When you think of North Carolina, you might think “southern” or “almost southern”; or, you might immediately envision forests of trees or the Tar Heels or the beautiful campus of Duke University. What you may not be immediately prompted to think about is the food – but you should.
Pepsi and the Krispy Kreme donut were both conceived of in North Carolina, hence Pepsi being the most available cola in the state (Coke can be found but at much shorter supply). Typical southern dining definitely has its claim on North Carolina. There is plenty o’ fried food including fried fish, potatoes, and desserts; barbeque and steaks are all over the place, as are chicken dishes, baked and sweet potatoes, biscuits, hot dogs, pickles, cheeses, and fresh tomatoes.
I had the good fortune of eating at the world famous Angus Barn, a barn-style steak house usually on every Top 100 Restaurant list as well as Top 50 highest grossing eateries. What two men built and began over 50 years ago has not only succeeded in its own right but it also overcame a serious obstacle not too many restaurateurs ever have to face: a sweeping fire that burned down the barn just a few decades ago. The people of Angus Barn were distraught but they knew they had a duty to themselves and to their customers to pour their hearts and souls into rebuilding the place, which they did with a burning passion. Now the restaurant is better than ever, boasting a reinvigorated spirit, a life-loving character, and a total staff of about 400 people. Four hundred!
Steaks are clearly their main forte. You have the option of getting pretty much any cut you like and others you never heard of before. Each entrée typically comes with sides of mixed vegetables and a baked potato, or maybe some fried and caramelized onions (so savory!) or sautéed mushrooms. And each bite is unforgettable.
The sauces they use are out of this world – so juicy, so fresh tasting, as if straight from their backyard. The expertise of the chefs is obvious; the food is great to the taste buds but also to the eyes. As the waiter comes out with each plate, you can’t help but marvel at the artistic presentation that only makes your mouth water even more. And then you take a bite, and each and every expectation you had was blown out of the water.
In addition to steak entrées, there are chicken and fish options that are just as delectable. (Although, one born-and-bred Raleighan told me she tried to “be good” one time and she ordered the chicken, only to be absolutely heartbroken when everybody else’s meals came. (Read: At a steak joint, go big or go home.)
Appetizers include a range of items from salads (the wedge was crispy and satiating), soups (the French onion was to die for and the vegetable soup was a yummy treat), fried potato wedges with a mayo-based sauce (yummmm), big onion rings, and much, much more.
Additionally, every table is provided with baskets of rich Texas Toast – toasted white bread slathered with melted butter served hot. Not the healthiest option but definitely worth the extra calories. When in Rome, do as the Romans do!
Another perk of eating at Angus Barn is their “buffet” of pre-meal finger foods. From the moment you sit down and begin to contemplate the menu, you are encouraged to head over to the selection of carrots, celery, pickles, olives, cheeses, and crackers. It’s a nice little offering that’s enjoyable to munch on and can hold a growling belly over until the real food arrives.
And the cheeses… well, the cheeses are fresh and cold as they should be but they also have this “melty” quality that allows them to be spread easily onto a cracker or some bread. Mmmm.
Moreover, the atmosphere is awesome. If you thought your local Southern-style eatery was fun, just wait until you walk into the authenticity of Angus Barn and are greeted by the friendliest southerners below the Mason Dixon line.
Literally, every single person who worked there was warm and welcoming, and when the wait for a table for six “was over an hour and a half”, as soon as we told the manager (who happened to be standing with the hostess) that we had come all the way from New Jersey and were told we had to try their restaurant, they immediately accommodated us, claiming in true form that yes, we absolutely had to try it and they absolutely had to have us. Within literally 45 seconds, they sat us upstairs right next to the pre-food buffet I mentioned and our experience was off to a wonderful start.
And then the magician came over. As soon as we finished ordering our meals (and what a fabulously charming waitress we had – she recounted to us the history of the place and offered a post-meal tour of the extensive and famous wine cellar), an older man with a passionate smile approached our table.
He whipped out a deck of cards and enthusiastically went into a few tricks that not only had us entertained but also left us in astonishment. How did he do that!? That’s impossible! Some of us whipped out our smart phones to try and YouTube an answer. This guy was so good that after spotting one of his tricks that was posted online, Google contracted him for one of their corporate events!
Yes, it’s a loud place, and yes, the food comes in large portions that you might not be able to finish. But who would ever complain about too much food, and who would ever be turned off by an authentic soundtrack? The hustle and bustle of the place only adds to its appeal.
Angus Barn is a must if you ever visit the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina. It’s located right on one of the popular highways – very easy to spot and very easy to get to. The food, the atmosphere, the friendly staff, and the fun are all begging to take you away to a food heaven you may never have even known was possible.
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