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Chef Ashley Christensen opens Joule Coffee in downtown Raleigh

This is a post by N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox:

After a week of ramping up with limited hours, Joule Coffee (223 S. Wilmington St.; 919-424-7422; is slated to open its fully caffeinated version tomorrow (Sept. 4) with an all-day menu and cocktail service.

In the mornings, that translates to traditional hot breakfast fare supplemented by house-baked pastries - including croissants that were getting snapped up last week as soon as they came out of the kitchen (word to the wise: they’re baked hourly, and usually hit the dining room a few minutes before the hour).

Brunch, offered Saturdays and Sundays (and on long weekends like the one just past, Mondays as well), covers the sweet-to-savory spectrum from tuna carpaccio Niçoise to Georgia peach hotcake. Sherry-spiked Carolina shrimp and grits was a big hit with the opening weekend crowd.

Joule’s lunch and dinner menus will be inspired by the cuisines of the world’s coffee regions - which, in turn, are represented by one of the area’s most impressive coffee selections.

The coffee menu (yes, there’s a coffee menu, complete with glossary) lists nine different bean and/or plantation options, from Mexican Las Milpas to Ethiopian Idido. These are ground to order and prepared as you specify: drip coffee, pour-over, French press or espresso. Iced coffee and decaf options are also offered, as well as a small selection of teas and botanicals, chocolate with milk (hot or cold) and caffeinated concoctions such as the Australian iced latte.

Joule Coffee is the latest venture of Ashley Christensen, owner/chef of the nationally noted Poole’s Diner, as well as Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, and Fox Liquor Bar.

Send restaurant news to Greg at Be sure to tune in to Greg's radio show at 11 a.m. Saturdays on WPTF.

Poole's Diner chef to open a new restaurant, event space in downtown Raleigh

Chef Ashley Christensen is planning to open Death & Taxes, a new wood-fired oven restaurant, and Bridge Club, an event space, in downtown Raleigh later this year.

Christensen is known for her other restaurants, Poole's Diner, Beasley's Chicken + Honey, and Chuck's, as well as a cocktail bar called Fox Liquor Bar.

Her latest project will occupy the newly restored historic building at 105 Hargett St. The building dates to 1907 and has been home to a funeral home, a bank and an attorney's office over the years. That's what prompted the name: Death & Taxes.

Death & Taxes, which will occupy the basement and ground floor, will offer a menu that celebrates "the technique of wood-fire cooking, as expressed through the ingredients of the South," according to a statement released Monday. The menu is still being finalized but Christensen, who was inspired by a trip to Uruguay, " envisions an array of larger, shareable platters of vegetables, seafood and meats, their flavors harnessed in a custom wood-burning oven." Sunny Gerhart, who used to work with Christensen at Poole's and recently worked as chef de cuisine at Watts Grocery in Durham, will be the chef de cuisine of Death & Taxes.

Death & Taxes' basement bar will offer a low-lit cellar-like atmosphere and the bar itself will be constructed around one of the preserved bank vaults.

Bridge Club, a private event space, will be on the second and third floors and include a rooftop patio. Christensen plans to use the space for private events, pop-up series with visiting chefs, special dinners and classes. And the name? Christensen said in the statement: "Our grandmothers came together to socialize over bridge games, and that spirit infuses this space. We're bridging people together with a shared experience."

Death & Taxes and Bridge Club are expected to open in late fall 2013.

To read a story about the extensive exterior renovation of the building, go HERE.

To read a profile of Christensen, go HERE.

UPDATE: Christensen says she is likely 4 to 6 weeks away from opening Joule, the former Wilmoore Cafe space that she took over on Wilmington Street. Joule will be more than a coffee house. It will have a full bar, offer dine-in breakfast from 7-11 a.m. plus an all day menu and a take-out specific menu. Joule also will serve the recently retired Poole's brunch menu on 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Chef Ashley Christensen is a finalist for a James Beard award

Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen is one of five finalists for a James Beard award: Best Chef in the Southeast. Go HERE to read the entire list.

Christensen is the only North Carolina chef to be a finalist. More than a dozen chefs, restaurants and beverage professionals with N.C. ties were among the semifinalists. Go HERE to see my earlier post.

Christensen is traveling today and so far has been unavailable for a reaction. Although she tweeted: "Pretty much in tears right now. Wow."

The other finalists include Edward Lee, Joseph Lenn, Steven Satterfield and Tandy Wilson.

Christensen owns Poole's Diner, Beasley's Chicken + Honey, Chucks and Fox Liquor Bar. She also recently took over the closed Wilmoore Cafe and has another restaurant project in the works. For information about her restaurants, go to

The James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit that recognizes excellence among chefs, restaurants, food journalism and cookbook authors. James Beard was a cookbook author and champion of regional American food. The foundation was created after his death and now hands out what are considered the "Oscars" of the food world.

Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen buys the Wilmoore Cafe

Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen has bought the Wilmoore Cafe, a coffeehouse and sandwich shop owned by David Fowle, a longtime fixture in the Raleigh coffee scene.

The Wilmoore Cafe will stay open until next Friday. Christensen says she will close the restaurant for about six weeks and reopen sometime in March. She plans to keep it as a coffee shop but expand the hours to seven days a week and into the evening. She will offer an expanded menu and a beer, wine and cocktail list. She plans to change the name.

"We're excited," Christensen said Tuesday morning.

Fowle, who owned a coffee shop downtown in the 1990s, explained that his expertise is serving coffee to the business crowd during the week. That business had grown steadily at the Wilmoore Cafe, Fowle said.

But Fowle said Tuesday: "Here's the rub: The property is too valuable to not do nights and weekends. I don't have the expertise, energy or bandwidth to do it properly."

But Christensen does, Fowle said.

"She recognizes what a jewel and potential jewel this place can be," he said.

The deal signed Monday happened organically. Commercial real estate agent Carter Worthy is Fowle's cousin and works with Christensen, who also rents space on the second floor of the building that is home to the Wilmoore Cafe. Christensen was looking at other downtown opportunities and Fowle and Worthy were discussing how to best expand the Wilmoore Cafe into nights and weekends.

"She made an offer we couldn't refuse," Fowle said.

With this purchase, Christensen expands her reach north along Wilmington Street. She already owns Chuck's, a burger joint, Beasley's Chicken + Honey, a fried chicken spot, and Fox Liquor Bar. All three are located in the same building at the corner of Wilmington and Martin streets in downtown Raleigh. She also owns Poole's Diner, a finer dining spot, on South McDowell St.

Fowle said he is going to enjoy his time off, take his teenage daughter on some college visits and then get a job.

(Get over there before next Friday to say goodbye to Fowle and be sure to buy one of his chocolate chip cookies. I consider them to be the best in the Triangle.)

Herons, Beasley's make top restaurant lists

Here's good news for two local restaurants:

The Daily Beast named Herons at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary as one of the 101 best restaurants in the world, based on a survey of 55 chefs. Here's what chef Hugh Acheson had to say: "What's not absolutely absorbing about this: seared sea trout, smoked pineapple, purple yam purée, cashew cabbage, fermented pepper. Chef Scott Crawford is awesome--a really skilled guy. The man is bringing together everything and making it work."

And chef Ashley Christensen's Beasley's Chicken + Honey was named one of the 50 best new restaurants in 2012 by Bon Appetit. Go HERE to see that list.

And if you missed it, Atlanta Journal-Constitution restaurant critic John Kessler blogged about eating at Christensen's restaurants in Raleigh. Go HERE to read that piece.

Five Triangle burger joints get mention in Southern Living

Congrats to the five Triangle burger joints that got a mention in this month's Southern Living magazine: Only Burger and Bull City Burger and Brewery, both in Durham, Chuck's in Raleigh, Buns in Chapel Hill and Johnson's in Siler City. (The latter is one of my favorites in the state.)

Go HERE to see the Durham mentions in the story, courtesy of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Click on the pdf below to see the entire story.

Chef Ashley Christensen's burger joint is now open in downtown Raleigh

Just in case, this restaurant opening flew under the radar, chef Ashley Christensen's burger joint called Chuck's opened last Thursday. I went there for lunch Monday and the crowd was sort of sparse.

Chuck's is one of the three enterprises Christensen of Poole's Diner opened at 237 S.  Wilmington Street: a fried chicken restaurant called Beasley's Chicken + Honey and a basement bar called Fox Liquor Bar.

If you like a thick, juicy hamburger, then you'll probably be a fan of this place. The burgers (half-pound, house-ground 100% chuck meat on a potato roll) cost $9 a piece and a half-pound of Belgian fries cost $4. One word of advice: the burgers are so big, you should split the fries with two or more people depending upon how hungry you are.

The hours for Chuck's are 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight, Thursday-Saturday. (The same hours as Beasley's.)

I've uploaded a copy of the menu below.


Chef Ashley Christensen's new fried chicken restaurant to open this week

UPDATE: Word is they open at 5 pm TODAY, Tuesday, Aug. 16th.

Chef Ashley Christensen of Raleigh's Poole's Diner plans to open her latest restaurant this week. At an invite-only event Friday at Beasley's Chicken + Honey, Christensen said she planned to open as early as TOMORROW, Tuesday, Aug. 16. So you might want to swing by the corner of South Wilmington and East Martin streets in downtown Raleigh to see if that has come true. (Disclaimer: Restaurant openings can be delayed. So be patient.)

Christensen added that she hoped to open Chuck's, the burger joint next door, about two weeks later and Fox Liquor Bar, the basement bar, during the weekend of the Hopscotch Music Festival from Sept. 8-11.

I attended Friday's menu tasting event. The fried chicken was moist and juicy. The macaroni-and-cheese was divine. It reminded me of potatoes Dauphinoise. There also was fresh sliced tomatoes, delicious collards and potato salad. Although I couldn't taste them, the desserts looked interesting. I'm so ready to go back again.

[Ethical disclaimer: The N&O requires me to pay for my food. I cannot accept free food at restaurants. So my technique when chefs I know send out free food and with this buffet of free food is to add money to the tip. We were charged a little more than $6 for my husband's beer and my tea. I added a $20 tip.]

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