By Renee Ambroso
On late-summer evenings when the sun crawls slowly toward the horizon, light pours through the greenhouse-style glass ceiling of the “sunroom” at 411 West. Plenty of plants – both live and splashed across canvases – accompany the restaurant’s mix of Italian, Mediterranean and California-casual menu full of pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven and handmade pastas.
At the front door, a small stone figurine of a woman greets guests. Inspired by the Flower Ladies, women who once hawked flowers on Franklin Street, the piece was created by muralist Michael Brown, and patrons know her as “Stella.” She shares the name with a type of Italian Gorgonzola and also a salad that has been a menu staple since 411 West opened in 1991.
Crisp cucumber, tomatoes, walnuts roasted in the pizza oven and smoky grilled onions are tossed with mixed greens to make the Stella. “Everything on the plate that could be local was,” says Chapel Hill Restaurant Group partner Tommy O’Connell. The bold blue cheese adds richness to the salad that is dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Another CHRG partner, Greg Overbeck, says, “What I love about the salad [is that] … Jon [Dowse], our chef, actually raises some of the lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes that we use. We’re a local company that’s locally owned … the Stella salad is a great example of that.” In addition to Jon’s produce, area farmers such as Latta Family Farms supply 411’s kitchen. Since its inception, the restaurant has sought out locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, even the white oak that fuels the pizza oven.
Sourcing ingredients from nearby farms means working with the seasons, so the salad varies slightly from week to week. “Sometimes we might put arugula, and sometimes we might use cress for a more peppery taste,” Greg says. “Sometimes the tomatoes are a little sweeter … it changes as the season goes along.”