Recently, a friend of mine said to me, "If there were a good Vietnamese restaurant in Chapel Hill, I could be happy to live here." Vietnamese food has been one of the last yawning gaps in the Chapel Hill restaurant scene, and for many of us it has been a painful gap (you may think this is a dramatic overstatement, but it's not. When I need a bowl of Pho I need it, not next week but now). Well, help has finally arrived in the form of Lime & Basil in the small space on West Franklin Street that is next to what used to be Michael Jordan's 23 (200 W. Franklin St.).
The bringers of this good fortune are Gracie Vo, the chef and part owner, and Thach Nguyen, Gracie's business partner. Neither partner has ever owned a restaurant before, and it shows--not necessarily in a bad way. For Pho, the great Vietnamese beef and rice noodle soup, many restaurants rely on MSG and the condiments that come alongside the dish to provide the flavor of the broth. But not here--Gracie learned to cook from family, not from a restaurant school. "The broth we use, it basically has to cook all night, overnight to be fresh for the next day. We have pretty much been sleeping here since we opened," she says.
The result is rich and sweet, not in the slightest bit shy. The meats Gracie offers with her Pho aren't shy either--while you can get basic chicken or beef slices if you want, tripe, tendon, and brisket are also available.
Gracie, who is from Brisbane, Australia, came to the Triangle three years ago with her husband, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in economics at Duke. She says she has always had a passion for cooking, and she saw Franklin Street as a great venue for the kind of restaurant she envisioned herself having. And she is part of a trend--Lime & Basil is the third restaurant to open on this stretch of Franklin Street in the last two months. Many business leaders are panicked about the exodus of national chains from Franklin Street, but it may be that Chapel Hill is simply more of a local business oriented town. I can understand why no one would think to go to the Gap on Franklin Street, but I'm hoping I'm right in thinking that there's a large part of the population that would never think of going to the mall to eat.
At least for now, business at Lime & Basil has been jumping. The restaurant was so busy on their first day that they became a little overwhelmed. "I hope no one was upset," Gracie says. "If I was a customer, I might have been a little upset. We weren't expecting so many people, and this is our first time doing this. I hope people understand and come back. We are getting much better at it now."
Lime & Basil's bright green dining room is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day except Sunday for take out and eat in. We should try not to take it for granted--Gracie says that once her husband finishes his degree they'll be heading back to Australia. But in the meantime, some of us can be much happier living in Chapel Hill. After all, who needs Sephora when you've got tripe soup?
Blue Mesa has opened at 5311 Miami Blvd. in Research Triangle Park. The Southwestern restaurant is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Look for weekend hours in the future.
Lotus Leaf Cafe has opened at 969 N. Harrison Ave. in Cary in the former Chef John Cafe location. The Vietnamese cafe with French bistro influences (there is a strong tradition of French/Vietnamese food in Vietnam from the time when the country was a French colony) is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and 5:30 to 11 p.m. for dinner. Look for smoothies and other additions to the menu in the future.
Bakus tapas bar on Ninth Street has re-opened for lunch, Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The restaurant is also featuring half-price tapas after 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Their back deck is now open for outdoor dining.
Coffee bar in the morning, restaurant for lunch and dinner, bar after hours, City Beverage has a lot of hats to wear. The new restaurant has opened across the street from Woodcroft Shopping Center at 4810 Hope Valley Road and is owned by Jim Earnhardt, who is the former owner of 23 Steps in Chapel Hill. Check out their al fresco dining and a late-night menu.
Pop's will be open for graduation dinners May 7-9. On Friday and Saturday, dinner will be a $42 prix fixe three-course menu. They will also be open for a Mother's Day brunch on May 9. Call 956-7677 for reservations.
The Grill at Glen Lennox closed this past month after seven-and-a-half years in business. The restaurant has had a hard time the last couple of years, and the owners decided to concentrate on their new restaurant down the road in Meadowmont, O'Neil's Neighborhood Grill.
The Weathervane and the wine department at A Southern Season present a five-course wine dinner featuring California's Renwood Winery on Wednesday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m. The cost is $50 per person, not including tax and tip. Call 929-9466 for reservations.
The Fearrington House Restaurant will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. May 7-9 for graduation and Mother's Day weekend, serving a six-course $79 prix fixe menu. The restaurant is also holding a cooking retreat on May 2 and 3. The class is part of a package that includes dinner, overnight accommodation, and a gourmet breakfast. The class will be with chef de cuisine Graham Fox, and will focus on cooking with herbs. Call 542-2121 for details.
Carolina Crossroads at the Carolina Inn will be serving a Graduation/Mothers Day brunch on Sunday, May 9, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The cost is $28.95 for adults, $24.94 for seniors and $12.95 for children plus tax and tip. Call 919-918-2777 for reservations.