Chapel Hill Day Trip 2009 (created 5.27.09 updated 5.18.10)
Hello! Over our Memorial Day Vacation in 2009, we took a day trip to "Apple Chill"; and boy was it fun! Now, first we'll tell you to take I-40 east from Winston Salem, to the Chapel Hill exit (HWY 54). Turn right and follow this meandering country blacktop into the town of Carrboro; which is symbiotically connected to Chapel Hill. (Note: the speed limit is 50mph on HWY 54, but there are only speed limit signs on the first 5 miles. I remind you of this so that on your return trip, you won't be stupefied for 15 miles outside Carrboro.) At the second stoplight (near a gas station), take a right onto West Main Street, which will turn into East Main Street, which instersects with the main drag; Franklin Street. Everywhere we will visit is either on Franklin or directly off it.
Our first stop...LUNCH! My favorite lunch spot is the Mediterranean Deli. They recently remodeled, so now the decor and building represent the amazing food much better. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the many cases full of exciting and exotic choices. But take your time...grab a menu and get a good look at the food.
They provide little signs next to each dish with the ingredients, so you know what you're getting. Once you've narrowed it down , step over to the cash register and a helpful cashier will take your order and issue you a receipt with a number on it. Go over to the beverage station, get your drink, which can include iced tea made with Rose Water! Next select a table and wait to hear your number called. After you pick up your plate, go over to the condiment bar, where you'll find an array of free additions such as: green and black olives, hot peppers, tzatiki, tahini, feta cheese, jalapeno and garlic sauce and my personal favorite, Shawarma; which is a parsley and onion salad.
Mary's plate has sauteed cauliflower (I added jalapeno & garlic sauce), an orzo salad (yellow: with golden raisins, almonds and curry), a sweet potato puree with raisins and spices, pita bread, tzatiki and olives. The plate behind is Labneh (homemade yogurt cheese). This is the smoothest, creamiest yogurt you've ever put in your mouth!
Samb's plate has Turkish slaw, red pepper salad (white bowl), mohammara (orange scoop: pureed wheat, pomegranate, roasted red peppers, garlic & nuts), bandora (red bowl: a tomamto sauce with olive oil, garlic and jalapenos), pita, tzatiki and olives. Our meals were amazing as usual, but don't forget; always save room for desert!
We picked six delectable treats to sample, out of a case of three times as many. The two cookies in front with powdered sugar are called Mammol. The left one is filled with dates and the powdered sugar topped on the right with pistachios; my favorite! On the far right is a pistachio nougat; sweet, chewy and crunchy. To the left is a bright red Sweet Rose made with semolina, yogurt, rose water, butter and olive oil. It was nothing like I've ever tasted. The rose water was not overpowering and the dessert wasn't cloying. It melted on our tongues! Quite lovely. In the middle of the top row is a Krem Santiye consisting of coconut, choclate chips, walnuts, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. How could this be bad? Lastly, at the top left is a three cheese baklava, slightly sweet and savory. This was not my favorite, but Samb liked it. This food looks and sounds relatively simple, but everything explodes with flavor!! I love this place. The owner is on premise and obviously takes great pride in the food and great care of his customers.
We left with a few to-go boxes (Samb's lunch the next day), and took a right out the front door to one of my favorite vintage thrift shops; Time After Time. I actually purchased my wedding dress here last year for $12.00! It fit me like it was made for me and was so beautiful (you can view it by going to the Wedding page). The fabulous folks who own this store, Steven and Annie, have become friends. We don't see each other but one or two times a year, but I feel like I know them! They always stop at MOC to eat breakfast whenever they can, and even brought us a great lamp for a wedding present!
[update: Time After Time was written up in the April 13, 2010 issue of GQ Magazine's "25 Best Vintage Stores In America" !!! Congrats Steven & Annie!]
They have everything imaginable; from men, kids & women's clothing, accessories and shoes to home furnishings and costumes. The people who work there are always helpful and oh-so-hip!! You need to show up with some time to browse, it's sofull of stuff; it takes a while to take it all in!
Across the street is Samb's favorite music store, CD Alley; one of those rare dinosaurs leftover from a bygone era. Yeah, you can get anything you want from Amazon or EBay or Hulu or Soulseek or wherever; but this is the museum experience.
Y'know, a little hole-in-the-wall where you get to walk in and oogle actual physical objects on display. Where you can smell and touch and feel the atmosphere of a room full of music and video that you don't own...yet. Where other intrepid explorers like yourself might walk in the door and strike up a conversation with you or the clerk behind the counter, and speak of esoteric things. If this brings back memories of your wreckless youth or is an experience your "tweety paging, faceyspacing, bliggedy blogging" self has never had; you really should enter and explore.
Next we wanted some hot tea to fortify our foraging, so we hopped in the trusty Volvo and took off down Franklin Street; past the college and on down the hill to Caffe Driade. It's easy to miss. Watch closely on the left for the Garden & Home Antique Shop that it's hidden behind. I believe it's one of those little secret places that locals like to keep to themselves. So, if you go, be respectful of their sanctuary. The thing I love about the place is it's organic quality. It's slightly run-down, very simple and quiet; and seems to have sprouted out of the overgrown woods. They first came to our attention in a restauranteuring magazine, as being nationally recognized for their baristas, who've won a number of competitions. It's your basic coffeehouse, with tea and a few pastries, but for us a refreshing beverage in their unique atmosphere is the biggest draw. We had a couple of presspots of good quality tea out on the patio, with other taciturn couples, book readers and surfers of the internet. After this short respite we were ready to do some serious shopping.
We left the Caffe Driade, turning left onto Franklin. In just a mile or so, there's a large, relatively new shopping area called "Village Plaza" on the right. You'll know it because there'll be a Whole Foods. If you already have a Whole Foods in your town (like Winston does), skip that and go directly to Trader Joe's. I love this grocery store!
We picked up lots of gifts and goodies for the restauarant. They have their own brand of the coolest products, and everything is meticulously labeled with dietary information. They also have the best re-usable grocery bags, insulated bags and absolutely the most amazing kitchen cloth I've ever found! You know, that thing you call your "dishrag" at home!? Well, this is a Trader Joe's "Super Amazing Kitchen Cloth." They come in packs of two; I got some last year, and I'm still using the first one with no signs of wear. They're made from 100% Viscose, a miracle fabric that absorbs over 10 times it's weight in liquid. They wring out completely and never get sour. Love It! The staff is always friendly and helpful and the prices are amazingly low for such beautiful and high quality food.
Next we left Trader Joe's for A Southern Season. This store is like a gourmet food and kitchen accessory store on steroids!! When leaving TJ's go right on Fordham Blvd to South Estes Drive. Turn right at the light and you'll see a large building and parking lot to your right. (It's in a mall we like to call "The 80's Mall" cause it's a time warp in there!) Inside you'll find aisle after aisle with every possible hot sauce, pasta, spice, kitchen utensil, chocolate, etc that you can imagine; the place is just massive!
There's also a small cafe where the "ladies who lunch" go to have a light brunch with lotsa chardonnay before they shop. This is my explanation for the somewhat unusually whacky behavior I've observed in these otherwise normally calm southern women. The combination of wine, unending shopping possibilities and no husband; makes these patrons a little giddy! For me, I just get a little crazy. The first time I went there we had to leave sooner than I had planned because I got so overwhelmed by all the stuff! There are literally hundreds of different kinds of mustard alone!
Now that I've been a few times I can handle it; so don't feel bad if you freak out on your first trip. They have great sales and high quality merchandise. The numerous staff are very helpful and friendly. I highly recommend this store for kitchen gadget junkies.
We headed back up Franklin past the downtown and all we'd done so far, to a place called Carr Mill that we passed on the way in. I believe it's an old mill they've renovated into shops and restaurants. Outside there's a train caboose at the entrance, and across the parking lot; a beautiful little sitting garden with a mosaic covered statue of a lady.
It sits behind the Weaver Street Market, which is also a great natural foods grocery store you might check out. Enter the "Carr Mill" building through an arched brick doorway and you will find many great boutiques, jewelry stores, art galleries and a toy store; but we go for Wootini.
Owner Michael Maher and his crew call themselves "purveyors of oddly awesome curiosities", and that's a fact! The store's been around for six years and there's nothing like it unless your willing to make the trip to New York City. I guess the only way to describe how I felt when I walked in for the first time, was like entering my dreams! It literally took my breath away. It's a beautiful, quiet art gallery space with a store to the back housing shelves full of fantastical creatures staring at you! It's a world of toys and figures designed and built by passionately driven artists who make their visions live in vinyl.
We have a decent collection, some at the restaurant, but most live with us (or a family member). I absolutely love this store and Michael is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. We hope this store goes on for a long time, and you can even visit online at Wootini. On this trip we picked up the new Nahvalli figure, which is made by Wootini themselves!
Now to the best part...people of Winston-Salem (and elsewhere) listen up!! I'm going to tell you about the world-renowned restaurant called Crook's Corner. You are only an hour and a half away from complete culinary nirvana! Do yourself and a loved one a favor, and drive to Crook's Corner...you will thank me. We had reservations at 5:30 pm, ate a leisurely dinner (3 courses) and were home by 8:45pm! You can't beat that.
This restaurant was started by a pioneer in the food world, Bill Neal in 1982. I've read his cook books and biography that portray him as a passionate, intriguing and gifted chef (and human being). I wish I could have met him, but alas; it was not to be. I have however, met Bill Smith, the man who carries the torch for the current Crook's Corner. A sweet and hardworking person I am in total awe of him and what we continues to accomplish. The restaurant is very small, with a great patio courtyard. The menu is small, changes daily and the waitstaff is phenomenal. On this particular visit we got the heads-up from some friends who are on the Crook's Corner e-mail, that they were serving Honeysuckle sorbet. This only happens once (twice at the most) a year. It sounded so intriguing I had to try it.
So we were seated in the courtyard where a soft rain fell in front of us, and we loved that. We were facing a weater feature with blue fish surrounded by lush plants. Our waiter, Kyle, was a total sweetheart. He rode that fine line between being efficiently professional and friendly, with grace and effortless confidence. We noticed the Honeysuckle sorbet wasn't listed on the daily dessert menu, so we asked Kyle if it was available. He said he'd check for us and we ordered our dinner.
I started with a simply delicious lima bean soup and Samb had a chock-full of chicken and hominy soup. Yummy! Samb had iced tea and I had sparkling water, both spiked with the pitcher they bring to your table filled with a lemon and mint simple syrup. Just another detail which takes your dining experience to a higher level. Both of the soups were garnished with little cheesy pig-shaped crackers that melted in your mouth.
My entree was a beautiful salad comprised of a bed of frisee, a pumpkin seed vinagrette and a little cake of local cheese from Blue Moon. This was baked and when split open oozed a rich, creamy river of nutty, cheesy goodness. I spread the cheese on thin slices of crusty bread. Heavenly!
Samb's dinner was called "Fish In paper"; which consisted of Mahi-mahi, cheesey rice, tomato, herbs and veggies baked in a parchement paper with lemon. The fish was moist, delicious and super yummy!
The meal was simple and yet amazing. Of course, what makes the difference from other high-end restaurants is the quality of ingredients, attention to detail, years of experience and the love and care with which each dish is prepared.
But I gotta tell you...I was there for the sorbet that night! Well, Kyle informed us there was some Honeysuckle sorbet available to us! He brought it out in little footed glass bowls, each of which held a perfect, pure white scoop of frozen confection; garnished with a healthy sprig of mint. I felty like a queen receiving a for-royalty-only treasure! Little did I know the pleasure my taste buds were in for.
As the first frosty bite hit my tongue, a wealth of spring memories flooded my mind. To me, the delicate smell of honeysuckle on the breeze always heralds another beautiful North Carolina spring. It was as if I were eating that smell...Divine!! I decided it tasted like what you would imagine spring snow should taste like; and it actually brought tears to my eyes. Kyle came back to check on us and told us the story of how honeysuckle sorbet came to be. Apparently Bill Smith would catch a whiff of the famous odor on his way into work and began wondering to himself, "Surely there's something we can do with this wonderful aroma." Well, the idea formed when he remembered that Spanish cooks use flowers to make icy confections. Bill learned that he'd have to harvest the flowers at night, when they're open to capture their flavor at the height of it's intensity. After many failed batches, he got it to work and the rest is history! It seems, sometimes the vines bloom twice a year, resulting in two batches; but this year's single bloom made this an even more rare and treasured experience. I know I'll never forget the taste of Bill Smith's honeysuckle sorbet.
So, next year in May when your olfactory system catches a whiff of the delicate scent of honeysuckle on the breeze; let your taste buds lead you to Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill. Thank you to everyone in Chapel Hill, NC who's path crossed ours on this day; we had a wonderful time. We both work very hard and don't often get away for long vacations, so these mini-trips mean a lot to us. They refresh and rekindle our souls for the tasks ahead. So, don't hesitate to take your own day trip soon and delight in the places we've mentioned.
Thanks! - Mary & Samb
P.S. - Mary just couldn't let me leave off the picture of the cheesy pig crackers from Crook's!