Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

A long weekend presented itself and I wanted to go somewhere. Dr. Mandoo is studying in UNC Chapel Hill. I decided to pay her a visit. I also dragged Mr. Peanut Head with me. It was going to be a good time. The morning before our flight, we were hungry. We stopped by a cafe and ordered some food. I got a sausage, egg, and cheese on a roll. He got a western omlette with hash browns, toast, and a side of corned beef hash. The sandwich was pretty big. But the flavor was small. What did I expect? Not much. So it wasn't really disappointing. The bread was really dry though. A little ketchup and it tasted fine. You can see here that they were skimpy on the eggs. Day 1: When we arrived in Chapel Hill, we relaxed until our friend got off work. We headed out to some outdoor event outside the campus hotel, Carolina Inn. It looked like a converted mansion. It was really nice. The weather was cool. And people were enjoying the music with wine and beer. Food was available too. But we had other plans for that. Dr. Mandoo brought us to a local place on Franklin Street (the main street) and had dinner. It was called Top of the Hill. It had fancy bad-for-you food. Also, they had their own micro-brewery. From the deck outside, you can see the Chapel Hill landscape. We all ordered some drinks. I decided to go for their own micro-beers. I had a blueberry pint. It tasted okay and the blueberry flavor was slight. I think Bluepoint makes a better blueberry beer. For dinner, we ordered a plate of the sweet potato fries ($6.50) with cheese to share. These were really good and addicting. The serving was huge! It was easily entree sized. I'm glad we shared these. For my main dish, I had the buttermilk fried chicken ($15). Dr. Mandoo recommended it. She certainly didn't lie. It came with a super soft and delicious biscuit and some creamy mashed potatoes. The chicken was breast meat, but it was so tender and juicy. The batter was crispy and the mushroom cream gravy was fantastic. Everything just tasted really good together. Only the sauteed vegetables were a little salty. I didn't care. I ate almost everything. I only left 2 bites. Mr. Peanut Head had the King Crab Mac & Cheese ($14.25). This was my second choice. The pasta was cooked correctly. The crab meat was definitely there. And the cheese was actually this creamy sauce. It worked well together. Though, I thought the dish was a little fishy. However, that doesn't bother me. I can eat fishy tasting dishes. I liked it! Afterward, we walked over to Carrboro for some drinks. We stopped at a bar called Milltown. They offered a wide variety of beef specializing in Belgians. The place was filled with the young who also dined on food and drank lots of beer. Day 2: We decided to explore Raleigh on the nation's Independence Day. At the state capital, there were some events going on. Some people were dressed in colonial clothes. And others were commemorating fallen soldiers. I scoped out the food stalls and found this great stand: Clyde Coopers. The guy behind the table was offering a variety of things like sweet tea and snow cones. But I found something better for breakfast: Pork Rinds! For $3, you get a ziploc bag full of these crunchy, salty, pork skins. These were the real thing. They were the best I've ever had. You can actually taste the porkiness. They were also greaseless and very crunchy. Lunch was predetermined for The Pit. It's Ed Mitchell's barbecue joint and he specializes in whole hog. I've had his stuff at the Big Apple BBQ before so I know it's good. I wanted to try the stuff closer to his home. The decor of the place is really nice. It's not your typical run of the mill, old wooden tables type of place. There's a hostess and waiter service. The place looks modern and clean. It was surprising but in a good way. We started off with a couple of shared appetizers. I wanted some fried green tomatoes ($6.59). These were really good. The green tomatoes do not taste like regular red tomatoes at all. They're more sour and tart. The texture is similar though. The outside was crunchy with a nice pepper relish on top. I liked this dish a lot. We also shared a pan of the corn bread ($3.99). It came baked in a cast iron skillet. It contained jalapenos and cheese on top. This was really good. The corn bread was really soft and buttery. It tasted like corn. The cheese was gooey and the jalapenos added a slight kick to the whole thing. For my main course, I swayed from the famous pulled pork and got the baby back ribs ($12.59) instead. I know it's North Carolina and it's a pulled pork state but it's hard to sway from my favorite. The entree came with 2 sides (I picked baked beans and cole slaw), a biscuit, and hush puppies. The ribs were fantastic. The meat fell right off the bone. They were well seasoned and so flavorful. Looking at the plate, I thought I wasn't going to be able to finish it, but I did. They were so good. Look mom, smoke rings! The baked beans were good as well. They used a nice mix of different kinds of beans that made the dish a little more complicated. I liked it. And the cole slaw (which I normally hate in all other instances) was good. It's more of a vinegar base. I hate mayonnaise heavy cole slaw. The biscuit was soft and oh-so-buttery. The hushpuppies were super crunchy and a little salty. Dr. Mandoo ordered the chopped barbecue plate with mac n' cheese and collared greens. I only tasted her meat and it was really good. It was really juicy and tender. The flavors were amazing. I thought it had enough seasoning but she likes it with a little more vinegar. For dessert, we went to a dairy farm for some ice cream. Maple View Farm is located in Hillsborough, NC. It's a little out of the way but it was worth it. It's a small place but certainly busy. Families came with their children. And cyclists came for a treat. We came because we love food. You can purchase your dairy products then sit on the rocking chairs along the full length of the porch. I went for the Honey Toasted Almond. It was rich and creamy. You can really taste the honey. Also, the almonds added a nice yet slight crunch. A great summertime treat. For dinner, before the fireworks, we went for tacos at La Vaquita Tienda in Durham. It's a small little place off the road but offers fresh Mexican food. You can spot it from afar with the cow that stands on the roof. You walk up to the window and order. There are a couple of picnic tables set up. It's not fancy but the food is good. I ordered 3 tacos for ~$7. If you want the rice and beans platter with your tacos, it's $8.29. I went for pastor (marinated pork), lengua (beef tongue), and barbacao (flavored beef). The pastor: the pork was juicy and the flavors were spot on. The lengua: a little fatty but in a good way. My favorite of the 3. The barbacao: tasted similar to the pastor but the beef was present. The meat was a little lean. My least favorite. After the fireworks, we drove back to Raleigh to a bar named The Flying Saucer. They also offer a wide variety of beer. The have lots of beer of tap along the full length of the wall behind the bar. That night, they were doing $2.50 pints of blue moon. I, instead, was feeling a little more fruity and had Fruli Strawberry ($6). It was sweet and just what I wanted that night. Day 3 A rainy day stops us in our tracks. I've been getting used to the rain in NYC. But in NC, it's just pouring down hard. It prevents us from site seeing, but doesn't prevent us from eating. We planned on going for more barbecue or Mexican. But Sundays and rain threw those ideas out the window. Luckily, a frequented burger joint was open. It's called Buns. You order at the counter then grab a table with your number. They'll bring your order over. They offer burgers (beef, turkey, and/or veggie), along with tuna or salmon sandwiches, and beef hot dogs. A variety of toppings are available. Most of the common ones are free, others (like bacon) are extra. I ordered a single patty beef burger ($4.48) with cheddar, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, and pickles on a wheat bun. I made it a combo ($2.99 extra) with sweet potato fries and a drink. You get to choose a free dipping sauce with your fries. I opted for curry mustard. The burger was a decent size. The meat was a little overdone for my taste but they didn't ask for my personal doneness. Thankfully, it was well seasoned and juicy. The onions could have been a little more caramelized for a more complex flavor but I enjoyed them anyway. The cheese was melted and gooey. The other condiments were good and complemented the burger really well. The fries were crispy and the sweet potatoes inside was soft and sweet. The curry mustard went really well with that sweetness. It added spice and heat. I enjoyed it a lot. This place was great to wait out the rain and watch the end of the Men's Wimbledon final. My trip down south was really great. My host, Dr. Mandoo, did a great job hosting us. Thanks! I had a lot of great food. My favorite was definitely the food at The Pit. Everything there was fantastic and the service was great. On my next visit, maybe a little less sweet tea, and a little more food (especially barbecue)!

The Carolina Inn 211 Pittsboro Street Chapel Hill, NC 27516 (800) 962-8519
Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery 100 East Franklin Street # 3 Chapel Hill, NC 27514 (919) 929-8676 
Milltown 307 East Main Street Carrboro, NC 27510 (919) 968-2460
Coopers BBQ & Catering 109 East Davie Street Raleigh, NC 27601 (919) 832-7614
The Pit 328 West Davie St Raleigh, NC 27601 (919) 890-4500
Maple View Farm 3109 Dairyland Road Hillsborough, NC 27278 (919) 933-3600
La Taquita Tienda 2700 Chapel Hill Road Durham, NC 27707 (919) 402-0209 
The Flying Saucer 328 West Morgan Street Raleigh, NC 27601 (919) 821-7468
Buns 107 North Columbia Street Chapel Hill, NC 27514 (919) 240-4746

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