Friday, July 9, 2021

Poole's Diner

Restaurants are opening back up, and that means I need to dust off my list of must-try spots and give them a visit! Poole's Diner in Raleigh has been on my list for as long as I can remember. Owner/chef Ashley Christensen is something of a celebrity chef, and has been the name most synonymous with Raleigh dining in the past decade. In fact, she won a James Beard Award (the Oscars of the food world) in 2014 and 2019, securing her among the highest ranks of chefs in the country. While she's branched out to open several other bars and restaurants in the Triangle, Poole's remains her flagship. They finally started taking reservations this summer, and you better believe that I snatched up a seat as soon as I could.

The atmosphere is a major contradiction to the menu - at first it seems weird to sit on a swivel stool at a countertop or high top table and pay $12 for beets. But I knew that the food would be exceptional, so I went along with the whimsical, casual environment. The server was open to bringing multiple samples of wine until I found the right one (there were only 3 reds by the glass!) and pointed us in the direction of the chalkboard on the wall to see the menu. I don't love a menu on my phone (sorry) and I definitely don't love a menu on the wall, but I get it. It's all part of the theme.

I'd always heard about the Macaroni and Cheese at Poole's Diner. It's supposedly somewhat legendary. It's $18 and features cheddar, jarlsberg and grana padana. It comes out piping hot and has a crispy cheese topping, over an ooey gooey pile of cheesy, tiny elbow macaroni noodles. It's excellent. But, I've had excellent macaroni and cheese before. My bar was extremely high for this dish, and I hate to say that it did not give me the mind blowing I was quite hoping for. Still, really good.

The roast chicken with pan sauce and mashed potatoes unfortunately were a bit lacking. I usually don't order chicken in a restaurant (sadly they were out of the lamb!) and as I feared, it was a bit dry. The mashed potatoes were fine, never anything that really excites me, and the dish desperately needed the dark, umami gravy that came with it. I expected more here. If you're serving roast chicken and mashed potatoes in your fine dining restaurant, it should be outstanding.

The peas were the surprise star of the meal. Cooked with giant, meaty oyster mushrooms and sherry cream - I could not stop eating this dish! This is how all peas should be served. It was super creative, and my dining partner who "doesn't like peas or mushrooms" devoured it.

Poole's does a great job of taking dishes that you've had, and elevating them. They frequently change their menu according to what's in season, and I thought this was a perfectly good meal. But did it blow me away? No. I'm not sure if I went on an off night, but I have a feeling that if I went another night, I would have a better experience. I'd like to give them another shot, and now that they take reservations, I can do it sooner than later! Maybe they're still finding their footing after being closed for in-person dining during Covid. I know many restaurants are grateful to be open again, and I'm grateful for that, too!