Tag Archives: North Carolina

A Visit to La Farm Bakery in Cary

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La Farm Bakery & Cafe ~ Cary, NC

I’ve had La Farm Bakery in Cary on my radar for some time now but for one reason or another I just simply have never had the opportunity to visit. As a lover of bread I just couldn’t let this go on. I finally visited this wonderful local bakery a few weeks ago and now that I have experienced first hand the fantastic breads, coffee and lunch in their cafe La Farm will now be a regular stop for me each time I am in Cary.

Master Baker Lionel Vatinet

La Farm Bakery introduced Cary and the greater Triangle area to their quality breads back in 1999. The bakery is the realization of a lifelong dream for Lionel Vatinet, a distinguished Master Baker and one of the most sought-after bread consultants in America. Located at Preston Corners Shopping Center on Cary Parkway, La Farm is a modern bakery that continues to respect and honor the centuries-old baking traditions and techniques Vatinet learned in his native France.

Fresh breads prepped for baking

During my visit I toured the bakery to learn more about how they create their fresh baked breads. I was pleased to learn that La Farm uses local products whenever possible. This includes using local flour from Carolina Ground in Asheville, connecting the farmer, miller and baker. I also learned that in April they installed a new MiWi “Ideal” deck oven that came all the way from Germany. With its precise temperature settings and six baking decks La Farm is able to step up their already impressive production to meet the ever increasing demand for their breads.

Bread display

As soon as you walk in the door there is a wonderful of array of breads and baked goods on display. La Farm typically offers around 15 different standard breads daily with 20 seasonal breads and baked treats added to the mix throughout the year. They feature a special bread each month. I visited on the last day they were offering the popular Jalapeno Cheddar Bread. June’s featured bread is a Pepperoni Cheddar Bread. I must go back and try this soon!

Sampling breads w/ Master Baker Lionel Vatinet

I had the opportunity to sit down with Lionel to sample some breads and learn more about the process of baking the different styles of breads they offer. Lionel has dedicated his life’s work to teaching the art & science of bread baking and I was very impressed by his warm and friendly interactions with customers and how he takes the time to explain his craft. I could tell that while the focus of the bakery is on the bread he also strives to educate the consumer. He regularly holds baking classes at both at La Farm and at his home and just recently published his first book “A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker.”

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The “La Farm”

One of my favorite breads was a large crusty loaf called the “La Farm”. This 5-lb boule is Lionel Vatinet’s signature bread, developed following his tour in France, working with masters across the country. This bread combines several different types of flour, including local, organic ‘Carolina Ground’ flour. Lionel explained that in years past, families in small villages throughout France would visit community ovens to bake breads for the week. The “La Farm” bread pays homage to that time.

Cappuccino

It is also no secret that I love a good espresso and I never miss a chance to enjoy a drink while visiting a cafe for the first time. It makes me very happy that La Farm offers excellent coffee and espresso drinks using locally roasted Counter Culture Coffee. The coffee isn’t just an afterthought either. It is well prepared by trained baristas. I had a great cappuccino when I first arrived and just sat back to take in the in the bustling scene at the bakery.

Croque Monsieur

Learning about bread makes me hungry so I made sure I had lunch before the end of my first visit to La Farm. The cafe side of the bakery offers a wide variety of French and American-inspired sandwiches, salads, soups and entrees featuring artisan breads; for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner. Some of the most popular items are the Croque Madame or the Quiche du Jour. My sandwich was excellent and I am now looking forward to going back for brunch to try the French toast!

White Chocolate Baguette

One other important note. Before my visit everyone I spoke to mentioned I should try La Farm’s White Chocolate Baguette. Since bread and chocolate are two of my most favorite things in the world I had a hunch I would like it. Let’s just say the baguette lives up to the hype and is definite “must try” for any visitor to the bakery.

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Lionel signing his book for a customer

Don’t be like me, don’t wait nine years to visit La Farm. It is a real gem of the Triangle and a fun place to take out of town guests. If my visit has left you inspired to learn more about the bread making process visit make sure you attend their open house on June 21st. See details below:

Bread Bakers Guild of America Open House – June 21st.
Master Baker Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery will host his second annual Bread Bakers Guild of America Open House at La Farm Bakery on June 21st from 3pm to 4pm. He’ll offer behind-the-scene tours of the bakery, followed by a bread shaping demo, and the opportunity to practice shaping dough by hand. Following the demo, guests will have 20 minutes to learn from Lionel’s European bread shaping techniques and practice with their own dough, which they’ll take home to bake. Many of Lionel’s breads will be sampled throughout the afternoon.

This event is free, and all are welcome. RSVP to Rachel Siegel at Rachel.Siegel@lafarmbakery.com or call 919-459-8336.

La Farm Bakery
4248 NW Cary Parkway – Cary, NC
website: http://www.lafarmbakery.com
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LaFarm
twitter: @lafarmcary

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Filed under Bakery, Restaurant Reviews

Fullsteam Brewery – Durham, NC

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I’m a big fan of the Triangle beer scene and one of my favorite local places to enjoy a pint is Fullsteam Brewery in Durham.  The brewery was opened by Sean Wilson, known as the “Chief Executive Optimist”, in a former 7Up bottling plant on Rigsbee Avenue back in 2009. It’s described as a “plow to pint” operation with a mission to craft the distinctly Southern beer that celebrates agriculture by using local seasonal ingredients while  fostering relationships with local farmers.


To me Fullsteam is much more than just a great brewery. When I visit the taproom the first thing that comes to my mind is community.  On any given visit you will find the space alive with activity and conversation. During the day you are likely see large groups of friends, families with their kids, and people with dogs gathered at the large communal picnic tables inside the spacious interior. As the day transitions into evening the crowd shifts over to primarily adults and all of Rigsbee Avenue seems to come to life.


I’ve enjoyed my fair share of pints sitting at one of the many orange tables inside.  There are also a few tables outside along the sunlit alley and two more tables out front in the area where the food trucks usually set. Check out With so much seating it easy to find a spot to sit and relax with your beer and food. Fullsteam is also simply a great spot to just sit back and people watch. There is a small stage that plays host to music on occasion on weekends, but for the most part the brewery serves as a community gathering space – a place for conversation over a good beer.


The beer offerings at the bar a very diverse and range from classics like a traditional American IPA to seasonal southern beers inspired by local agriculture like a sweet potato lager and a “Hogwash” hickory smoked brown porter. Fullsteam is know for making some interesting brews and they even feature beers from other local breweries on a few “guest taps”. Beers are available by the pint, half pint, tasting flights, and they even do growler fills.


As you first enter the brewery through the large red warehouse door you pass through a fun room filled with several classic arcade games along with a pinball machine and ping pong table. I think this room captures the youthful spirit of the brewery and further galvanizes the communal atmosphere.  On a given week the taproom plays hosts to events like belly dancing, trivia and yoga. There is even a run club that meets there each Wednesday.


Whether you are a casual beer drinker or a diehard craft beer enthusiasts I highly recommend a visit to Fullsteam during your next visit to the Bull City. Check out there event calendar before heading over to find out what is going on in the taproom and what food trucks will be parked there that evening. If you are thinking of heading over tonight (5/16) they are holding their Summer Basil release party starting around 6pm.

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Fullsteam is open Mon-Thurs: 4 p.m. – midnight, Friday: 2 p.m. – 2 a.m., Saturday: noon – 2 a.m., Sunday: noon – midnight. Drink local and support NC beer and agriculture!

Fullsteam Brewery

726 Rigsbee Avenue, Durham, NC 27701
website: http://www.fullsteam.ag
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fullsteambrewery
twitter: @fullsteam
instagram: @fullsteambrewery

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Filed under Beer, Brewery

Gregoria’s Cuban Steakhouse Grand Opening Celebration April 4th

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Grand Opening Event April 4th

Gregoria’s Cuban Steakhouse, one of Durham’s newest restaurants featuring contemporary Cuban fare, invites the community to a grand opening party Friday, April 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. The restaurant, which had a soft opening in January, is welcoming community members for an after-work event with free food, festive music from Orquesta la Calve, a nine-piece salsa tribute band, and demos from professional salsa dancers. Additionally, guests can enjoy all-day $2 mojito, sangria and draft beer specials.

If would like to attend the April 4th Grand Opening Event please RSVP to Gregorias@boltpr.com to let them know you are coming.

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photo courtesy Gregoria’s Steakhouse

Menu Offerings
As Fares Hanna, Gregoria’s Cuban Steakhouse owner explains, “Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, African and Caribbean influences, and our menu combines these for perfectly seasoned flavors. It’s a fine dining experience at affordable prices.” Gregoria’s authentic Cuban fare with modern flavor includes specialties like the cubano sandwich, lechón asado, ropa vieja and grilled options ranging from skirt steak with chimichurri to pan-seared salmon. For the grand opening event, a variety of appetizer and dinner menu items will be made into complimentary hors d’oeuvre portions so guests can taste a wide selection of the Cuban fare.

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photo courtesy Gregoria’s Steakhouse

Bar Menu & Happy Hour Special
In addition to the grand opening celebration, Gregoria’s launched a new ongoing bar menu starting on Tuesday, March 25. It includes pulled pork and chimichuri, fried olives stuffed with queso fresco, and more. These new tapas portions will be available Tuesdays through Sundays in the bar, and available at a special happy hour rate of $3 or less per item from 5 to 6 p.m. each day.

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photo courtesy Gregoria’s Steakhouse

History
Hanna previously owned and operated Gregoria’s Kitchen for more than two years, but it closed last year after it was damaged in a fire. He decided to rebuild in a larger location and expand the restaurant’s menu with even more Latin recipes as well as a variety of Cuban-inspired steaks. Hanna refurbished a special event space adding a contemporary Havana ambiance, gorgeous reclaimed-wood bar and a large lush patio that can seat up to 70 guests.

Gregoria’s Cuban Steakhouse
2701 Hillsborough Rd. in Durham
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. Brunch Saturdays and Sundays between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Website: www.gregoriascubansteakhouse.com
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/GregoriasCubanDurham
Twitter @gregoriasdurham

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Top of the Hill Distillery – Chapel Hill

Top Of the Hill Distillery - Chapel Hill, NC

Top Of the Hill Distillery – Chapel Hill, NC

Did you know you can buy vodka, gin, and whisky that is made right here in the Triangle? I didn’t either until earlier this year when I visited Top of the Hill Distillery (TOPO) located in the former Chapel Hill News building off Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. Scott Maitland, founder and owner of the iconic Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, opened the distillery because he wanted to make spirits from organic ingredients local to North Carolina.

Top Of the Hill Distillery - Chapel Hill, NC

Touring the Distillery

I took a tour of the distillery with several of my foodie blogger friends where I tried samples and learned about how TOPO sources local ingredients to make their organic spirits.  TOPO Distillery is the only certified organic and fully local distillery in the South. They use local, organic ingredients (all obtained within 100 miles of the distillery) and transform the grain to spirits using equipment sourced from a fifth generation German still maker.

Top Of the Hill Distillery - Chapel Hill, NC

Esteban Pouring Samples!

Tours of the distillery are a lot of fun because you get a behind the scenes look at how the spirits are made and you get to sample them. Esteban, our guide was great explaining how TOPO’s spirits are different from other brands on the market. I tried all three of the spirits(Vodka, Gin, and Whiskey). Each was excellent in its own way but as a gin drinker my favorite was the TOPO Piedmont Gin. It is American Dry gin with a natural smoothness featuring botanical  flavors like citrus, cardamom, coriander, and cucumber. It has become my “go to” gin for homemade gin and tonics

Top Of the Hill Distillery - Chapel Hill, NC

TOPO Age Your Own Whiskey Kit

TOPO also makes a great Carolina Whiskey.  It is made using 100% organic soft red winter wheat from Scotland Neck, NC. It won a silver medal in the 2013 San Francisco International Spirits Competition and a silver medal at the Beverage Tasting Institute in Chicago. Top of the Hill Distillery is one of only six distilleries in the United States making wheat whiskey.

Top Of the Hill Distillery - Chapel Hill, NC

Mini Wiskey Barrels

They also sell “Age Your Own Whiskey” Kits that allow you to age 2 liters of Carolina Whiskey to perfection at home! Because of the increased surface area to volume ratio of the two liter barrel, the whiskey ages approximately 12–15 times faster than in a normal 53 gallon barrel. So the aging process only takes about three months and results in an incredible Wheat Whiskey. These make great gifts for the home brewer!

Tom & Esteban of TOPO Distillery

Tom & Esteban of TOPO Distillery

Guided tours and tastings of the spirits are  typically held each week on Thursday & Friday at 6pm and 7pm and Saturday at 4pm and 5pm. Tours must be scheduled in advance on the Top of The Hill website. Tours cost $20 per person but you can typically find groupon and living social deals online offering 50% off. The tours are a fun for locals and out of town guest and a great way to enjoy a visit to Chapel Hill.  Bottles of Top of  The Hills spirits can be found in ABC stores throughout the Triangle and North Carolina.

Topo Distillery
505 West Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Website: http://topodistillery.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TOPO.Distillery
Twitter: @TOPOdistillery

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A Visit to Historic Yates Mill Park in Raleigh!

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Yates Mills Park ~ Raleigh, NC

Yates Mill Park is one of my favorite places to visit in Raleigh each fall. I’ve made it a yearly tradition to walk through the park each November before Thanksgiving to take in the fall foliage before the colder winter weather arrives. The park is located park that is located about 2 miles south of Tryon Road along Lake  Wheeler Road. It is 174 acres and is home to a  20 acre pond, a wildlife refuge, environmental research center, and the only remaining working gristmill in Wake County which has been in operation since around 1756!

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Yates Mill

Of course the highlight of the park is Yates Mill. It is the only remaining water-powered gristmill left in Wake County. The Mill is open for guided tours by appointment and during specific dates from March through November. They also hold corn grinding demonstrations with people dressed in period clothes on the third weekend of each month during the tour season. Reservations are encouraged and a small fee applies. See the park website for additional tour details and information.

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Walking Trail

While the mill is the main attraction, I also enjoy taking a stroll around the pond on the nature walking trail. It provides great views of the pond with the mill in the background and you are surrounded by a multitude of vibrant leaf colors from the numerous trees along the trail. I typically head over to the park two or three weeks before Thanksgiving. The leaves are in perfect color right about now and it is nice to enjoy them while it is still somewhat warm! I haven’t taken the tour of the mill yet, but I discovered you can stop by the park visitor center where stone-ground cornmeal made at the mill is available for purchase everyday.

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Visitor Center

The mill pond and surrounding natural area makes for great photo opportunities and is a favorite location for wedding pictures and family. It is important to note that the park has several rules to be aware of. In particular no pets (other than service animals) are allowed in the park and the trails are for walking, bikes are also not allowed.

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Boardwalk over Yates Pond

In addition to the mill and walking trails through the woods there are also a few boardwalks incorporated into the trails that provide access across sections of the pond. These boardwalks serve as great spots to do a little fishing with kids.

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Undated photo of the Mill – courtesy of Wake County Parks Dept.

Fall visits to Yates Mill Park have become an annual tradition for me and my wife. Later this month I’ll share some additional Triangle locations we enjoy visiting each year as the holidays approach! You can learn more about the long history of Yates Mill here on wikipedia.

Yates Mill Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC 27603 (Map)
Open 7 days per week, 8 am to sunset.

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