Fesenjoon, arepas and pizelles: A look at Chapel Hill's new food hall

Blue Dogwood Public Market in Chapel Hill opened in June, and prides itself on offering a wide variety of gluten-free, soy-free and vegan options.
Blue Dogwood Public Market in Chapel Hill opened in June, and prides itself on offering a wide variety of gluten-free, soy-free and vegan options.

Food halls have finally come to the Triangle, but when Kelly Taylor first dreamed up Blue Dogwood Public Market three years ago, no one else was thinking about this new national food craze.

Taylor, the managing partner at Blue Dogwood and owner of Pizzelle Bakery, was seeking a location for an Italian bakery in the Triangle. She loved the space she found near West Franklin Street, but realized it was too big for just her. She met Jeff Boak, owner of the building, and the pair came up with the plan for the market. 

The cooperation did not stop there; almost all of the vendors in the food hall own their stalls, and they all collaborate with one another.

“We wanted to make it so we would all help each other,” Taylor said.

Blue Dogwood opened in June, making it the first food hall in the Triangle. Morgan Street Food Hall & Market in Raleigh opened shortly after. Transfer Co. Food Hall in Raleigh has delayed its opening until 2019, and Durham Food Hall has also delayed its opening after relocating from a spot in Lakewood to 530 Foster St. 

Taylor is well-acquainted with food halls: She spent time in Seattle and frequently visited Pike Place, one of the most famous markets in the United States. But the concept of a lot of stalls in one place is catching on across the country.

“You can go with a bunch of people and not have everyone eat the same thing,” Taylor said.

Taylor said food halls are a new concept to a lot of visitors, but after people come to the market, they keep coming back for more.

“I think people are tired of eating sit down dinners,” Taylor said.

Recess reviewed each of the vendors at Blue Dogwood, which features many vegetarian, gluten-free and soy-free options without minimizing taste.

The Bar

A drink from The Bar at Blue Dogwood is a great complement to any meal from one of the other market vendors. Following the theme of locally sourced foods, The Bar is unique in its selection of local and regional beers and ciders; it only imports its wines. From Cameron to Rocky Mount, The Bar's Beer and Cider partners provide a taste of the region, often with interesting flavors – a sweet potato lager and a jalapeño saison were on tap last Sunday. The hard cider on tap was surprisingly crisp and fresh, with just enough sweetness to cover the alcohol.

The Bar offers a selection of local and regional beers and ciders, but imports its wines.

Rumi Persian Cafe

Featuring a seasonal menu of gluten-free food, Rumi presents vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine unlike anywhere else in Chapel Hill. While the meat options are grass-fed and flavorful – the beef ghormeh sabzi was seasoned well and the vegan fesenjoon stole the show. Traditionally a pomegranate-flavored stew made with poultry, the fesenjoon was given a complete makeover with Rumi's creative take. Featuring jackfruit rather than meat, the dish perfectly balanced the line between sweet and savory without being too powerful. While I was skeptical at first due to the dish's chicken-like appearance, I was excited to find it to be an original, nutritious meat alternative.

Rumi features Persian cuisine with gluten-free and vegetarian options, including this jackfruit version of the pomegranate stew fesenjoon.

Pizzelle Bakery

Taylor markets her bakery as the only gluten-free bakery and possibly the first Italian bakery in the Triangle. But neither of these achievements make for subpar food. The cherry pound cake and citrus olive oil cake were moist and decadent, and packed a lot into a small serving size. The name of Taylor’s bakery comes from the word “pizze,” meaning round and flat. The bakery features a wide array of small, circular cookies, or pizzelles, that can be eaten plain, dipped in chocolate or turned into a cannoli. 

Pizzelle Bakery is named after a small, round Italian cookie, but it offers a wide variety of sweet Italian desserts.

Chocolatay Confections

Chocolatay Confections won a Good Food award for its sunflower crunch cup, a peanut-free take on a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The dark chocolate sea salt caramel was just a little sweet with plenty of sea salt on top, and gooey caramel in every bite. Its rich flavor  makes it impossible to eat more than one. The shop has chocolate available in every shape, size and flavor, including vegan, peanut-free and gluten-free options.

Chocolatay Confections features gluten-free, peanut-free and vegan options to satisfy every sweet tooth.

Left Bank Butchery

Left Bank Butchery features a wide array of cuts, with fresh meat coming in every Wednesdays. The shop gets its meat from two local farms, Cane Creek Farm in Saxapahaw and Braeburn Farm in Snow Creek. Blue Dogwood is the butchery’s second location; they also operate a butchery in Saxapahaw. Aside from raw meat, the butcher sells a variety of sandwiches. They also sell cheese and flowers from other local farms. 

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Left Bank Butchery offers a wide selection of meat cuts, as well as cheese and flowers from local farms.

Soul Cocina

Soul Cocina is plant-based and rooted in Latin American culture, offering tamales and arepas. The plantain, zucchini and black bean arepa filling was piping hot and cooked to perfection, and the arepa itself was fluffy and filling. 

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Soul Cocina offers plant-based foods stemming from Latin American traditions, including fluffy, flavorful arepas.

Vegan Flava Cafe

Vegan Flava Cafe was the stand-out vendor at the market. Yah-I Ausar Tafari Amen and his wife came up with the concept when promoting his wife’s book. They had plant-based diets, but others took an interest in what they were eating. The Cafe opened in 2011 off of U.S. 15-501, but closed the store in anticipation of Blue Dogwood opening. 

“We wanted to remove the stigma associated with vegan food,” Yah-I said. 

After realizing customers had more food sensitivities than just being vegan, Yah-I started to minimize the soy and gluten in his food. 

Most of the customers are not vegan, and there’s no need to be: The Daiya cheese grits and black beans with a walnut topping were good, and the vegan pancake, made with tapioca, sorghum, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla was show-stopping. 

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Vegan Flava doesn't sacrifice flavor in its vegan, plant-based creations, including these Daiya cheese grits and black beans with walnut topping.

Blue Dogwood has already hosted a drum circle and has plans to start cooking classes in the next few weeks. Taylor envisions it as a community space with rotating art displays. The venue will host part of Chapel Hill Art Walk in a few weeks. 

Taylor said she thinks food halls provide high quality food without necessitating an hour-long sit-down dinner. The market’s focus on collaboration and locally-sourced food makes it unique from other places on Franklin Street. 

“It’s a different kind of place,” Taylor said.


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