By Emily Matchar, with one personal favorite by CHM's Ellen Shannon
Published September/October 2010
Number 1: Eating at Sutton’s lunch counter
Though Sutton’s Drug Store has been a staple of Franklin Street since 1927, some locals still don’t know about the deliciousness that is the Sutton’s lunch counter. I’d like to remedy that. If you haven’t had one of their cheeseburgers, don’t delay. Yes, you may have to wait in line for a spot at the counter or the handful of booths plunked down amid the shelves of aspirin and orthopedic insoles. But the huge portions of juicy beef, smothered with whatever toppings you want (I like jalapeños) and a melty slice of American cheese, make it all worth it. Order the fries double-fried, for extra crispyness.
Number 2: Cocktails and DIY sushi at the Lantern bar
Everybody knows that Lantern is one of the hottest restaurants in the area (just consult any issue of Food & Wine, the mag that can’t seem to stop bragging about the place). But in my opinion, one way to get the most bang for your buck is to skip the restaurant and have appetizers and cocktails at the bar. In a detached bungalow behind the restaurant itself, the little lacquered jewel box of a space only seats a handful of people, so come early. Sip a Junebug (Pimm’s, fresh ginger, lemon soda, cucumber), and order one of Lantern’s famed roll-your-own sushi bento boxes, a nifty kit filled with nori (seaweed sheets), tea-cured salmon or trout and a variety of house-pickled Japanese vegetables.
Number 3: Biking (or driving) to Maple View Farm
Sure, townies can get their chocolate-lavender ice cream fix at Maple View’s Carrboro store. But for the full-on experience, you’ve got to get your cones at the source, the Maple View Farm Country Store in rural Hillsborough. Bikers love to ride the rolling hills down Dairyland Road, so you’ll see more than a few spandex-clad individuals enjoying their treats on the rocking chairs on the porch. The less athletic can also drive, of course.
Number 4: Saturday mornings at Johnny’s
Over the past few years, this 70-year-old blue Main Street cottage has become a second living room for many Carrboro-ites. Once a bait-and-tackle shop, Johnny’s has repositioned itself as an old-fashioned corner store with a contemporary locavore heart. Neighbors drop by in the morning for coffee and Guglhupf pastries or swing by after work to grab a quart of (local) milk, a six-pack of craft beer or a jar of Farmer’s Daughter’s dilly beans. On Saturday mornings, the Parlez-Vous Crêpe truck alights in the backyard, and Johnny’s picnic tables fill up with hungry young couples and families. Ditto for evenings, when the taco truck dishes out barbecued beef tacos with homemade salsa verde. Sometimes there’s live music; sometimes the fire pit’s aglow; sometimes there’s a chicken or two running through the yard. You never really know at Johnny’s – you just have to show up.
Number 5: Shopping A Southern Season’s annual sale
This behemoth of a gourmet store, a Chapel Hill favorite since 1975, is not famous for being easy on the wallet. But twice a year, in the weeks leading up to July 4 and Christmas, the store lets its proverbial hair down with a massive, all-out sale. Stock up on the classics – red pepper jelly, Carolina cheese straws, red tins of pecan pralines. But be sure to try something new while you’re at it – salty Dutch licorice, boar sausage, bacon chocolate. Word to the wise: It’s best to shop the sale on a weekday, as weekend crowds can resemble a cattle auction.
Number 6: Buying meat at Cliff’s Meat Market
Cliff Collins, proprietor of Cliff’s Meat Market in Carrboro, likes to talk. About the weather. About the way Carrboro’s changed over the past 40-odd years. About what size chicken you might need for your dinner party. About how it’s a shame that the USDA won’t let him sell fresh pig blood. So next time you’re looking for a pound of ground chuck, a link of fresh chorizo or an entire cow’s heart, head on over to Collins’ little concrete bunker on the corner of West Main and South Greensboro for your ingredients – and a chat.
Number 7: Oyster Happy Hour at Squid’s
Slurp shellfish and sip dry martinis at the bar of this Fordham Boulevard seafood restaurant, a Chapel Hill favorite. The restaurant on U.S. 15-501 itself is upscale-casual, but the bar has a welcoming “loosen your tie” vibe, with chatty bartenders and sports playing on big screen TVs. Steamed or raw oysters on the half shell are 50 percent off between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. So order a plate or three.
Number 8: Free banana pudding night at Breadmen’s
With its worn wooden booths, walls of UNC basketball memorabilia and tables full of hungover undergrads, hungry musician types and off-duty police officers, Breadmen’s is the quintessential Chapel Hill institution. I’m a big fan of their pecan waffles, grilled cheese sandwiches, fried okra, and,above all, their classic banana pudding. On Monday nights, it’s free. Oh yeah, youheard me. Free. Banana. Pudding. Note to non-natives – banana pudding is notbanana-flavored pudding. It’s vanilla pudding with sliced bananas, whipped creamand ’nilla wafers.
Number 9: Making the pilgrimage to Allen & Son
Some tips for eating at Allen & Son, Chapel Hill’s own temple of ‘cue: Go to the N.C. 86 location (Some say the meat’s smokier here, though I’ve never noticed. I just like the cozier atmosphere). Avoid the lunch rush if you’ve got somewhere to be anytime soon. Order either a chopped pork sandwich or a chopped pork plate. Made with pork shoulder smoked with hickory wood that owner Keith Allen chops himself, it’s some of the most tender, smokiest, most flavorful ‘cue in the state. Douse your barbecue with a heavy dose of Allen & Son’s own vinegar sauce. Always finish with the peanut butter icebox pie.
Number 10: Margaret’s Cantina – Sí
By Ellen Shannon
My favorite Mexican restaurant in Chapel Hill is Margaret’s Cantina, with its Southwest-inspired cuisine and friendly, bustling, happy atmosphere at its Timberlyne Shopping Center location. With nearly two decades of locavore food prep and purchasing, Margaret’s has set the standard for organic and bought-local food. And chef-owner Margaret Lundy, while keeping true to her Southern Arizona roots, includes her “South meets Southwest” flavor in the form of sweet potatoes, grits and greens. “I believe that we all want to live well and eat well and we all can use a little help with the cooking and cleaning!” she says. CHM