From burgers to a ‘fried chicken bag,’ new downtown Raleigh diner cooks to order

Published 4:39 pm Friday, March 10, 2023

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(Editor’s Note: This article and photo, published with permission of the News and Observer, features Bobby Outlaw, a native of the Ahoskie area, and his wife, Tracy, a native of Windsor, who now reside in Raleigh where they operate a bakery and a diner.)

By Brooke Cain

Service Journalism Editor /

TV & Media Writer

The News & Observer

RALEIGH – Bobby and Tracy Outlaw, the husband-and-wife team behind one of Raleigh’s most successful bakeries, have expanded into the restaurant game, opening Premier Cakes Diner at the North Carolina Museum of History downtown.

Bobby Outlaw, a native of the Roanoke-Chowan area, recently opened a diner at the NC Museum of History in downtown Raleigh. Photo by Brooke Cain

The diner, named after the cake business the couple started 12 years ago, had a soft launch at the museum a few weeks ago, with a breakfast and lunch menu covering pretty much everything you might want from a grill-style diner.

The menu offers breakfast sandwiches and pancakes, plus burgers, hot dogs, Reubens (both corned beef and turkey versions), grilled ham and cheese, pulled pork barbecue, fried chicken and much more — all (except for the barbecue) cooked to order.

And because everything is made to order and “from scratch,” Bobby Outlaw promises all menu items are “all day”: “You can get breakfast in the afternoon or a burger at 9 a.m.,” he said during a tour of the restaurant last week.

Most of the sandwiches listed on the menu board when we went were under $10, and came with either fries or chips.

Outlaw runs the operation of five employees, including himself, and they agonize over every detail, every ingredient. (Tracy oversees their cake operation.)

The burgers are made with fresh, hand-patted beef, not frozen, and topped with rich cheddar cheese. The barbecue is wood-smoked at Outlaw’s commissary and catering kitchen in Wake Forest. The french fries are crispy crinkle cuts. And the ice in the sweet tea and lemonade is crushed (yes, it’s the good ice). Plus, daily specials may include anything from Jamaican food to gumbo or soul food.

Outlaw says the key to good food is quality ingredients. They tested frozen hamburger patties but they didn’t cut it. At the bakery, they get fresh shredded coconut from a supplier in Alabama, because they had the exact type of finely shredded coconut that makes the best cakes.

“If you have a decent recipe and good, quality ingredients, that’s half the battle,” Outlaw said. “Ingredients make all the difference in the world. You can’t cut corners.”

If you like fried chicken, try the “fried chicken bag,” which is a paper sack of french fries topped with either two thighs or four wings, and a slice of loaf bread.

Soon, the diner will feature a coffee bar with an espresso machine, soft-serve ice cream and freshly popped popcorn, making it a destination for afternoon snacks and caffeine pick-me-ups.

And of course, the diner sells cake and pie from Premier Cakes Bakery & Cafe, made at the North Raleigh location, by the slice.

The diner seats 47 inside with 14 more in an atrium just outside the door, and more than 100 at the tables on the plaza outside the museum. The space originally held the second location of Pharaoh’s grill (both locations are now closed), and was later Sweet Tea & Cornbread Grill, which closed during the pandemic.

Waiting last Thursday to pick up her order of chicken tenders and fries, Natalie Carpiaux reminisced about the meal she had there the week before.

“That was the best jerk sauce I’ve ever had,” she said. “It wasn’t too hot, wasn’t too sweet.”

She hopes to bring her boyfriend, who is a chef, back soon to try the food.

Carpiaux works at the museum and says it’s great to have another lunch option on that end of downtown, where restaurants are sparse.

“You can get good, solid food here,” she said.

The Outlaws developed a love for food of all kinds during travels across the country. They tried different cuisines cooked by people from other countries, studying the foods and expanding their palates. Back home, Outlaw said they worked on their recipes, then invited friends over to eat and dreamed of opening their own place.

“We started hearing over and over, ‘This is the best,’” Bobby Outlaw said. So when his wife was laid off, he told her: “Now’s the time to do your cakes. And I always had it in the back of my mind to one day have a restaurant,” he said.

Premier Cakes Diner at the NC Museum of History is located at 5 E. Edenton Street, inside the North Carolina Museum of History (entrance on the Jones Street side of museum).