South's Best Neighborhoods: Downtown-Central Park, Durham

Photo: Joey and Jessica
Durham's Geer Street Garden
Zero in on the action by spending a day in Durham's scrappy start-up scene.

Why We Love It: Downtown Durham is fertile ground for homegrown epicurean businesses. Their ace in the hole: a bounty of empty tobacco warehouses waiting for conversion to artisanal bakeries and microbreweries.

Our Perfect Day: Fuel up at Scratch (, Phoebe Lawless’ butteryellow bakery and brunch spot. Try the not-too-sweet Shaker Lemon Pie ($4). In Central Park, wander 60-plus vendors at the Durham Farmers’ Market ( Wednesdays and Saturdays, or tour nearby Fullsteam ( brewery to sample limited-edition beers. Andy Magowan’s new Geer Street Garden ( is the place for down-to-earth dinners such as local, pasture-raised burgers ($10) and a gut-busting starter called “The Pile” (fried chicken, french fries, jalapeños, bacon, Cheddar cheese, and gravy; $10). One block away, Motorco Music Hall ( stages all-ages rock shows and is a magnet for food trucks such as micro batch ice cream-maker The Parlour (

Top Tastemaker: Fullsteam brewery founder Sean Lilly Wilson first made waves with his Pop the Cap movement, loosening state restrictions on beer production, then with his “plow-to-pint” recipes such as the Carver Sweet Potato lager.

The Ideal Souvenir: A pack of Kublai Khan cacao balls made with raw agave, Sri Lankan cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla powder (three for $5) from Cocoa Cinnamon (

Everyone’s Talking About: Vin Rouge chef Matthew Kelly’s Mateo ( opening mid-July: Spanish tapas, Southern-style. Think homemade chorizo dipped in corn dog batter.

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