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Carolina BBQ

North Carolina is known as the Cradle of Cue and as any good North Carolinian will tell you, it’s a polarizing topic. Eastern or western styles are your choices, each with its own distinct flavors and cuts of pork. Eastern-style is a vinegar-based sauce and the whole hog is used whereas in the west pit masters use only the shoulder and add ketchup to the sauce.

At The Pit in downtown Raleigh, N.C., Pitmaster Darrell Brown uses all-natural, hormone-free pigs bred in N.C. to create traditional southern favorites in the upscale (yes, white tablecloth) eatery with an extensive wine selection. If local landmark restaurants are more your style, sit at the counter at Clyde Cooper’s BBQ and see what all the fuss has been about since 1938.

Artisanal Chocolates

Move over Hershey! The Raleigh area is gaining notoriety for its bevy of artisanal chocolate makers. Currently, the area has nine specialty chocolatiers, in which two have storefronts that visitors can see and learn about the process. Escazu Artisanal Chocolates was the first true bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the Raleigh area and one of the few in the entire country. Recently honored with a Good Food Award Escazu sorts, winnows and grinds cacao beans to bring out the complexity of flavors. The chocolate is then aged and tempered in antique machines before becoming flavors like Beaufort Sea Salt or Grapefruit Bacon. The newest shop on the block is Videri Chocolate Factory, located in downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District. Videri focuses on teaching the process of how bean-to-bar chocolate is made and has a nice display area where visitors can see the process in action.

Wacky Festivals and Events

The Raleigh area offers good, old-fashioned Southern charm but we can also turn on our flair for the unexpected. A road race of five miles may not seem like a big deal to dedicated runners, but when you stop in the middle to eat a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and then finish the last two and a half miles, it adds more of a challenge. More than 7,500 runners participate in the Krispy Kreme Challenge each February, and when you do the math, that equals more than 90,000 doughnuts.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences can lay claim to the largest, single-day bug event in the country. BugFest is a celebration of all things buggy and happens each Sept. Featuring events like the Roachingham 500 and Café Insecta, where local chefs cook up some tasty treats featuring–you guessed it–bugs, this festival offers educational programming, music, entertainment, displays and exhibits, which makes it a family favorite.

Music City

When you think of well-known musical destinations, cities Nashville or Austin comes to mind, right? Well, Raleigh is well on its way to becoming a major stop for music fans. Raleigh has more live music than any other destination in N.C.! Major venues like Coast Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek and local music venues like Lincoln Theatre or Kings Barcade welcome musicians of all styles and genres, almost on a nightly basis. Hopscotch Music Festival, now in its third year, welcomes nearly 160 bands in 35 venues throughout downtown Raleigh each Sept.

Fashion-Forward Cities

Who needs Milan, Paris or New York when the Raleigh area has a progressive fashion scene with many designers making a name for themselves on a national stage? North Carolina State University has one of the best textile design schools in the country and its annual Art2Wear event features young designers who are challenged to imagine, create, and inspire others by expressing their point of view through wearable art. Take home an authentic Raleigh creation from Holly Aiken, who hand-sews her retro vinyl purses at her shop, Stitch or try on a pair of Raleigh Jeans, handmade using N.C. textiles; also be the envy of your friends with a personalized Moon & Lola monogrammed necklace.

Urban Farms

Eating locally is the new norm and in downtown Raleigh two ventures are making it convenient for chefs and local residents to find locally sourced produce close to home. Raleigh City Farm believes that every city needs an urban farm to reduce waste, improve our diets, and re-connect urbanites with agriculture. The Farmery is constructed of stacked shipping containers and greenhouses oriented to form a vertical farm and u-pick market in an urban neighborhood. The Farmery uses a proprietary growing system to grow edible plants vertically on the sides of the shipping containers. The interior space of the shipping container is used to cultivate gourmet mushrooms.

Traditional Hot Dog Joints

The Roast Grill in Raleigh serves up over 200 Southern-style blackened hotdogs a day and has been since 1940. The wieners come topped with mustard, chili and slaw – no ketchup is on the premises. Also, don’t expect chips, fries, relish or other typical hotdog toppings, the only thing you’ll find on the chalkboard menu at this institution is hotdogs and sodas.

Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs in Wake Forest was founded in 1916 and is renowned for its pool tables, chili dogs and atmosphere while Snoopy’s Hot Dogs serves hot dogs and cheeseburgers, with mustard, onion, and chili on a steamed bun-an eastern N.C. tradition.

The Rise in Popularity of Craft Breweries

Chocolate isn’t the only specialty culinary trend people are talking about. The Raleigh area can now claim 20 craft breweries. Breweries like Big Boss Brewing Company, Lonerider Brewing Company and Aviator Brewing Company specialize in unique, specialty brews like porters and dopplebocks with memorable names such as Shotgun Betty, HotDog Red and Crazy IPA. Stop in to one of the many breweries, have a pint in the tasting rooms and take a tour of the beer making process.

Wine in N.C.

N.C. was the country’s leading wine producing state before the Civil War and regions throughout the state are returning to those roots. The Raleigh area is home to two wineries with on-site vineyards, Adams Vineyard and Winery and Cloer Family Vineyards, as well as Chatham Hill Winery, the state's first urban winery. Serious wine aficionados will enjoy two regional wine trails--one that starts in Wake County and heads northwest, the other that starts here and spreads down East.

Unexpected Places to Scuba Dive

Really? Scuba diving in the Piedmont of N.C.? It’s true - Fantasy Lake Scuba Park in Rolesville is a former rock quarry that has become a haven for scuba divers. It has become the largest scuba diving park on the East Coast and its 100-acre scenic environment is carefully landscaped and maintained.

Carolina Basketball

In the region, and certainly in the Raleigh area, basketball is a way of life. There are 10 traditional universities and colleges in Wake County, and UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University are only about 30-minutes away. With three powerhouse basketball schools, we are one of the best regions in the country for college basketball – some joke that March Madness is a holiday in our area.

Photo: Ray Rivera 

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