Best Place to Let the World Come to You
Horseshoe Farm Park, Raleigh
Horseshoe Farm is the only place in Raleigh where, in the quiet of a morning, you just might see a wild turkey coming to you (the unbottled kind, that is). Not much has changed from when it was a working farm a decade ago, and this city-owned park, which lies along an oxbow bend on the west bank of the Neuse River up Northeast Raleigh way, is at its best when the sun is rising in the east, flooding the pasture and the riverfront with light. Raleigh folks have fought the good fight for a year to keep Horseshoe Farm a nature park and stop the city's parks bureaucracy from tarting it up with lighted tennis courts and soccer fields (www.horseshoefarm.org). There are other places for them nearby. But there's only one 'shoe.
Maple View Farm, available in select stores around the Triangle
Maple View Farm proves that milk doesn't have to taste processed and watered-down--theirs just tastes like great, fresh milk. And that's what it is. The Orange County dairy is the only one in the Triangle that processes its own milk, and it doesn't do it the commercial way by taking out much of the fat in the beginning and then putting it back in again--nor do they feed their Holsteins hormone-laced feed. Since 1996, Maple View Farm has left its whole milk whole and made its low-fat milk by mixing skim with whole, which means it tastes just as good (www.mapleviewfarm.com). And the Nutter family, who moved to North Carolina after generations of running a dairy farm in Maine, are great stewards of the environment--they've given much of their land to the Triangle Land Conservancy to preserve it as a farm in perpetuity, and they sell their milk in old-fashioned, recyclable glass bottles. Their ice cream is terrific, and their chocolate milk is richer than most milkshakes.
Best Place to Watch Downtown Durham Blossom
Blue Coffee Co., 202 N. Corcoran St.
This truly pioneering place is more than a coffee shop. It's a caffeinated watering hole for Durham's movers and shakers, and it's been at the center of the downtown renaissance since it opened in 2002. At the corner of the newly aligned Corcoran Street and the soon-to-be-revamped Parrish Street, Blue Coffee Co. offers floor to ceiling windows onto the changing city scene. It's also a cozy place to get good brew, light grub and meet with friends or collaborators.
3 Cups, 431 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
The Triangle has lots of great coffee shops, with a variety of charms, a sampling of which is documented in these pages each year. Some have scenic surroundings and some have scenester crowds, others have wi-fi or hi-fi. Tucked away in The Courtyard complex on West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill's 3 Cups offers (in addition to coffee) an amazing wine collection, a lovely patio and interesting crowds, including many movers and shakers in local politics. But the best reason to go to 3 Cups, and the reason it's made our list this year, is simple: The coffee is just really damn good.
Coffee Shop with the Most European Feel
Caffe Driade, 1215-A E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
Expert baristas and terraces on a wooded hillside with bare hanging bulbs, all right in the middle of Chapel Hill, make Caffe Driade the most European, and perhaps the most romantic, coffee shop in the Triangle. The service is sometimes slow, adding more to that European what's-the-rush atmosphere.
Weirdest Coffee Shop Crowd
The Third Place Coffeehouse, 1811 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
In the morning, businessmen and exercisers--both suited up for their own needs--drop in. It's a quick snack and they're out. At noon, post-graduates, bartenders and waitresses arrive after burning the midnight oil, one way or another. At night, teenagers congregate 'round the outside tables, couples and old friends inside, smelling beans and sharing stories. These aren't waves: They're smears, spread throughout Third Place's seven-days-a-week, 18-hour workday. A punk listening to Black Flag drinks his coffee beside a coat-and-tie architect reading The New York Times, and it's life as usual. Third Place + Lilly's Pizza next door = Raleighweird 4 Life.
Best Bread and Pastries
Guglhupf, 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham
This German bakery has grown mightily since it opened eight years ago. The business has expanded, with a roomy restaurant space next door and an outdoor seating oasis. But the bakery is still the heart of the operation--where else can you find deep, dark Black Forest bread, Tuscan rounds, pumpkin seed and cheese bread and challah that will make you hollah. Even their white bread is fresh and wholesome. And don't forget the desserts: strudl, croissants, panne cotta and linzer cookies. Sweet or savory, this is where you'll find the breakfast of champions.
Best Morning Trip for Fresh Produce
Farmers' markets are as much a part of the morning as a cup of coffee and the newspaper. There's the State Farmers' Market in Raleigh, a teeming marketplace and an amazing showcase of the sheer quantity and variety that the state produces, open year-round except Christmas. And there are farmers' markets in Cary, Durham, Carrboro and Hillsborough, plus their smaller, satellite markets, all specializing in produce grown in the region. They're seasonal, but are all now in full swing, as much social stops as places to get the best local crops and plants, plus crafts and pastries, and support sustainable, local agriculture. Their hours and locations vary, so see the Indy's Spectator calendar for details.
Best Place for Literati Watching in Hillsborough (Morning)
Cup A Joe, 120 W. King St.
Grab a newspaper, some coffee and one of the good seats by the window. Some of the most celebrated writers in the Triangle live around Hillsborough (we'd name names, but they'd stop writing for us), and this is their morning spot of choice. It's a small, skinny storefront with just a few tables, in keeping with the intimacy that has made Hillsborough such a refuge for the intelligentsia.
Best Newspaper Feature
Usually, when we pick up our morning newspaper, we only expect to be amused by Barry Saunders, Molly Ivins or coverage of the General Assembly (a bill to keep terrorists out of UNC?). But equally amusing, every Tuesday in The News & Observer, is the kids' feature called "Shortcuts" on the back of the Life, Etc. section. It highlights a topic every week with cartoons and fun facts (did you know Alexander the Great had a submarine in 350 B.C.?), but the best part is the jokes. On frogs: "Why did the frog fall off the lily pad? It croaked." On snakes: "What do you call two snakes on your car? Windshield vipers." On submarines: "Why couldn't the submarine submerge? It didn't have a diver's license." If only the rest of the paper were as much fun to read.
Best Progressive Blog for a Roundup of State News that Matters
Chris Fitzsimon is a North Carolina hero, a former television reporter who made the switch to advocate when he helped found the Common Sense Foundation. He's now director of N.C. Policy Watch, a reform-minded, watchdog nonprofit funded by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation that focuses on social problems facing the state and what state leaders are--or aren't--doing to solve them. Its Web site features Fitzsimon's commentaries and a daily roundup of links to the most important political and issue-related stories of the day, plus a political cartoon from former Herald-Sun cartoonist John Cole (being more progressive than he ever was in his old job). It's the quickest must-read collection from around the state, and the message of what's right and wrong is clear.
Most Infuriating Blog for a Roundup of State News that Matters
Art Pope and his millions have done a lot of brazen things in recent years--from trying to influence curriculum at UNC to contributing more than $700,000 to the state Republican Party (enough to have its headquarters named after him) to spearheading the defeat of renegade Republican co-speaker of the House Richard Morgan. But one of his better projects has been the Carolina Journal and the Carolina Journal online. While its leanings are right-wing and libertarian, and it's a cousin to the arch-conservative John Locke Foundation, the money has paid for a solid Web site with a good roundup of state news, links to the Carolina Journal itself (which has broken a number of big stories, including recently raising questions about Gov. Mike Easley's relationship with winners of a contract to run the marina in Southport). Its opinion columns are religiously conservative and free market (against eminent domain, against toll roads, against taxes) and often led by the Rev. (not really, but he's a talking-points evangelist) John Hood, but it's a must-read in the capital--and it's always good to know what the other side is up to.
Most Colorful E-mail Digest
The Chatham Chatlist
It's the place to keep up with Chatham politics, learn about the habits of carpenter bees, find a lost dog, give away some extra plants, or debate just about anything. It arrives in your inbox overnight and provides endless entertainment over your morning coffee, particularly at election time. Sign up at www.chathamchatlist.com and you'll see why 2,000 other people already have.
Best Talk Radio
WCHL 1360 AM
Granted, its range is limited to Chapel Hill, Carrboro and parts of Durham, but WCHL's intensely local character is what makes it so good. The 6 to 9 a.m. drive-time show, WCHL Morning News with Ron Stutts, covers the goings on in politics, schools and other parts of the community in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Most of the day, the station is dedicated to liberal talk radio like Air America and that other anti-Limbaugh, "red-meat liberal" Ed Schultz. Who's Talking with D.G. Martin offers unstructured conversations with writers, artists and other cultural figures. If you're a Tar Heel fan, they've got the games. And the station hosts public forums on local issues, offering a long-format civic engagement that's rare. Even the commercials are quaint. Luckily, the station has recently started podcasting its content. So either online (www.wchl1360.com) or on the air, it's worth a listen.
Worst Talk Radio Host
Bill Lumaye, WPTF 680 AM
Call him Mr. Exasperation. Since landing at WPTF in late 2004, Bill LuMaye has made the long sigh, the incredulous pause and urgings like "c'mon people" his schtick as he takes on invading aliens, those who would destroy Christmas and the crazed environmentalists who are driving up the price of gas. The Green Bay native's got a smooth radio voice, a patronizing eagerness to learn our ways, and has fumbled around for almost two years looking for any hot button issue that will keep the outraged calling and echo the talking points of the far right.
Best Running Spot
Raleigh: Lake Johnson
Sure, Raleigh is saturated with sidewalks and N.C. State's campus offers several open fields available for a good jog, but Lake Johnson--just after the bridge on Avent Ferry Road--offers a breath of fresh air without driving too far. The park comes equipped with 3.5 miles of paved trails and another 1.9 miles of trails left natural. Plus, you can take a breather to turtle-watch on the bridge, and for the well-balanced, one part of the unpaved trail features a fallen tree crossing over a creek.
Durham: Al Buehler Cross Country Trail
There are lots of beautiful places to walk, jog or run in Durham, most courtesy of Duke (Duke Forest, Duke East Campus), but the most varied and challenging is the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail around the Duke Golf Course at the Washington-Duke Inn. You rarely see the emerald green of the course, but it's just as well since the 2.75-mile trail takes you up steep hills, around green forests and even to a spur of fitness stops. The best places to hop on are at two parking lots on Cameron Boulevard or on Cornwallis Road just off U.S. 15-501.
Best Sermon to Hear on a Sunday Morning
The Rev. Jack McKinney, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church
The pulpit at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church (1801 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh) has featured some progressive greats over the years (W.W. Finlator, Mahan Siler), and Jack McKinney is in that tradition. He's preached well the gospel of social justice--and not just in the church, but on the street and in the halls of the legislature, as well--and he's helped lead the fight against capital punishment in North Carolina. And with co-pastor Nancy Petty, McKinney and many of the Pullen congregants are in the forefront of the movement in North Carolina for equal rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folk that God (or something) made sure to include in our human flock.