Dining Downtown Raleigh
When I arrived in Raleigh in the early 1990s, the dining options were pretty sparse. My introduction to the culinary scene included pork BBQ and pink hot dogs (yes, it’s a thing). Beyond that, there were a few chain restaurants, a handful of southern-style sit-down restaurants, and the Angus Barn. Evenings and weekends the streets of downtown Raleigh were pretty deserted and quiet. Dining downtown Raleigh wasn’t a big thing.
Flash forward to today and on any given evening, the streets are bustling with people out and about enjoying great food and a flourishing nightlife. Raleigh now boasts multiple world renown award-winning chefs and limitless choices when it comes to cuisine and culinary styles. The number and variety of restaurants are staggering. With so many dining options, finding time to try them all can be challenging. Hence, I ventured on a progressive dinner to sample a few of the delectable offerings in the City of Oaks.
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Progressive dining is where you move from one location to another, enjoying a different course of your meal at each stop. Depending on how many courses you’re up for, you can customize the dining experience to suit your tastes and hunger. With so many exciting dining options downtown Raleigh, rather than stay at just one restaurant, I venture on a progressive dinner, breaking the dining experience into three parts; appetizers, beverages and main meal, and dessert.
First Stop – Whiskey Kitchen
Our first stop is at Whiskey Kitchen on Martin Street in Nash Square. Whiskey Kitchen is a unique pairing of modern southern fare with whiskey, served in a hip re-purposed building which once housed a limousine company. It’s truly the perfect combination. The open airy feeling of the restaurant blends effortlessly with the outdoor seating area and the exquisite artwork on the walls. I spend several moments simply taking it all in.
Once seated, we’re met by manager, Aaron Lambert who gives us an overview of the Whiskey Kitchen philosophy while offering us samples. The first sample is a custom cocktail called The Battle of Kings Mountain featuring a mixture of whiskey with a zesty citrus finish.
Next, we enjoy a smokey 15-year old single malt Bowman scotch served with delectable cornbread and sorghum butter. I have to say this is the most amazing combination. The bite of cornbread followed by the smooth smokiness of the whiskey chaser is out of this world.
Finally, we enjoy a scrumptious meal. The menu is broken into Small Plates, Large Plates, and Sweet Plates and changes seasonally. The ingredients at Whiskey Kitchen are fresh and locally sourced. My husband has the lamb burger and I opt for the Burgoo. If you’re not familiar with the term, burgoo is a delightfully hearty stew traditionally made in bourbon-making regions of the country. Yum!
Overall, the time spent at Whiskey Kitchen is awesome! Our meals are wonderful and by pairing the food with whiskey, dinner is more of a dining event. Furthermore, the festive atmosphere makes Whiskey Kitchen a great place for experiencing the downtown Raleigh dining scene.
I’ve already decided, we’re coming back.
201 W. Martin Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
Second Stop – Sassool Select
We take off on foot departing Whiskey Kitchen and walk to the Morgan Street Food Hall for our appetizers. Yes, we’re going out of order, but since our dessert destination is in the food hall too, we opt to enjoy our appetizers second.
Located at 411 W. Morgan Street, the food hall is a fun new dining concept in the heart of downtown. Per their website, “Morgan Street Food Hall introduces the concept of cross meal ordering, where different meals are enjoyed in a shared seating area.” The variety and number of choices mean there’s something for everyone. This evening our destination in the food hall is Sassool Select.
Sassool Select serves amazing Mediterranean cuisine. Not only is the food delicious, but it’s also healthy and all the ingredients consist of fresh produce from the State Farmers Market. Additionally, many of their menu items are vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, and gluten-free.
The family-owned restaurant lovingly prepares and serves authentic time-honored recipes that were brought to America from Lebanon by the owner’s mother, Cecilia. If you’ve never tried the authentic Mediterranean food, you’re in for a treat at Sassool Select.
Tonight, manager Erik serves us a generous sampling of Sassool favorites; falafel, cabbage salad, hummus, chicken salad, jalapeno cilantro hummus, fatoush, and plenty of pita bread for dipping.
We spend time seated in the common area savoring the spread Erik has offered us. My favorite, if it’s possible to pick one, is the stuffed grape leaves. The grape leaves are filled with rice, tomatoes, and spices and are by far the most flavorful I’ve had. Our sampling is so generous it’s more like a second meal so we ask Erik for a to-go box!
I could spend hours enjoying the food at Sassool Select. Nonetheless, it’s time to move on!
411 Morgan W. Morgan Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
Final Stop Dessert!
Rolled ice cream!
The trendy style of ice cream that started in Thailand has made its way to North Carolina. I can’t think of a more enjoyable finish to a progressive dinner dining downtown Raleigh than this frozen treat.
Raleigh Rolls in the Morgan Street Food Hall is a beehive of activity as customers queue to order and watch their sweet treats being prepared.
What exactly is rolled ice cream?
Some people refer to it as stir-fried ice cream because the preparation resembles stir-frying. However, instead of a hot grill, the cream is poured over an extremely cold surface while all kinds of “add-ons” are tossed into the mix. Once the ice cream is ready, it’s rolled up, put in a cup, and topped – creating a beautiful and unusual dessert.
Kelly at Raleigh Rolls happily takes our order and we look on in amazement as an ice cream artist creates our custom dessert. We’ve decided to share a treat called Benelux Biscoffee which is a ” mix in Biscoff cookies and Benelux coffee topped with caramel syrup, whipped cream, and Biscoff cookie.” The creative combination is heavenly.
Raleigh Rolls features six flavors with names such as Grandma’s Nanner Puddin’, S’mores, and Mixed Berry. They also offer a daily or a seasonal special. On the other hand, should you wish to make your own creation, you have the option of selecting your own mixture.
There’s great energy around Raleigh Rolls and the upbeat atmosphere intensifies the tasty dessert experience. At Raleigh Rolls, watching dessert being made is almost as fun as eating the ice cream … almost.
411 W. Morgan Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
Travel Tips For Your Progressive Dinner
Planning a progressive dinner and dining downtown Raleigh is easy. The three stops we made were perfect for our journey and we were able to travel to our destinations on foot.
However, if you prefer not to walk, a great option is the R-Line. The R-Line is a free circulator bus which runs approximately every 15-minutes offering a wonderful and free way of getting around downtown Raleigh.
For a sportier means of transportation, Raleigh’s got plenty of Bird Scooters or if you’re on a date, you can always opt for a pedicab.
With a thriving culinary scene and an array of restaurants, dining downtown Raleigh affords visitors as well as locals countless appetizing choices. A progressive dinner is a fun way to eat at several places, try a variety of cuisines, and to optimize your dining experience. Raleigh, North Carolina’s restaurant scene has evolved and a progressive dinner is a terrific approach to partaking in the gastronomic renaissance.
Summary Downtown Raleigh Progressive Dinner
- Whiskey Kitchen – beverages, cocktails, and dinner
- Sassool Select – appetizers & salads Mediterranean cuisine
- Raleigh Rolls – dessert of rolled ice cream
Disclaimer: While my visit to these restaurants was hosted, all opinions are based on personal experience, are honest, and my own.
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