I like to call myself a foodie, but I’m not one. I’m just a normal-ass guy who enjoys eating good food. It doesn’t matter much to me how rare the ingredients in my food are, or whether the beef on my plate came from a grass-fed cow. I refer to myself as a foodie because I actively seek new restaurants and Raleigh’s best menus, but I’m a non-foodie because when it comes down to it, all I care about is eating a delicious meal.
This non-foodie ate at Tupelo Honey Cafe on Sunday. And this non-foodie couldn’t give a higher recommendation.
As you’ve probably heard, Tupelo Honey opened its eighth location — at Cameron Village near downtown Raleigh — on Dec. 1. The famous restaurant, with its roots in Asheville, is a southern bistro, offering fresh comfort food and quite the bar menu, too. I can’t really think of a great comparison to a Raleigh restaurant, but if you’ve had Lucky 32 in Cary or Southern Roots in Jamestown, then you’re on the right track.
So here’s the thing about the food. I can’t tell you what made it so good. I don’t know whether it’s local organic ingredients or just a shit-ton of butter in every recipe. But I can tell you this with absolute certainty: Tupelo Honey offers just about the best food you’re going to find in Raleigh.
My party of four went to the soft opening on Nov. 30. For appetizers, we had fried green tomatoes and Appalachian egg rolls. The tomatoes were served on a bed of goat-cheese grits. They weren’t out of this world, but they weren’t overly breaded (something that’s rare to find with tomatoes), and they’re a nice, light appetizer. The egg rolls are filled with pulled pork and other flavors, served with a Western BBQ sauce. They’re simply incredible.
Arguably the best part of the meal is the bread. The scratch-made biscuits are tremendously fluffy, and an extra dash or two of salt keeps you coming back. They’re served with a homemade blueberry jelly that, when spread on the biscuit, tastes like blueberry pie. The biscuits are also served with honey, a nice little touch that accentuates the Southern vibe on your table.
For my entree, I had the signature shrimp and grits. That’s a decent amount of lightly seasoned shrimp served on top of a hearty portion of the goat-cheese grits. My waiter told me to order them Shoo Mercy style, so I did. It came with caramelized onions, mushrooms, spinach, bacon and extra shrimp. The bowl was to die for. Shout out to my waiter for informing me on how to do it right. The crab cakes (served with a lemon cherry pepper aioli, which was a tad spicy but still palatable) and the southern fried chicken BLT (amazing) were also ordered at my table. All four of us were stuffed and satisfied.
For dessert, we had a heavenly bowl of banana pudding. I have pretty damn high standards when it comes to banana pudding, and while it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, it absolutely passed my test. It was the perfect end to the meal — a delicious final taste in our mouths, which didn’t touch a single bad thing all night.
The only quirky thing about Tupelo Honey is that it doesn’t seem to have a definite identity. The menu and staff highlight its charming, Southern roots, but the restaurant itself has boomed into one of the bigger brands in North Carolina. The atmosphere sends off a “drop in, have a nice little meal” vibe, but you’ll need reservations or about an hour to wait in line before you can sit at your table. It’s a regionally famous restaurant tucked underneath an apartment complex in a shopping center. Tupelo Honey is an evolving brand, making the transition into a thriving chain, but it’s clearly still grappling with how to blend its past and its future.
But if you’re like me, the identity is just a secondary consideration. At the end of the day, if a restaurant has great food, I will go back time and time again. And that’s why this non-foodie will be returning to Tupelo Honey.