You can't eat a Wake. Or a Chatham. But you sure can eat an Orange. And I like to think that you can take that as a sign. Sort of like a crop circle or a cheeseburger that looks like Jesus. You know what I mean? Now, admittedly, it would have been better if our forebearers had called this patch of the new world Cantaloupe County, if just for the way it sounds. But face it: They had buckles on their shoes and wore strange, poofy wigs, so that is probably asking a bit too much.
Now, I am of the generation that does not by default take pictures of dinner. No. And I tend to think of food as pleasure first and foremost. As they like to say, hunger is the best sauce. And if you are hungry, living here ain't too shabby. To say the least.
The Taco Truck that parks at Johnny's in Carrboro has the most delicious lamb stew-type creation. Their consommé de borrego (as it's called en español) is full of chickpeas and cilantro and plenty of the requisite lamb. Add some of their salsa verde, a few squeezes of fresh lime, then get a few warm corn tortillas and you will find yourself in paradise.
If, instead of paradise, you want to land in a kingdom, then head to Gourmet Kingdom. This is righteous Chinese food—Szechuan style. Try eggplant with garlic sauce or the Kung Pao lotus root or the duck tongues or the fiery cumin lamb or ... you get the picture. Yum. Take friends so you can share.
To round out the Carrboro trifecta, head to Carrboro Plaza and Anna Maria's Pizza for the eggplant parmesan pizza. To be fair, the lasagna pizza is equally ridiculous. With all the fancy-shmancy pizza out there these days, it's nice to have a pie with some soul. And plenty of cheese. Plenty.
Now, over in Chapel Hill, Min-Ga is great fun. If you've never had dinner at a Korean restaurant, it is quite a production. Your table fills with delicious condiments. Then all you have to do is make sure you order the hot stone pot bibimbap. Awesome. They also have daily specials that are always worthy of your attention.
It would be remiss to not mention Allen & Son BBQ. This is North Carolina, after all. And pork is king for a reason. But let me be clear, I'm talking about the Orange County version of Allen & Son. They still smoke the shoulders the old-fashioned way, with real hickory. And they do it all right there. This is North Carolina pit-cooked BBQ at its apex. Especially with hush puppies, onion rings and sweet tea. Can I get an amen?
And then there's chocolate, the fifth food group. Around here, the chocolate gravity pulls you north, to Hillsborough and Matthew's Chocolates on Churton Street. It's like that movie Chocolat except without Johnny Depp, and, well, it's not in France. But who cares. That unavoidable hedonism and lust for the downright delicious is the same. Standing in line, I'm always afraid that I'm going to have to take someone out if they buy the last chocolate Buddha. Because these chocolates make me that greedy. And because eating a god doesn't suck.
Of course, that isn't all. To be honest, I've barely scratched the culinary surface. And I mean barely. But that's half the fun—finding the great places to eat. And we certainly have our share. So, what's holding you back? Because if you're waiting for a sign, see above. Capisce?
Kevin Callaghan is the chef/owner of Acme Food & Beverage in Carrboro.