Authentic tapas, delicious Italian pasta, delicate French cuisine and hefty American burgers: these foods from around the world can be found not far off Duke’s campus in downtown Durham. Durham has been on the rise as a major foodie city for a few years, and now everywhere you turn there is an amazing local restaurant just waiting to delight.
Although the streets are not as packed and restaurants not as crowded as they would be sans pandemic, the lull has not stopped the Durham food scene from continuing to evolve and improve. Specializing in southern comfort food, the newest restaurant to open its doors in Durham is Plum.
Madi Casey, Plum’s guest services lead, said that she would answer the question ‘What is Plum?’ with just a few words: “We keep coming back to delicious southern food and gracious hospitality.”
My first experience with Plum was at the Durham Farmers’ Market back in November when I spotted Plum owner Lisa Callaghan wheeling around a large wagon full of fresh produce and veggies for the restaurant. She was handing out flyers advertising the restaurant’s opening, answering questions from passers-by and making friendly conversation with the vendors and customers. This warmth and friendliness seems to keep in line with the restaurant’s goal and what they are all about, which according to Casey, is to welcome and serve the people of Durham.
“We want it to be about the people that come in the door everyday,” she said.
Callaghan also mentioned that Plum strives to be “accessible” for everybody in the community, making it a place where anybody and everybody can enjoy a good meal.
Casey spoke to the fact that many people are struggling right now due to the pandemic, so Plum is doing their best to connect with and support the Durham community. Perhaps the best example of this is their newly launched $15 or less take out menu, easing some of the price burden of eating out and letting customers know that the restaurant cares about them.
“Durham is a very progressive community where I feel like I can, and Plum can, make a real impact. And I hope we do,” Callaghan wrote on her website.
Based on their concrete efforts to simultaneously serve and aid the Durham community during these challenging times, Plum is among other Durham establishments fostering a sense of community and support.
One of the ways Plum seeks to have a positive impact on Durham and build a sense of community is by raising the minimum wage for any of their workers to $15 per hour, pointint to Plum’s commitment to supporting essential workers as the pandemic rages on.
Casey also summed up this sentiment perfectly in a few words: “We’ve got you Durham.”
If you’re considering getting some food from Plum for your next meal, you have some options to best suit your preferences. They offer picnic-style dining, meaning that when you order, all of your food is packaged up so that you can either take it to go, sit in their outdoor dining area or sit inside to eat.
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The interior of the restaurant is warm and comfortable, complete with picnic tables and hundreds of cookbooks lining the shelves on the wall. The food certainly matches the aesthetic of the dining area, with classic comfort foods such as mac & cheese, brussels sprouts and one of their most popular dishes according to Casey: chicken and dumplings.
Callaghan makes sure that each table feels welcomed by delivering their packaged food and making light conversation — a sweet personality that aptly matches her sweet tooth.
According to the Plum website, there’s a special place in her heart for dessert: “I have to say — a good piece of fruit pie just makes my heart sing.”
It is clear that the menu is true to Callaghan’s favorite foods; there is a dessert item called “Lisa’s Dessert.” The dessert is handmade by Callaghan each morning and changes according to what she feels she would like to make. Her pumpkin whoopie pie is one of her favorite desserts to make and eat.
“She comes in every morning and bakes her heart out. We get to put a piece of her every single day onto the menu,” Casey said.
As for recommendations for the best items on the menu? According to Callaghan, one of her favorite items is the catfish. And although I have not tried every dish, my personal favorite so far is the mac and cheese. It’s rich and flavorful, not to mention the ultimate comfort food.
It is doubtless that Plum will soon become a Durham staple, and it definitely already ranks among my personal favorites downtown, alongside Bull City Burger and Brewery, Mateo and Viceroy, to name a few. Do yourself a favor and go check out Plum!