People always ask me where I’m from. It’s a complicated question: I was raised in Argentina, Minnesota, and Florida before heading to North Carolina for college and then here to Washington, D.C.
Both my parents were military brats and have spent much of their lives abroad. Sometimes I just want to reply, “I’m a citizen of the world,” but then I’ll just sound like a tool.
Based on my name, alma matter, and love of the word “y’all,” I’m often pigeonholed as a Southern girl. I’m just fine with that, y’all, because I love the South. So much so that the second I get my paws on a car, I drive South, to Raleigh, to be with my three best friends from college: Lauren, Maggie, and Steph.
On this particular occasion, General Motors lent me the keys to a brand new Cadillac CTS. Within two days of the e-mail, I was on I-95 headed South, to God’s country. The CTS is by far the most technologically advanced car I’ve ever driven. In addition to much-needed perks like heated seats, Bose speakers, XM radio (BBC News!), parking assist, USB ports, the CTS offers heads-up display, which displays relevant information like speed, song, and weather in a futuristic way outside the windshield.
It’s kind of an old man car—my Dad has a CTS—but it’s so sleek, fast, and smooth that I’d buy one in a heartbeat. The one I drove around town was black-yet-glittery, making it appropriately feminine for this little Bitch. Even more helpful, the seat vibrates when you’re close to hitting something. As I’m a terrible driver, my seat was vibrating almost constantly, and I went from being initially startled to wondering if I was supposed to be alert or aroused.
After six hours in the car made sufferable by XM radio, I arrived in Raleigh for a blissful weekend of speakeasy cocktail bars, antique furniture shopping, and delicious Mexican food with my best friends. Did I mention I love the South?
By the time Sunday rolled around, we knew exactly where to brunch—at Joule Coffee, Ashley Christensen’s newest restaurant. Chef Christensen has quite the monopoly on the Raleigh food scene as the most popular local chef, known for gourmet Southern cuisine. Last year, we brunched at one of her restaurants, Beasley’s Chicken & Honey, so I was excited to try another.
While we waited for a table at the packed restaurant, we ordered coffees and chai lattes from the coffee bar. The coffee menu is extensive and educational, with the coffee provided by Counter Culture, a North Carolina-based roaster that provides beans to much of the East Coast.
The lone Bitch and vacationer at the table, I was forced to drink solo, selecting a traditional mimosa from a well-curated cocktail menu that offers Bloody Marys, Madras, Greyhounds, Bellinis, Amersandys (Plymouth gin, Aperol, grapefruit, and soda), and Sunshine States (Buffalo Trace with a Stroh’s back beer).
Lauren and I went halvsies on the shrimp ‘n’ grits and the cold-smoked salmon. I started with the cold-smoked salmon with roasted beets, cream cheese, charred orange marmalade vinaigrette, and a side of toast points. While healthy, this dish was satisfying. The salmon was fresh, the wheat toast points were soft, and the cream cheese that coated the dish added flavor and comfort. We hadn’t really thought to pair salmon and beets together, but, layering them both on toast with cream cheese proved quite delicious.
The Carolina shrimp ‘n’ grits, of course, were some of the better shrimp ‘n’ grits I’ve had. Chef Ashley Christensen certainly knows her Southern cookin’. The thick, creamy grits were served with smoked tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, and a sherry reduction.
Miss Maggie also opted for a healthy choice: the “avocado,” a salad served with endive, Buttermilk Blue cheese, toasted pistachios, and charred red onion vinaigrette. The enormous salad was the pinnacle of health.
Steph has a propensity for ordering sandwiches larger than her head at every meal we eat, and this brunch was no different. (Truly, this all began with a trip to New York for my 21st birthday and a visit to Katz’ Delicatessen, where the sandwich she was served was most certainly larger than her head.) Today, she selected the BLT deluxe, and it was nearly as large as the one at Katz years ago. The sammich was layered with Chesire Pig bacon, avocado, roasted tomatoes, and a malt aioli on fresh house sourdough.
I was fulfilling my Bitch duty when I mandated we order the North Carolina sweet potato hotcake. Alright, let’s be real: I was craving sugar and carbs and would have done anything to satisfy that craving. As the hotcake was whisked to our table it was immediately evident the dish was better that we could have imagined. The hot cake was a real hot cake, rather than a pancake masquerading as a hotcake. The cast-iron skillet cooked cake was dense, moist, buttery perfection, with a true cake-like consistency. It was vanilla cake on the bottom, with sweet potato atop. It was slathered with local, thick whipped cream that didn’t melt despite the heat radiating from the dish.
Steph said the sweet potato hotcake is the kind of thing where as soon as you take your first bite, you immediately start planning a return visit with more friends who will also have their lives changed by this unique southern delight. And I agree. Thicker than a pancake with an almost cornbread-like texture, the hotcake had the perfect amount of sweet with the whipped cream and drizzled maple syrup. Simple brunch goodness.
The hotcake was the size of the skillet it was no doubt cooked in, allowing us to divide it in four to split evenly among ourselves. In reality, I had my fourth, and Steph’s. There’s no judgment among old friends.
The Bitches say: A+. Ashley Christensen does amazing Southern food, and Joule is a real gem. The cuisine and coffee hit the spot.
223 S Wilmington St.
Joule Coffee serves brunch weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.