There’s no shortage of good eats in Carrboro and recently, it seems that the town’s on a roll with the opening of buzz-worthy spots. “Carrboro is the most vibrant downtown in the Triangle per square foot,” says Rise Carrboro owner and Chapel Hill native Rick Robinson.
Rick Robinson is used to long lines and early mornings. As a teen in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he had a job slinging omelets and hotcakes at Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe. “We would have a line to the door from the minute we opened,” he says. “It’s a great way to learn as far as speed goes.” That experience – not to mention his long career launching and managing restaurants in California and New York – helped him when it came time to open a Rise Biscuits & Donuts franchise with business partner Ken Priest. A friendship of more than two decades with Rise founder Tom Ferguson didn’t hurt either. Rick was the general manager of Durham Catering Co. under Tom in the summer of 2014, and the two had been crossing paths since spending time in the kitchens of Magnolia Grill and Nana’s. Drawn to Rise for its “huge legions of fans” and early-to-open, early-to-close hours that allow franchisees to “earn a living and have a life outside,” Rick and Ken knew there was only one place to open. “Carrboro’s been home for a long time,” Rick says. Along with their team that includes longtime Lantern sous chef Silvia Pahola, they’ve been enjoying the long lines, foot traffic and other perks their location brings. “I love the three bay windows looking over the railroad tracks,” Rick says. “When there are 3- and 4-year-old boys eating doughnuts when the train goes by, they need nothing else.”
We’ve got famous restaurateur Danny Meyer to partially thank for one new eatery in town. Chef Andrew Moore of B-Side Lounge and Venable was listening to the autobiography of the man behind Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern and a dozen other New York City spots when he heard that the third restaurant Danny opened was a barbecue joint (Blue Smoke). Andrew thought that type of place would flourish in the area. A few days later, when he was approached about taking over Southern Rail and The Station, the chef knew he had the chance to make his third restaurant a barbecue spot. “I instantly thought that barbecue would pair well with the space,” he says. “Coupling a fresh take on traditional barbecue style with a local historical landmark is an incredible opportunity.” He’ll reopen The Station this month as a music venue with intimate performances and quarterly secret shows, and his team will turn the former Tiger Room space into a smokehouse. Not long after will come the debut of CrossTies. In a state where people are as fiercely set on their barbecue preferences as their Tobacco Road basketball teams, Andrew knew better than to just have only vinegar-based or only tomato-based sauce for pulled pork. They’ll be joined by other regional favorites like smoked chicken wings with Alabama white sauce and traditional Texas-style mesquite-smoked brisket. As he expands his own footprint in Carrboro, a town he says “really fits me personally,” Andrew’s quick to appreciate the supportive spirit of the food community. “I love that so many great chefs have chosen to open their doors in this little town,” Andrew says. “It truly is a dining destination and is just getting better and better.”
On the opening night of Pizzeria Mercato, it was thrilling to see Ben and Karen Barker greeting old friends and floating around the restaurant. But make no mistake, this was son Gabe Barker’s show. From my perch, with a view right into the kitchen, I saw Gabe lead his staff with a quiet confidence. If there were any hiccups on the night the long-awaited pizzeria debuted back in February, I couldn’t tell. Inspired by his time cooking at San Francisco’s Pizzeria Delfina, Gabe’s perfect pies have a local bent with toppings sourced straight from the Carrboro Farmers’ Market across the way. If you haven’t been yet, all you need to know is to get there early, write your name down on the chalkboard waiting list and prepare for an amazing evening. As Gabe told us in December, “If I can help create memorable experiences in the same way my parents did through the Magnolia Grill, I will be ecstatic.”
Four years of working together at City Kitchen as general manager and chef solidified the working relationship of Emma Dunbar and Younes Sabouh. “We play off of each other’s strengths and support each other [in times of weakness],” Emma says. They will soon open an eatery called, appropriately, Tandem in the sunny spot in Carr Mill Mall most recently occupied by Cafe Symmetry. “We love the building and have looked at it several times in the past, but the timing was never right,” Emma says. “We want to breathe life back into the building and make it special. At the same time [we want to pay] respect to the history of this great building.” Expect starters like chickpea fritters with feta and hyper-local entrees like quinoa with Chapel Hill Creamery Calvander cheese. Emma says they can’t wait to serve the area’s knowledgeable diners who are hungry to try new things and for the restaurant to become a part of the foodie landscape. “Carrboro is full of locally owned businesses that support each other,” Emma says. “It is a beautiful pocket of North Carolina.”