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A North Carolina Road Trip (Part Two) -- Pittsboro to Raleigh

Published: 07/18
On the way to Durham, pass through Chapel Hill and take a tour of TOPO Distillery. All of their spirits are USDA-certified organic and their Piedmont gin is a personal favorite. State law prevents them from serving alcohol at the distillery, but you can purchase five bottles per person per year, so stock up since they aren't distributed nationally yet. TOPO only produces 3,000 cases a year but you can try their gin, vodka, spiced rum and whiskey in cocktails at Piedmont and Harvest 18 in Durham.

Durham Distillery is another excellent local distiller, best known for their gin along with chocolate and coffee liqueurs. Founders Melissa and Lee Katrincic were just inducted into The Gin Guild in London in May and have a have a couple new canned cocktails on the market too, a gin tonic with their housemade tonic and cucumber vodka soda.

Check into The Durham Hotel, a mid-century modern boutique hotel with a prime downtown location within walking distance of some of the best eating and drinking in town. The 53-room property has the hottest rooftop bar in town and is beloved among locals. Minibars are stocked with delicious local treats from Escazu Chocolates and Big Spoon Roasters and design is on point too with local ceramics and bedspreads made by Raleigh Denim. A complimentary continental breakfast is the biggest delight though - cheesy beer toast, corn muffins with strawberry jam, ginger scones and buckwheat granola with housemade yogurt are all prepared by James Beard Award-winning chef Andrea Reusing. Just don't eat too much before rooftop yoga. It doesn't make for the most comfortable downward dog.

Around the corner is M Sushi, a dark and surprisingly chic sushi bar. I was skeptical about sushi in North Carolina too, but sit at the African bubinga wood sushi bar and order the omakase menu. Chef Mike Lee is the real deal, using only real wasabi and preparing the freshest fish he can get his hands on, often straight from Japan. He's starting a mini restaurant empire in Durham with unique Asian concepts. M Kokko next door serves ramen and Korean fried chicken, and he's opening a tempura restaurant followed by two more spots specializing in Korean BBQ and mandu dumplings.

For more local fish, head to Saint James Seafood, Chef Matt Kelly's newest venture. Tender North Carolina mahi mahi over crushed spring peas and diced beets was the biggest hit of the evening, and the mixed calabash platters could feed an NFL linebacker.

Drop by Bar Brunello afterwards for a glass of wine. Esteban Brunello has single-handedly made orange wine a trend in Durham (they were sold out of the flight when I stopped in) with 139 different bottles to choose from. He has many other wines from small producers on the list too, with a focus on esoteric Italian varietals. For dessert, Rose's Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets has a case full of some of the best treats in town. I can't decide whether I prefer their ice cream sandwiches with housemade cookies or the enormous scoops of ice cream at The Parlour.

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