Ashley Christensen is a local celebrity of sorts. She currently owns 5 restaurants in Downtown Raleigh, including Chuck’s (burger joint), Beasley’s Chicken and Honey, Fox Liquor Bar, Joule Coffee and of course, the first and most noteworthy…Poole’s Downtown Diner. The previous owner and similar success with the spot when he opened it as a pie shop in 1945. He quickly began incorporating diner food and people would line up around the block for a chance to eat there. The same is true of Poole’s Downtown Diner today. People will wait for hours to get a table. We went early, got a seat at the horseshoe shaped bar and settled in to enjoy one of the most delicious dining experiences in Raleigh.
Overall: 4.75 out of 5
Food/Beverage: 5 out of 5
Ambiance: 4 out of 5
Value: 5 out of 5
Service: 5 out of 5
Poole’s is absolutely beautiful. From floor to ceiling, it pays homage to what the diner was when it was opened back in the day. The restaurant has a retro vibe to it, with the diner tables and leather chairs, the shiny ceiling and chalk board menus. The only fault of this place is that with the crowd, the set up is a little restrictive. If you are waiting for a seat, you will be squished into the front area where there are only a few places to sit and wait. You can order a drink while you wait, but to do so you have to walk up to the bar area, which means you will be elbowing the poor sap seated next to the register in the middle of their back while you stand there. It’s also just a little bit loud, even when empty. All of these things are something I can deal with when enjoying a meal at such a wonderful spot.
Onto the food! For our first dish, we ordered the Lamb Carpaccio ($13). I’d never had carpaccio before, especially a lamb version, so I was beside myself to see it on the board. It was topped with some sort of creama and caviar. The flavor was soft, the meat was delicate and melted in my mouth.
Along side of it, we ordered the baguette ($3.00). There was something special about this bread. It was soft and warm, had a strong olive oil flavor and just enough salt to pair very well with the carpaccio.
It was difficult to photograph the food, considering the level of lighting. I did my best, but really if you want the full experience you’ll have to go in there and see for yourself. One of the lovely ladies that accompanied me on this occasion ordered the Chicken Slick ($19.00). This was a large piece of bone in chicken breast with the skin on served with mashed potatoes and some of the most amazing gravy I’ve ever tasted. This chicken was named after a dish that was on the menu back in the day. It was so delicious. I was skeptical of why anyone would order chicken at Poole’s, but after my first bite I understood.
My other lovely lady companion and I decided to split a couple of things. The first choice was the Rabbit Confit ($23.00). This was rabbit cooked in a broth with carrots and peas served with wide noodles cooked in duck fat. Every bite was better than the last. The flavors just popped out of the noodles. This was my first experience eating rabbit, and now I can’t wait to try and cook it myself.
To go along side of the rabbit, we ordered the macaroni and cheese to share ($12.00). Ashley’s macaroni and cheese is a Raleigh favorite. The crusty cheese on top gives it a nice texture and adds a little something special. It is a wonderful dish!
Finally, it was time to order dessert. We went with the Chocolate Panna Cotta ($9.00). It was served with a crumbly topping and a toasted marshmallow. I usually don’t like panna cotta, but this was on a whole different level. I’ve had several of her desserts on previous visits and have never been let down, but THIS just hit the spot. The texture was smooth and creamy, no hint of accidentally frozen pieces…delicious. And that marshmallow was crispy and smoky.
So, perfect food, perfect friends…I think I’ll go back!