Sunday, March 20, 2011

Surprised in Durham

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been fortunate to visit half a dozen Triangle restaurants on the annual “Taste of the Town” assignment for Cary Magazine (release date May/June 2011). You’ll read more in the coming weeks, but I want to shine the spotlight on one eatery that surprised and impressed me.

It’s called The Federal  in Durham (locals call it The Fed). This place definitely fits into the don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover category. That’s because for all intents and purposes, The Federal is, well, a bar.

Let me just say right up front this is not a place you want to take the wife and kids on a Friday night—or perhaps any night. That said, if you’re ever in Durham during lunchtime or feel daring enough to go with another adult in the evening, the Federal will surprise you in a big way.

Never mind the hanging cage lights, vinyl seats, stainless steel tables and cement floor. The food more than makes up for the lack of adequate ambiance.
This past Friday when the Cary Magazine crew rolled up in search of dessert, chef and Durham native Scott McKenney whipped up a mean strawberry shortcake, crème brûlée with blackberry compote and a life-changing good flourless chocolate cake topped with peanut-infused caramel sauce and made-in-house vanilla ice cream. “Is this for real?” I asked one of my colleagues. Let’s just say this dessert was as memorable as any I’ve enjoyed elsewhere.

Word has it that the food on the menu, not to mention the daily specials, are equally rewarding. Heck, when the lunch menu features saffron risotto and beer-braised pork carnitas, that’s reason enough to go back to Durham really soon. Just one more thing: Don’t bother looking for a website for The Federal. “We don’t have or need one,” an employee told me. I won’t hold it against them—as long as I get another piece of flourless chocolate cake!

Federal on Urbanspoon

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