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Guglhupf: The only choice for a first-date brunch

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Gather round, you newbies to Match, eHarmony, OK Cupid, and all the rest. The best place to brunch on a first date is Guglhupf Café in Durham—on the weekend anyway.

I enjoyed a first date there a couple of months ago, so now I’m qualified to share the reasons why Guglhupf is an excellent first-date brunch spot:

  • There are crowds of people to navigate, so no need to focus on each other, especially if the silence is deafening.
  • The menu and decor are interesting enough to generate conversation before, during, and after the meal.
  • Certain menu items are ideal for sharing and taste-testing, a nice way to break the ice with your possible new paramour.

Once you’ve parked illegally on a side street (don’t expect a spot in the café’s tiny lot on a Saturday or Sunday), you’ll find an opening in the back fence that doesn’t require jumping, climbing, or scooting. Hopefully he’s already there, waving you down.

You’ll hug awkwardly but neither of you will flinch. (Off to a good start.)

First impressions

The atmosphere is reminiscent of a German biergarden: Outdoor tables spread out from the main building; the central “bar” where you order your meal, which will be brought to your table; and a second tier inside that is a bit more quiet (and the perfect spot for the getting-to-know-you conversation you’ll want on a date).

You won’t mind the lengthy line that stretches throughout and snakes around the eatery’s first floor. Waiting in line allows you to take in the vibe—rustic, hipster, spare, purposeful, and scattered all at once. You and your date can discuss the menu, the chalkboards, what the word “guglhupf” means, the crowd, the noise, the cool upper mezzanine, and how you must stop by the bakery on the way out.

The weekend chaos is part of Guglhupf’s charm, and it relaxes those on first dates: “I don’t know if you like me or if I like you, but let’s just read the menu and discuss at length what sounds yummy.”

And lots of things do.

Getting to know you (and the menu)

“Guglhupf” is an Alsatian term for a marble cake or Bundt cake. Its soft yeasty dough traditionally contains raisins, almonds, and Kirschwasser cherry brandy. Some also contain candied fruits and nuts, and some regional varieties are also filled, often with a layer of sweetened ground poppy seeds. The café’s version is baked with golden raisins and almond tops, dipped in butter, “rolled in sugar, and then dusted to perfection.” But the cafe's namesake treat is only the beginning at Guglhupf.

Founder and owner Claudia Kemmet-Cooper grew up in Germany where her table was laden with the wares of local farmers, bakers, butchers, cheesemakers, and grocers, all procured and lovingly prepared by the women in her family.

The menu emphasizes the use of local, seasonal, and artisanal ingredients with a European twist. The bakery cases are filled with classic (and award-winning) tarts, tortes, and breakfast pastries. There are also baskets full of freshly baked artisan breads you can take home with you.

You won't know what to taste first. When it came time to order, the pressure was on for me (I hoped he found indecision adorable...); I couldn’t decide between the small plates bursting with European cheeses and charcuterie, classic breakfast foods such as the frittata, farmer’s omelette, or “eggs Arnold” (spinach, artichoke, and tomato topped with poached eggs and hollandaise served on brioche) and muesli, or the nice selection of warm and cheesy panini.

I ordered the house-smoked trout salad with bibb lettuce, capers, pickled red onion, and creamy quark-horseradish dressing (AMAZING!), along with a dragonwell “long ling” pan-fired green tea (not exactly German but quite delicious).

My date went for a traditional favorite that never let him down—schnitzel (breaded pork cutlets, pan-fried and served with a small green salad and lemon wedges).

To start, we shared a “käseplatte,” a selection of three cheeses served with marcona almonds, house compote, and dried figs, which was divine. The “sharing plates” and small plates included on the menu are one of the reasons Guglhupf is such a great first date spot—it’s hard to not get along with someone when you’re bumping hands in the bread basket.

Our future together

What should you try on future visits, whether or not it’s with a date?

  • Grilled Nutella made with rustic house bread and served with seasonal fruit
  • Alsatian potato leek tart layered with fresh herbs, leeks, and cave-aged gruyère cheese
  • Wurstplatte, a charcuterie plate with a selection of sliced house-made artisanal meats and sausages served with gruyere cheese, radishes, hard-boiled egg, house-made pickles, and mustard
  • Roasted beets with arugula, blue cheese spread, and toasted walnuts on rustic house bread

Once the date is over, if it didn’t go well, the Guglhupf Bakery’s door is just to the left as you exit the café, so you can always pop in for a Berliner, torte, or actual guglhupf to soothe your sorrows later on.

In case you were wondering, after our brunch my date and I spent the afternoon at the museum, which we enjoyed immensely. We then gave each other a chaste hug, never discussed going to dinner, and later texted each other that it was nice to have a new friend.

Thanks to Guglhupf, any outcome would have been a good one.

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