Update: Sadly, Pop’s closed its doors in December 2014. It will be missed.
Durham, as many people know, has become the hip place to be in the Triangle. Much of this can be attributed to the dozens of new restaurants that have popped up in recent years, along with the development of the American Tobacco complex and the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC). But, there were also some groundbreaking restaurants who had started the trend years before it became popular to hang out in Durham after dark, including Pop’s Restaurant, A Durham Trattoria. Pop’s is truly a trend setter. They were serving food from local sources long before that trend became more common.
Pop’s recently moved to West Village, which are some old tobacco warehouses that have been refurbished into a posh new mixed-use development. Upon entering from Main Street, we walked up the staircase to the lobby and were greeting by the hostess. We had a party of five and didn’t think about the fact that this was a Saturday night in a very popular restaurant and we had not made reservations. I thought we were sunk, but then the hostess told us there was an option to eat at one of the high top tables in the bar and just add a fifth chair to the table. “It may be a bit tight, but if you’re OK with that we can seat you right away,” she said. Needless to say, we jumped at the chance. The table was right next to the open kitchen. I was in foodie heaven! I got to watch artists hard at work, including their incredible sous chef who was a true master in the kitchen. He really kept things well coordinated and running smoothly during an incredibly busy time in the restaurant. This particular night there were two shows at the DPAC, an event somewhere else nearby, and a concert happening at the Casbah, which was what had brought us to Durham that evening. Dishes were inspected and sent to the counter and quickly picked up by the waiters and waitresses. Each dish we saw coming to the pass looked incredible.
I have to also mention our waiter, Ashley, who was really fun and very attentive. He treated us very well. We all ordered cocktails to begin our meal. I tried the Key West Cosmo, which is pretty much what you would think. It was vodka with triple sec and cranberry and lime juice. The glass was lined with natural sugar.
I wish we would have thought to get more food, but we were all in the mood for pizza and Pop’s is famous for its great wood-fired pizzas. All the ladies in our party got the same dish, a pizza with slices of Granny apples, brie cheese, ricotta and truffle oil. It was so delicious. The brie worked perfectly with the tart apples and how can you go wrong with truffle oil? The crust was thin and crispy as the wood fired stove worked its magic.
My husband ordered a pizza with the salty egg, but had them put the egg over the tomato, basil and mozzarella pizza, because he usually orders a Margherita pizza in France that has a fried egg on it. He was so thrilled to find a place in the United States that makes pizzas like they do in Europe. Our other friend had the pizza with the salty egg and prosciutto, roasted garlic and Kalamata olives – which is one of Pop’s more famous pizzas. He said it was really great, but definitely on the salty side. All of the pizzas were just $10, a fantastic deal! They were large enough that all of us ladies had leftovers to take home. We should have ordered a salad to go with the dishes, but in the end, were too full anyway.
Since we didn’t have a chance to try any of the very tempting dishes that we saw going through the pass, we have to at least show you a photo of the big bowl of mussels, an appetizer dish that we saw come through the pass time and time again. They were truly elegant and I hear they are one of Pop’s signature dishes. I was also very tantalized by the seasonal menu and know that each time we come back the dishes will change with what is available locally. We will certainly be coming back to this Durham landmark many more times to come.
I have to thank John Vandergrift and Chris Stinnett who own both Pop’s and Rue Cler, a French restaurant also located in downtown Durham, for having the commitment to help the revitalization of Durham and to sharing their incredible talent with all of us who live in the Triangle.