Durham, North Carolina

Cheryl and Bill Jamison recall the mouthwatering cuisine at the Magnolia Grill.

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We kicked off our three-week car trip around the South by driving 1,820 miles to dinner.

We stopped overnight twice along the way at budget motels, and enjoyed some good barbecue in Memphis, but the thought of the great food awaiting us at the Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina kept us moving mostly at a fevered Interstate pace. It’s been several years since our last visit to the restaurant—easily one of the very best in the country—and we got hungrier with each passing mile.

Karen and Ben Barker opened the Magnolia Grill more than 20 years ago and still attend personally to every detail today. Karen runs the pastry kitchen, producing luscious desserts, and Ben oversees the savory preparations. They infuse the food with both southern tradition and an extraordinary flair for global flavors, and they manage to do it in a down-home, customer-friendly environment at fair prices.

We wanted tastes of as many dishes as possible, so we shared portions of nine plates from all parts of the menu. Everything wowed us, but two that we will remember for years came from the sea. The perfectly selected and fried oysters sat on a bed of baby butterbeans and creamy hominy with bits of country ham, a barbecue vinaigrette and black pepper aioli. The crispy filet of flounder came with lemony grits, spicy green-tomato sauce, Texas Pete remoulade and a “Dixie” ratatouille. The bold flavors were expertly blended and balanced, and the mostly local ingredients were superb.

In every respect the dinner was worth every mile on the Interstate.

Cheryl and Bill Jamison write about food and travel, always with mouthwatering results. Among their best-selling books are Smoke & Spice, American Home Cooking and The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining. They are also frequent contributors to Cooking Light and Bon Appétit. Married 22 years, they live just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Jamisons’ newest book,
Around the World in 80 Dinners: The Ultimate Culinary Adventure, regales readers with a tasty account of their global travels in search of great local fare—from Bali to Brazil.

Learn more about Cheryl and Bill at
cookingwiththejamisons.com. You can sign up to join them on a future trip by clicking on “culinary adventures.”

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