October 12, 2014

Good Eats: Chapel Hill, NC

Fried Green Tomato Appetizer at The Weathervane
Hello from the road!! We have been enjoying the first stop on our vacation: Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

We have had the chance to see some sights- we visited the North Carolina Botanical Garden, walked, and shopped in downtown Chapel Hill, and visited a local playground/park- in addition to enjoying the wedding festivities which brought us here.

Of course, no trip would be complete without touring the local restaurants and enjoying the flavor of a new place! I have done my best to document our little sample of what Chapel Hill has to offer...

Our first night in town, we headed to The Loop Pizza Grill for a relaxed, quick, and casual dinner. The Loop, which was recommended by the bride and groom's website, seems to be a local haunt; it is a small chain with locations in North Carolina and Florida. The restaurant itself is open and bright, with a few televisions showcasing various sports channels, and simple decor. Upon entering, you are guided down an open hallway decorated with posters of their tempting soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza. Fountain drinks, bottled Boylan's sodas, along with a selection of beers are available in addition to their shakes. They have a reasonably varied menu of sandwiches/salads, burgers, and pizza, all which utilize fresh ingredients and produce tasty results. (Their service system is the same as a Panera- you order, get a buzzer, relax at your table and then pick up your food when ready, which keeps the environment casual). Everyone in our group was happy with their meal; between the five of us, we enjoyed the Veggie Burger (pretty standard) with a side of fresh fruit; the Chili Cheese Dog with kettle chips and blue cheese dressing (the chips and dressing were incredible!); the Veggie Melt Ciabatta with the kettle chips and blue cheese dressing (again, a must-have!); and the kid's grilled cheese. The food was good quality, fresh, and worth stopping for; I would go back for a quick lunch or dinner on the fly.

We are staying at a Hampton Inn, and have been thoroughly enjoying their complimentary breakfast every morning!! Make-your-own waffles, fresh fruit, eggs, oatmeal, cold cereal, and a selection of pastries, bagels and muffins every morning! I highly recommend it!

While checking out downtown Chapel Hill, we headed to the Top of the Hill, affectionately shortened to TOPO. The restaurant, located on the third floor of a building at the corner of East Franklin Street and South Columbia Street, is home to an award-winning microbrewery and some pretty great food! You are given the chance to eat outside on their large rooftop seating area with great street views, or within their open, airy, simply decorated dining room with views of the brewery tanks. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch in this landmark restaurant. My husband enjoyed his house-brewed porter, and as a group we devoured the freshly made kettle chips with onion dip and the "Lizard Chips" (beer battered fried pickle and jalapeno chips served with chipotle ranch dip). For our main courses, my mother-in-law and I both thoroughly enjoyed "Ninny's BLT" (bacon, lettuce and lightly battered and fried green tomatoes on texas toast, served with a salad of mixed greens); my husband loved his "The Top Cheeseburger" (featuring local, grass-fed beef); my father-in-law raved about his fried catfish sandwich; and my son devoured his corn-dog nuggets (served with a side of fresh green beans, per our request, and a creamy mustard dipping sauce).  We did not have the chance to sample desserts, but I am sure that they were also incredible! I would definitely recommend checking out the TOPO, and hope to have the opportunity to return to enjoy the dinner menu, and personally try one of their beers, or specialty drinks (they distill their own vodka, gin and whiskey).

 After our day of exploration, we attended a beautiful wedding at a church in Chapel Hill, and great reception at the Barn at Fearrington Village. The Village itself has a small shopping and dining district that seemed to have some great offerings, and live music. If you're planning an event in the area, the Barn is definitely a venue to check out! It was a beautiful space, with great food and great service.

Our second day in town was spent at a local playground and park, allowing my son to run off some steam, and a surprise bonus of a beautiful public rose garden! For lunch, we headed to the Weathervane at Southern Season. With locations in Chapel Hill, Charleston, and Richmond, the Southern Season is an incredible gourmet grocery. Complete with a coffee and tea bar; an impressive bakery; an expansive collection of international foods; gifts and kitchen gadgets; a cooking school; beautiful floral department; a wonderful wine selection; and restaurant- I could have spent hours exploring and tasting! (and if I were a local, I would definitely become a regular!) The Weathervane was accessible through the store and from the outside, and was bright and cheery, with fresh flowers adorning every table, and a simple weekend brunch menu. (They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a full bar.) Our service was a little less than cheery, but that didn't detract too much from our experience. Within our group, we were able to enjoy the Fried Green Tomatoes; Butternut Squash Soup; Farm Egg Salad Sandwich; Fried Green Tomato Cackalacky; Housemade Chorizo Quesadilla; and the kids cheeseburger sliders. The menu is based on local, fresh ingredients and was definitely delicious. I would highly recommend stopping by to check it out- perhaps without kids. After our meal, my mother in law and I went on a hunt for a chocolate chip cookie, and were delighted by the offerings we found in the bakery area of the store. There was a large case with cakes, cupcakes, and tarts, as well as the expansive area showcasing cookies and pastries baked in-house, as well as at local bakeries. Thankfully, the store's ingredients labels were clear and complete, and we were able to stay clear of cookies with nuts. We chose a chocolate chip cookie and an expresso, chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips. Both cookies were about the size of my hand, and about one inch thick (the perfect size for sharing)... and yummy!!!

Chorizo Quesadilla, Hashbrown Casserole @ Weathervane
Egg Salad Sandwich, Sweet Potato fries @ Weathervane
We kept dinner simple, ordering pizza to bring back to the hotel. We asked at the front desk for a recommendation, and they came through! We tried out Amante Pizza, which is was within walking distance of our hotel. We decided to try out two of their gourmet pizzas, ordering a large "San Gennaro" (tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, spicy italian sausage, roasted red and green peppers and onions), and a small "Fig and Prosciutto" (fig jam with thinly sliced apple, prosciutto, sauteed red onions, and a mix of gouda and mozzarella cheese). The crusts were light and crispy, and all of the toppings were fresh and perfectly cooked. The sausage was a little spicy for my son (a very easy fix), and the Fig and Prosciutto pizza was a little saltier than I was hoping- however, I would definitely order from them again! It was great to have a low-key dinner in our room and spend the evening relaxing after dancing the night away the night before.
The "San Gennaro"
Fig and Prosciutto Pizza
I hope that anyone visiting Chapel Hill finds these reviews helpful, and will get the chance to enjoy some of these good eats! I look forward to visiting the area again, and checking out what else this great city has to offer- any suggestions are welcome, please share!

...The next stop for us is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina! Stay tuned for more stories from the road...

Chocolate Chip Cookie @ Southern Season

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