Food Finds - Driftwood Southern Kitchen, Raleigh, NC

It pays to know people, especially people who can put you on some pretty good food. If I've learned anything since embarking on my quest for exquisite sustenance, it's exactly that. We all have our favorite resources when searching for great food; I fancy Eater.com and Tasting Table, followed up by Urban Spoon and Foursquare. I sure you have yours as well, but those sources are supplements after the fact.

I always ask friends first (pre-travel), then locals (upon arrival). It's an iron-clad plan of attack.

Traveling south from Washington D.C. to Columbia, South Carolina, I planned a mid-trip lunch stop in Raleigh, North Carolina. Both of the Carolina are known for their barbecue and I'm ashamed to say it is lost on me ... I'm just not all that into the 'que. My bad. What I am into is southern cooking, particularly the lowcountry cuisine associated with South Carolina and the Georgia coast, and I knew I'd be getting plenty of it this week. I figured why not start the party early and look for something specifically southern in Raleigh.

So I tweeted by fellow foodie Stacey who food blogs amazingly over at Cook Eat Life. Stacey is an amazing cooking class instructor, food photographer, and my go-to-girl when it comes to sustainable food systems. I knew she'd point me in a few great directions, and one of her recommendations was Driftwood.

I stopped into Driftwood Southern Kitchen for a late lunch this past Monday to find the restaurant very much open, if not a little empty. This in no way reflects the quality and service you'll find at Driftwood - you'll find that on a week-day between the rush hours of lunch and dinner. If anything, when I want to totally get into my nerdy food-blogging status, I hunt places down at exactly that time of day and week because I can ask the staff questions (lots of questions) and shoot food without bothering normal customers.

My server, Zack, abandoned his post at the well-stocked bar, where he was preparing fresh ingredients for the hand-crafted cocktails they'd be serving in a few short hours, to wait on me hand and foot, answering every question and even offering to provide additional props for food photography. When you go, ask for Zack, and then ask him about their Moonshine Cocktails. As I was on the road and still had four hours to go, I sadly was unable to try any of them.

"How hungry are you?" Zack asked me, after I'd had time to look over the menu.

"Super hungry, as always," I replied, absent-mindedly rubbing my tummy, "but I'm only halfway to my destination, so I can't go whole hog just yet."

Driftwood serves fried chicken two ways: DW Classic Style which means your tender, crispy chicken breast is draped over fluffy mashed potatoes and smothered in sausage gravy (hello!) or you can get it Summer Style - a fresh watermelon/basil salad sidled up next to your fried chicken which has been drizzle with truffle honey. Neither choice is wrong, but on a hot summer day, I needed my belly full but I needed to perk up a bit, so I went with the summer style.

I must pause and reflect at this moment, that while the whole sweet and salty combination of fried chicken and maple syrup and/or honey may seem relatively new, particularly to the restaurant scene, I have to reveal that I've been eating fried chicken and honey since my college days (Clinton was in office - you do the math). Granted it was not gourmet - I was tearing open packets of honey and drizzling them over chicken tenders fried in oil that long needed changing, and my fellow schoolmates all mocked me for it.

Who's laughing now, stupid college kids who never tried anything new? That's right, it's me, laughing at you.

Eh, they didn't know any better, but now none of us have an excuse. If you're going to tell me you feel bad about eating fried chicken, please just don't. You're wasting my time and yours when you could be schkoffing this chicken over at Driftwood. Tender, juicy breast meat is pounded thin, gently coated and fried up crisp. It's just the right amount of thicken, maybe 6-8 ounces - you're not eating half a bird here. Pair it with that fresh watermelon salad streaked with ribbons of basil and you leave feeling satisfied and guilt-free ... with your pants still buttoned.

If it's really steamy and you're like me and always want a starter (even at lunch), be sure to sample their Summer Gazpacho - heirloom tomatoes and watermelon (yes watermelon) provide a subtly sweet and cool platform for North Carolina lump crab to rest upon. Amazingly refreshing.

Keep in mind that like most restaurants that want to serve the freshest food they possibly can, their menu changes frequently. If these items aren't there when you show up, just keep going back until they are, and in the meantime, know you're getting what tastes best RIGHT NOW. And really, isn't that the point of good food?

Stay tuned for more lowcountry cuisine profiles - I'm down here for a week!