Alivia's opened in Durham about a month ago. It is located in the old bike shop across for Brightleaf Square at the corner of Main St. and Gregson. If you haven't been around long enough to remember the bike shop, Alivia's is the bright green building on the corner. You can't miss it.
The place has a great atmosphere. The exposed brick, cork flooring, wooden booths and tables give it warm feeling that I like. It's a bit loud in the evening when it's full. The building has two garage doors on the front that open in the warmer weather onto their patio which fronts Main St. I'm looking forward to sitting out there in the summer.
The chef is from Lantern is Chapel Hill and the pastry chef is from Nana's. Clearly the place has pedigree, and in fact everything I've eaten there has tasted very good (except for some lobster bisque). It's a bit on the pricey side for dinner compared to Piedmont or Rue Cler. However, the presentation is beautiful and the fish and seafood dishes have been better than what I had at Piedmont. Remember, get the pork at Piedmont.
Alivia's does brunch on the weekends starting at 10am and breakfast in the mornings during the week starting at 6:30am. They make GREAT coffee and their fancy, Italian coffee machine is worth a trip in just to see! Their coffee is strong and dark and rich. It is probably not to everyone's taste, but I adore it. It's so hard to find a decent cup of coffee!
I had poached eggs over steak hash for brunch. It tasted good but it wasn't hash. More on that in a sec. My friends had eggs benedict and french toast. Both were delicious. The best part of the meal, besides the coffee, was the side order of grits. Best grits in Durham.
Apparently there have been a lot of complaints about the service at Alivia's. I've had no trouble in the evenings. Now I have mentioned before that Rue Cler is too fast and that Piedmont is snail's pace. Alivia's seems better than both at night.
Brunch today was another story. I'm not sure what was going on, but they are new so I'm going to cut them some slack. They seemed to have a hard time getting the food out to the tables. Ours arrived warmish. I don't like my food so piping hot that I cannot taste it, but I also do not like it heading towards cool. I wondered if the french toast took longer so the eggs had been sitting out waiting, but the french toast wasn't very hot either. So something slow is going on btwn kitchen and table for brunch. I think there was too much for the waiters to do. The sugar and creamer aren't not on the table but are brought out with the coffee (assuming the waiter remembers). The salt and pepper are not on the table either so one has to ask for them, meanwhile the food is getting colder. I'm fine with the fact that chefs dislike seasonings on the table in fine establishments because it is an affront to their own perfectly seasoned cuisine. But we are talking about eggs here: BREAKFAST. No two people are going to salt and pepper their eggs in the same way, so make it easier on the wait staff and the customer by putting the salt and pepper, sugar and pitchers of cream on the table. And hurry up with that coffee.
Now, back to the hash. Hash is what poor people used to eat to use up left overs after a dinner w/ meat and potatoes. Now, my roots are from poor folk and my mamma and grandmother make great hash. Great hash involves oil, butter or even (gasp) bacon grease (because people used to SAVE bacon grease in jars under the kitchen sink when I was a kid). The next essential ingredient is onion because it takes a LOT of onion, salt and black pepper to resurrect last night's ingredients. Then the potatoes need to be added. If they are raw they go in w/ the onions. If they are left over, then they go in after the onions are turning yellow. The onions and potatoes get fried until they are on their way to being done. Then add the cooked meat. Everything gets fried together until it turns brown (brown as in caramelize, not burnt...fine line). Finally, and this the secret ingredient, add a dash of Worchestershire sauce.
Yankees put poached eggs on top.
It's good either way. Make it at home. Don't go to a frou frou diner for hash. Order their french toast or eggs benedict.
Enough of this diatribe. I do like Alivia's and I'm glad to have so many options in Durham for good places to eat. When I moved here in 1997 there were basically 4 options: Pop's, Nana's, Magnolia Grill and Anotherthyme. I'm happy we have others now. Hopefully Alivia's will figure out the service.