The Fairview Dining Room at the Washington Duke Inn: A Private Club of Your Own
(UPDATED: 01 02 17)
I’ve had more than a half-dozen wonderful meals in the past year at the Fairview Dining Room in the historic Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club on the Duke University campus. It’s my go-to place to for business meetings and personal catch-ups. Friends and colleagues must feel the same way—because it’s high on their list for get-togethers, too.
While I’ve never belonged to a country club, if I did I’d want it to be like the WaDu (the nickname bestowed by locals and Duke alums). Most months of the year you can sit on the shaded patio overlooking hundreds of acres, including a world-class 18-hole golf course, with unparalleled sunsets (enhanced, perhaps, by a cocktail). In the chill of winter, relax in the warm ambiance of the wood-paneled dining room while looking out over the snow-dusted grounds. The Fairview is simply magical any time of the year.
The fine dining restaurant looks back in time when the Duke family (the tobacco Dukes, that is) ruled the roost, and yet manages to be contemporary, too, notably with its staff of first-rate professionals who greet their regular guests by name. Old-school formality -- with a decidedly modern twist. (For a more boisterous bar scene check out the Bull Durham Bar, also in the hotel, and stay tuned for the opening of the new JB Duke Hotel just across the street.)
The menu, under the ever-vigilant hand of executive chef Jason Cunningham, is completely of the moment, with an emphasis on local ingredients from area farms. Some of my most recent favorite dishes included the “winter salad” with tea-soaked cherries, Norwegian steelhead salmon with a root vegetable and potato hash, and the chef’s take on shrimp and grits (a Carolina classic). For dessert, don’t miss the sticky toffee cake or the banana pudding.
I’ve eaten at the Fairview for more than a decade, and Cunningham’s preparations are consistently excellent no matter the year or the season. The dining experience is crowned with top-flight service; it’s as though there’s a conductor behind the curtain making sure everything runs perfectly. In fact there is: It’s the chieftain of food and beverages Don Ball who knows not only how to make this joint hum but to hit all the high notes, too.
What do I like best about the Fairview? I don’t have to golf to live the life of those who do.