Meet the new kids on the block
By Matthew Lardie
To say the past year and a half has been challenging for restaurants would be the understatement of the century, but despite a global pandemic and all it entailed, a few brave souls pushed forward and opened new eateries that have quickly become community favorites. These “new kids on the block” are a mix of fresh faces and old hands at the restaurant game, but each has brought something exciting to the dining scene.
“We have loved that neighborhood in Chapel Hill for a long time,” Giorgios says. “Osteria Georgi sits on a beautiful corner, and we love the walking traffic around it and so many guests living and shopping nearby. This space has great structure with lots of light and a garden patio, too – something that is always important to us – to connect the indoors with the outdoors whenever possible.”
After stints at Eleven Madison Park and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Culinary Institute of America-trained Dan Jackson returned to his hometown of Chapel Hill to serve as executive chef Osteria Georgi. His menu features dishes like zuppa di zucca (a zucchini and buttermilk soup); a grilled steak with cannellini beans, spinach and salsa verde; and a selection of homemade pastas.
“We take a seasonal approach to Italian cooking and try to honor the history of Italian cooking while also taking a modern approach to recipes and techniques,” Dan says. He points to one dish in particular that has become an Osteria Giorgi classic. “We are best known for our sformato,” he says. “It has become a signature dish. It’s a Parmesan custard. It’s a sweet and savory dish. We use the best Parmigiano-Reggiano and local eggs from Latta’s Egg Ranch. It’s a very simple and a beautiful, light but flavorful way to begin, but we also have customers who like to end the meal with it in place of dessert, sort of like a cheese course.”
Both Dan and Giorgios have enjoyed becoming a part of the community of new restaurants and residents along South Elliott Road. “It’s … so well-situated and easy to access if you’re coming from outside of Chapel Hill,” Giorgios says. “We have always loved being part of this joyful community and look forward to many, many years to come.”
Dan adds, “I want guests to leave saying that they can’t wait to come back. I love hearing that they enjoy the food, but what I really love is to hear they enjoyed the whole experience – that the food, service and ambiance all worked so well together to create a memorable experience – and they want to come back!”
Dame’s Chicken & Waffles
Dame’s has garnered a reputation for delicious chicken and waffles, and each of its locations is chock-full of hungry diners on a near daily basis. Its fourth (and newest) spot at 147 E. Franklin St. is no different. Co-founder Damion “Dame” Moore and his team are offering the same menu available at the other locations, with the big draw being what they call their world famous waffle inspirations.
Customers can choose from a selection of chicken-and-waffle combos like The Carolina Cockerel (three fried chicken wings on a blueberry waffle with peach-and-apricot “shmear,” a flavored butter) or the Orange Speckled Chabo (a chicken cutlet on a sweet potato waffle with orange- honeycomb shmear and a honey-Dijon drizzle), or they can create their own by choosing from any combination of chicken, waffle flavor and house-made shmear.
Other menu items include Mimi’s Sassy Shrimp, a take on shrimp and grits that sees jumbo shrimp sauteed alongside smoked chicken sausage in a house spice blend, served over cheese grits. A Hot Mess, Seriously? are two eggs served in a bowl with cheese, turkey bacon or sausage, and grits, served in a bowl and drizzled with ketchup and hot sauce (“no exceptions” reads the menu).
To accommodate the rush of students and downtown lunchtime diners, given its prime location on East Franklin Street, the Chapel Hill Dame’s is a counter-service restaurant as opposed to sit down. But other than that, the Dame’s experience remains the same as it was when Damion and his co-founder, Randy Wadsworth, opened the first Dame’s Chicken & Waffles in Durham in 2010.
After stints with some of the area’s best chefs and a three-month research tour of Europe with stops in Italy, France, Spain and a visit to his ancestral hometown of Karlovac, Croatia, David Peretin returned to Carrboro to pour all that experience into Tesoro, a European- style cafe and restaurant built around a core menu of handmade pastas.
The 18-seat, pasta-focused restaurant opened on East Weaver Street, across from Weaver Street Market, in mid- August. Here in his own restaurant, David will use the French techniques he picked up from all the chefs he’s worked under (including Gabe Barker at Pizzeria Mercato, Matt Kelly at St. James and Colin Bedford at Fearrington House Restaurant) to put his own spin on traditional Italian pastas, with a bit of Croatian flair tossed in.
“The Croatian component is something that felt very necessary after the trip,” David says. “My great-grandfather emigrated from Karlovac, Croatia, when he was 12. Some of my earliest connections to food are from that side of my family, and I knew I wanted to pay homage to that. “The commonality between French, Italian and Croatian cuisine felt like an appropriate blend that fit the ethos I was after for my own place.”
The menu is a combination of small plates like arancini (fried rice balls with risotto, Parmesan and salsa Calabrese), bruschetta and homemade meatballs, along with the pasta. That section is slated to feature a classic spaghetti with tomato, basil and olive oil; a torchietti pasta with pancetta and Grana Padano cheese; and a gnocchi dish with lamb ragu sauce and Paški Sir, a sheep’s milk cheese from the Croatian island of Pag.
David plans to import the casual vibe of European cafes as well. “Our servers won’t have ‘uniforms,’” he says. “We will cook in T-shirts, and sometimes the music might get a little loud late at night. We’ll only be open five days a week so our team members can have balance and be in a space where they know their life as a whole is valued.”
“Overall, I want Tesoro to feel personal for people,” David adds. “I want it to be a place where people gather and genuinely feel like their day is better when they leave.”
Mosaic Cafe & Bistro
The place and the people might be familiar, but Mosaic offers a whole new dining experience in Carrboro. The team behind the renovated millhouse’s former occupant, the upscale French restaurant Provence, decided to use the time during the pandemic to reimagine what the community might need.
“We should use this opportunity to turn the restaurant into something more ‘Carrboro,’” general manager Brian Cansler remembers thinking. “It kind of became a rebirth.”
The team, including owner and restaurateur Baptist Knaven and executive chef David Arrington, decided to do away with the more formal, fine dining experience of Provence and turn Mosaic into a cafe and bistro, with coffee and pastries available during the day alongside sandwiches, soups and wraps. They remodeled the whole interior with new floors, paint, furniture and kitchen equipment.
“I would say we’ve done a 170, not quite a full 180,” Brian laughs. Fans of Provence’s classic French cuisine needn’t fear too much – some old favorites like the onion soup, escargot and mussels make an appearance on the new menu. Other popular items include the fried olives and the unique take on the traditional bread-and-butter basket – homemade naan served with homemade paneer cheese.
With a nearly $50,000 investment in the outdoor patio space, Brian hopes Mosaic becomes more of a neighborhood joint as opposed to a special occasion restaurant. There are plans to reinstate the popular wine dinner series, as well as have regular live music on the patio. “I want people who live down the street to come every week,” Brian says.