The beans arrived! Twelve pounds of heirloom bean fabulousness was waiting on my doorstep when I returned home from work Tuesday evening. It was the highlight of my week.
"What beans?" you may be asking. The beans I've been meaning to write about for a while, but haven't found time. Now is the time.
I went out to dinner for with the vivacious Caroline a few weeks ago. We met at Poole's Diner, one of my favorite Raleigh restaurants. It's hip, it's happenin', it's downtown. It really was a diner in its former life, complete with tin ceilings and a Formica-clad bar saved in the renovation. Chef/owner Ashley Christensen serves local, seasonal, hand-crafted food at Poole's, usually of French or Italian pedigree, sometimes with a Southern twist. The Grand Marnier-spiked chicken liver pate is to die for.
I have worked in a few nice restaurants and I understand the special touches they offer, but this woman churns her own butter. Churns butter! Takes the term housemade to a new level.
Caroline and I enjoyed deviled egg salad and fried green tomatoes with roasted tomato relish; a lovely frisee salad with asparagus, poached egg, bacon cornbread croutons, and Banyuls vinaigrette; North Carolina soft shell crab on Rancho Gordo Good Mother Stallard Beans; and a Royale with Cheese (I love a good Pulp Fiction menu reference).
Everything was good, but my soft shell crab was the hands-down winner. Yes, the crab was lovely — a seasonal crustacean crisped to perfection and lightly sauced with a bit of aioli. But those beans. The beans! They were amazing. Rich, earthy, and melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. These are the beans I've been looking for.
I've read about Rancho Gordo for years — it's made the pages of The New York Times, Saveur, Gourmet (R.I.P.), Bon Appetit, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Founder Steve Sando raises heirloom beans and seeds in California's Napa Valley, and ships his products internationally, and though I'd visited the company website several times in years past, I never made a purchase. After my meal at Poole's I marched forward to my trusty Mac G5, credit card in hand, and bought dried beans online. Many, many, many dried beans. With a flat $8.00 shipping rate, why buy one little bag? Stock up. Branch out. My pantry now holds 9 varieties of beans I've never heard of.
Dear reader, you are in for many a bean recipe. One pound of Good Mother Stallards sit submerged in water, waiting to be unleashed this weekend.
If you visit Poole's — and if you're in Raleigh, North Carolina, you must put it on your To Do List — know that reservations aren't accepted. Be prepared to wait. The charming tin ceiling is lovely to look at but doesn't help the noise factor. I've had to wait a little longer than I'd like for food in the past, though that wasn't the case on my most recent visit (do remember that everything is made to order). Oh, and you won't be given a menu. Several chalk boards hung on walls list the evening's selections, so you may have to get up and walk across the room to see your options.
You should go. No doubt. The food is consistently terrific.