I grew up in a city with a large Italian American community and their delicious restaurants heavy on rich red sauces and great cannoli where the maitre'd packed a handgun. Pasta loaded w/ tomato sauce and cheese is such comfort food!
I noticed a dearth of such places when I moved to the south ten years ago. Even now, I've not found a place in Durham that quite fits the bill.
Last night I joined some girlfriends for dinner at an Italian restaurant in a strip mall in Raleigh called Casa Carbone. The place is nothing to look at and the menu was standard fare, so I was not expecting much, but OMG the eggplant parmesan was GREAT. I finally found my red-sauce-Italian-American-starch-with-cheese- comfort-food fix! I also liked the grouper puttanesca and the tiramisu. The bread wasn't very good and the house salad was basic iceberg with some romaine and cucumber. I can overlook these things for the fried eggplant cooked to sweet perfection and loaded up with tomato sauce and cheese. My friends tell me the pizza is good too.
I will certainly go back next time I need a red sauce on carb fix. If you are looking for upscale or avant garde, don't go. If you require beautiful table cloths and impeccable service, don't go. If you are offended by pats of butter wrapped in foil and "warm" bread that seems suspiciously microwaved, stay home for sure. But if you want to eat delicious eggplant parmesan, then go!
Raleigh certainly has plenty of restaurants worth checking out. I do not understand the parochial mindset that keeps Durham people in Durham, Raleigh people in Raleigh, and Chapel Hill people in Chapel Hill. Get in your car and drive, especially if you want to try something new.