connections, a regional initiative aimed at sustaining livelihoods, cultural heritage, and natural resources along North Carolina’s central coast.
Full disclaimer, although I love to blog about food I am have an unfortunate shellfish allergy that makes it challenging for me to fully enjoy seafood since many dishes typically have shellfish in the ingredients in one form or another. So on this night I sampled what I could, and quizzed my dinner companions for their thoughts on the dishes I could not try myself. Fortunately I was sitting with some of the areas best foodie bloggers like Matt Lardie of EatWriteGo, Kristen Baughman of Gadabout Food, and Jill Warren Lucas of EatingMyWords. It was great fun spending the evening with the three of them and bending their ear a bit about local foodie happenings as we chatted over each course.
As luck would have it I was good to go with the appetizer served for our table share. It consisted of hushpuppies and fried okra. These fried delights were light and tasty and the basil mayo & tabasco aioli served accompanying them added a burst of flavor that really tickled my taste buds. The wine served with this course was actually nice light champagne.
First course was Sea Asparagus & tomato salad with chapel hill creamery feta cheese & lemon vinaigrette (image). The sea asparagus was something many at our table had not tried before but all agreed it went very well in the salad. The wine pairing for the first course was a lovely Muscadet. The second course (pictured above) was a smoked Jumping Mullet with pickled red onions, arugula salad, and a grilled baguette
As I mentioned earlier, I was somewhat limited in the number of dishes I could try due to my allergies (I knew this going in to the event) but was thrilled to be a part of the evening and enjoyed listening to my foodie friends describe the flavor profiles of each dish. I was not however limited in my ability to try each dishes wine pairing and I made sure I thoroughly enjoyed those. Picture above is the fine burgundy that accompanied the evenings third course.
The third course was none other than a Pan Seared Hand-Gigged Skate with capers, sauteed potatoes, and green beans drizzled with a brown butter sauce. I have caught my fair share of skates in my day but never realized they could be turned into such an elegant dish. It was at this point that Chef Amy Tornquist stopped by our table as she made her rounds to checking on the guests in the dining room. It was great listening to her stories about how she tackled the challenge of creating such inventive dishes with the unique seafood she was presented with for the evenings menu.
The fourth course was Sheephead Stew (yes that is a fish – and a scary looking one at that) with collards, smoked tomatoes, and house bacon (image). This was served with nice medium bodied Pinot Noir. The fifth and final course was dessert. This was an incredible fig and apple cake served with vanilla ice cream and a fig caramel. It truly was amazing. I don’t think I left a crumb on my plate. It was the perfect ending to a fantastic evening of wine and fine seafood.
Although I could only sample a few of the night’s dishes I truly enjoyed my first visit to Watt’s Grocery and can see why Chef Amy Tornquist and the restaurant are so highly regarded. Not only was the food wonderful but I loved the setting inside the restaurant with the spacious bar and the artwork adorning the walls in the warmly light dining area. The tables are spread throughout the restaurant in such a way to make private conversation easy and perfect for a date night, while at the same time close enough to make the restaurant feel like a place inviting to larger groups looking to enjoy an evening of great food with their friends. I look forward to my next visit and am particularly looking forward to trying their weekend brunch menu which I hear is fantastic!
About Watts Grocery
With roots firmly planted in North Carolina, Watts Grocery takes its name from the Watts-Hillandale neighborhood where chef Amy Tornquist has fond childhood memories of the Watts St. Grocery candy and snack stop in Trinity Park. Featuring local foods by the forkful, Amy weaves them into her cooking to create a distinctive take on North Carolina cuisine. Watts Grocery combines easygoing Southern hospitality with dishes such as fried oysters with remoulade, chicken and dumplings topped with cheese biscuits, and Meyer lemon mousse. Durham’s night owls feast on the unconventional bar menu featuring fried chicken gizzards with garlic aioli, hush puppies with basil mayo and red velvet cupcakes.
Upcoming Dining Event!
Watts Grocery to Host Farm to Fork Dinner October 23, 2014
If you missed the Strange Seafood event but would like to experience Watts Grocery at a future event you are in luck! On Wednesday, October 23, Watts Grocery is teaming up with Four Leaf Farm & Bluebird Meadow to host the Farm to Fork Wine Dinner. Guests will enjoy a five-course meal paired with wines by Drew of the Hope Valley Bottle Shop. Cocktails begin at 7 p.m. and will be followed by dinner. Tickets are $55 (tax and gratuity not included) and can be purchased by calling Watts Grocery at 919-416-5040.