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Alivia’s Durham Bistro

Posted by GCS 11 Mar 2010 32 Comments

We’ve all seen Alivia’s just about every time we drive down Main Street.  I’ve dined at just about all the places around it, but on the first really pretty day (in this case, pretty=sunny and snowless) of 2010, I decided that it was time for a brunch date at that intriguing little green building across from Brightleaf.

This post comes a few weeks after the meal, but I hope that speaks to the quality of the experience that we had there.  We must have gotten there after the typical brunch crowd because it was pretty empty, but a welcoming staff and a very friendly waitress (plus some fine outdoor seating) set us up nicely for a good morning.

I have found that it is always a good sign when there are too many good options on the menu and this was certainly the case at Alivia’s.  I went with my typical strategy of asking the waitress what she recommended and she jumped at the opportunity to suggest the Shrimp and Grits for me and an omelette for my girlfriend.  It was a nicely sized portion with plenty of big shrimp and a great addition of bacon and mozzarella.  The omelette was great, as well.  Perfect combination of fluffy and substantive…and served with fruit and homestyle potatoes.

There is no shortage of good places for brunch in Durham, but I think it is time to add Alivia’s to the circuit of high-quality spots.  Outdoor seating was great on a warm, sunny day, but the restaurant also features several TVs that will be great for a brunch or lunch during football season.  The menu also sports a very attractive list of sandwiches, so anyone who knows me knows that I’m looking forward to my return trip.



  • JeremyT said:

    We go there for brunch pretty frequently on the weekend. For whatever reason, they just don’t seem to do a lot of morning business. When Watt’s Grocery and Elmo’s have 30 minute wait times, and Parker & Otis’s line is wending through the entire store, you can swing by Alivia’s and pull up a seat with no waiting.

    It’s kind of nice to have an alternative that’s flying below the radar like that, but I hope they’re getting enough business. I’d hate to see them trim their brunch hours.


  • Amy said:

    Interesting. We had a terrible experience there. Our waitress ignored us, did not even bring water refills, and the food was just adequate. There was no one else in the restaurant, so it wasn’t because they were too busy. I complained to the management the next day and heard nothing back.

    It’s frustrating, because there are a LOT of good restaurant options in Durham.


    Fergus replies on March 11th, 2010 at 11:46 am:

    Amy -

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience at Alivia’s. I wasn’t aware of your complaint and I would like to talk to you. Please email me at
    info AT aliviasdurhambistro.com.

    Fergus Bradley
    co-proprietor, Alivia’s Durham Bistro


  • RPP said:

    It’s good to hear that their kitchen may finally be in order. I have eaten there many times since they opened–the food has ranged from very good to inedible. I am surprised they have managed to survive, but it is very good news if it has turned the corner, because the space really is awesome.


  • shawful said:

    A few months ago, I had dinner at Alivia’s. I do not remember what I ate. However, I do recall the service and food were below average and decided it was not worth a second shot.


  • Anna said:

    Seems like this place is hit or miss. A group of us met for lunch – it was relatively empty, but took forever to get our drinks, order, and get our food. Seemed like there was only one waiter.

    On top of that the waiter failed to notice that he had cut his finger, and brought a water glass to our table with blood on the rim. When one of my friends brought this to attention, rather than apologizing profusely, he acted rather irritated…though he did in fact have an open cut on his finger.

    I remember the food being pretty good, but they definitely messed up two of my friend’s orders, which is pretty bad, considering there were MAYBE 6 other people in the place.


  • fooddude said:

    We’ve done brunch there twice. Both times we’ve ordered crepes with some sort of fruit, and both times they’ve come out with different fruit and only then are we told they were out of what we asked for. Nobody bothered to check if that was acceptable, and of course since everybody else is getting served at the same time, waiting for another item is less than desirable. Wouldn’t be a big deal if anybody seemed to give a damn that we had to accept something we didn’t order, but both times the server didn’t bother acknowledging that things got goofed up. I have no idea what they are like for dinner, as we’ve not bothered to go back.


  • Laura said:

    I’ve got to agree with everyone above. I think the main reason they’re empty in the morning is not because you missed the brunch rush, but because too many people have been there and been disappointed by food and service. I’ve had several meals there that were simply okay to mediocre, but the service is always terrible. The last time I was there for beers, half the beers that came to our table were warm and flat. The space is beautiful, and it’s really a shame that the food and service don’t measure up.


  • GCS (author) said:

    Yikes, I’m sorry that my review didn’t reflect other experiences. As I said, I’m looking forward to going again and I’ll report on how it goes. Thanks for the comments!


  • citizenspain said:

    If your bad experiences were more than 8-9 months ago, I’d recommend giving it another shot.

    In late 2008, my wife and I had two abysmal brunch experiences at Alivia’s, where the service was bad, the waitstaff all looked hungover, the food was cold, and we received no coffee refills. Plus, it once took 40 minutes to get a french toast (which was cold) and order of granola. So, we scratched them off our list of brunch places, but somehow ended up there for drinks one random night, and decided to order food. It was a world of difference – the service was snappy and the food was hot and delicious. We thought maybe it’s just a morning thing they can’t deal with, so we decided to give them one last chance before completely writing them off, and we’re very glad we did.

    I’m not sure what has whipped the morning crew into shape, but I haven’t had a single complaint in almost a year, and we visit about twice a month. I’ve tried most of the brunch dishes and happily recommend the veggie omelets, the steak and potato hash, and the huevos rancheros (they have a funny take on it, and the portion is enormous). I’m also surprised the morning business hasn’t picked up, but for now it’s nice and quiet, and absolutely perfect for sitting outside on a warm spring morning.


  • JDE said:

    I’ve only been to Alivia’s once, and for dinner, but I remember good service and a colorful, delicious salad. I too would like to try it for brunch and will report back after that experience. I agree that the atmosphere is at least very appealing.


  • LC said:

    I definitely agree with the naysayers here. I LOVE the space, but I have always had bad service, (i.e. completely ignored one time, so I left- even though there was only one other table in the whole place.) And the food is always mediocre at best.


  • enw said:

    I’m largely in line with everyone else. I’ve gone about once every three months for dinner since they’ve opened. It is the same great location every time (especially during nice weather sitting outside) but service that can be everywhere from pretty good to absolutely awful. The food is fine but nothing that really stands out. However, the location will keep me coming back.


  • apathy said:

    I’ve always had good experiences with lunch, I agree that its nothing special, but the food is good and there’s beer and a patio. The dinner was a little out of my price range for what it was, but i’ll probably keep up my infrequent visits when I want some patio dining. I wish the view was a little nicer, but hey, name a patio that doesn’t face a 4 lane thats not in a mall in Durham.


    BVal replies on March 12th, 2010 at 4:06 pm:

    “hey, name a patio that doesn’t face a 4 lane thats not in a mall in Durham.”

    Recognizing there’a fine line between a patio and simple outside seating: Vin Rouge has the nice side patio. Parizade has a few tables out front facing the trees (after the parking, but it’s relatively quiet). Parker & Otis obviously. Cosmic Cantina’s patio/rooftop definitely isn’t looking at a 4 lane road. James Joyce backyard, Brightleaf promenade (Saties Greek pizza!!)

    My point: There are other outdoor seating options around town. Personally, though, I’m excited to go back and try Aliva’s since it sounds like their food may have improved (as there was no where to go but up for a while)


    Sus replies on March 20th, 2010 at 2:46 pm:

    Outdoor seating: Guglhupf.


  • Sant said:

    I have eaten here 3-4 times and the service was always prompt and cordial. Perhaps not special but the food was good and the portions were quite generous.


  • Anna B. said:

    I have been to Alivia’s three times for brunch and once in the evening for dessert. Mu brunch experiences were consistent: the food was great, but the service was awful. I experienced the same kind of service already described by others.

    My trip with friends for dessert also found terrible service. In fact, the waitress was so slow that half of our table (party of eight) decided not to order dessert.


  • goaty said:

    I go for lunch on occasion — the service is poor, but the fries are delicious!


  • vanessa said:

    Hm, maybe I should try Alivia’s again. I’ve been there at least four times and never had a good meal; the food has ranged from awful to just edible. I’ve also never had bad service there, but maybe that’s because my servers have almost always been people I know.


  • Trogaroo said:

    I had some terrible experiences at Alivia’s in the past, but I have to second citizenspain. They have VASTLY improved over the last several months and I’m glad I gave it another try (I believe there were some staff changes). PLUS they are sporting some great local beer, including the only beer engine in NC that I know of anyway. Hopefully the will stock FullSteam when it comes out. I hope they continue to improve at the rate the are going.


  • keptsimple said:

    I went to Alivia’s a couple of years ago, shortly after they opened. I ordered a steak of some kind (can’t remember the cut). It was so tough that I could barely cut it with the steak knife they gave me. Has this place improved?


    Gilgamesh replies on March 23rd, 2010 at 11:05 am:

    At least they gave you a steak knife. The snotty server wouldn’t even give me one to work on their rubbery and tough lamb tenderloin. FYI: Never went back.


  • Sus said:

    I’ve been in the been-there-done-that-wasn’t-so-great camp for some time. Having had some pretty interesting lunch sandwiches there in the past, however, I ended up having lunch with a friend not too long ago on a Monday when the Federal was closed. No more ordering at the bar. The sandwiches seemed somewhat less interesting, but the food was decent, as was the service. I’ll give it another chance. I just wish they could do what the Federal does for the same price because there’s all this great outdoor seating. My one dinner experience there was not so much fun because they had tried to make it a bit up-market and it really should be chill and good. Kind of like the Federal. They should ditch the fancy-pants white table cloth approach. Good pub dining with a laid-back atmosphere is the wave of the future, don’t you think?


  • Tracey said:

    I’m glad to hear that Alivia’s is worth another try. I’ve been there for late night, lunch and dinner, and while I don’t remember the food, I remember being treated laughably abysmally by the waitstaff on every occasion. There are too many choices in Durham now to be treated badly. We may give it another shot….but I hope the owners are listening.


  • Outdoor Dining Spots | Carpe Durham said:

    [...] 900 West Main Street, Carpe Durham Review.  Note: Huge patio and outdoor [...]

  • SHARLENE said:

    Had dinner this evening at Alivia’s as I’d heard good things about it. Wish I’d read these reviews first. Waiter came for order and when we ordered ribeye steak, he said they were out of it. Now it was 7 pm on Saturday night with lots of downtown events including a film festival. Surely restaurants stock up for busy weekends? Waited 35 minutes for salads which waiter said was due to 2 large parties inside whose orders got ahead of ours. When entree came, there were sauteed mixed veggies on it. We had ordered asparagus which was what the menu said came with our selection. Waiter said they ran out of asparagus and substituted mixed veggies. Unfortunately the veggies included zuchini which my guest was allergic to. Waiter offered french fries to go with our mashed potatoes!!! I suggested they “comp” one of our salads (which they did). Food was good when it finally came but overall experience was not so pleasant.


  • krellpw said:

    We went last week for lunch. Service was fine, and the food was ok. But for two people to spend $45 on lunch (two lunch appetizers, lunch sandwiches and soft drinks), it didn’t wow us, and at that price, it should have.

    I’d eat there again, but there’s a long list of restaurants that I would think of and go to first before going back.


    Prop1 replies on January 29th, 2011 at 8:04 pm:

    Blue of federal fame is redoing alivia’s menu, I had the pork chop and girlfriend the shrimp blt, all were awesome. Even over heard the waiters laughing about a poem written on a comment card that was inspired by the garbonzo bean salad because the table next to us loved it so much!


  • lynn said:

    Make certain you check your bill before you pay at this downtown Durham restaurant. It used to be one of our favorites, but 2 of the last 3 visits they have overchargeed us on menu items. We like their food, but do they think we cannot read?


  • Mdhuset said:


  • Steve Jacob Management Wigan said:

    Steve Jacob Management Wigan…

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