With the onset of cooler days in the Northwest, I find myself longing for barefoot afternoons and ways in which to keep the darkness at bay, including heading South to the Chapel Hill-Durham area to eat and cook with friends, including Sara Foster and Frances Mayes, who spends time at her home in the area when not in Cortona. A lovely Sunday supper with Frances, Ed, Sara, and authors Susan Wyler and Nancie McDermott, included crostini with roasted figs and prosciutto di Parma, Ed’s famous chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and Sara Foster’s Key lime pie and a plum tart inspired by Nancy Silverton. We also got to taste wines from the new collection of Tuscan Sun wines—each delicious and round and sun-filled (and they will retail for around $10-$15).
I’ve been coming to this part of the world since 2003, when I worked as a food editor for Southern Living magazine. The venerable Jean Anderson first introduced me to some of the amazing markets and artists and chefs of the region; the community is tight-knit and raucous, unpretentious, and extremely well-versed in the ways of the kitchen. Whenever I return, it’s like coming home to visit family.
Aside from cooking up market produce (I love the Carrboro and Durham Farmers Markets) and visiting Italian poet and sculptor, Siglinda Scarpa, we also left a trail of crumbs—from tacos at la vaquita to black pepper cornbread and shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner, to lovely cow’s milk cheeses of the Chapel Hill Creamery and savory small dishes from the SEEDS benefit dinner. I am always delighted to discover new local places, like tapas bar Mateo and Pizzeria Toro.
I love good food, whether it’s a walk-up window in Miami for a hot Cubano and a chilled Modelo or a grand Parisian restaurant. Imagine how happy I was to discover that one could have both in one place, at Chef Ricky Moore’s Saltbox in downtown Durham. Ricky studied at the CIA in New York and then spent six months cooking with Michelin-starred chefs in Paris as well as stints in Washington D.C. and Chicago. This October he’ll be celebrating his one-year anniversary at his first solo venture.
There are a few simple things to remember: Saltbox is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 to 7, BUT closes when everything sells out, which is usually much earlier than 7. Ricky gets fresh catches delivered daily and he grills and fries up everything from bluefish and catfish to soft-shell crabs; he also offers the creamiest cheese and corn grits, coconut-flecked vinegary coleslaw and mint-and-cinnamon-laced succotash. As for his cheese grits, his recipe (see photo below) calls for one of each—cream and grits…Ricky also let Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner and I watch him make succotash, with minted chutney and lemon zest to brighten up fresh heirloom limas and sweet summer corn.
All these flavors–from Sunday suppers and shrimp and grits to tacos and tapas–make for a happy mouth and an even happier homecoming.