Looking for a high-cal way to usher in the eating season? Look no further than the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. The triangle offers a fantastic mix of affordable southern comfort food as well as outstanding forward-thinking fare. Here, my personal favorites for an early winter pre-hibernation feast.
If you’re taking trains, planes, or automobiles into North Carolina, most likely you’ll go through Raleigh, which puts you in a prime location for two things: At the newly renovated North Carolina Art Museum, enjoy the sweeping installation from local artist Patrick Dougherty made from found twigs. For dinner, head to The Pit, a huge barbecue joint with private nooks and a surprisingly quiet ambience (given its size). Order the deviled eggs and pickle plate to start, then move on to smoky baby-back ribs or, better yet, the barbecue sampler. (It's listed as an appetizer, but is more than enough for a meal.) Delicious collard greens and cheese grits round out the decadent delight.
Take a stroll through the Durham Farmer’s Market in downtown, open even through the winter, then head just a few storefronts down the street to Piedmont for a leisurely brunch. Don’t miss the bloody mary with pickled okra; the fluffy, buttery biscuits; and classic shrimp and grits.
While in Durham, check out the Nasher Gallery on Duke University’s campus for contemporary art and thought-provoking visiting exhibits, such as the vinyl record-themed show (through February 6th). The museum also features a beautiful sun-drenched café, perfect for a light salad or strong espresso.
For dinner, dine at the upscale Bin 54, located in a small shopping center across from a new Aloft by W hotel. While this dimly lit steakhouse offers outrageous portions of prime meats, I prefered the perfectly prepared starters that gave way to a slow and diverse tasting menu. Do not leave without trying the tuna tartar. The banana pudding is a standout as well.
A trip to Chapel Hill would not be complete without breakfast at Mama Dip’s—a veritable southern-fried institution. For breakfast, the sweet potato pancakes are a nutmeg-infused pile of heaven. The biscuits, served with any breakfast meat (including fried chicken) are a great hangover cure if you took in any of the area’s great live music venues or drinking clubs the night before.
Charlotte Savino is Travel + Leisure's Listings Editor.