Durham, N.C. — It's that time of year. In the few weeks before the heat becomes sweltering and the mosquitos reach full infestation mode – we're anxious to get outside. The patios and porches around the Triangle beckon and dinner becomes less about the food and more about where you can snag an outside seat.
Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro are all ripe with outside dining options, but there are a few locations at which there is almost always a spot open outside.
In Chapel Hill, the courtyard outside Vimala's Curryblossom Café is a favorite outdoor dining option. It's hidden from the street, shielded from traffic noise and almost always has a few empty tables. The mango lassi, excellent food and water fountain don't hurt either.
Less than a block away is a well-known oasis, the Crooks Corner garden. Surrounded by bamboo, even on the hottest of summer days the Crooks patio somehow manages to stay cool. Their cold fried chicken plate (accented by a large slice of watermelon) and the honeysuckle sorbet make the perfect patio meal. Their popularity is balanced by the fact that they are one of the few outdoor dining spots that takes reservations.
Another block into Carrboro, Milltown has managed to turn a concrete side lot into a welcoming beer garden with twinkle lights, a bounty of tables and some of the best mussels and fries in the Triangle. An ideal Saturday afternoon is spent on Milltown's patio with a large hefeweizen and an order of the pretzels (from Guglhupf) and beer cheese.
If you're just looking to enjoy a fine beverage outside, Southern Rail should do the job. With a handful of patios, decks, and the back beer garden, one can almost always find a spot in the shade. My favorite is off the back rail bar. If you head out the door just to the right of the bar, you'll find a little known deck with one table. It's the perfect spot to watch the sunset over Weaver Street's large trees.
Durham is loaded with great spots to enjoy the mild early summer evenings and Saturday afternoons. In addition to the usual suspects (The Federal, Geer Street Garden, Parker and Otis, Foster's Market, Guglhupf), in Durham it's often easier to grab grub from a truck and head to a favorite bar.
Surf Club has a large outdoor area with tons of seating, a cornhole board and usually a truck parked inside its gates. Just next door, The Bar Durham has a sadly underused back beach bar. There's sand, cabanas, a beach volleyball court, ping-pong tables and more. Now that KoKyu has set up semi-permanent shop just outside their doors, Motorco has installed some outdoor seating, opened the garage doors and strung some twinkle lights. It's a great place to hang, people watch and enjoy a beverage. Bonus, Motorco has created a special cocktail menu just for summer.
If truck food carried to a bar isn't your thing, Bull McCabe's now has a large green space complete with table service on most nights. Folks bring dogs, set up the cornhole sets, play volleyball and put out blankets for the kids. It has a great community park (with beer) vibe.
Despite a somewhat lack of scenery, Bull City Burger & Brewery has also crafted an impressive outdoor space in the alley behind their building. A popular spot during dinner hours, just stop by after 9 p.m., grab one of their house-brewed beers and head out back.
And in Durham if all else fails, there's nothing like pulling out the blanket and bocce set and spending the day picnicking in Duke gardens.
Get out and enjoy before we are forced back into the air conditioning.
Chris Rhyne Reid is a North Carolina native with a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A copywriter by day, she pursues her love of all things edible in her spare time. She writes for the Durham-based food blog Carpe Durham.