One of my favorite things about the South is the abundance of creativity in individually owned businesses.  I'll tell you right now, I'm not a big store, big chain kind of girl and there is a high chance that most of you reading this aren't either.  The small independently owned restaurants and stores are what give our favorite towns character and set us apart.  

This past weekend I traveled up to Durham, North Carolina for a long weekend and had plenty of time to check out some different places where the owners have definitely gotten it right.  Here are my top five from this trip.

 

Parker and Otis  

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 Parker and Otis has been my all time favorite for years now and I don't make it through Durham without stopping.  It is what I like to imagine a shop that I would own to be like.  There is a mix of culinary goods, adorable unique baby and kid items, stationary, cocktail goods, and so so much more.  Then there is the coffee and food.  The grilled pimento cheese may be my favorite but I also picked up a chai latte on my way out of town and am willing to say it is the best one I've had yet.  This is a definite don't miss, and make sure to sit out on the porch when you grab something to eat.

Scratch

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Scratch had set up shop at the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning and had a wide variety of tasty looking pastries arranged to entice the chilly market goers.  While I didn't pick something up there, after the market, we headed over to their restaurant on W. Orange Street.  We chose to fill up on coffee that was served in bowls instead of mugs (they must understand my need for caffeine) and the most amazing savory and creamy collards french toast topped with bacon and eggs.  I love a good breakfast place and Scratch has definitely has it down.

Monuts

 

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When we were on our way to Scratch Saturday morning we passed a tiny little place with a line wrapping around the building. While I was too hungry and cold to wait in the line for Monuts that day, I knew I had to go back and check it out.  The next day we wandered over to find a very similar line but decided that the people must be on to something if they were willing to wait that long for a donut, so we joined them.  Once we made our way in, we saw a chalkboard filled with that day's donut flavors and mouth-watering bagel sandwiches. I got the Chèvreverything Bagel that was filled with chèvre cheese, a fried egg, bacon, and dripping maple Sriracha and a side donut that was a ginger hot toddy flavor.  I assure you, I didn't need to eat for the rest of the day after this breakfast.  

FullSteam Brewery

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Like the rest of the country, Durham has jumped right into the craft breweries.  We checked out a few on Saturday afternoon but I have to say that FullSteam had the best environment for a weekend hangout.  There were food trucks outside and inside was a huge room filled with people and their dogs (and even a man with his own falcon perched on his arm) playing board games and arcade games while tasting the many different beers FullSteam had on tap.  We decided to head into the bar area and do a full menu tasting.  The bartender laid out our samples along a whiteboard strip that lent itself perfectly to rating the beers as we went.  The brewers of FullSteam are focused on buying local ingredients from the farmers to create distinctly Southern beers while supporting their local agriculture.  This is something I can definitely get behind.

(Try the Fearrington Winter, Cackalacky Ginger Pale Ale, or the Beasley's Honey White if you are in the mood for a pint)

NanaTaco 

Owned by the next-door restaurant Nana's, which gets rave reviews, NanaTaco is a low-key, yet fun and energetic Mexican restaurant.  The colorful lights on the patio area and big crowds drew us in when we first got into town.  The food was great and the $5 margaritas were even better!  My friend loved the "dirty meats" options - hog jowl, beef tongue, lamb cheeks, crispy pork belly and house smoked duck.  While I wasn't quite as excited about those, I loved that it offered something different and really set it apart from other new Mexican restaurants.  There were definitely discussions of going back later in the weekend but sadly, NanaTaco isn't open on Mondays, so we didn't get the chance.

I know that I barely skimmed the surface during this trip and can't wait to head back.  But can you tell that I already ate way too much while I visited?  I think I'll have to go on a diet between now and the next time I go. The only problem is I live in Charleston and we all know there is no lack of great dining options here.  

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Tags: Chefs&Dining, Cocktails&Cuisine, Travel

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Comment by Jessica M. Tilley on January 22, 2014 at 4:38pm

Great review of my town!! Come back soon... I have a new list of places for you to explore. : )

Comment by whitney long on January 22, 2014 at 2:39pm

Could not agree with you more about small business owners - the heart of our country!  Now, I wish I was headed to Durham to these great spots :)

Comment by Cheri Leavy on January 22, 2014 at 10:50am

Awesome round up-  I need a bowl of coffee this morning from Scratch after waking up at 4:00 am to head to AltSummit!

Amen to this statement- "The small independently owned restaurants and stores are what give our favorite towns character and set us apart." 

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