Raleigh NC: It’s Not All About the Food. No. Really.

I don’t want you to think that my whole weekend in Raleigh was about the food.  Because it really wasn’t.

Saturday started with…well, food.

At Herons, the upscale restaurant at The Umstead, we had a lovely breakfast, with more preternaturally good-looking staff to serve it.  I live two blocks from Zabars, and five from Barney Greengrass.  I know my smoked salmon.  And this was good smoked salmon.  With a poached egg, and a small “slice” of Rosti (like a Scandinavian latke), it was  a great – and surprisingly not that heavy breakfast.

But it really wasn’t all about the food. So we headed off to..well, look at food.

The North Carolina State Farmers Market in Raleigh boasts 30,000 square feet of local produce and plants.  Having just been to the Market in Barcelona, I was curious to see if a US Farmers Market could match it.

I don’t know if it matched the variety of Barcelona’s market, but it was impressive nonetheless.  The biggest watermelons I’ve ever seen, corn, fresh of the farm and fresh off the truck.  Luscious peaches and heirloom tomatoes.  Giant cantaloupes. And that’s just the produce. 

There were pickled eggs, and pickled artichokes, chow chow and jams, organic soaps from   Anders natural Soaps (I got people soap, dog soap (!) and all natural deet-free bug spray.) , and a lemonade stand where they squeezed the fruit right in front of you and added orange, lime or nothing at all.
From there we went to — NOT food!!!  The North Carolina Museum of Art.  Well, not only do I know smoked salmon, and live near where they sell some of the best, but I know my museums, and I live within walking distance of the Metropolitan, the Guggenheim, The Whitney and, if I’m feeling ambitious in the walking department, The Museum of Modern Art.  And The NCMA is a terrific museum.

First, there’s the price: always free.  I cannot tell you how impressed I was by this.  And how lovely it was to see families, and tourists, and young couples, and groups of teenaged boys (!) looking at the exhibits.  Making art accessible to everyone is so so important.  And Raleigh does it at a lot of museums, not just NCMA.  The North Carolina Museum of Natural History, (the southeast’s largest Natural History Museum), The North Carolina Museum of History, and the Raleigh City Museum (temporarily closed for renovations) are all free.  And admission to the newly renovated Contemporary Art Museum in the heart of the new, hip, warehouse district is only $5.

Next, there’s a building itself. A recent $138 million extension is light filled and welcoming, its white walls allowing the art to shine. And what a collection: from old European Masters  (maybe not all the best quality – but still, impressive) to a room full of Rodin sculptures (and I do mean FULL), to a giant and spectacular Anselm Keifer, to a room filled with both a huge Alex Katz and an equally enormous Frank Stella, that somehow seem to complement rather than fight each other.  There’s something for every taste.  Even an impressive Judaica collection. Who knew?

Step outside, and you’re in a sculpture garden.  I cannot tell a lie – the nearly 100 degree weather kept me from

Photo of Thomas Sayre’s Gyre, Courtesy of GRCVB/visitRaleigh.com

exploring much of it,  but it boasts 164 acres of sculptures  both big and small, including a series of etchings – A Closer Look, by Tim Purus – that invite you to bring crayon and paper and make your own rubbings.

After all that art, it was time for more – you guessed it — food. Because I think it’s some kind of law – you can’t go to the South without trying the ‘cue.

Disclosure: I won this trip to Raleigh at an event hosted by the Great Raleigh Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

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