Sunday, 11 August 2013

Where to eat in Carrboro/Chapel Hill: Acme Food and Beverage Co.

I once had a friend who remarked on how, as you get older, family outings are increasingly centered on food. When he first expressed this opinion, I wasn't sure that I agreed, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that he was probably right. When you no longer need to entertain and distract kids with activities and excitement, it's easier to just sit back, relax, and enjoy a good spread. You may even take entire trips with no purpose other than to check out a new restaurant, or you may--as I did recently--take a vacation where the only scheduled activity is the eating. As much as I like sightseeing and learning about new places and cultures, I must admit that it's also pretty wonderful to have a string of days during which your only major concern is getting to dinner on time.

I haven't had one of those vacations for a very long time, but finally had the opportunity to do so last month when I was visiting family in the US. This was made possible by my second cousin's generous donation of her family's holiday home at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. The house is spacious enough to accommodate three couples--my cousin and her husband, my parents, and Sasha and me. We sat on the beach during the day, then ate delicious food at night. What more could you ask for?

Our first night together helped set the culinary tone for the week. We ate out at the Acme Food and Beverage Co. in Carrboro, a small but interesting suburb of Chapel Hill. I sampled quite a few Carrboro eateries when I briefly lived there during my time as a visiting researcher at UNC and Duke; however, I never managed to make my way to Acme.

The place was pretty packed even at 8 PM on a Wednesday, which I take as a sign that it is a popular destination for local foodies. Luckily, we had reservations, so we were immediately able to get a seat in the (very dimly lit) interior portion of the restaurant. I started off the evening with an insalata caprese that was accompanied, a bit unusually, by some deviled eggs.

Insalata caprese (made from heirloom tomatoes) with a pepper chutney and deviled eggs
Other starters at our table included the tomato and cucumber gazpacho (my cousin) and the grapefruit, jicama, and avocado salad (my mom). As you might guess from these selections, Acme places an emphasis on using fresh seasonal ingredients and, when possible, sources them from local growers.

Tomato and cucumber gazpacho

Grapefruit, jicama, and avocado salad with arugula, red onions, and feta cheese vinaigrette

My cousin's husband and both I chose the pan-seared Outer Banks scallops, which came with wild mushrooms and a cauliflower puree. [As I have probably noted before, the size difference between UK and US scallops is amazing; the American ones are much bigger, though they tend to be less sweet than the local scallops I frequently order when we go out to eat in Falmouth.] My dish had a lot of competing flavors, but I thought they complemented each other nicely; rather than being an overwhelming jumble of food, it was a rich and interesting concoction--so much so that I continued to nibble at it even after I was full.

Pan-seared Outer Banks scallops with cauliflower and gruyere puree, Swiss chard, wild mushroom broth, tomato concasse, and truffle oil.
My dad was also quite pleased with his order of core sound shrimp succotash, while my cousin and mom both enjoyed the tuna special.

Core sound shrimp succotash with sweet corn, butter beans, tomatoes, rice, and basil pesto.

The pan-seared tuna--one of the evening's specials
Sasha ordered the flash-fried North Carolina catfish, which he said was tasty but a bit overwhelming; he is not a huge lover of fried food, and he thought this style of preparation would be slightly less greasy than it was. Still, he enjoyed the overall composition of the dish--even the boiled peanuts, which my cousin eyed with great suspicion.

Flash-fried NC catfish with boiled peanut and tomato pan sauce, black-eyed peas and rice, and homemade tartar sauce.
After all that, some people still had room for dessert. I didn't, though I did manage to make my way through a glass of port. My cousin ordered the butterscotch pudding, which I had found to be one of the most appealing choices on the menu; she let me have a taste, and I can verify that it was quite flavorful.

Butterscotch pudding with chocolate sauce and whipped cream

Her husband ordered a rich chocolate cake that came in a pool of berry coulis, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top:

Chocolate cake
My only real regret of the evening was that we didn't park farther away from the restaurant; by the time we left our table, I was so stuffed that I could have used a short walk to promote digestion and burn some calories. However, if that is your biggest complaint about an establishment, then it has obviously done something right. It was certainly a good reward after a long day of driving (from Ohio to North Carolina), and a great way to kickstart our week of sun, fun, and food.

Acme is located at 110 East Main Street, Carrboro, North Carolina, 27510. Phone: 919-929-2263.

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