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Big Ed's City Market Restaurant in Raleigh - Good Southern Cookin' Served Up By Great Southern Folks!

I recently had the opportunity to visit a city I'd never been to before when my cousin Amy asked me if I'd like to go to Raleigh, North Carolina with her for the International Bluegrass Music Association's Annual Conference which had previously been held in Nashville but was making the switch to Raleigh for at least the next three years. Heck, as I'm always up for a trip someplace new I said 'sure' and so it was that we made the drive down along with Amy's sister-in-law Robin in search of bluegrass music and some of the local flavor.

Sign above Big Ed's in City Market, Raleigh.

While Amy was attending to some conference business, Robin and I had the pleasure of spending some time talking to Ryan Smith of visitRaleigh who was kind enough to suggest a few local places that we might want to visit; she highly recommended that if we were looking for an "authentic Southern breakfast" that we be sure to visit Big Ed's City Market Restaurant as they were the best in town and not to be missed.  From previous time spent on the other side of the Mason Dixon Line, I knew that if there was one thing that I really loved about the South (though trust me, there are a lot more than one!) was that they know how to do breakfast up right!  With Ryan's suggestion in mind, we made plans to jourey the several blocks from our hotel to Big Ed's for breakfast the next morning and went to bed with visions of biscuits dancing through our heads (well, I did at least!)

Bench outside of Big Ed's City Market; above t-shirts for those who can complete the 3-hotcake challenge. Exterior of Big Ed's City Market restaurant.

Located near Moore Square in Raleigh's historic City Market which had first opened to the citizenry of Raleigh on October 1, 1914 before eventually closing in 1957 then later returning to life after being recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, Big Ed's was a nice easy walk from the Raleigh City Center Marriott which we were calling home for four nights.  Truth be told, after dining there it might have been a really good idea if the restaurant had been located further away so that we could have walked off more of our breakfast but I'm getting ahead of myself so let's back up a little bit to oh, let's say 1989 when Big Ed's opened for business in Raleigh.

Named for its founder and owner, Ed Watkins is a man who wasn't just big in stature but also in personality and he certainly made that a part of his namesake restaurant. Growing up on a tobacco farm in nearby Knightdale, the man who never made it out of eighth grade started his career as a restaurateur when he opened Ed's Grill in 1958. Following a successful formula of serving large portions of traditional country cooking made from farm-fresh ingredients, hiring friendly servers then treating them more like family than employees, and charging moderate prices, Big Ed operated a highly successful restaurant which was probably what enticed the city leaders of Raleigh to approach him with the idea of making his eatery an integral part of their newly renovated City Market in 1989. Big Ed agreed to give it a go and the rest - as they say - is history. A very tasty history!
Neon sign in the window of Big Ed's

These days, Big Ed's is no longer watched over by the big man himself (though he does still come in for breakfast several times a week) but by Sam Hobgood who bought the restaurant seven years ago with his wife Lynn and who has carried on all of Big Ed's traditions much to what I am sure is the delight of Raleigh and anyone who is visiting, been pointed in that direction, and stopped in.  In speaking to Lynette, one of our very friendly waitresses, she told us that after Mr. Hobgood had bought the business that no one even knew it for quite some time as it was kept quiet until Big Ed knew that he'd be a good fit.  Apparently the transition was seamless and the staff love Sam just as much as they still love Big Ed.

Lynette has been with the restaurant for 15 years and told us that there are others who have been there even longer which speaks very well for the management who obviously knows how to treat their employees.  That excellent treatment of the staff definitely flows over to how customers are treated.  We ended up visiting Big Ed's twice during our stay and each time the waitstaff and everyone we came into contact with couldn't possibly have been any nicer if they had tried.  It was very easy to see that it was a genuine niceness and not forced in the least; these were folks who liked where they were working and it showed in everything they did!

Some of Big Ed's historic plows in front of the restaurant.

When Big Ed moved into the former-garage-turned-restaurant on Wolfe Street, he brought along more than just the recipes he had learned while helping his mother in the kitchen as she prepared meals for the farm workers - recipes which had been handed down through the generations by his great-grandfather who was a Confederate mess sergeant in the Civil War -  he also brought along farm tools and supplies from his family farm (like the plows that stand outside on the sidewalk) along with other bits and pieces of bygone days to use as decorations. There are a lot of chain restaurants that use this same style of decorating but the big difference is that their manufactured memorabilia, eBay ephemera, and copycat kitsch could only hope to be authentic while that which can be found hanging from the ceiling and in other areas of Big Ed's is the real McCoy!

Some of the memorabilia found at Big Ed's City Market.
A quilt hanging on display in Big Ed's
A wooden pig inside Big Ed's
An 1885 girl's bike is one of the items hanging from the ceiling at Big Ed's
A collection of Native American arrowheads.

My Uncle Alton would no doubt loved to have seen the collection of Native American arrowheads that hangs on the wall in Big Ed's and there was a lot of stuff that even I remembered as - let's face it - I'm simply not a kid anymore though at least the 1885 girl's bike hanging from the ceiling had a few years on me as did a few of the other things hanging above our heads here and there!

The
A collection of Civil War memorabilia in Big Ed's City Market.

In one of the corners of the restaurant there was a collection of Civil War memorabilia including a portrait of the Confederacy's greatest general, Robert E. Lee.  Though I descended from relatives who fought on the blue side of the War of Northern Aggression (we much prefer to call it the War of Rebellion in our part of the country!), I have always been interested in both sides when it comes to Civil War history and would have loved to have sat nearer to this section so that I could check things out closer but as we were seated across the room, I simply tried to take a few polite photos without disturbing the other diners.  I'll have to see if I can get a closer look when we return for next year's IBMA Conference!

The interior of Big Ed's Table setting featuring a container of molasses and vintage Coke napkin dispensers.

Anyhow, as interesting as all of the knick-knacks and reminders of simpler bygone times that have found a place in Big Ed's museum of Southern culture were, we had gone to the restaurant with an agenda and that was to eat some good Southern cookin'.  To that end it was time to peruse the menu and see what looked good for breakfast.

The front of the menu at Big Ed's The back of the menu at Big Ed's

Oh my gosh, it all sounded so good but a decision had to be made as our server Jessie was patiently waiting to take our order so I finally settled on one of my all-time favorites - two eggs over-easy with home fries, corned beef hash, and coffee. I came real darned close to ordering the fried bologna as childhood remembrances skipped their way across my taste-buds but I was also trying hard not to gain back all of the weight I'd recently lost in just one sitting!

Two eggs over easy with home fries and corned beef cabbage.

Were I really shooting for a true Southern breakfast I would have ordered grits but I'm afraid I've just never been able to develop a taste for "Southern ice cream" even after being stationed with the Air Force in Mississippi for several years so I skipped the truly authentic in favor of my stuffy Yankee tastes.  I was somewhat curious about the red-eye gravy but wimped out on that too but I definitely had to order biscuits for my bread choice.  As both Amy and Robin did too, the biscuits arrived on the same plate to be set down in the middle of the table for us to fight over share!

A plate of Big Ed's biscuits.

Big Ed once said, "Those biscuits are made just like my momma made them and they can make a poodle pull a freight train," and the man seriously wasn't kidding!  Crusty on the top with melt-in-your-mouth insides, those were possibly the best biscuits I have ever had and I'm not just whistling "Dixie" (sorry, couldn't resist!)  I've read a couple of TripAdvisor reviews written by people who said that they weren't the best that they'd ever had which makes me wonder how much better than that they get and where can they be found??

A cheese omelet with home fries.

Cousin Amy ordered a cheese omelette with home fries and a side of baked apples for her breakfast but darned if I can remember what Robin ordered other than also a side of baked apples which I was fortunate enough to get some of.  I was glad I had the chance to try them as they were like a hot apple pie minus the crust!  Drop a dollop of whipped cream on there and you'd have a delicious dessert never mind a breakfast side!

Big Ed's Baked Apples - yum!

The coffee was quite delicious and my cup never went empty before there was someone right there to top it up. On a personal note, I loved the mugs they use at Big Ed's City Market Restaurant as they are the exact same type that my beloved grandfather had at his house.  I never drank coffee then as I was much too young but I have always remembered the coffee mugs and seeing ones just like his made me smile!  Amy and Robin both had sweet tea (Amy also had orange juice which didn't come in some dinky juice glass that barely gives you three good swallows but a good-sized glass that looked to hold at least 8-10 ounces of Vitamin C goodness); they both proclaimed the sweet tea to be delicious though definitely very sweet and if memory serves, their glasses never went empty either.

A coffee cup just like my grandfather used to have!

As for breakfast itself, whoever was doing the cooking in the kitchen definitely knew how to do eggs over-easy as mine were perfection on a plate and it didn't take me long to polish them off.

Perfectly over-easy eggs and home fries!

That said though, there was more food "than I could possibly eat" as my Old Gram B used to say so I ended up leaving a bit behind while completely ignoring the voice in my head that always yells at me to clean my plate as no good food should ever go to waste.  Trust me, it was good but I did have to walk back up to the hotel and if I had eaten anymore it would have been more like rolling than walking!

What was left of my breakfast!

As that breakfast was so darned good and we enjoyed it so much, we decided that a second trip was simply going to need to be made for breakfast the next morning so that we could try a few more items off of the menu.  On Friday morning we walked the 1/4-mile from the Marriott again and this time found Big Ed's to be a bit busier but we still didn't have to wait any time at all to get a table.  I've read that it does tend to get a bit more crowded on weekends and such but that the wait-times usually aren't too bad and it's well worth waiting for a bit if need be.

A big slice of city ham with scrambled eggs (somewhere under the ham!) and baked apples.

This time around Cousin Amy ordered two eggs scrambled, the baked apples again, and the city ham which as you can see was quite the generous size! We had decided to each order something different and share so that we could get a taste of a few different things and the size of the portions certainly made that more than doable!  We all ordered a glass of Half-and-Half (sweet tea and lemonade) this time around and it was so delicious that I didn't miss my usual morning cup of joe!

A single Big Ed's hot cake flowing over the side of the plate.

I had been hankering a hot cake so ordered a single one though when it arrived hanging over the edges of the plate, it looked like it could have easily been three hot cakes combined into one!  Big Ed's offers a free t-shirt to anyone who can eat three hot cakes (no sharing!) in one sitting - a challenge that Lynette said she had seen many a man attempt and fail over the years.  I suggested that perhaps it might be a good idea to get Adam Richman and the Travel Channel's Man v. Food Nation in there to give it a go and Lynette agreed that would be fun.  Hear that Adam?  There are three delicious hot cakes down there at Big Ed's any time your show wants to take 'em on!

Big Ed's sausage gravy.

Robin ordered a bacon and egg biscuit (sorry, no photo!) and we also ordered a side of sausage gravy to go with our biscuits.  Vastly different from the white gravy with chunks of sausage that we Northerners are more used to, this dark brown gravy is made with fresh ground sausage and had a bit of a bite to it but was still quite delicious.  As for the ham, it had a unique saltiness to it that I found kept drawing me back for "just one more bite" ... I think I might now know why animals so like salt-licks as I just couldn't seem to resist it!  As for that hot cake ... what can I say about it other than that it was absolutely delicious?  Lynette said that the recipe they use is Big Ed's mother's pound cake recipe which is thinned down a bit.  What a great idea and what a great hot cake!

Even with giving Amy a good chunk of my hot cake as well as a taste or two to Robin, I still walked out of there leaving way too much of it on the plate along with most of my biscuit and gravy and some of that delicious ham.  It almost seemed like a sin to leave it sitting there and that little voice in my head that nags at me to clean my plate was literally screaming at me to "oh please for the love of all that's delicious, at least eat the rest of the ham for crying out loud" but it just wasn't going to happen.

Big Ed's biscuits and sausage gravy.

Speaking of leftover food, I should mention that for years now whatever food is left over when the restaurant closes for the day is donated to the Raleigh Rescue Mission and I bet the folks there are more than grateful for that thoughtful gesture. How can you not love a place that caters to its customers, treats its employees very well, and also gives back to the community?  

Kitchen and take-out area.

In addition to breakfast, Big Ed's serves up lunch every day and posts their blue plate specials on their Facebook page as well as on Twitter where you can follow them at @BigEdsRaleigh.  Cousin Amy tells me that when we go back to Raleigh for next year's IBMA Annual Conference that we need to hit up Big Ed's for lunch as they had some great sounding choices on the regular menu but more than that, if you take a look at one of their recent menus that shows their daily specials, there's bound to be something on there that simply makes your mouth water!  It all sounds really good to me and I'm sure I'd have a horrible time deciding though I do see bread pudding listed down there under desserts and I do love me a good bread pudding though from what I hear, Big Ed's banana pudding is simply to die for if you like bananas.

Image Credit
During our second visit to Big Ed's, Amy, Robin, and I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hobgood and it was immediately easy to see why his employees were so fond of him.  It would appear that Big Ed choose very wisely when he picked Sam Hobgood as his successor as not only does he seem to have a terrific head for business (good proof of that is Big Ed's involvement with social media which is a must these days) but he's a true Southern gentleman and genuinely cares about his customers.  Not only does Sam own the place but he's also right there with a second glass of Half-and-Half if it even looks like yours might be running low (Robin's was) and I'm sure if there were any issues at all that he'd be there to fix whatever might be wrong.  At the bottom of Big Ed's menu, it states "If you enjoyed your meal, tell a friend.  If not, please tell us."  I don't believe that even the smallest complaint would be ignored but addressed to the customer's complete satisfaction and that there are many, many more people telling their friends about their great meal than not. Heck, I myself couldn't wait to get home and write a post so that I could tell everyone about the best place for breakfast or lunch in Raleigh!

Big Ed's pricing policy!

Located at 220 Wolfe Street, Big Ed's is open seven days a week but don't try to head there for dinner (or supper depending on what you call your evening meal) as they close early. The current operating hours are Monday-Friday: 7am-2pm; Saturday: 7am-noon; and Sunday: 8am-1pm. Breakfast is always served while the hot plate lunches are only available from 11am-2pm Monday-Friday. The restaurant has banquet facilities available if you're in the market for them and should you need to contact the folks at Big Ed's you can do so by calling (919) 836-9909, emailing them at bigedscitymarket@aol.com, or sending them a Tweet!

Just a word of warning in case it hasn't already occurred to you - Big Ed's is NOT the place to go to if you're counting calories because that's not what good Southern cookin' is all about.  Sure, you could order a salad I suppose but why would you want to when you could possibly have chicken and dumplings, country-style steak with rice and gravy, french toast with powdered sugar, or local country ham with red-eye gravy and a side of buttered rice?

Life is short and you really should enjoy it once in awhile so if you're in Raleigh or even anywhere close to Raleigh for that matter, go for it and be sure to take a trip to Big Ed's City Market Restaurant - calories be damned for one day (or two in our case!)  You can always jog behind the car on the way home if you're really feeling guilty!


Comments

  1. Oh, man! All of that sounds heavenly! I haven't had a good ol' ham steak in ages - I'll pass on the red eyed gravy, but that's the only pass! There's something about traveling and breakfast.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I miss me a good ol' southern vegetable plate. I'll take collard greens, squash casserole, blackeye peas, and deviled eggs please. And those biscuits... they look like pure heaven. Were they just a hint of sweet?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Looks absolutely lovely! Perfect breakfast if I do say so. And, I had to do a double take at the shot with the WISE potato chip can. We LOVE Wise... because my husband's Mom worked there for years, retired from there actually!!! The WISE owl is almost our family mascot!!!! <3

    ReplyDelete

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