I’ve lived in Chapel Hill my entire life, and it has always seemed as if there’s at least one new restaurant popping up at all times. Whether it’s high-end or casual and student-oriented, there is constantly something I’m interested in trying.
In an area like this, bursting with restaurants of all styles and price ranges that sometimes come and go within the year, it can be difficult to find one that really sticks out. But Tandem Restaurant in Carrboro does just that.
Located in Carr Mill Mall since April, in the spot recently vacated by the short-lived Café Symmetry, Tandem is the ideal new lunch spot for summer days when you’re feeling something a little upscale but don’t want to sacrifice a low-key, comfortable experience.
Sit down in the restaurant’s cozy, dim interior or outside on the patio, which is outfitted in string lights and canvas sheets to block out the worst of the sun. Service is prompt and the staff are polite and helpful. Perusing the menu, chock-full of dishes based in local and seasonal ingredients, might be overwhelming, so the rest of this review offers a suggested breakdown.
Start off with the crab stuffed deviled eggs, a slight step up from the classic backyard barbecue dish we all know and love. Deviled eggs are one of my personal longtime favorites, so I knew I needed to order them after one glance at the menu. The filling is creamy and well-seasoned, topped with radish, crab, and a little bit of garnish.
Moving on to the main dish, two possible options are the Chapel Hill Creamery burger, served with either fries or house salad; or the skirt steak entree, served with fries and a tomato cooked in a provencal style.
The hamburger was variously textured and tangy, topped with an onion compote and crunchy house pickles, all stuffed into a crispy brioche bun. The fries were lightly seasoned and cooked well, if a little bit soft.
The skirt steak is perfect for anyone wanting to upgrade their lunch past the usual sandwich or salad. The steak was cooked perfectly to order and was tender, juicy, and flavored with an herb chimichurri. It was almost miraculously easy to cut.
If, like me, you’re still hungry after an appetizer and main course, splurge on a fresh, summery dessert. I ordered the vanilla lavender panna cotta, which I was expecting to be served with a traditional circular, cake-like presentation. Instead, Tandem serves their panna cotta in small strips, which are then adorned with rhubarb compote and ginger streusel.
The collision of these flavors creates an unusual but not unpleasant take on a dessert classic. The panna cotta itself, with its subtle hints of seasonal lavender, was creamy and sweet, and the textures of the tart rhubarb and spicy ginger complemented it well.
Tandem should be one of your first thoughts when you want to celebrate a special occasion or take someone out to a nicer-than-usual lunch. It’s a bit pricey for everyday dining, but not so much that you’ll feel at all guilty about treating yourself.
And besides, the price is worth it for the fresh, local, high-quality ingredients and the swift, cheerful service.