by Henry Lane Hull
DURHAM, N.C.—For the past quarter of a century my Good Wife has been singing the praises of one of her favorite dining spots here in Durham. Her admiration derives from her college days, when as an undergraduate she slipped off campus to partake of the feastings at the Ninth Street Bakery, not surprisingly then located on Ninth Street. Well, since that time the bakery has moved to a new location and expanded its offerings extensively.
On Monday she and I, accompanied by the Younger B.E., finally arrived to learn for ourselves of the fruits of her praises. The bakery is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a later opening on weekends and now is located at 136 East Chapel Hill Street. The main emphasis is on bread and from the varieties I sampled, I have no hesitancy in saying that all are superb. I was especially surprised and pleased by the delicious taste of the vegan white bread, the texture of which was outstanding.
As the bakery is baking constantly, the aromas from the different productions produce a delightful setting in which to enjoy the meals. One has the choice of indoor or outdoor dining, but when asked by my Good Wife which I should prefer, I immediately responded in favor of indoor to be able to savor the succulent aromas.
For lunch we ordered three different soups. The B.E. chose an Indian lentil Dal curry, her mother a Thai curry concoction and I selected the vegan black bean chili. We sampled each and enjoyed all of them, along with the variety of breads they served alongside the deep bowls, each of which truly was a meal in itself.
The bakery has gone through its own evolution since my Good Wife’s passage through Durham several decades ago. Founded in 1981 as a bakery and café in downtown Durham, it has passed through several iterations prior to its move to a large commercial building in the midst of the business core of the city. The neighborhood has experienced a thorough gentrification in which many venerable old structures have been repurposed and the urban streetscapes have been enhanced by plantings of trees and flowers. Several old tobacco warehouses have emerged as fine restaurants and office complexes. A sufficient quantity of structures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries has been saved to make the atmosphere more aesthetically pleasing than that resulting from the average urban renewal project.
The Ninth Street Bakery is the first restaurant I have visited which offers a compost bin for discarded or uneaten food items, along with a separate receptacle for paper items. Clearly, ecological responsibility is important to the management and is reflected in speaking with the employees. As one might expect, the bakery and café areas are impeccably clean.
My Good Wife still has a t-shirt from the original location, which she rarely wears, but keeps as a fond college era memento. Now having dined there as a family, at last I have a memory to share. At present the bakery services a wide area of central North Carolina and has two satellite locations. If traveling to the Durham area or passing through headed elsewhere, the Ninth Street Bakery is a worthy location to experience an unforgettable meal.
Durham calls itself the City of Medicine, a reference to the Duke University medical school and hospital. Humorously, brochures tell visitors that pronunciation of the name of the city rhymes with “germ,” and should not be pronounced as “Dur-ham.” The university is worth a visit for its great library and magnificent gardens, which reach through beautiful woodland glades and meadows.
Having dined at the Ninth Street Bakery, at last I think I have come to know the heart of Durham and shall be able to hold my own in the choir of its praises.