Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What shaped the Durham Food Scene

On Fri, 3/12/10, Jeff Ensminger wrote:

Durham has always been "cool" - ain't nothin new.

These were famous parties in Durham attended by up to 300+ thrown by Dukies cum Townies.

Fancy Town was always at - well fancy Town. This was 6 little tobacco houses that rented for $50.00 month (running water yes, no toilets all out houses) and those that remain still do. Owned by the guy in charge of vending at Duke. I lived here at "Heartbreak Hotel" There was one big house at Fancy Town lived in by two brothers married to two sisters - gave it that Kentucky bottom feel. Heartbreak had the best Asparagus grown in North carolina.

The forklift festival was held on July 4th at the "Plant" a spin off on the Folk Life festival across the street which became the Eno River Fest.. The Plant was inhabited by "squatting Duke Students" and serious part of Durham history; and in one of or the first books about Durham's Historic Places. Owned and built by a prestigious black family I believe. The driveway remains and entrance are still there. The old folks home bought it because of the party then tore it down. Sat on 60 acres of virgin hardwoods that are still there. The Plant had a 3 story windmill, it was a very cool house. No one went to the Eno River Festival until the "Plant" came down. The Fork Lift was three full days.

Chili Wars was the best Chefs in Durham, most of them hometown, there were no Chefs (but me a two Dutch guys from the windmill), there were no restaurants and competition was always very tough. I took second place one year to Helen Whiting, she owned the Regulator as a partner then she died - she was a great chef - Helen could cook and the sole reason there have always been a decent cookbook selection at the Regulator.

The "St. Joes Reggae Roof Raiser" - the best music in Chapel Hill and Durham (Raleigh wasn't invited:) - we cleared ceiling high garbage out of the church basement and, the old kitchen in it. This was what I refer to as a Hellavu party. Long standing main attraction - Joe Bell and the Stinging Blades. St. Josephs / Haiti Cultural center exists today because we saved the church day before the wrecking ball and rented a room for a business in it so they couldn't tear it down.

Oyster Invasion (Roast) was definitely seasonal. Everyone went home after a late night from that party for some reason:).

Sunny Side Halloween and Monkey Top Turkey day were too famous to type anything. (I don't have to worry, I'll never run for public office) but, some that hold were definitely at some of these parties. They would never admit it and I'll never tell.

Frog Leg Regatta was on Kerr lake at George Evins (Evins Tobacco of Oxford)(but the Evins lived in Hope Valley) company house. George would buy a ton of frog legs and I would cook them on a grill to eat after the Regatta. Those who decided to enter could only if they were in a man powered something. Inner tub, tree trunk, funky boat etc. but inner tube was the choice and dressed out as well. No bland inner tubes at the Frog Leg. The winner got a prize so competition was stiff. The first to go out, around the pole and back to shore won. Then we would all eat frogs legs and drink beer.

These were famous parties we had every year.

Ray Simone did all the art work and we silk screened T-shirts in black (none of that classless four color stuff) - Ray, a cartoonist moved from here to California - a cool guy, a good friend and a killer artist - these T-shirts are real Durham Art at its best. Ray lived at Birdie Ditch, our famous swimming hole in the middle of town (now filled in with dirt). A great pond. As good as Jake Phelps at the Cabin. Jakes and the Ditch were the places to swim other than the Quarry.

Bull City Silk Screen did all the shirts and in many cases at the party. That was Bobby Parker. Bobby, Dave Fruchteneict (who had bee hives on the roof) and I lived at a house for a year on James Street (around the corner from the Greenhouse). That is when I worked at Hope Valley because there were no restaurants.

Bull City Sound - "in by noon, out by June" did the sound. Russell Rose, one of my very best friends and all around genius weird person! Russell lived at the plant and the little house behind Monkey Top that is a Dr.s right by 147 (it used to be behind Sunny Side).

RTP was RTI and Burroughs Welcome - that is it - in the 70's before IBM and everything else. (We used to take the flatbed rail where they bought the railroad right of way and removed the track as a back way through the park to get to Raleigh. We always went that way to concerts at the coliseum. We definitely needed a designated driver but there was not one. This was the only way to Raleigh without getting a ticket.

Amos and Andy's put a sandwich on the menu we always ordered late night or EARLY morning - the Cosmic Egg. It was on the menus until they closed. Dunham and Sons had the best bone-in chicken sandwich on white bread. That was over by St. Joes. Near where Tin pan Alley used to be. Everyone always ate at Parkers. Subway was lunch and before the chain. Subway (the chain) actually bought and paid for the Subway name from our Subway and they changed the name to what else - "Bull City Subs". The only place you placed your order in the kitchen and hung out and drank beer while you waited.

The DAP was after Another Thyme happy hour on Friday when a guy borrowed a bunch of money against his credit cards and started the Durham Bulls back. When the team was weak, the townies would win for them by harassing the other team into oblivion. Third base was the place to be. Stephanie Fagerberg (Anderson) ran the beer tap and Johnny was on duty making sure angry team members would not hurt fans when they yelled obscene remarks about their mothers. Bill Miller was the grounds keeper par excellence
Triangle Slim (his WUNC radio name and show - Bob Burtman) and a serious Red Sox baseball fan came up with the idea for the wooden bull, tail and smoke and did that by hand when there was something to cheer about. He sat behind the plywood bull and we always made sure his cup was full, it was too funny. Bob wrote for the INDY for a long time and still writes in Durham to this very.

Everyone went to the Hide Away Bar on Duke Campus to drink beer and play pool and pick up Duke girls. The Hide Away was famous. In the same building as the Dope Shop" named cafeteria in the 20's when students went to get a few bottles of "dope" so they could stay up for exam studies. Boy Duke lost that name didn't it? It also lost the Hide Away but Anotherthyme opened with a bar so Friday and little Friday (Thursday) went there. AT was unbelievable on Friday night. The bar was 3 rows deep easy with overflow into the dining room. people didn't really eat there until later in the night the place was so loud. (Yance of Yance Seafood opened his place called Mayolas, named after his Mom who ran a pool Hall and beer joint there before).

The top hat Bar and Grill had the best burger and fresh cut fries across from Somethyme.

The Deli in Forest Hills shopping center was another Durham music venue.

The Town Hall in Chapel hill was so overly famous in the 70's that the city closed it. I met my wife at the cave in Chapel Hill.

Its a beautiful day was the first and only health store and was across from Somethyme (which became Seventh Street), as a Chef I loved the veggie thing at Somewthyme but the rude waits that threw silverware at you were a little to much for my refined restaurant blood. Rude waits but good food, no meat, I always had a hard time understanding lettuce heads coming right out of the Culinary Institute and just finishing my stint in lake Placed at the 1980 Winter Games.

Sudis Deli and Sudis restaurant were on main Street where DAD is today.
The Palms always had the "young lawyers club" - a breakfast and coffee thing before work and court. The butcher block table in my kitchen is from the palms.

The Sallam Cultural Center owned by Billy Stevens, Robert Tygard and Brother Yusef Salleem was the coolest place in town. Great music. The Sallam had the best fish sandwich at lunch. The West End clean up squad was started by Yuseff, Billy and Roger who traded food to kids in the WE for cleaning up the neighborhood. The West End was the cleanest neighborhood in Durham but was still rough. After Gigs at the Sallam we used to go to the "liquor house" on Carroll Street and drink shots out of salt shakers for $.50. When asked by the African American community why Yusef was hanging with white folk he said "they call them hippies because theys hip" so we were accepted in the West End and the Sallam had an invisible protection in place.

Currents cafeteria was the only place you could go for lunch and look at automatic weapons while you picked out you entree. The owner bought, sold and traded at the register during lunch. I think of all these places Currents and Dunham's are the only surviving.

The Ivy Room was a good deli with a mini bar. (Bats was behind it - a parking lot for Brightleaf now). The Duke and Duchess was where the land Trust is now. It closed and for a while was a florist shop before DCLT bought it. The kitchen was in the basement.

The Rathskeller (where Avid Video used to be) closed and a pizza place took over but it was still "the rat".

Lakewood shopping center was the hang out for Duke students on West campus with all stores rented and two grocery + a Deli/bar/Music Venue and the new place that opened there Satisfaction Pizza (Right around when Bats closed).

Dorothy's fast Lane was on main Street across from Brightleaf where the Chinese place or the pub are now). Beer there was from the grocery store, Lakewood party store or Sam's and bought as needed. Dorothy lives in Savannah and still talks about parkers grill - her favorite food haunt.
Fowlers Gourmet was on Roxboro (a pawn shop now) and had a sawdust floor in the meat market. I bought meat there for the Club and hauled it over so the club manager wouldn't by garbage. Fowlers moved to Brighleaf; Bob and his wife were great, Fowlers was an oasis. (Thanks to Frank Kenan for getting them as a tenant).

The only other place for meat was Billy's University Red and White on old Chapel Hill Road. I bought meat from Billy up until close a few years ago. Billy would love to barter and "make a price". He and A Wandering used to buy 200+ #'s of tenderloins at a pop during Christmas.

Maria Pertruse from Hungry made pastries for AWF and Gary Wein at Savory faire.

That was it, there were no caterers in Durham but us two, one in Chapel Hill and Craig's in Raleigh.

Mark Yonce was the "wine man" along with Fowlers.

Wellspring didn't exist yet at its first location where Magnolia is now which was a local community grocery store (every neighborhood in Durham had one). When they did it was all vegetables.

The Durham Intergalactic Food Conspiracy (the Coop) was on the corner of Broad and Markham at East Campus.

The Sallam had closed and AWF moved into the Sallam Kitchen. A three block walk from my place on Shepherd. Four years later we moved because of gangs to the Europa Center with Frank Kenan, great guy. I miss Frank. A Wandering Feast bought the Dope Shop on Wheels from Duke Salvage and ran that mobile kitchen at Carolina Friends School for lunch, black tie parties at finer homes for big events and served Indonesian food and Soft Shell Crab sandwiches at the Eno River festival after the Plant was torn down. At the Eno, the Sheriff would take care of us in return for libation and a place to hang out. AWF made more in 3 days at the Eno than a teacher makes in a year. It just got too hot and old. AWF did Johns S. wedding with the African theme in the Atrium of the Europa out of the Center Cafe. That was a kick John. Center Cafe was open lunch only with catering at night. We were the first small plate for events.

Frank Kenan asked me to go meet this "new young guy" from Burlington opening up a place in an old Dairy bar; George Bakatsia near Mrs. Kenan's clothing store.

AND last but not least:

Everyone ate at Anna Marias Pizza on credit. Anna and Bat saved hundreds of Duke students from starving. They had a huge selection of comic books and beer or soda was all on the honor system. My favorite was the half and half (half salad with pasta chicken Parmesan). Bat was a gambler, he would take your food marker in a heartbeat if he liked you. He called me from Florida once and borrowed a $100 to get back to Durham then immediately placed a bet on a horse and lost it. Anna worked the kitchen, bat worked the floor with a guitar and his Mr. Microphone so he could call in orders over FM to Anna in the rear kitchen. That was high tech ordering system of the day in Durham. I have the cash register from Bats.

1 - The Fancy Town parade - always held at fancy Town off of Old Erwin Road
2 - Chili Wars
3 - The Forklift Festival - held at the now demolished "Plant" a mansion inhabited by Duke students across from the ENo at West Point - it was a spin off on the Folk Life" festival that became the Eno River Festival
4 - Reggae Roof Raiser
5 - Oyster Invasion and Roast
6 - The Sunny Side Halloween Party - the house next to Monkey Top
7 - Monkey Top Turkey day - the other house with Duke students and all around vagabonds and raconteurs with a few townies tossed in
8 - Frog Leg Regatta
(All art for all parties for T-Shirts was again Ray Simone of Birdie Ditch)

We will re-instate these parties at the Chameleon in honor of a period in Durham history that really quite literally fell through the cracks but shaped the town. You hear a lot about Durham up to 1970 something, then its a bit of a blurr.

Durham's first "Foodies" always had food at these parties cooperatively cooked by everyone and the restaurants of the day were all these places mentioned above and certainly none of them were "fusion". We always had "Fine Food" we just didn't have refined places to eat at. Look at us now!

You guys are history buffs and I had written this stuff down and filed it. I just ran into it and thought I should send it on.