Category Archives: Chapel Hill

Cupcakes for All

Guest Post by Paige Hopkins

In recent years cupcakes have taken over as one of the newest food trends. From little ones to big ones, lots of icing to barely any, these miniature cakes are dominating the sweet-treats game.  If you find yourself in the Triangle and have a hankering for one, you’re in luck. The area has a wide variety of cupcake-focused bakeries. Cupcakes are the perfect way to celebrate a high school or a college graduation. Three especially noteworthy cupcake havens are Gigi’s Cupcakes, The Cupcake Bar and Sugarland. Each of these bakeries will do a delightful job pleasing your taste buds with their desserts.

Mexican Chocolate (front) and Mint Chocolate Chip (back)

Mexican Chocolate (front) and Mint Chocolate Chip (back) from The Cupcake Bar – Durham, NC

Gigi’s Cupcakes is one of the newer bakeries to Chapel Hill, but is one of the most widely known. With about forty locations nationwide, Gigi’s can safely say they know their stuff when it comes to cupcakes. They pride themselves on providing a family-friendly atmosphere and delicious treats. Before customers get a chance to eat anything they are sure to get hit by the sweet-smelling aroma of freshly baked cupcakes. Believe it or not, they taste even better than they smell. So, if you’re on Franklin Street with your kids anytime soon, make sure to stop by Gigi’s for dessert.

The Cupcake Bar is one of the gems of Bull City. This bakery’s claim to fame is its cocktail inspired cupcakes. In addition to more traditional flavors, The Cupcake Bar has treats such as “Citrus Cooler” and “Strawberry Daiquiri.” The bakery was opened by two sisters in 2008 and has a very special charm to it. Even better, The Cupcake Bar makes its miniature cakes with natural and locally grown ingredients. This bakery is the perfect place to stop by during a day out in Durham.

Sugarland is a Chapel Hill favorite, especially amongst UNC students. Their “Half-Priced Tuesdays,” during which all of their cupcakes are half off, are very popular. However, what really makes Sugarland unique is their full bar and their professionally trained bakers. Sugarland is great for grabbing dessert and drinks with friends after a show or a movie. If that’s not enough, the cupcakes themselves are phenomenal. Between the filling, icing, cake and garnishes, Suagrland’s cupcakes often times take multiple recipes to make. The bakery offers a classy cupcake option that you are sure to enjoy.

Where to Eat in the Triangle During Graduation Weekend

It’s that time of the year…college seniors are getting ready to graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives. The most important part of graduation? Where you take your family to eat, obviously. Friday night, your family arrives, hungry and ready to eat – where do you take them? Then there is Saturday lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. So much to eat in so little time!

Your family is from out of town and wants to experience something authentically southern:

Take your out-of-town family to get an authentic dish of chicken and waffles at Dame’s in Durham. Dame’s has a laid-back, casual atmosphere and a delicious selection of chicken and waffle creations, including choices of sweet potato waffles and vegan waffles.

Looking for something more elegant? If you didn’t already make a reservation, it may be hard to get into Elaine’s on Franklin, but if you can get a reservation, enjoy a refined, scratch-made meal in this Chapel Hill establishment. The menu at Elaine’s revolves around the best local ingredients available, so it is constantly changing but consistently exquisite.

The Pit serves North Carolina barbecue in a fun atmosphere, but be sure to book a reservation because this is a popular restaurant and tends to get busy on weekends. Ranging from North Carolina pork barbecue to turkey barbecue and a selection of scrumptious sides (mac and cheese, black eyed peas, sweet potato fries…the list goes on), The Pit has something for everyone.

Another good option is Watt’s Grocery in Durham, a distinctively North Carolina restaurant. With items ranging from Bourbon Brined Pork Loin to Seafood Gumbo, Watt’s serves southern food just right. The menu is limited and I have only been to Watt’s for brunch, which was fantastic. I would love to try their lunch and dinner menus as well.

Shrimp & Grits

Shrimp & Grits

Biscuits with Jam and Butter

Biscuits with Jam and Butter

Acme is another North Carolina restaurant that is good for dinner and Sunday brunch. If you go for Sunday brunch, expect a wait. The coffee cake and beignets (if they have them) are delicious ways to start out your brunch. If you are a UNC graduate, and you can’t make a reservation at a Chapel Hill restaurant, try Acme in Carrboro – you will be pleasantly surprised!

Your family is from North Carolina but you want to show them something different:

I had a great dining experience at Venable in Carrboro, serving local food since May 2012. As a relatively new restaurant, Venable is a good place to take your family if they are from North Carolina. Venable serves dinner and brunch as well as a late night menu. The Chèvre Salad and the local fish selection make for quite a tasty dinner.

Another option is Bida Manda, a fairly new Laotian restaurant in downtown Raleigh. You will need a reservation for Bida Manda; since it’s opening, Bida Manda has taken the Triangle food scene by storm. With authentic Laotian tastes and North Carolina decor, this is a perfect place for a nice dinner on Saturday night with your family.

Green Papaya Salad: Tomato, peanuts, spicy lime sauce, sticky rice, and your choice of: Grilled Flatiron Steak Grilled Duck Breast Grilled Ginger and Garlic Pork Neck Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Grilled Vegetables

Green Papaya Salad at Bida Manda

The Lantern is an Asian fusion restaurant: Asian flavors made with North Carolina ingredients. Since its opening in 2002, Lantern and its chef/owner Andrea Reusing have won awards in “America’s Top 50 Restaurants” and “best farm-to-table restaurants” categories.

Family a little crazy? Don’t want to take them out in public?:

Sometimes, it’s easier to order in since restaurants tend to fill up quickly around graduation time. One of my favorite casual lunch restaurants in the Triangle is Neal’s Deli. Neal’s is a family business and uses local ingredients to create simple yet tasty deli sandwiches. Check out their catering menu here.

Turkey Reuben: Turkey with Swiss, kraut and Russian on rye

Turkey Reuben at Neal’s Deli

Nantucket Grill and Bar offers an expansive catering menu. However, if you decide to cater from somewhere else, you must at least order your celebratory cakes from Nantucket. The Strawberry Shortcake and Chocolate Bliss are two of my favorites. Nantucket has locations in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

You’ve taken your family out for lunch and dinner. Time for the best meal. Brunch:

If you can’t get into Watt’s or Acme, don’t worry – there are plenty of brunch options in the Triangle. Big Ed’s City Market is a Raleigh establishment, serving fresh local eggs and house-made hotcakes since the 1980s.

When I was a student at UNC, I loved going to Breadman’s for brunch because I could always expect a delicious pancake that was almost larger than the plate it was served on. Breadman’s is perfect for the group who can’t agree – the restaurant serves breakfast all day along with a variety of lunch options, including sandwiches, burgers and salads.

Another choice for families who can’t agree is Elmo’s Diner, with locations in Carrboro and Durham. Elmo’s makes for a good local brunch or lunch restaurant because of it’s vast options. One person from your party may order an omelette, while another orders a burger and yet another person may order a large salad or a wrap. Elmo’s is also a kid-friendly environment. However, they do not take reservations, but the wait usually goes by quickly.

If you don’t mind driving a little bit out of the way, Guglhupf Bakery and Cafe will satisfy your inner European with German-inspired delicacies. Guglhupf has a large outdoor seating area and an attached bakery, so you can take home some pastries.

Wherever you decide to take your family, enjoy this special time with them. And congratulations!


REVIEW: Mint – Chapel Hill, NC

Chapel Hill has many Indian restaurants to choose from, but there is one in particular that has a great weekend brunch deal. While lunch and dinner at Mint are relatively expensive, brunch is a good deal – a $12 buffet, including bottomless mimosas. 


The buffet brunch, which weighs heavier on the lunch side, includes a variety of options that are both carnivore and vegetarian friendly. My favorites include the samosas, garlic naan and fried vegetables (a guilty pleasure that is oh so worth it).

Heavenly fried broccoli

Heavenly fried broccoli

Garlic naan

Garlic naan

 The buffet starts at noon and goes until 3 p.m., making Mint a great place to meet to catch up with friends while enjoying good food and drinks – go for the food and stay for the bottomless mimosas.

Mint on Urbanspoon




REVIEW: Steel String Brewery – Carrboro, NC

It’s brutally cold when I walk into Steel String, and after a long day I’m looking forward to a beer. Since it’s a Tuesday and 19 degrees outside, the bar is pretty much empty when I walk in. This is completely nonstandard, as most weekend nights the place is packed. Since opening up last spring they’ve managed to gain a following in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and have regular events like trivia night and live music which usually draw a crowd.

Tonight is an exception, and one that I frankly don’t mind. I pick one of the many open seats at the bar and settle in with a flight of four of their beers. Steel String currently has 10 taps, but have five for guests like Foothills, Mother Earth, or Old Mecklenburg. These are all great breweries in their own right, and work to fill in the taps that Steel String doesn’t quite have the production to cover.

One of the best things about Steel String is that they are a functioning brewery. It definitely brings a lot to the atmosphere, adding shining fermenters and the smell of steeping malts. Local art adorns the walls, and a beautiful bar counter gives the place a nice warm feeling. When it’s crowded it does seem to get smaller but overall it’s a great place to hang out, with games and music.


I sampled four of their beers, starting with their Big Mon IPA. This is a slightly heavier IPA, that lent more towards the bitter side of things than the floral. While it did have a solid West Coast citrus nose, it seemed to have more of a bitter finish than I was anticipating. This is not to say it’s a bad IPA, if anything it’s solid and easy to drink,  but the finish might surprise drinkers who are used to a lighter IPA.

Next up was the Sound City Altbier. This is a nice, caramel lager with a very smooth mouthfeel. It’s clean and crisp, but again has a bit of bitterness to it that differentiates it from other lagers. The bite to it is surprisingly refreshing and definitely had me wanting another sip.

After that was the Rubber Room Rye Pale Ale. Rye beers are very divisive in the beer community, with some people hating them and some people loving them. I like a good rye myself, but prefer a full on bitter bomb with the heartiness of rye worked in. Rubber Room is a lot softer than I was anticipating, with a surprising floral aroma. However, the beer itself was overwhelmed by the rye, leading to a strange compromise of rye flavor with the lightness of a pale ale that left me intrigued, but not quite sure how much I liked it. I would have preferred a straight pale ale or straight rye, but this beer definitely has potential.

Finally, there was the winter seasonal, the Secular Non-Denominational Holiday Ale. This was by far my favorite of the four I had. This was a nice, spiced winter warmer, with a higher ABV that drove away all the cold. It was easy to drink despite high alcohol content, which is perfect for this style. I think this beer more than any shows Steel Strings potential to be successful.

It’s clear that Steel String cares about their beer. The make sure to have proper glassware, and clearly aren’t afraid to experiment. I think with more time and practice, they’ll be a fantastic brewery. The setup is there as is the passion, and once they have a few years under their belts as a commercial operation I have no doubts about their future. I’ll continue patronizing them, and I think we can expect great things down the line.

REVIEW: Venable – Carrboro, NC

Venable Rotisserie Bistro in Carrboro takes comfort foods like chicken pot pie, ravioli and udon soup and turns them into something fabulous. I lived in Carrboro for two years and I can’t believe I didn’t try this restaurant until now. It is one of my new favorite restaurants in the Triangle. Venable is a fine dining establishment with the attitude (and price!) of a casual Carrboro restaurant. We started our meal with the chèvre salad, “local beets with hazelnuts, goat cheese, mixed greens and a sherry hazelnut dressing.”

Chèvre Salad

This salad was perfect. Creamy goat cheese, sherry vinaigrette and a waffle-cut beet. The presentation was very nice but equally important is the taste, which was phenomenal. It was difficult to pick an entree, given the elaborate choices. Here are some of their options (check out the full menu here):

Bacon-wrapped NC flounder with butternut squash purée, braised red cabbage and roasted sweet potatoes

Rotisserie chicken with carrot, parsnip and celery root stew topped with puff pastry crust

Grilled Atlantic salmon with soy-ginger green beans and skillet-roasted fingerling potatoes

Grilled salmon

Grilled salmon

We went with the grilled salmon, and it ended up being a great choice. The photo above is a half-portion, but with the salad, it was just the right amount of food. We got our salmon cooked medium, as our waiter suggested. It was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. With the description of “fingerling potatoes,” I was expecting a heap of fried potato strings. I was pleasantly surprised with the healthier option of large cuts of sautéed potatoes. I would definitely get this dish again!

Bonus: Venable has a lot of vegetarian and vegan options! And check out their brunch menu…so many delicious options!

I hope I’ve sold you on this wonderful restaurant! It is a great place to eat dinner before checking out a show at DSI Comedy or enjoying a local band at The Station.



Venable Rotisserie Bistro on Urbanspoon

Review – Buns in Chapel Hill

inside Buns in Chapel Hill

Great burgers at an affordable price

A few weeks ago, my husband came home and told me all about this new place in downtown Chapel Hill called Buns. He said they had really great burgers there. So we decided to eat dinner there the other night. Buns is located on North Columbia Street near Franklin Street. Its small facade may make it a little hard to find, but you will certainly want to seek this place out!

storefront of Buns in Chapel Hill

Buns is a casual style American restaurant. Orders are taken at the counter and then the waiter brings your food out to you. The main feature of this restaurant is their burgers. They have Angus beef burgers, turkey burgers and vegetarian burgers. They also have hot dogs and some seafood dishes, such as Ahi Tuna steak and grilled salmon fillet sandwiches. Since the restaurant is practically on campus, there are swarms of students here, because the food is good and is also quite inexpensive. It is also popular with many of the other local Chapel Hillians. As we walk toward the door, several co-eds are walking out with takeout orders ready to start their Saturday evening fun.

There is a line of people ordering at the counter of Buns

Line up to order your favorite combo at Buns

The décor of the interior is simple, but modern and fun. There are round balls with muted colors of purple, blue, green, yellow and red that line the walls. A couple of flat screen TVs are mounted to the walls so students and Chapel Hill fans can watch sports while dining. There is a large window in the front of the dining area, so you can see all the action happening on Franklin Street. The restaurant also stays open fairly late, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, so you can always end up here after you do some bar hopping and sober up a bit!

people sitting in Buns restaurant in Chapel Hill

Relax and enjoy the food while watching a basketball game

Since this was my first time here, I decided to try one of the beef burgers. I ordered one of the specials, which was a beet and goat cheese burger. We also ordered a side of sweet potato fries. The fries are served with dipping sauces and they have a pretty good selection of sauces to try. I got the Thai sesame sauce and my husband got the Chipotle mayonnaise sauce, both of which were excellent.

My husband built his own burger and had the turkey burger with Pepper Jack cheese, sautéed mushrooms and onions and wasabi mayonnaise on a whole wheat bun. The buns are also made from a local bakery called The Bread Shop.

Turkey burger with mushrooms

You can make your own combo of toppings to have on your burger.

My burger had nice thick slices of fresh beets that were sweet and meaty and worked really well with the goat cheese, which was a thick slice of cheese that was tart, but not overpowering. The burger was served with a sherry vinaigrette sauce. I also ordered the whole wheat bun, which was sweet and seemed to compliment the beets and meat very well.

burger with beets and goat cheese

An unusual but tasty combo of beets and goat cheese.

I tried a bite of my husband’s burger. His combo was great for him, but I’m not a wasabi fan, and that’s mainly what I could taste. For those who like wasabi, you will love putting this mayo on your sandwich.

All of the ingredients at Buns are fresh and they purchase what they can locally at a good price.  Need I say this place is popular, especially with UNC students? The workers said that nothing is ever frozen, because, in fact, they do not even have a freezer on the premises, nor do they have a microwave oven.

The sweet potato fries are also very fresh. In fact, boxes of sweet potatoes were located in the front of the restaurant. They peel them, cut them up and throw them in the fryer. These were some of the better sweet potato fries I’ve had in awhile. They were not too soggy, as many sweet potato fries tend to get, nor were they too greasy. These were just right.

We were too full to try any dessert, but I was eying a Red Velvet cake that was on display on top of the counter where people order that looked really delicious. Guess I’ll have to try it next time we go to Buns.

Buns is open from Monday to Thursday, 11:00 am – 10:00 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11:00 am – 3:00 am (so you can recover from that bender by having a burger or a hot dog) (Summer, 11:00 am – 10:00 pm) and Sunday, 11:00 am – 9:00 pm. It is located on 107 North Columbia Street in Chapel Hill.

Buns on Urbanspoon

Review – Saffron in Chapel Hill

The exterior of Saffron in Chapel HillEver since Charlie got a call from Saffron’s in Chapel Hill asking if someone could do a review of their restaurant, I have been itching to go here, so this past weekend, we decided to give it a try. We went with some good friends of ours who are vegetarians. I have also been trying to eat less meat lately, so we decided to make the whole meal vegetarian and order family style.  Most of the dishes were served with creamy sauces, reminiscent of Northern Indian cuisine, but these were certainly much different from most of the Indian restaurants I’ve eaten at in the Triangle area. And, before you think, “Hey, isn’t that the same restaurant as the one in Morrisville?” it is not. Actually, the owners of the Morrisville restaurant were going to be involved with the restaurant in Chapel Hill, but the owners parted ways before the Chapel Hill restaurant opened.  I was confused because the folks at the Blue Taj said they had relatives managing  both the Mint in Chapel Hill and Saffron, but they meant the Saffron restaurant in Greensboro.

looking at the outside of the dome in Saffron

inside the dome

You can hear other table's conversations inside the dome with great accuracy!

Upon entering Saffron’s, you immediately get the feeling of opulence. There is a big, metal dome structure in the middle of the front room. Our hostess first led us to the back room and was going to sit us at a table for six, but we asked if we could wait for a table of four, since there is only four in our party. She then sat us under the dome structure. I have to say the dome was a very interesting experience! It has a very unique acoustic phenomenon happening. If you are sitting on one side of the dome, you will hear the people at the table opposite you as though they were sitting right next to you. This happened more at just two of the seats at our table, so at the end of our meal, we all swapped seats to hear the voices from the other tables. It seemed like one person was wearing a microphone because it was so loud! The waiter explained to us that typically, the dome is used for large parties, and when the tables are moved together, they can hear the conversation on the opposite end of the table. I can see where that might come in handy! I was seated just outside of the dome, next to the bar and must say it was a bit distracting to have no divider between the seating area and the bar. For an upscale restaurant like this, they should have some separation.

We ordered cocktails and an appetizer to start our meal. I had the Hell’s Kitchen, a Manhattan made with a special kind of whiskey that was on the peppery side. It was a good way to start off an Indian meal. As we waited to get our cocktails, we looked around the room and saw the place was buzzing with many diners – a good sign this was going to be a good meal.  After several minutes, our waiter came with some complimentary papadams because our meal was taking a long time to be served.  After reminding the water boy that we had ordered cocktails, the drinks arrived just a few seconds later.  Photo of the appetizer that had four components to it

Our appetizer was the Tandoori Vegetable Khazana, which was a sampler plate with the Paneer cheese, that was cooked in a tandoor clay oven, then grilled. It had nice grill marks on it and had a really mild flavor to it that was divine. The next item on the appetizer was a Subz Galouti, which was a patty made from pureed fresh vegetables and mushrooms. It was kind of like a homemade veggie patty. Very good as well. The third item was the Potli Samosa. I have always loved Samosas and this one was no exception. If you have never had one, a Samosa is a fried dough stuffed with potatoes and peas. Sometimes they are also stuffed with lentils and other goodies. The fourth item  was the Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat, which was like a little salad of chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, yogurt, with two chutneys over a spicy potato patty. It had a little heat to it, but not overwhelming of the vegetable kofta dish

For our entrees, we ordered the Nargisi Kofta, which was a mixed vegetable and potato mixture with paneer cheese that was breaded and fried. It looked like a little pyramid. It was served with a rich, creamy sauce that was mild and had a little sweetness to it. The sauce was made with tomatoes, onions and spiced with cardamom and of the eggplant dish

We had the Began Pasanda, which was some slices of eggplant that had been marinated in a garlic and ginger paste and smoked in a clay oven, then served with a creamy sauce made of  pureed eggplant, onion and tomato sauce and seasoned with fresh cilantro and dill. It was my favorite of the four dishes we of the daal and rice

The third dish we had was the Daal Bukhara, which is a sauce made with black lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans. It came with a side of white rice, so you ladle the daal over the rice. It was quite mild, but of the stuffed pepper dish

The fourth entree was the most spicy of the four and was really delicious. It was the Bharwan Simla Mirch which was slices of bell peppers that were stuffed with potatoes, mixed vegetables and paneer and was served with a spicy tomato and bell pepper sauce. My nose was starting to run a little bit from the spices, which is a sign that this is a real Indian restaurant!

We split two orders of naan, the flat bread that is typically served with Indian dishes. We had the garlic naan and the rosemary naan. I loved both, but the rosemary was a real treat because I had not had naan with rosemary before. It really complimented the spicy of the pistachio ice cream

We were all feeling full, but decided to split a dessert. We ordered the Pistachio ice cream (it had a different name, but I can’t remember what the waiter called it). It was a great way to cool the palate. Chopped pistachios were on the top and bottom of the ice cream. It was served with a drizzle of chocolate and caramel.

Saffron’s is a bit on the pricey side, so save your pennies before you come here, or wait until you see a special. We had a diner’s coupon that my husband got through his employer, which brought the price of the meal down substantially.  It is a great place to go for a date, a business dinner or other special occasion.

Saffron is located in East 54, near the Aloft Hotel. It is located at 3140 Environ Way in Chapel Hill.
Saffron of Chapel Hill on Urbanspoon

Review – Carmine’s in Chapel Hill

outside Carmine's in Eastgate Shopping Center

Carmine's is tucked in a corner at Eastgate Shopping Center

Tucked away in a little corner of the Eastgate Shopping Center in Chapel Hill near the CVS is a little gem of a restaurant called Carmine’s.  As you walk down the sidewalk, there are tables outside and lush hanging plants, giving a feel of a European cafe.

Upon entering the restaurant, you will hear songs from the Rat Pack playing in the background. Big booths give a sense of privacy or you can eat at a table if you prefer.  I like going to Carmine’s because it seems like a good date night place to spend with my husband. We have eaten here several times and each time have been treated very well by the knowledgeable and friendly staff.

bruchettaThe other night, we went to eat at Carmine’s and ordered the Bruschetta for an appetizer. Large, thick slices of toasted bread were topped with fresh tomatoes, onions, basil , a little bit of corn and olive oil. The balsamic vinegar was drizzled over top. It was an explosion of flavor in your mouth. Wonderful!

penne ala vodkaI ordered the Penne Alla Vodka, which is the Penne pasta served with a creamy tomato and vodka sauce with just a little bit of spices added to the sauce. It’s a rich and creamy, soul-satisfying dish. I must admit that I think I liked the Pasta Antonia dish that my husband had last time we were here, which is very similar to the Penne Alla Vodka, but that dish also has sun-dried tomatoes that intensify the tomato taste, mushrooms and spinach. You can also add a protein, such as chicken or shrimp to either of these dishes.

eggplant dishMy husband had the Eggplant Parmigiana. The eggplant was sliced to nice, manageable pieces and are coated in fine bread crumbs and fried to a toasty golden brown. The pieces were coated with a marinara sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, and melted mozzarella cheese. It was served with a side of spaghetti and the same marinara sauce. This is Italian comfort food at its best.

We also had a side house salad with mixed greens, red onions, tomatoes and cucumbers and nice chunks of crispy croutons with their creamy Italian dressing.  It was a good accompaniment to the pasta dishes.

three canollis drizzled in chocolate sauceWe thought we were too full for dessert, but decided to try the cannolis, because they sounded too good to pass up. They are made straight from Italy and are three nice sized cannolis with a rich creamy ricotta cheese filling. The fried shells had cinnamon in them and I must say these are as good as the ones I used to get in Little Italy in Cleveland.

The pizzas at Carmine’s also look really great, but we’ve been so excited to try all the pasta dishes that we still need to come back again to try a pizza.

The owners of the restaurant, Darius Robustelli and John Runge, grew up in Upstate New York and worked at one of the owner’s father’s Italian restaurant. No wonder they know what they are doing!

Carmine’s is open seven days a week.  They are located at 18-16 East Franklin Street in Eastgate Shopping Center in Chapel Hill. Call (919) 929-4300 or (919) 929-4350 for reservations or for more information.
Carmine's on Urbanspoon

Review – Bean & Barrel in Chapel Hill

Bean and Barrel

Bean and Barrel is a coffee shop, bar and restaurant

Folks in the northeastern section of Chatham County are rejoicing as they are finally getting some variety of restaurants that are a little more upscale than the standard fare. One such place is the Bean and Barrel, located off of Farrington Road, just across the street from Governor’s Club.

When you first enter the Bean and Barrel, it has the feel of a coffee shop. And yes, that is the “bean” part of the name, “Bean and Barrel.” The other half of the name comes from the fact that this is also a bar that offers an extensive selection of wines, and beer, but also has martinis and other mixed drinks. The Bean and Barrel offers fun specials such as $2 (draft beer) Tuesdays and 1/2 off of wine for Wine Wednesdays.  You’ll see people with their laptops relaxing in a corner checking their email with the free Wi-Fi offered here.  The eclectic decor, comfy chairs and funky light fixtures definitely gives you the sense that you are in a coffee house or a bar.

However, the food is the real highlight here.  Credit is due to head chef Sam Allen.  Allen trained at New England Culinary Institute and has worked in several fine restaurants around the country before settling at the Bean and Barrel. Most of the dishes at Bean and Barrel are pub fare, but they are done in a way that makes you feel you are getting something more special.


Gazpacho at Bean and Barrel

My husband started his meal with some gazpacho, which was a nice, chunky gazpacho with chopped onion, cilantro, ripe red tomatoes, and a dash of fresh jalapenos. It’s a perfect choice during these hot summer months.

I had a side salad and an order of the truffle mac and cheese. It was rich tasting, with a hint of pepper. A very comforting appetizer and with the salad, was enough as a meal for me. The salad was a decent size and the citrus dressing was splendid.

fish and chips

The fish and chips at Bean and Barrel

My husband also ordered the fish and chips. It was one of the best plates of fish and chips I have seen in awhile. The outside was a nice shade of tan and it was crispy. The waiter said the batter had some panko in it. The inside was a nice, sweet flavored cod. The fries were also crispy and plentiful.

mushroom risotto

Mushroom Risotto without the chicken

The first time I ate here, I had the mushroom risotto with blackened chicken. The chicken was an explosion of flavor and was the key element to this dish. It was tender and moist and added just the right amount of spice to the dish. The risotto was a perfect al dente. It was creamy and flavorful. It was cooked with cherry tomatoes,  zucchini,  onion, mushrooms and a bit of white wine.  This time, my friend had the risotto, but without the chicken because she is a vegetarian. She also enjoyed it quite a bit.

veggie burger and fries

Veggie burger and fries

One of our friends ordered the veggie burger. He said it was really tasty and as you can see from the photo, there was a generous portion of jalapenos served on top.

We were all too full to have dessert, but will have to come back again to try out the blueberry cheesecake.

Bean and Barrel also offers a Sunday Brunch which really sounds great with entrees such as Eggs Benedict, Blueberry Pancakes and Biscuits and Gravy. Sounds like the perfect place to go after church. Needless to say, at that time of day you can try one of their coffee drinks as well.

Bean and Barrel is located in the Village Shopping Center at 50100 Governor’s Drive.  They are open seven days a week, though are closed after 3pm on Sunday.

Bean and Barrel on Urbanspoon

REVIEW: Allen & Son Barbeque – Chapel Hill

Allen & Son Barbeque is a little barbecue joint located just about a mile or two off of I-40 near Chapel Hill on N.C. 86. Allen & Son Barbeque is kind of an odd hybrid barbecue joint. The restaurant is located right along the dividing line between eastern North Carolina and Lexington style so it is only fitting that they use a little bit from each style. Allen & Son doesn’t cook the whole hog. Instead, they just cook the shoulder hitting the Lexington-style. They use a tangy, vinegar-based sauce to keep the ‘cue moist hitting the eastern North Carolina-style sentiments.

Another thing to note about Allen & Son is that they are one of the few remaining barbecue joints in North Carolina that still cook over hardwood coals (with a mix of charcoal, I believe…). Additionally, they also chop their own hickory wood right outside the smokehouse which is pretty damn cool before they use it to fire the pit. Chopping wood kicks ass and the fact that they do it on site makes it taste even better.

The interior of the Chapel Hill restaurant looks similar to the hunting lodge that I used to go to with my dad when I was younger. There were paintings of ducks, quail, deer and other North Carolina wildlife on the walls. There are mounted deer heads hanging and it looks like a true Southern establishment. I’ve read that hunter’s will roll into Allen & Son in full camo after they have been sitting in the duck blinds or out in the field. You can always use “stuffed animals” as a selling point to your kids but make sure that you put a disclaimer in there that the stuffed animals might not be the cute and cuddly type. Anyways, let’s get on to the food…

Their hush puppies were quite impressive. A lot of barbecue restaurants across North Carolina have made it commonplace to bring a basket of hush puppies to the table when you sit down. I only wish that Allen & Son did this because I would be in hush puppy heaven. I had to order them for an additional charge of $1.55 because I had already ordered fried okra as the side to my barbecue sandwich but the additional charge for the hush puppies was well worth it. They are one more style in the various types of hush puppies across North Carolina. They have a thick, sweet glazed crust that is crunchy and followed by a soft interior full of that corn taste that you look for in hush puppy. Serious Eats, one of our favorite food blogs, considers Allen & Son’s hush puppies to be “revelatory”. I agree.

The barbecue sandwich was pretty dang good. I was a little thrown off by the sesame seed bun which you don’t usually see unless a burger patty is sandwiched between it. However, I think it worked well as a bun for a barbecue sandwich and would actually think about using it at home when I make some homemade barbecue. Allen & Son serves mayonnaise-based eastern North Carolina slaw which they topped the sandwich with. The barbecue was tender and moist with a little bit of char to it adding a bit of the crunch that I like in the barbecue that I eat.

I added a little additional sauce to the sandwich which was a little different than most sauces. It was a little spicier than most and there was definitely some butter in there making it taste like a vinegary, Texas Pete-like barbecue sauce. The barbecue doesn’t require the sauce because it tastes good by itself but it does add a different flavor to it If I had been a little hungrier, I would have gotten the barbecue plate because I like eating barbecue sans bun.

The fried okra was a good side for the barbecue but not good enough to warrant getting it again next time. I would probably check out their stew or give their potato salad a try. I don’t regret the okra but I do regret not ordering dessert because they are all made in house by Keith Allen. My friend, Bill, tweeted me that I should definitely give their homemade dessert but I didn’t get his tweet until I was already on the road away from Allen & Son. Guess I will have to get some the next time I stop in there.

Allen & Son Barbeque is open to satisfy your barbecue cravings on Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. It kind of sucks that they aren’t open to cure a case of the Mondays but I am still impressed by their hours especially since I can stop in there anytime that I am headed east on during the week. Allen & Son has a sister restaurant over in Pittsboro serving up the same good food…from what I’ve heard. I just haven’t had a chance to make it over there to compare the two yet.

Click here for a link to the Allen & Son Barbeque menu

Allen & Son on Urbanspoon

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