One sunny Saturday in early December, a group of adventurous foodies gathered in the lobby of the Franklin Hotel in downtown Chapel Hill ready to embark on a walking and eating tour of restaurants in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Only our intrepid leader, Sara with Triangle Food Tour, knew the afternoon’s culinary agenda. As it turned out, the tour mixed a bit of new with established, sweet with savory and included a side of history, leaving everyone well sated and wanting to come back for a second round.
Triangle Food Tour is a locally owned business, leading walking tours around cities in our area, including Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Our tour began just across the street from the Franklin Hotel, at CholaNad, a relative newcomer to Franklin Street, featuring South Indian cuisine. The aroma emanating from the restaurant promised quite a lot and the three-course tasting plate served inside delivered. We eyed the plate of Chicken 65 (a house specialty), spring dosa and milk ball drenched in sweet syrup while the chef owner enthusiastically described CholaNad’s vision and answered our questions. I enjoyed every bite of each dish and was a little concerned that I would be too full from the very first stop to enjoy what was yet to come. But the long walk down Franklin Street to Venable in CarrMill Mall aided digestion nicely.
Venable is another new comer to the Triangle dining scene (and was included in Greg Cox’s Best New Restaurants of 2012 list recently published in the N&O). Though the tour’s second visit, it was my fourth visit to Venable (I’ve made a habit of including them as my pre- or post- ArtsCenter performance dining option when in Carrboro). The group was treated to an artichoke tartine with pine nuts and a glass of white wine at the bar as the chef owner graciously talked with us (I wish I could tell you more about the wine, but I failed to take proper notes being distracted by conversation with my new tour group friends). In no time we were off again, to a long time Carrboro favorite, Glasshalfull where the group enjoyed a warm bowl of wild mushroom risotto and glass of white wine (again, my wine note taking skills are lacking). The chef at Glasshalfull emphasizes incorporation of local, seasonal ingredients from nearby Carrboro Farmers’ Market in its menu. We learn sourcing locally is a common practice for many restaurants in Carrboro as we make one more stop at Panzanella.
Panzanella celebrates its 13th anniversary this month with specials throughout February (in case you needed an excuse to stop by). During our stop on the food tour, we enjoyed their salsa verde of mint, basil & parsley paired with calamari, served family style. Before departing Carrboro, we walked through CarrMill Mall and made a point of ogling the pastries and confections at Miel Bon Bons. Our sweet cravings would soon be satisfied by a gingerbread truffle from The Chocolate Door (since the tour, the shop owners decided to close the shop to focus on family) before we ventured to our final stop at a Chapel Hill landmark, La Residence. Our final bite of the tour was a divine croquette of fondue, Parmesan, gruyere and asiago cheeses, lightly breaded and crisp on the outside and delicious liquid gold on the inside. The chef explained this particular item was not available on the menu, making us his very willing (and extraordinarily lucky) test subjects. I believe the unanimous opinion among the group was that we’d all come back for a plate full of those delights.
Though food is a big part of the tour, our group of former strangers had a chance to become better acquainted with one another and with the cities we visited as we strolled the streets. The tour participants included a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, some Chapel Hill locals discovering new venues in their home town, and some folks from beyond the Triangle eager to explore the area. The afternoon was a delight on many levels. If you were looking for a Valentine’s Day gift, I’d suggest a Triangle Food Tour gift certificate. I think it would be a lovely way to share an afternoon’s adventure with someone special.