111 Orange St.
Best suited for: Your visiting foodie pals who salivate over bakers who make the news, those who mistakenly think they already know what a perfect pastry crust tastes like or a good friend who likes to linger over lunch
You may have heard that Phoebe Lawless makes pies. The owner of Durham’s Scratch expanded from a farmers market stall and pie delivery service to a bricks-and-mortar café in the spring. And she has been splashed across the media all year. From Bon Appétit to The New York Times, the national food press has declared Scratch the bakery of the future, and Lawless the high priestess of pie. Fortunately, Scratch has endured the hype without losing any of its soul. The piesa rich brown-butter pecan, a salty-gooey North Carolina peanut, a Shaker lemon with bittersweet slices of whole preserved lemonsare just as good as ever ($14–$20 for whole pies; $3.50–$5 per slice). And they’ve been joined by an ever-expanding menu of breakfast and lunch offerings.
The café itself, an airy, sun-splashed spot on downtown Durham’s pedestrian-only Orange Street, has a bit of a Scandinavian minimalist vibe: exposed brick and primary colors, a long glass-fronted counter, a blackboard menu, molded plastic chairs. In the morning, diners sip espresso ($2) and eat plates of butter-lacquered biscuits with jam, gooey golden sorghum buns ($1) and massive, sugar-powdered donutmuffins ($2; yes, they’re exactly what they sound like).
The lunch menu, Scratch’s most underrated strength, features a well-edited handful of sandwiches, empanadas, flatbread pizzas and salads. Standouts include a Brussels sprout-and-bacon crostata ($15), a roasted veggie focaccia ($7) and an eggplant roll-up ($6.50) that is a marvel of texturescharred eggplant, crisp, astringent greens, creamy walnut pesto. Lawless recently added a weekend brunch menuwith homemade biscuits and farm eggs galore.
Time-strapped bakers, take note: Scratch has just come out with its holiday menu. Expecting guests? Pick up a chestnut cream pie, or an heirloom apple pie with walnut streusel, or a Louisiana Meyer lemon tart. There are also cakes aplenty ($20–$50), all bearing Lawless’ signature combination of classic Southern and local/ seasonal/ foodie flair: Fullsteam stout gingerbread, fresh coconut with divinity icing, walnut and candied ginger crumb. Don’t delay: Christmas orders must be made 72 hours in advance.