When your travels take you to Raleigh North Carolina, a vibrant little city with a flourishing independent restaurant scene, there are two long-term, well-established eateries I highly recommend for reasons that are just in part about their food.
Breakfast in Raleigh
The old city market area in Raleigh is home to Big Ed’s, known for homemade sausages, saw mill gravy and hot cakes, made from a pound cake recipe. The grilled biscuits are best enjoyed with homemade black strap molasses.
For lunch, the crowds come for sweet tea and chicken and dumplings and more of those biscuits. You should also get a big serving of collard greens and okra.
The décor at Big Ed’s is as flavorful and wholesome as the cooking. A collection of antique plows represent Ed’s days of hard work behind a mule on the family farm. The exhibit of Willard Watson handmade toys are reminders that we should all have a little fun every day.
And because honest-to-goodness country cooking can’t be reheated, each day as the doors close at 2 p.m., volunteers from the Raleigh Rescue Mission carry out the leftovers to provide the homeless of the city the best meal available in all of North Carolina.
Another thing you need to know about the people who work at Big Ed’s. They’ve not always made the best decisions in life and as a result, spent some time behind bars.
Knowing that it’s tough to get a good start on the outside, Big Ed’s hires only those that other employers might overlook. He gives them a chance to make things right.
Dinner Recommendations in Raleigh
Now as a writer, I shuddered when I saw the name of this restaurant: “Irregardless.”
IT’S NOT A WORD!
Owner Arthur Gordon knows that, but he’ll tell you the cutest story about his grandmother, a Russian immigrant, and her struggles to learn English when she came to this country. There’s a good chance he’ll stop by your table and tell you the story, because greeting guests and telling stories is as necessary as breathing is for Arthur and his wife Anya.
Irregardless has been a part of the restaurant scene in Raleigh since 1975, long before vegan and vegetarian became of part of most menus. But Irregardless led the way. In addition, it was the first restaurant in all of North Carolina, the nation’s largest tobacco producer, to create a smokeless environment for its guests.
When Arthur stops by your table, be sure to ask about the murals on the wall – all created by local artists. Ask about the live music every night. Neither are big money makers for Irregardless, but Arthur likes supporting the local arts scene.
Also, ask about the fire back in the 1990s that burned the restaurant to the ground. It took almost a year to get the mess cleaned up and a new restaurant opened.
Arthur worried about his staff, worried if they would be able to pay their bills and if they would be available to come back to work when Irregardless reopened. So he kept them on the payroll, paying their salary as he would have if the restaurant was open. Their only requirement was to work each week at the local food bank or some other charitable organization in Raleigh.
Now, after 40 years in business, Irregardless has a 3-acre organic garden a few miles away. Sure, it supplies fresh produce for the restaurant, but most of it goes to low-income families in the Raleigh area.