It seems like eons since we were in Raleigh, North Carolina having dinner at Poole’s Diner and I just realized I never told you about how wonderful it was.
Chef Ashley Christensen has a history with Poole’s Diner that began long before she became the chef/owner. She moved to Raleigh when she was 18 to attend college. At that time, though original opened as Poole’s, it was known as the Vertigo Diner and she had some older friends who worked there so she went there for drinks. She felt an immediate kinship with the place and eventually ended up working there, first as a bartender and then in the kitchen. After a few months she was put in charge if the weekend brunch shift and created her first menu. Though not her original career choice she found that she truly loved the work, the people and the hustle and left to work at another restaurant nearby called Humble Pie.
Fate brought her back to the locale when her dad was visiting from New York and suggested they go to “that Vertigo place you’re always talking about” for a drink. Looking like he’d seen a ghost he declared that it was not Vertigo but it was Poole’s Luncheonette where he ate lunch every day when he lived in Raleigh! And they spent the rest of that evening with her dad remembering the menu with great fondness and Ashley being awestruck that history was repeating itself. But it was not for several years that she would take possession of the space and return the name to its roots. Poole’s was opened in 1945 as a Poole’s Pie Shop and later become Poole’s Luncheonette when the owner expanded the menu; and again when it was changed to Poole’s Diner. In 1990 new owners renamed the restaurant Vertigo. On December 13, 2007 Chef Ashley Christensen opened the restaurant as Poole’s Diner paying homage to its origins not only with the name but with a menu filled with diner comfort foods brought to a whole new level.
The place is kitschy as ever with its curvy formica bar and red vinyl covered swivel stools that I felt like I had stepped back in time. The only menus are on the chalkboards in the front and the rear and the servers retro attire really makes it feel like a 50’s diner.
We started off with a fabulous salad of Marinated Avocados with Honey Crisp Apples, Watermelon Radishes, Marcona Almonds, Buttermilk Blue Cheese that had the most delicious Cider, Maple and Dijon Vinaigrette. Which we followed up with Oyster Stew that was enhanced with Vermouth and Charred Turnip Roasted Tomato Relish. It was a bowl of pure comfort. And my only regret was that I had to share it.
For our entrées we had decided on sharing the Short Ribs with Buttermilk Dill Fingerling Potato Salad and one other dish but we weren’t sure which one. Our server guided us and said the the Macaroni Gratin was not to be missed so we figured we should take her advise. And in addition, we were treated to the Cauliflower with Oyster Mushrooms and Sherry which could have been a meal in itself!
The short ribs were so tender and succulent with a rich gravy. But I have to say that the Potato Salad that the beef sat atop was cold and just meh compared to the rest of the dishes. The cauliflower was fabulous with the sherry giving it some acidity and it was a really good compliment to the deeply flavored meat. But it was the Macaroni Gratin that stole the show. It was HUGE. I mean really BIG. HUMONGOUS. Enough for four people with a salad. Creamy and cheesy and loaded with lots of crunchy topping for a wonderful contrast in textures. We couldn’t even finish half of it! (Much to our son’s delight!)
So funny how even though we were stuffed we still managed to find room for dessert. Because, well, Chocolate Pot de Crème with Chocolate Wafer Crumble, Salted Caramel and Softly Whipped Cream. Need I say more?
426 South McDowell Street
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601