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Loca-tours: Gourmet getaways are something to savor

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Click for larger image • The Trinity Suite at The King's Daughters Inn in Durham - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

The one-room cottage of rough-cut oak waits for me to return. Leafy branches rustle outside the screened porch as birds sing a duet and bees swoop through the perennials. A trail, dark and mossy, curves through the mountain laurel.

When life in Raleigh gets too raucous or discouraging, I ring up David, and this cottage in the hill country off U.S. 64 is mine for the night. If he has time, he'll have a lemon cheesecake and chilled champagne waiting on the porch. Then he'll start pulling recipes for breakfast the next morning.

As the former head chef at the Carolina Inn, David Simmons understands the importance of food to the traveler. He is the innkeeper at the Bed and Breakfast at Laurel Ridge in Siler City, one of the Triangle's many excellent spots for loca-touring—getting away without going away.

Since our first child was born seven years ago, my husband, Graham, and I have carved out time every few months for these quick but relaxing trips. We tend to follow three guidelines:

  1. Travel 45 minutes at most. This makes it easy to return home in an emergency, and it keeps tourism dollars local.
  2. Focus on one element, either food or lodging. Splurge on the meal, then sleep for cheap, or luxuriate in grandeur but eat more affordably.
  3. Alternate urban and rural destinations. Choose downtown Durham this time, maybe Pittsboro the next.
Our Triangle Dining Guide is searchable by restaurant name, location and special features such as brunch and vegetarian

Our area boasts dozens of places within 30 miles of Triangle cities that make for rejuvenating, gourmet-soaked overnights or weekends. And the experiences vary. Want to stay out for live music or snuggle down early in your room? Chat up the locals or keep to yourselves? Here are some itineraries that have kept me sane. Use them to your advantage, and mix and match at will.

Chapel Hill: Eat Your Heart Out

Start with a clean, simple room. Your best options for less than $100 per night are the utilitarian Days Inn off Elliott Road ($65 on Expedia.com), the practical Hampton Inn ($76) on Fordham Boulevard and the snazzy, new electric-cool Aloft, opening in mid-May across from Glen Lennox ($94). For a rustic touch, Rock Quarry Farms just west of Carrboro charges $85 for a country breakfast and a room with shared bath in a 120-year-old family farmhouse.

Check in, get your bearings and let the eating begin. Midafternoon, prime your palate at the Carolina Inn's high tea with cucumber sandwiches and house-made scones (Thursday through Saturday from 2:30 p.m., $18.50), then rock on the porch a spell.

Return to your room to freshen up before embarking on a world-class meal at the Courtyard-on-Franklin's tiny French gem, Bonne Soiree. Chef Chip Smith's menu, handwritten in calligraphy on heavy stock, makes you feel you've been invited to the ball. Though the menu changes with the seasons, a consommé and a savory tart are usually among the first courses, with regular entrée features of duck, quail and rabbit.

If you are a wine drinker, take advantage of the $30 four-glass wine pairing. Wine expert Tina Vaughan, Smith's wife, has impeccable instincts, selecting wine that works best for each dish you order and involving you in the decision. As a courtesy after pouring, she leaves the bottles for you to examine. You'll need a reservation at tiny Bonne Soiree, and if you do the wine pairing, consider a taxi as well.

The next morning, continue your European fantasy with pastry and cappuccino at the woodsy Caffe Driade, then browse next door at antiques dealer Whitehall at the Villa (opens at 11 a.m.). If you can't bear to end a trip without a seated brunch, try for a table at Carrboro's Southern Rail (opens at 10 a.m.).

Chapel Hill: Stay in Style

Pair the soothing jade-and-taupe décor of the well-designed Franklin Hotel on West Franklin Street with an afternoon of exploration. Stroll east to Chill Bubble Tea for an almond milk tea, then soak up the sun in Coker Arboretum on Cameron Avenue, where the bulbs will soon bloom wildly. Be transported by the just-installed digital fulldome projection system at the Morehead Planetarium or be humbled by the Jacob Lawrence exhibit running through early May at the Ackland Art Museum. When you get homesick for your posh Franklin Hotel guest room ($189 and up), return to soak in your tub, sit on your balcony or read a book in the leafy atrium.

You've paid a premium for the location, but just because your wallet's thinner doesn't mean you have to compromise on dinner. Explore westward into Carrboro: Go for gourmet burgers at Acme, then a game of pool at Tyler's Taproom. Check out the Cat's Cradle or The ArtsCenter for shows.

In the morning, keep it under $5 and walk over to Jessee's for coffee (closed Sundays). In a hurry? Stop at Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. Aficionados know biscuit magic happens at the drive-thru.

Durham: Eat Your Heart Out

If you haven't visited downtown Durham recently, it's time. The food scene has blossomed, and the arts are flourishing. To stay in the heart of it, try the Marriott Convention Center on Foster Street (recently priced at $79), where the vibe is low-key with black-and-white photography in guest rooms and lemon water at check-in.

Grab an afternoon snack at Toast Paninoteca on West Main Street, modeled on Italian sandwich shops. We love the garlicky mushroom and Gorgonzola crostini for $2. Then pat the two-ton bronze bull before heading for the American Tobacco Trail to stroll with your sweetie. If it's the second Saturday of the month, hoof it over to Golden Belt, a new arts center in a restored textile factory on the corner of Main and Elizabeth. Artists are on-site from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for open studio tours.

Come dinnertime, hit Revolution, where you'll swear you've landed in Miami Beach. Its gleaming all-white bar, snowy leather chairs, pendant lighting and oversize canvases will make you want to toss around cash like Tony Montana in Scarface. To that end, order the $65 five-course Treat Me tasting menu (plus $25 for wine pairings). Or eat well for less with entrées of grilled Scottish salmon and leg of lamb at $20 and $17, respectively; raw-bar plates are $12 and under.

Itching to get in Revolution's kitchen? Chop Shop, chef Jim Anile's cooking class series, allows up to six participants to spend five hours with him learning knife skills and other cooking techniques, then consuming the bounty. The next class is Italian Table: Old World Tuscan Cooking, March 21 ($200, includes $25 gift card).

If you still have money left, splurge on a show at the stunning Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), which glows like a firefly in the night. Wicked runs mid-April through mid-May, with Chicago and The Color Purple to follow. Or head to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The first home game is April 15.

Next morning, walk to Dos Perros for an 11 a.m. seated brunch (pancakes con platanos and seven kinds of huevos) or carry a bag of Rue Cler's beignets (half dozen for $4) to the American Tobacco Campus and picnic beside the man-made river.

Durham: Stay in Style

It's hard to escape the Duke family name in this town, especially when you're seeking anything fancy. The Greystone Inn, built in 1910 by Duke descendents from the same limestone used in Duke University's East Campus, has been restored in exquisite period detail with six guest rooms and a carriage house ($175–$275). On six acres at Morehead and Vickers streets, just blocks from the DPAC and a short walk from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the inn is a statuesque reminder of what life was like before suburbs.

Click for larger image • Champagne and berries sabayon (see recipe) at The King's Daughters Inn in Durham - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

In the residential neighborhood of Trinity Park, The King's Daughters Inn was built in the 1920s as a philanthropic project of the Dukes to provide housing to single, aging women. By 2006, the home was closed and bought by Colin and Deanna Crossman. The Crossmans, trained in law and biology, had restored houses but never anything on the scale of a 17,000-square-foot inn. Deanna Crossman retrained as a general contractor, and the pair made respect for the environment one of their guiding principals. Infrared sensors help conserve energy by moderating temperatures in empty rooms. Laundry water is recycled as toilet flush-water, with one load of laundry yielding 43 flushes. A fleet of Flying Pigeon bicycles sits at the ready for guests' carbon-neutral travel.

Each of the 17 exquisitely decorated rooms and suites at the King's Daughters ($158–$230) features custom-designed headboards and furniture in Art Deco style, with HDTVs and private-label toiletries produced in Raleigh. Turn-down service includes tawny port and sweets from local chocolatier Serious Chocolates, and breakfast features Muddy Dog coffee roasted in Morrisville, as well as produce from the nearby Durham Farmers' Market.

Deanna cooks breakfast, sending out freshly baked scones with homemade lemon curd, cinnamon rolls with Eiswein glaze, banana pumpkin bread, homemade granola and cooked-to-order egg-and-meat plates.

"Breakfast is absolutely Deanna's favorite meal," says Colin Crossman. "We adapted one of our favorite desserts—a champagne and berries sabayon—for breakfast use." (See recipe.)

At the Washington Duke Inn, adjacent to Duke's forested campus, a hallowed hall of bronze busts leads to the elevator. Normal room rates fall in the $200–$250 range, but Hotels.com found a discounted room on a Friday for $106. Even though the room was by the elevators with a view of a pebble-strewn roof and industrial ductwork, the linens were sumptuous, a light shone when the closet opened and a coat of arms adorned the toilet paper.

Stretch your dollar by maximizing the campus: Swim in the inn's heated pool, jog on the three miles of Duke Forest trails just outside, or use your complimentary pass to work out at the Faculty Club. The Washington Duke Inn's Robert Trent Jones golf course is adjacent; greens fees vary by day and time, from $50–$100 per day. Ever patrician, the inn is dog-friendly. Petsitting and babysitting are available.

Click for larger image • Cane Creek beef sliders at Six Plates Wine Bar - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

When hunger strikes, you may choose the inn's Fairview Dining Room. Chef Jason Cunningham's fine kitchen crafts dishes like pan-roasted venison filet with sage porcini mushroom sauce ($28) and crab and artichoke hand-rolled ravioli in a tasso ham etouffee ($25). For a far more casual vibe, drive a mile or so over to Six Plates Wine Bar at Erwin Terrace. Or if it's warm out, take the 25-minute walk through Duke's campus, up Science Drive and then west to Erwin.

With its exposed brick, painted antique-look mirrors, red couches and ironic-glam chandeliers, Six Plates resembles a bohemian urban loft. Service is no-fuss, help-yourself ordering at the bar, and the kitchen stays open till midnight Monday through Saturday. Groups pour bottles and pass cheese plates while proprietor Matthew Beason stops by to talk about wine or weather or basketball. The menu changes daily and features six small plates of food ($7–$11) paired with six suggested glasses of wine ($6–$7 each). Choose a few to share, maybe the P.E.I. mussels with lardons; Caesar salad with white anchovies and quail's egg; or the Cane Creek beef sliders. On Saturdays, three plates and three small wine carafes are $40. Always on the menu are truffle frites, olives and a Maple View Farms ice cream flight.

"Wine really needs food, I think," says Beason. "We're so Americanized with our wine drinking that our wine bars don't have any food, for the most part. Even if it's a cheese plate, even if it's some olives, you need a little bit of fat in your mouth to work out that wine."

In the morning, if you're not being fed at a B&B, drive the seven or eight minutes to Guglhupf for takeout pastry and settle on a patch of grass in magnificent Duke Gardens. If you have time, the Nasher Museum of Art ($5 admission) opens at 10 a.m., with the clever "Conflicts in Caricature" political-cartoon exhibit running until May 16. At 11 a.m. on weekends, Nasher Café, run by restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias' team, serves a seated brunch, including a spinach mushroom omelet with Cotswold cheddar ($9) and cinnamon-banana French toast ($10).

Orange County: Eat Your Heart Out

Click for larger image • Duck chestnut ravioli in liver sauce at Panciuto - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

If you're concentrating on the food, not the digs, rest your head at Fickle Creek Farm, 10 miles southwest of Hillsborough ($100/ one night; $180/ two) or check into one of the chain hotels like the Holiday Inn Express ($80 and up) or Microtel ($45 and up) in Hillsborough's commercial district. Before you go, make reservations at Panciuto.

Chef Aaron Vandemark's Panciuto, on historic Churton Street, feels like the best kind of European family establishment. Vandemark lives just three blocks away; his sister runs the front of the house, though his mother and wife have both taken turns; and his dad curates the all-Italian wine list. Dinner is served Wednesday through Saturday.

The restaurant has no pastry chef, no sous and no baker, yet everything is made in-house. "It's all basically me," Vandemark says. "I've got two people prepping in the a.m. and two more come in at noon and finish up the night cooking with me."

He knew when settling in Hillsborough that he'd have to make his restaurant very, very good to survive.

"There wasn't the population concentrated in Hillsborough to carry the restaurant alone," Vandemark says. "We'd need to bring people in from Chapel Hill and Durham, and I felt like the only way to do that was to have a restaurant that was worthy of that ... Probably 70 percent of our weekends are 'out of towners.'"

Vandemark studied at Johnson and Wales and worked at Il Palio and the Fearrington House before opening Panciuto. Among his most popular dishes are black squid-ink spaghetti with shrimp, and sweet-potato francobolli (postage-stamp ravioli) with wilted greens. Sometimes the dishes sound too esoteric for general audiences, but Vandemark doesn't shy away from challenging his patrons.

"We do a duck chestnut ravioli—we serve that in a liver sauce, which turns some people off, but if they're not scared to get it, inevitably they like it," he says. "Sometimes that's a really hard sell, so I'll be stubborn and leave it on the menu because I know it's good and I believe in it, and at a certain point, either my spirit's broken or it clicks."

Likewise, in wintertime, fruits are limited, so he invented a grapefruit panna cotta. It, too, is "a tough sell, but the people who order it really enjoy it. It's two Italian desserts in one."

Count us among the believers: Tangy, creamy panna cotta topped with shards of tart frozen prosecco is invigorating, like a grown-up snow cream (eaten on a peak in the Italian Alps). Fortunately, Vandemark's spirit is not easily broken.

Remember that April 24–25 are the dates for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's annual farm tour in Orange, Chatham and surrounding counties ($25/ carload). For a fine farmstead dinner, end your Saturday tour at the Captain John S. Pope Farm, 10 miles north of Hillsborough. Tickets sell out fast to the 6:30 p.m. "Dinner in the Big House," starring the farm's free-range lambs and cooked this year by Four Square chef Shane Ingram.

Orange County: Stay in Style

If you adore polished, creaky original hardwood floors, as I do, The Inn at Bingham School is for you. Christina and François Deprez are the keepers at the inn, a dozen miles west of Carrboro, set in a restored two-century-old schoolhouse on 10 acres (rooms $150, cottage $195).

Arrive midafternoon to be welcomed by the resident feline, who will be happy to join you for complimentary cheese and wine alfresco on the mossy brick patio.

Request a room in the inn if you're a light sleeper. When we stayed in the Milkhouse Cottage last year, we noticed the noise from nearby N.C. 54.

If you're eating for cheap, try a simple meal just down N.C. 54 at the kitschy Fiesta Grill, with tasty enchiladas suizas and pork adobo, each $9.95.

Over in Hillsborough's historic district, find the Inn at Teardrops ($110–$175/night). The inn, which takes its name from the lovely curved windows in its front doors, is on King Street just off Churton Street in a home built around 1768. Wander down Churton and you'll notice no fewer than 12 historic markers within a five-block stretch. Look for the many discreet wooden signs fronting pristinely preserved late-18th- and early-19th-century buildings, including the town hall and visitors' center.

While on Churton, follow your nose to Matthew's Chocolates. During a recent visit, we peered past the open curtain that separates the kitchen from the front counter, watching as sweets formed a moment before being loaded in the glass candy counter. A boy stood with his father, transfixed. When chocolatier Matthew Shepherd works inside his closed shop on Mondays, people watch from the sidewalk.

"I have to close the curtain because people look through the window and give me the symbol of 'Just a little bit, let me come in!'" Shepherd says with a smile.

A recent sampling at the candy counter included fruit-topped medallions, among them an inspired blueberry-chocolate combination; hand-rolled, lumpy-bumpy truffles that are dense yet pillowy; and aptly named OMG Mints. The array of chocolate barks includes maple-walnut with sea-salt sprinkles, Thai spiced and smooth coffee bean.

When your teeth begin to ache, turn to the burgeoning arts scene. The one-year-old Churton Street Gallery, whose motto is "Nothing Finer: Art & Craft from Carolina," shows koi paintings by Sally Sutton, pastoral houses by Melissa Miller and luminous pottery by Will McCanless. Up the block, Hillsborough Gallery of Arts, an artists' co-op, just opened in the Mercantile Building.

Midday, get an affordable, tasty snack at Wooden Nickel, where the menu includes fried broccoli and grass-fed beef burgers. Rest an elbow on the long, wood-plank bar for a microbrew and a basket of spicy peel-and-eat shrimp. Down the street, the palpable Louisiana bent might put you in the mood for dancing. From the music at Blue Bayou to the etouffee at Gulf Rim, from the po'boys at Tupelo Honey to the thick N'awlins accent of Churton Street Gallery owner Matt Kaiser, this two-block stretch of road feels like a miniature, cleaned-up version of New Orleans' Magazine Street.

Chatham County: Eat Your Heart Out

Affordable lodging options in Chatham County include the Inn at Celebrity Dairy, a working goat farm that produces 15,000 pounds of Montrachet-style chèvre each year for local restaurants, farmers' markets and shops like Whole Foods. Brit Pfann, a former naval engineer in his early 70s, founded the farm with his artist wife, Fleming. He is quite the gentleman farmer in a button-down shirt and khaki Carhartt coat, quoting facts on goat gestation and lactation as he absently offers fingers to a suckling baby goat.

A mural of cavorting goats decorates the peak of the inn's façade. The inn itself was built just 13 years ago around the skeleton of a circa 1810 log cabin, still visible inside. Celebrity Dairy is child-friendly, with a small toy room off the atrium and a rope swing by the barn. It's one of the area's few B&Bs that allows children, and those younger than 6 stay for free.

Rooms at the inn vary from $90–$150 and include breakfast with the farm crew. Look for Fleming's apricot-pecan spelt muffins (see recipe) or caretaker-cook Brooke Simmons' artichoke-caper-chèvre savory tart. From a long communal table in the sunny atrium, guests sip coffee while peering out at free-range chickens, guinea fowl and a peacock named Rupert Murdoch. Behind trees, cats marked with war wounds skulk like hunters.

Click for larger image • Celebrity Dairy owner Brit Pfann (standing) chats with guests. - PHOTO BY JANE HOBSON SNYDER

These days, Fleming is focusing on the inn's Sunday afternoon dinner series. Four times a year, the restaurateurs of Bonne Soiree serve dinner at the inn (the next one is March 21). Dinners cooked by the inn's staff are scheduled for Easter Sunday April 4 and April 18.

At Rosemary House, near the roundabout in Pittsboro, you can stay in rooms with names like "Haven," "Retreat" and "Meadow" for between $89 and $169. For a magical experience, trek to Jordan Lake, where Frog Hollow Outdoors runs evening kayak tours once a month. The 2010 Paddle Under the Stars season starts April 10, led by an astronomer from the Morehead Planetarium ($36).

At David and Lisa Simmons' Bed and Breakfast at Laurel Ridge (rooms and cottage, $98–$159), little can tempt you to leave, except the idea of dinner in Pittsboro. Have beers and sandwiches at the year-old City Tap or head to the General Store Cafe for a Mayan Burrito ($13, sweet potato and jerk chicken) or Energy Bowl ($15, brown rice, steamed vegetables, roasted tomatoes and marinated tofu).

Laurel Ridge's breakfasts, served on pottery from nearby Stone Crow, are the star of the visit, featuring the Simmons' fresh garden herbs in dishes like dilled scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or pumpkin basil pancakes (see recipe). David Simmons, a former chef, was into locavore eating long before it was fashionable.

"You know, in 1993, in one of my very first brochures, I mentioned that we try to use as many local and organic foods as we can possibly find," he says. "Now it's become part of the national thinking."

Need more to explore? In May, the alcohol-free Friday Night Music series on the Haw starts up again at the Bynum General Store, with gospel, folk, blues, rockabilly and bluegrass.

Chatham County: Stay in Style

The Fearrington House Inn's white fences and well-groomed hoofed beasts greet visitors to one of the region's two AAA five-diamond properties. (The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary claims the other.) Getaway packages vary but most include one night's accommodation, tea for two, dinner for two, breakfast for two, free bike usage and all the fainting goat- and belted cow-watching you can do, plus a $25 gift card to their shops. Midweek package rates through March 31 are $295; weekends through May are $385; the Culinary Retreat package, featuring a hands-on cooking class and wine-and-cheese reception with Chef Colin Bedford, is $820.

If you'd like to dine in the manor house but can't afford the lodging, stay elsewhere and drive over for the Fearrington Interlude menu, $49 for three courses through March 31.

Southern Wake County: Eat Your Heart Out

Two new boutique hotels in RTP's less-than-picturesque hotel alley are notable for their cleverness and value. The new Hotel Sierra in Morrisville is one of an all-suite nationwide chain of 14 hotels offering individual details like iPod docking stations, an outdoor fire pit, waffle-cloth robes, jogging-trail advice and Starbucks coffee with complimentary made-to-order omelettes. Couples can book the Seduction package, which features a king bed, a bottle of wine or champagne, appetizers and dessert for two, and 2 p.m. checkout for $116. Add a big dish of takeout pasta from nearby Babymoon Italian Cafe, and you've got a 23-hour getaway for two at under $150.

Hotel Indigo, off Page Road in RTP, is part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group yet dresses like an edgy, independent hotel, with spa-like showers, hardwood floors and bold Schrager-like décor. The RTP location, one of seven international and 33 domestic Indigos, offers a bare-bones king-bed leisure package at an astounding $55, which leaves plenty in the budget for dinner around the corner at Mez (contemporary Mexican), Serena (tapas) or even the storied Angus Barn, just a hop away via I-540.

Southern Wake County: Stay in Style

The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary is the gold standard for Triangle-area all-inclusive getaways. A search for Saturday nights in March yielded $239 and up for room alone and $469 for the Hideaway package featuring 2 p.m. checkout, strawberries, sparkling wine, $100 toward dinner and $100 toward spa. With a AAA four-diamond restaurant, full-service spa, outdoor patio with fireplace and pool, not to mention direct access to the nature bliss-out of Umstead Park, it is expensive for good reason.

Farther south in Fuquay-Varina, the Chateau Bellevie on Laurel Lake was built last year in the French chateau style. With Baccarat chandeliers and three lavish suites ($200–$275/ night), Bellevie ("the good life") redefines nouveau extravagance. The place is eye-popping, and a getaway list wouldn't be complete without it.

Pair one of these pricey overnights with dinner in Cary or Apex. Our favorite family-owned spots include Xios Authentic Greek Cuisine in Apex's Peakway Market Square, Peak City Grill in historic downtown Apex and the cheerful Chatham Street Café in downtown Cary. (Read our previous coverage: Xios Authentic Greek Cuisine, Peak City Grill and Chatham Street Café.)

In Fuquay-Varina, The Fuquay Mineral Spring Inn ($110–$175) is an elegant circa 1927 home across the street from a natural spring thought even now to have healing properties. The inn, owned by Fuquay-Varina Mayor John Byrne and his wife, Patty, features extensive gardens, cooking classes and the occasional murder-mystery theater.

If the inn's on-site activities aren't enough to keep you busy, take a drive over to Carolina Brewing Co. in Holly Springs. Free tours are every Saturday at 1 p.m. Bring ID; no children allowed. In Fuquay for dinner, eat at Daniel's on Main for classic Italian entrées ranging from $10 to $16. Daniel is Daniel Perry, a Johnson and Wales grad who founded Daniel's in Apex in 1996 before opening the Fuquay outpost in 2008.

In the morning, pick up a bag of pastries from Stick Boy Bread Co. downtown. They'll keep till the next day, a sweet temptation to do it all over again.

Raleigh: Eat Your Heart Out

Falling into the useful category is the cylindrical Clarion Hotel on Hillsborough Street (rooms $79 and up). Though the interior could use some updating, there's a certain frisson to sleeping in a giant corncob. It's a rare chance to see Raleigh from above.

Back on street level, find downtown at your disposal via the free R-line bus that circulates every 15 minutes. Take a full loop to get your bearings or hop off to visit Artspace, City Market, the N.C. Museum of History or N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

For sheer pampering, the Tavern at Second Empire is a natural first stop on a gastronomic tour. Between the less expensive Tavern menu and the pricier "upstairs" menu, everyone's palate will leave happy. Or begin your exploration at the intersection of Hargett and Wilmington streets, which has become the epicenter of the downtown restaurant renaissance. Dos Taquitos Centro, Gravy, Raleigh Times, Remedy Diner and Sitti are all within easy reach.

The R-line opens up even more dining opportunities (see DISH issue on R-line restaurants). For a spectacular patio and occasional live music, Humble Pie in the warehouse district is ideal. Don't miss the broiled tetilla cheese, black bean crepe or grilled andouille.

For retro glam, try Poole's Downtown Diner and eat exceptionally well. This former 1950s luncheonette gleams, and not just from the stainless steel. Though on a quiet block away from the clutch of hot spots, Poole's receives a constant migration of food lovers who come for chef Ashley Christensen's innovative fare, served Wednesday through Saturday nights. The menu changes so often it's on a chalkboard, but some constants remain, like the fresh-ground Royale, quite possibly the best burger you'll ever eat.

Poole's is near two of Raleigh's best music joints; take in a show at Lincoln Theatre or The Berkeley Cafe before turning in for the night.

Or finish the night overlooking the train tracks at Boylan Bridge Brewpub, which just celebrated its first anniversary. Best bets are beer-braised bratwurst ($7), beautifully fried fish ($11) and such good onion rings that if your meal comes with fries, substitute. Relax under the pergolas, Pullman Porter in hand, while the lights of the cityscape shine: It's arguably the prettiest view in town.

Click for larger image • Nicole Pediaditakis and Dwight Sawin have a late-afternoon beer at Boylan Bridge Brewpub. - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

Raleigh: Stay in Style

Aside from the parked cars, it could be 1912, the year this house was built. Turn a butterfly-winged flange, and the doorbell trills like an old-fashioned telephone. Rock on the wide covered porch while a woodstove warms your toes. Start the Victrola for a little cheer. This is life at the Cameron Park Inn.

Charming details, like original wavy glass, deep window seats and an outdoor fountain planted with purple winter cabbages, give a touch of whimsy to the inn, which offers five spacious guest rooms ($139–$199).

For romantic dinners, innkeeper Nikki D'Ambrose recommends Bloomsbury Bistro in Five Points. The inn is also near Cameron Village's casual dining spots, Cameron Bar and Grill, Foster's and Village Draft House. This spring, Hillsborough Street will arise from the construction dust and provide a beautified pathway to Porter's, Players' Retreat and Locopops.

While Cameron Park, built in the 1910s, flanks the capital district on the west, Oakwood, dating from the 1870s, sits to the east.

May 1–2 brings the Historic Oakwood Garden Tour and Tea, which would be a perfect time to book a guest room ($119–$159) at the Oakwood Inn Bed and Breakfast on North Bloodworth Street, one of 11 Victorian homes forming the original enclave of Oakwood. Nearby, the Oakwood Café serves mouthwatering Cuban classics and Argentinian steaks (for about a dollar an ounce) in a casual, family setting (Thursday–Saturday).

Call a Raleigh Rickshaw to be pedaled through the revamped city plaza on Fayetteville Street, and if it happens to be April 28, join the party when the Downtown Farmers' Market relocates there. While on Fayetteville, visit The Mahler for fine art, Collectors Gallery for fine craft and Foundation's underground bar for fine, fine drinks.

In late April, the new North Carolina Museum of Art on Blue Ridge Road opens to great anticipation. Yet another good excuse to visit Raleigh.

The Roundup

These days, the Triangle is more like an octagon. From Hillsborough to Apex, Fuquay to Pittsboro, the opportunities for food and travel have multiplied. It's a windfall for the loca-tourist.

And so, a last piece of advice: Don't work too hard to make a getaway memorable. Simply insert yourself into a new environment, and it will become so.

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