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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A restaurant question

For all you foodies out there, here's something you can help me with.

My work "team" (i hate that word) goes out for a holiday lunch on a Friday afternoon in mid-December. Many of my co-workers are not open to menu experimentation, and we usually end up at one of the 15-501 corridor chains (Macaroni Grill, On the Border, Texas Roadhouse). On the one occasion about 5 or 6 years ago we managed to try a smaller, more interesting local establishment, i think we overwhelmed the waitstaff.

We usually have about 15 or 16 people. Beer, wine, and cocktails are a must.

Here's a list of alternatives to the chain restaurants that i've suggested.

Any places you would add to the list? Any you would avoid (for various reasons, which could include a too eclectic menu or a too intimate setting for such a large group)?

Rue Cler
Pizza Palace
Bull McCabe's



  • Rue Cler only has about 50 seats and doesn't do reservations, but maybe they can accommodate you anyway. Blu is kinda small, probably too focused, and probably too expensive. Pop's isn't open for lunch. Many of the other places would be fine. My favorite for something fun would be the Q-Shack, but maybe you'd want a little nicer atmosphere for a holiday lunch. Q-Shack doesn't have wine or cocktails either.

    Satisfaction might work.

    I'll think about this some more.

    By Blogger Joe, at 12:20 PM  

  • I would have to say that Rue Cler would be difficult, too - I went there with 12 people for lunch once (we did call in advance) and they really couldn't handle us.

    Tyler's is a place that is meant for this sort of lunch, btw - although in general I don't find their food great. The beer is nice, though. :)

    I'd say the Fed might have trouble with that size of a crowd, too, but they may be able to do special arrangements that I'm not aware of.

    By Blogger Celeste, at 12:31 PM  

  • If you have any pesky vegetarians in your party, they may find the Blu menu a bit limited. If they're easily-satisfied vegetarians who don't mind settling for the "vegetable plate", then it's fine.

    By Blogger toastie, at 12:40 PM  

  • I've attended or hosted small group meetings at all these places: Parizade, Bennett Point Grill, Papa's, Tosca, and Starlu. I'm not sure Starlu is still open for lunch but if so it's a great choice. Go to the DCVB website - they are an excellent resource for this sort of thing.

    By Anonymous Ellen Dagenhart, at 1:13 PM  

  • I vote for Piedmont. They have good vegetarian options and could probably fit your group in their upstairs dining area. I guess it just depends on the pickiness of your co-workers. I tried to get my boss to take us to Piedmont for a group lunch a few weeks ago, but we had 1 co-worker who was too intimidated by the menu (sigh).

    By Blogger weege, at 1:19 PM  

  • Wait, you left Wimpy's Grill off your list...

    By Anonymous Hovercraft, at 1:21 PM  

  • Although I've heard negative things about service of late, 2 yrs ago I had our department lunch in the private room upstairs at the Symposium Cafe. It was a great setting, with a broad enough menu to satisfy both the vegan and meat/potato types in the group.

    By Blogger Phil J, at 1:25 PM  

  • Given what you've told me about your co-workers, and given what I think I know about logistics and meals, I second the nomination for Tyler's. From H'boro, you've got a fast drive and excellent parking. Tyler's will take care of your regular-eating folks and the fancy-eating folks can console themselves with all the beer and drinks. And don't forget the game room that might be a fun extra feature for the lunch.

    I agree with all the "against" votes, for the same reasons.

    Now if your group happens to be all about the meat, another great option is Chamas Churrascaria. Their non-meat buffet (they call it a salad bar, but with the warm things, I really think it's a buffet) is only $9.95, and the all-the-meat-you-can-imagine is I think $19.95. Of course they also have drinks galore. Access is also easy from Hillsborough.

    Piazza Italia (also at Brightleaf, and owned by the same folks) can host a big meal in their private dining room. I don't think it's nearly as fun, though, for the kind of crew and event you're talking about. (Duke University Press had a monster afternoon recognition gathering for all hands yesterday afternoon at the Piazza, but that was a different kind of thing.)

    I have several beefs with Tosca and would not recommend it for a whole variety of reasons.

    Starlu no longer serves lunch. Alas.

    Or if you want real fun -- go to the AMF bowling alley that has a grill, games, and bowling.

    By Blogger Phil, at 2:17 PM  

  • Fed is do-able, Rue Cler isn't. Piedmont can certainly do it if you call far enough ahead.

    Personally, I don't really like Q-Shack and I've heard really awful things about Piazza Italia from almost everyone I trust on food who's been there. Tosca is rated a little better, but not that great.

    I also don't like Tyler's - far too corporate. The Fed is just better, both for food and beer. The Fed also do a fantastic $5 half-sandwich and soup deal.

    I'd also like to suggest Watts Grocery. They can do that number of people and there are a lot of very easy-going items on the lunch menu.

    So, here's my ranking
    Joint top choice: Watts and Piedmont
    Second: Fed

    By Anonymous durhamfood, at 3:10 PM  

  • Go with the Fed or Piedmont. Probably Piedmont if you are majority non-smoking. (The Fed isn't too smokey at lunch, usually, but some people find being within 100 yards of a lit cigarette offensive.)

    I think the back room at Bull McCabe's would be good, too, and their food is getting better all the time...just warn them, as they might be staffed a little thin.

    Tyler's food is just plain lousy.

    By Blogger Brian, at 7:47 PM  

  • Knowing what I do about your co-workers, and other friends of mine who favor the chains, I'd figure they'd like a place that is (1) not adventurous or unusual, unless it's theme-park unusual, (2) not too fancy, (3) not just a bar or a dive.

    I don't think anything on your list is that unusual, although Rue Cler, Blue and Piedmont could be construed as such by people who mostly eat bbq in Mebane. I'd put all 3 of those in the "too fancy" category, too. Pizza Palace, Bull McCabes, Q-Shack, Federal all strike me as too casual for a special lunch. That leaves Pop's and Jujube; I've never been to the latter so I can't comment.

    I agree that someplace in Brightleaf or ATC would be good for folks disinclined to explore Durham. Tyler's doesn't have great food, but it's no worse than a chain, and is definitely a business lunch kinda place. I've only been to Piazza Italia once and had a decent meal. I am curious to hear Phil's experience at Tosca--myself and 10 of my friends refuse to go there after they charged us extra for a second bread basket at a table of 11 people. If they don't consider Asian food to be adventurous, Mt. Fuji is a possibility. Chamas is good in a theme-park unusual kinda way.

    In 15-501 land, I'd also suggest Spartacus--lousy decor but the food is decent and they can accommodate a crowd. I always enjoy Pao Lim. Starlu is open for lunch, but I've found their menu and service to be uneven, and they tilt towards the too-fancy end of the spectrum.

    If nothing else, there's always Chuck E. Cheese!

    By Anonymous cd, at 8:12 AM  

  • thanks everyone for the insight and suggestions. i'll forward them along to the decision makers.

    more ideas? keep 'em coming.

    meanwhile, look for us some friday afternoon at Maggiano's.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 8:22 AM  

  • I'll second Jujube for straight up great food, though you should keep in good ol' Durham!

    I'm not a fan of Spartacus, though the deserts are great.

    Pao Lim does good stuff. Pizza Palace does very good pizza, though it's a little overpriced.

    By Anonymous durhamfood, at 9:09 AM  

  • I know all-too-well the situation you describe, Mr. E.

    I'd call in sick that day and let them go eat the usual crap they like. I find myself having less and less patience with people who can't handle the simplest variation from what they "usually" eat. That's just not my problem, you know? I can't save the world from its own idiocy.

    While they're "at work" and eating crap, you eat somewhere civilized and locally owned. Friday? Go to Fishmonger's for oysters and beer.

    On that note, I've heard the management at Macaroni Grill (e?) is a great local guy who's done some good things within the community. As a chain, it's one of the better ones in my book. They have a real bar that makes real drinks, not concoctions. The wood-fired oven is nice and their grilled meats are quite good.

    Okay, so plan B: suggest Macaroni Grill in the form of an ultimatum. They can certainly handle a crowd your size!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:07 PM  

  • Friday? Go to Fishmonger's for oysters and beer.

    Geez, i'm there almost every Friday already. i was looking for a break in the routine.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 11:18 PM  

  • Who is paying?

    By Anonymous Kevin Farmer, at 12:04 AM  

  • Company buys the meal, we buy our drinks.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 8:14 AM  

  • When I was at Duke, I managed to headlock everyone into going to Pop's for the holiday dinner, and it worked really well. The whiners who never want to try anything new can find something, the vegetables are usually happy about it, and a foodie can actually be happy with it. Good wine list too!

    You'll still need to call ahead and let them know you're coming, but they can usually string together a big enough table. And this was with like 17 people.

    If someone took me to Tyler's for a "special" holiday lunch, I'd be pissed. Sure, the reuben is tasty, but come on...

    I know Pop's is kind of on the "outs" with the foodie crowd these days, and I have to admit it's been several months since I went, but I still think they're pretty solid.

    By Blogger Michael Bacon, at 4:14 PM  

  • good luck getting that crew to a local restaurant. cocktails are definitely in order :).

    By Blogger libby, at 7:52 PM  

  • Since price for food obviously is not an issue, blu seafood and bar would be a great selection. If you call ahead and ask for Eryk Pruitt, the GM, I'm certain that he would be happy to arrange for a special menu to accomodate your party. Also, he can put together some kick-ass drink specials for the day. It's his job and he loves doing it.

    By Blogger Eryk Pruitt, at 10:21 AM  

  • Eryk - thanks for the offer. We're still discussing our options. I'm hoping we'll be able to break out of the chain restaurant mold this year.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 11:08 AM  

  • Any decision yet?

    By Blogger Joseph H., at 10:12 PM  

  • Oh, hell, we haven't been able to choose a date yet, let alone a place.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 10:23 PM  

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