On the corner of Geer Street and Foster Street in downtown Durham is a quaint, little restaurant that has quickly become one of my “You have to try this place” restaurants when someone comes to town. Geer Street Garden is located in an old gas station and has lots of charm. Old brick walls, exposed air ducts with a sealed foam ceiling and a bull on the wall reminds you that you are in an old part of Durham, just a block away from the old Bull Durham Athletic park. On a nice day, there is ample room to sit outside in the “garden” area, where there are picnic tables, or if the weather is not as nice, in a plastic-enclosed back porch area.
The menu features modern, Southern dishes, such as grilled pimento cheese sandwich, fried or grilled fish taco and local, pasture-raised burgers. The chef uses as much local produce as possible. The restaurant is just a block or two from the Durham Farmer’s Market, so Andy McGowan, the owner-chef, goes a couple of times a week to get whatever is fresh and in season. McGowan used to be the chef at the Piedmont Restaurant down the road.
One of my recent trips to Geer Street occurred on a cold day, so I ordered the dish of the day, which was a curry dish with cauliflower, onions, and potatoes. The dish was warm and comforting, but not overwhelming with the curry flavor. It was a great dish to have on a cold day. It was served with a side of riata, which is a cool, yogurt-based dish with cucumbers and parsley. It was also served with a little chutney that had pickled pepper, preserved lemon, which is sour and very salty, some green peppers and tomato.
A few weeks later, I came again with a friend. He had the special of the day, which was a cassolet, consisting of white beans, braised pork belly, garlic sausage and duck confit. It was very earthy and rich. Again, a perfect dish for a cold day (we’ve had a lot of those lately!).
I had the fried chicken plate, which I heard is one of their famous dishes. It was served with mashed potatoes and greens that had a nice little spice to them. OK, everyone likes their fried chicken different. I happen to like a flour-based chicken better and I like fried chicken to be served with the bones, but this was boneless chicken with a corn meal-based crust. I admit, it did taste good and the pieces of chicken were nice and tender and juicy, which is not easy to do when its boneless. While this was not one of my favorite dishes at Geer Street, I can see why others adore it.
I visited Geer Street Garden yet again while my husband and I were showing our friend from Salt Lake City around town. I always like taking visitors to the Geer Street neighborhood. In addition to Geer Street Garden, there’s Cocoa Cinnamon across the street, Motorco, a great music house, just behind Geer Street Garden, and Fullsteam, one of my favorite microbreweries, just around the corner. I had one of the cheeseburgers, made with pasture-raised beef, with cheddar cheese and a side salad. It was juicy, and had a soft, freshly baked bun. It was very tasty and satisfying. My friend also had a burger and loved it as much as I loved mine.
We got a side of jalapeno cheddar hush puppies. They were big, round, fried balls of corn meal with a very crispy outside and a warm, mushy, sweet dough on the inside with just a hint of spice from the jalapenos.
My husband had the Reuben sandwich which is another one of the dishes Geer Street Garden is known for. Locals told me it’s something Andy used to serve at the Piedmont and people loved them. I can see why, because I had a taste of the sandwich and it was great! There was an ample amount of corned beef and the sauerkraut gave a little bite, but was not too sour.
One piece of advise if you decide to come here is come early or late as it is a tiny restaurant, so there is not a lot of seating, but they do have outdoor seating with heaters.
Geer Street Garden is located at 644 Foster Street in Durham and is open on Monday – Thursday from 11:30 a.m. – midnight, on Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m., for Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. You can follow them on Twitter: @geerstgarden for like their Facebook page.