Autumn in Orange County. Leaves the color of fire fall and tumble in the wind, and finally you get to wear that sweater you’ve been hoping to for the last long while. It looks good. Take it out to dinner. But where? Why not start here:
Mercato. In a way it’s a shame Mercato makes the best pizza in town, because there’s so much more to it. The appetizers are so good you run the risk of filling up on them before the delicious pie comes. This is the chance you take if you want to eat there, but worth it. For starters there’s marinated and roasted olives, P.E.I. mussels, crostini and fritti. Post-pizza, try the Doible Chocolate Budino. That’s Mercato, Carrboro.
Acme. Breakfast is easy, wise men say; brunch is hard. There is so much truth to that, and that’s why it’s best to leave the brunch to the professionals. Acme has been doing it for some time and knows all the best tricks. Here’s one: Texas border breakfast grilled Angus butcher’s cut steak, two poached eggs, green chile grits with chipotle hollandaise. Please don’t try this at home.
Antonia’s on Tuesdays. Hillsborough is closer than you think and even if it’s not you have that podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to, right? Anyway, go to Hillsborough and while there visit Antonia’s. It’s Italian, family-friendly, and full of live music. Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30pm! Enjoy three unique acts that alternate performances on a weekly basis. They include…The BC Jazz Trio, Sabor and Christopher Adkins.
Burritos and Guacamole
El Restaurante Ixtapa is a relative newcomer to the Orange County food scene, but they bring an old-fashioned attitude and perspective to their marvelous concoction: everything is made from scratch, even the tortillas. But they have become famous for their guacamole – or “guac,” as the old-timers call it. They say it’s the best in the Triangle. In Hillsborough.
Kipos GRILLED OCTOPUS SALAD
Let’s talk about the octopus salad, at Kipos on Franklin Street, in which the octopus is both char-grilled and marinated in lemon, vinegar, and olive oil. Add a hard boiled egg, french beans, olives, poached potatoes and chickpea salad and you have one of the best preparations of octopus around. Maybe the best.
Crossroads Chapel Hill offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, and with free parking it all adds up to perfection, plain and simple. It’s almost unfair to add pimiento cheese to the mix, because why go anywhere else now, right? But think: Pimiento Cheese with Sea Salt Crackers, Bacon Pepper Jelly followed by a Fried Green Tomato & Millionaire’s Bacon on Toasted Wheat with Blue Sky Farms Forberg Lettuce, Heirloom Tomato & Black Pepper Mayonnaise. Wow. Carolina Crossroads, open to all. Park, walk in the elegant Carolina Inn and head to the new dining room.
In time for colder temps, Mystery Brewing Co has a rich, buttery oatmeal stout with undercurrents of cocoa and coffee. The grain additions in this beer are designed to impart chocolate, toffee, and caramel notes without overt bitterness, creating a smooth, drinkable stout. Aged on Dominican cocoa nibs; locally roasted coffee added in the fermenter. In Hillsborough.
You forgot to eat dinner and now the night is almost over. What to do? The Lantern has an incredible late night menu, worth not eating until 11pm for. Why more people don’t know about this is one of the great mysteries of Chapel Hill. Available 10pm until 2am, Monday through Saturday. Menu changes nightly.
In the bar, M – S, til midnight 423 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill.
Written by Laurie Paolicelli, who has been Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau since 2005. The agency is a department of Orange County and is located at 501 W. Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.