Two years ago I celebrated with my best friend for her 40th birthday in Durham. I had not spent much time in this city prior to that weekend, but I quickly fell in love with it. We stayed at a hotel in the downtown area and were able to walk to many wonderful different restaurants and shops.
Probably the highlight of that weekend was the place we ate dinner, called Mateo. This restaurant is known for its tapas menu. Tapas is a word that refers to Spanish-style appetizers. Thinly sliced meats, cheeses, olives, bread, marinated vegetables and more were among the selections we enjoyed. My favorite was a tray which featured several different kinds of very thinly sliced smoked hams or sausages that you ate with slices of cheese. It was so different and unique and all of the flavors were so wonderful. It really felt as if we could have been in Spain and not Durham.
We enjoyed dining at Mateo so much that we decided to eat there again the very next night. Despite the fact that we talked about going there all day, we forgot to make a reservation. The restaurant itself was fairly small and it was packed the next night. But we didn’t care! We just wanted to eat some more of that delicious food and so we put our names on the waiting list. We then squeezed ourselves around the one empty seat at the bar. We kept apologizing to the nice gentlemen next to us for encroaching on his personal space. He was very congenial about it all and chatted with us while we waited for a table. Along with his meal he was doing a sherry tasting. I always think of sherry as something people drank a hundred years ago. The drink is apparently making a comeback though, and Mateo boasts one of the largest sherry menus around.
At last a table was available and we bid adieu to our new friend and prepared to order some delicious food. We had finished our first round of tapas and ordered a second when the server arrived with a tray of smoked meat. We told them that was not the one we ordered. We were informed that this tray was a special treat for us. Unbeknownst to us, the gentlemen we’d been talking to at the bar was the owner of a BBQ restaurant called The Pig in nearby Chapel Hill who makes smoked meats which are also served at Mateo. This order was a special treat from him and was some of the smoked ham that he makes. Well, let me tell you, we thought that was the most delightful surprise we’d ever received. It was, of course, delicious and we left feeling a little like pigs ourselves.
Ever since then, I have been wanting to eat at The Pig restaurant in Chapel Hill and I finally got my chance last week while in town for the North Carolina Press Association press awards. After a two-year wait to eat there, I was not disappointed. I enjoyed a delicious bowl of gumbo and snitched a few bites of BBQ also.
My dad, who accompanied my godfather and I for the press awards, had a whole plate of BBQ leftovers, which he kindly let me take home. The next night for dinner, my husband and I had a smorgasbord of BBQ and gumbo leftovers along with some chicken wings a friend of ours made. My husband declared The Pig’s BBQ the best he’d ever had. A two-hour drive is pretty extreme to go get some BBQ, but I have a feeling we may have to make the trip again soon!
Kitsey Burns Harrison is a reporter for The Yadkin Ripple and The Elkin Tribune, here she shares her musings on food, life and love. She can be reached at 336-518-3049 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.