I like my oatmeal and raisins in the form of saucer-sized cookies rather than in a steaming glob in a bowl. Huge oatmeal raisin cookies for breakfast (or brunch) forever erase the image of poor Oliver Twist holding up his pitifully empty bowl and asking for more gruel.
Luckily for me, I can find oatmeal to the exact saucer-size cookie specification at Parker & Otis (112 South Duke Street, Durham, NC 27701, 919.683.3200).
Parker & Otis is not quite catering, not quite provisions and not quite cafe, but an interesting mix of the three. The specialty foods retail shop-slash-cafe carries filling and fun products both food and food-related all jammed into one outlet.
Housed where Fowler's Market once held court as king of fancy and fine comestibles and wine in the Bull City, Parker & Otis is vastly different from the storied Durham gourmet foods market. Fowler's was where I bought my first bottle of Dom Perignon in the Seventies. It was a serious food and wine shop.
What I like and what you will like about Parker & Otis is its playfulness. The shop's design, the sensibility of its marketing and merchandising, is infused with a childlike sense of wonder and whimsy. Children's old-fashioned penny candy - although a misnomer in 2010 - is cached in a vintage grocery display case. Cookbooks are arranged cleverly using an old stove. The overall feel is light, bright, shiny and happy.
The shop juxtaposes old fashioned fixtures with trending products ranging from cookware, kids' gear, and household green cleaning products to a small but select wine cellar located just next to seating for breakfast and lunch customers.
No stranger to cafe society, I found Parker & Otis' cafe not initially user-friendly for a newcomer. Strictly self-service, it isn't clear at first glance that there is no table service and that you have to order in the store's midsection at the counter.
And I wasn't crazy about the raise-your-hand-when-your-name-is-called solution to getting the food from service counter to table. Still, these are minor quibbles in an overall excellent situation.
Once you know the drill, the cafe is relaxed and unhurried. Order at the counter, raise your hand when your name is called, and you get your meal - perhaps Blueberry and Banana Pancakes for breakfast or a Shrimp BLT for lunch - delivered on an adorable baking sheet instead of an icky plastic cafeteria tray. Throw in an espresso and some devilish good thing from the bakery loaded with more butter cream or ganache than ought to be legal, and you're set for the day.
Afterward treat yourself to a fun little gift like the quirky mini pins - mine has a drawing of a camera with the word SMILE penciled above it - for $1 or buy a tee-shirt inscribed with the word CAKE to express your devotion to all things baked, layered, frosted and decadent for $14.99
Be sure to leave sufficient time for browsing. You'll leave happier than when you arrived.