With each trip to Durham's American Tobacco Historic District, I discover another pleasant surprise, signs of a growing urban hot spot.
Of course you've been to see the Durham Bulls. You may have even grabbed a bite at Mellow Mushroom or Tyler's Tap Room or attended a function inside the gorgeously renovated Bay 7.
But the action takes on a different feel on weekdays, when clusters of entrepreneurs and investors working on the next new thing out of the American Underground incubator space and other downtown Durham creative types converge to do business.
The Location: An off-site planning session took three colleagues and me to the American Underground on a bitter, blustery day. Reluctant to venture outside, we simply took the elevator to the warm clean lines of the dining room at L'Uva Enoteca, billed "An Italian Table."
The Company: All business. Our server gave us space to stash briefcases and coats, plus enough privacy to speak freely and continue our meeting through the meal.
The Meal: The menu changes weekly at L'Uva with a few standards. Rustic, authentic Italian fare plays up seasonal, fresh ingredients.
Dishes are just on the edge of adventurous. We had to ask our server to translate Trippa e Cavolo. Tripe with cabbage somehow has less audible appeal.
On this day, the white bean soup with smoke ham was a welcome warm-up.
Two of our party chose to eat light, ordering salads with pear, walnuts and gorgonzola in white balsamic dressing.
Just one person ordered pasta, a spicy shrimp dish with the aptly named orecchiette (ear-shaped) pasta.
I had the braised pork shank, which was fork-tender and served with white beans and broccolini.
The Service: Our waiter was attentive, not intense. Water arrived at the the table as we were seated, and the meal was paced for a strict one-hour lunch break without feeling rushed.
The Final Bill: The prices are right for a business lunch to impress. Salads ran $8 to $12 and pasta dishes start at $13.
The dinner menu is more robust, but still reasonable. Appetizers range from the aforementioned white bean soup ($7) to a platter of sliced meats for $10. Pastas at dinner are available in small ($12-14) or larger ($17-19) portions. Entrees include a salmon choice, leg of lamb, pork, chicken and tripe.
The Verdict: A delightful, delicious way to break up the work day. I'm willing to bet L'Uva would be equally right for date night.