clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hungry Before the Game?

Given that a large number of Duke fans are reportedly headed to Chapel Hill this evening, we asked our resident food critic and Chapel Hill denizen, Boswell, to give an overview of some eatery establishments in that Southern Part of Hell that aren't part of the slop-and-drop variety. Also, one of the DBR’s dark little secrets is that a bar/restaurant that’s extremely popular with the Carolina crowd has been a big supporter of the DBR. So next time, they cry in that beer or hoist a mug in fond remembrance of the win over Binghamton, just remember that the DBR is getting a share of the profits. Drink up, Tar Heels.

The Grill at Glen Lennox - Conveniently located near the Dean Dome (on the north side of Highway 55, just before the 15-501 exit), this is a wonderful, casual restaurant for a quality meal before the game. Cuisine is best described as “Californian/Mediteranean.” Service is exceptionally friendly, and Glen, the owner, really makes you feel at home. The kitchen is open so you can see the chefs at work. There’s a bar area with television. Try the salmon on cedar plank or the outstanding ground tenderloin burger. Entrees run from $11-18.

Elaine’s on Franklin – Our choice for the best restaurant in Chapel Hill. Chef/owner Bret Jennings (a Russell Crowe look-alike) works magic. Formerly sous chef at Magnolia Grill, Bret creates imaginative, fusion-style dishes. The menu changes frequently, but the seafood and game dishes are always a good bet. Try the venison sausage as an appetizer. Bret has complied an excellent wine list with unique and unusual selections, such as a Chateau Musar cabernet from Lebanon. The maitre d’, Mark Sternal, gets our vote as friendliest in town. The décor is exceptional and designed by Clark Hipolito, who has done some great work in the Triangle. Pricey but well worth it. It can also get pretty noisy.

411 West - Easily one of the most popular Chapel Hill restaurants and with good reason. This Italian eatery features good food at reasonable values. A wood-burning pizza oven adds to the atmosphere. No reservations, so it gets very crowded.

Acme – Located in Carrboro, this is a friendly eatery serving “elegant comfortable” food (slight oxymoron intended). The rabbit and duck are both outstanding. Atmosphere is modern. Good wine list. Can get a little crowded at times.

Michael Jordan’s 23 - A combination of Zen and Nike. Sleek modern décor. You dine underneath a representation of a large hoop and basketball and are surrounded by mementos of MJ’s career and life in Chapel Hill, like his UNC diploma. Food is good but tends to be on the heavy side with cream sauces and so forth. A bit pricey for what you get, but you come here for the aura of MJ. It’s fun to wear a Duke sweatshirt into the place. The wait staff may groan, but they don’t throw the shrimp and grits at you. A gift shop is on the premises.

La Residence – A romantic, French restaurant on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill that’s been around for a quarter century. Great atmosphere, friendly service, good food, but the prices are out of whack. Entrees are about $4-5 more than Magnolia Grill, for example, and the wine list is really expensive. If you’re a chocolaholic, you have to try the signature Kalouga, a chocolate soufflé cake. Most memorable dinner there may have been sitting at a table next to Dean Smith when Brian Reese and Derrick Phelps were on a recruiting trip and hearing Dean discuss the merits of different salad dressings.

Henry’s Bistro – A funky, late-night crowd type of place where the décor is not-so-hot avant-garde artwork on cinder block walls. Favorite place for restaurant workers after hours. Owner Lance Thomson is a great guy who has put together a menu of exceptional value. Nice outdoor patio for summer dining keeps you away from the smoky interior. Not well know, Henry’s is a great hideaway. Great onion soup and whole trout.

Pyewacket – Longtime restaurant located in The Courtyard on the western end of Franklin Street. Menu is best described as “almost vegetarian.” Good bar and nice all-around atmosphere. Try the Indonesian curried shrimp or the plaki. Nice wine list. Generally a pretty good value.

Top of the Hill – A microbrewery/restaurant located on the third floor of the First Union Building in the very heart of Franklin Street. It’s a great place to see your car overturned by riotous Carolina fans after a Tar Heel victory. Seriously, the food here is good, better than the Carolina Brewery down the street. Almost a yuppie feel to the place. Beers, of course, are wonderful. There’s an outdoor patio that’s covered and warmed in the winter months.

Carolina Brewery - OK, the food’s not as good as Top of the Hill, but the beers are better. Of special note are the India Pale Ale, the Copperline Amber Ale, and the summery Sky Blue Golden Ale. Lots of TV’s are around, so it’s a great spot to watch a game.

Silk Road Tea House - OK, I’ve never been there, but it’s fun to look in to see the clientele sitting on the floor, reading some tract they picked up at the Internationalist bookstore across the street (Joe Stalin ain’t dead), and attempting to keep their beards from dipping into the lentil soup (both the men and women).

Carolina Crossroads – Elegant, southern restaurant located in The Carolina Inn. Clientele favors light blue slacks and white button-down shirts. Just a little too UNC-ish for me. Food is good but on the pricey side. Nice place to take the in-laws who want a Chapel Hill experience.

Spanky’s - Perfectly situated at the northeast corner of Franklin Street and Airport Road, Spanky’s has been a Chapel Hill tradition. Standard fare of sandwiches and salads with a couple of semi-creative dishes thrown in. Nice bar area.

Squid’s – Popular upscale-yet-casual seafood restaurant off of 15-501 on the way to the Dean Dome. Same ownership as 411 West and Spanky’s (Mickey Ewell). It’s fun just to sit at the bar and order up some oysters or a shrimp cocktail. Also has an adjacent fresh seafood market. It gets crowded so give yourself time.

Crook’s Corner – Funky former BBQ joint that now offers Southern cuisine with an upscale flavor. Great Hoppin’ John and probably the best shrimp and grits in the area. It can get jammed in there. Best time to go is in the summer, when you can sit outside. Crook’s was in its prime when the late Bill Neal was the chef, but it’s still pretty good under Gene Hamer’s management. The check may end up being higher than you expected.

Il Palio - A truly outstanding (and expensive) Italian restaurant in the Siena Hotel at the base of Franklin Street. It has won numerous awards and deservedly so. The wine steward here is the best in town. Great place for a special occasion. Go for the osso bucco and a glass of the Isole e Olena red wine.

Vespa – Another very good Italian restaurant. Located next to the defunct Wicked Burrito (how the hell did the planning commission approve that building?), Vespa offers good pastas, fresh seafood, and fine grappa in a casual, bistro type atmosphere. Nice little bar area out front along with the signature motorscooter. This narrow restaurant has sister restaurants in Manhattan and Long Island.

Tyler’s - This gem in Carrboro has the best selection of unusual beers in the area. Tyler’s has recently been enhanced with a wood-burning pizza oven, which should be operational, by mid-February. The food is good, and the atmosphere is casual and friendly. Like Cheer’s, it’s a neighborhood type place where everybody knows your name.