When you talk about celebrity chefs in the area, it’s hard to not think of Ashley Christensen. Over the past 6 years she’s aggressively expanded from local chef to national celebrity with a chain of hip, tasty eateries left in her wake. I remember when she worked at Enoteca Vin as a chef and since then she’s spun off Poole’s, Beasley’s, Chucks, Fox’s Bar and now, Joule. So we’re talking Southern nouveau, fried chicken, burgers, cocktails and now coffee. Her overall theme is higher-end, comfort food with high quality ingredients and hipster style. She knows how to do premium and cool while still appealing to the core Raleigh food audience which is not quite as eclectic as say, Durham. So how does Joule play out as the latest jewel in the AC food chain? Come on in and find out!
I stopped into Joule on a late Sunday morning and the space looks quite a bit different than the old Wilmoore Cafe. It was a great space to begin with but she’s put the usual AC touch to it. Booths have been removed for a more open space, a royal blue accent wall on the side, drop lamps and spindly stools at the counter along with interesting tables with hardware accents on the edges. Definitely a look and feel that’s had some work put into it. Even the antiqued oaked floors have been redone, going from a polyurethane polish to a more burnished and worn look. Up front there’s a hostess stand which caught me by surprise, they were serving brunch so what the heck! I’m pretty sure you can do a casual coffee and sit up front at the old runway areas that surround the front of the restaurant.
There are several artisanal coffees on the menu steeped in pour-over fashion which is the rage. I’ve had the chance to drink at Blue Bottle coffee out in SF which seems to be nationally known but I confess, I’m not a super coffee aficionado. No need for coffee beans plucked out of civet poop for me, I order some rich robust but acidic coffee based on the cool name! And a plate of royale gravy over cheese biscuits, please… Five minutes my biscuits and gravy come out, it’s a play on the Royale at Poole’s: crumbled beef (instead of sausage) in a creamy gravy over two flat biscuits. It’s nicely done with a lot smooth richness, there’s got to be some heavy butter or cream in here. And it’s slightly salty to me but probably perfect for most others. My only thought would be to serve it with the biscuits partially uncovered so you can see those baked beauties in their glory. My coffee is solid from what I understand they source their beans from Counter Culture in Durham and go with whatever is in season.
The place is busy and bustling, well-staffed with hipsters, tattoos and ironic glasses. My service is a bit forgetful but no big deal, I know that AC runs a tight ship so I must have just hit an off experience. The crowd is also similar to the staff, Raleighites willing to pay a premium for the eats and coffee here. Out the door it’s $17 for the biscuits-gravy along with a coffee. Add the tip and we’re talking over $20 which is sorta steep in my opinion. I always like Ashley’s food, it’s always well-prepared but I admit the pricing at Joule might be over the line for me. I’d probably prefer Beasley’s instead for brunch and skip the pour-over experience. But for some, Joule will hit their bulls-eye perfectly. I’m not a huge coffee shop person and would probably end up at Helios since it’s a lot closer. Still, I’m pretty certain Joule will do well and evolve because one thing AC does really well is adjust to feedback and run her restaurants professionally and as good businesses! So if you’re into coffee, stop by Joule and bask in the glory of their caffeinated goodness…