The Museum of Durham History’s exhibit and event series draws attention to our city’s restaurants, past and present, and its culinary history
By Renee Ambroso | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Durham’s dining scene receives national recognition much more often these days thanks to our James Beard Award-winning chefs, lauded restaurateurs and long-standing farm-to-table movement, among other contributors. But rampant creativity and innovation in our kitchens is nothing new, says Patrick Mucklow, executive director of the Museum of Durham History.
“We know [that] locally there has always been interesting cuisine and culinary adventure going on for a long time,” Patrick says.
The museum hosted an opening reception in May for its “Dining Out in Durham” exhibit, which remains on view through October. Visitors learn about restaurants that operated during the 20th century and the threads that tie them to the current dining scene.They also hear firsthand accounts from Durhamites who experienced segregation via oral history recordings and read about the “Royal Seven,” a group of Black protesters who organized a sit-in at the Royal Ice Cream Parlor in 1957. Other Durham restaurants were the sites of large civil rights protests, like one that took place nearly every Sunday at Howard Johnson’s Restaurant on Chapel Hill Boulevard in 1962 and 1963.
“We can learn about how folks navigated the waters of segregation, and we wanted to open that discussion, and for it to be a frank topic that people explore in the exhibit,” Patrick says.
Patrick adds that the history of our eateries inevitably traces the influx of immigrants who brought their culture and culinary practices to the area. He says that “Dining Out in Durham” reveals a historical acceptance of international flavors in addition to the stalwart Southern staples that marched across most menus during the mid-20th century. “Indian, Latino, African – there are a lot of different cuisines that have influenced the restaurants here today,” Patrick says. A few pioneers are still standing, such as Banh’s Cuisine on Ninth Street – likely the first restaurant to offer Vietnamese dishes in the area – and Yamazushi, both of which opened in the late 1980s. Banh’s tried-and-true staples – like its ginger
chicken and the vegetarian plate with sticky rice and perfectly fried tofu, which is served up alongside other Vietnamese specials on Wednesdays and Saturdays – have ensured its longevity, while Yamazushi found its niche when it made the leap from sushi to traditional Japanese kaiseki dining, or multi- course small plates, in 2010. Yamazushi continues to evolve, transitioning its focus to presentations of Japanese tea ceremonies in a new location in spring 2023, according to chef and owner George Hitoshi Yamazawa.
Several long-standing establishments also partnered with the museum to offer an immersive fundraising series across the city during the exhibit’s run. “We were able to work very quickly, closely and easily outside our respective comfort zones to make this [series] happen,” Patrick says. “… [It’s a] very unique Durham quality that the sense of collaboration between cultural institutions and hospitality is not that far-fetched.”
The events include an educational presentation from a historian or speaker on topics related to historical dining practices and Durham’s past. Attendees are served a prix fixe menu so that chefs can showcase staple flavors and ingredients.
The inaugural evening of the series took place at Parizade in early June. Historian John Schelp flipped through slides of postcards, aiming a yardstick at buildings and streets in black-and-white shots of Old West Durham and the mill district that once sprawled across Erwin Square, where the upscale, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant is located. Guests followed John’s presentation through the beginnings of Duke University’s East Campus and the evolution of Durham’s main streets while sampling poached octopus, lamb chops and seafood risotto.
Parizade itself is a mainstay in Durham’s culinary ethos. It opened in September 1991 and has sustained exceptional quality in both its food and hospitality under the leadership of owner Giorgios Bakatsias, who was named Restaurateur of the Year during the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association’s annual award ceremony in April.
Parizade quietly entered its third decade last year. The pandemic postponed all celebrations, but Giorgios is sentimental about the milestone. “When I walk in[to Parizade] I feel a certain effortless joy,” he says. His reverence for the space remains, even with the ballooning roster of projects that demand his attention – Giorgios oversees Vin Rouge, The Nasher Museum Café and Local 22 Kitchen & Bar, in addition to several other eateries across the Triangle, as the founder and owner of Giorgios Hospitality & Lifestyle Group. As of press time, he anticipates opening Krill on Ramseur Street by late July. Parizade stood out among its peers when it opened, boasting one of the largest kitchens in the area at the time as well as a delightfully distinctive style. “The space is welcoming,” Giorgios says. “It’s friendly because of the copper [accents] that are a grounding force, the colors, the circles, the movement [and] the outdoor garden. … Through the years, it evolved visually. But it [was] always supposed to be a theater for all the senses.”
Parizade has managed to continually revive itself over its 30 years, Giorgios says, as he hoped it would when he chose the name, which he says means “rebirth.” “[The space] had lots of layers and lives to explore … it’s only fueled by the teams who believed in that vision,” he adds. One team member who’s become a familiar face to most longtime Parizade customers is general manager Igor Gacina. A native of Croatia, Igor moved to North Carolina in September 1993 and began working at the restaurant as a server. He was promoted to service manager three years later, and general manager in 2000. He’s bonded with his regulars and has helped plan many a birthday dinner, wedding reception or other special event. “You’re part of their lives,” he says.
Executive chef Jason Lawless, who’s been with the restaurant since 2016, will bring back beloved dishes from years past for a “Greatest Hits” menu offered throughout the month of September, and also served on Oct. 2 during a black-tie optional, ticketed anniversary party. “Golden tickets” will be randomly handed out to 30 diners at any of 10 Giorgios Group restaurants in August, granting a meal to sample the special menu at Parizade. Guests can expect classics like smoked salmon with stewed spinach and feta; lamb chops; paella; and lemon linguine with squash and sundried tomatoes alongside staples like the “Parizade Salad” with strawberries, roasted almonds and Stilton blue cheese.
As for the remaining MoDH dinners, the next one takes place at Juju Asian Tapas + Bar in September. Chris Holaday will share insights from “Classic Restaurants of Durham,” the book he co-authored with Patrick Cullom, over a meal at Vin Rouge to close out the series in October. You can purchase tickets here.