Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Carolina Inn's Crossroads reopens with more approachable look, menu

Sunburst trout filet - PHOTO BY JILL WARREN LUCAS
  • Sunburst trout filet
Nearly four months after closing for major renovations, the restaurant and lounge at Chapel Hill's Carolina Inn have traded spaces and reopened with a new look and name.

The Inn announced the planned renovation of Carolina Crossroads—now named Crossroads Chapel Hill— in March at the institution's 90th anniversary celebration. The new digs look so different you might find yourself stopping in the hallway to reconsider your bearings. Conservatively clubby furnishings have yielded to a less formal, more contemporary elegance that trades white linen tablecloths for marble tabletops and understated Rosenthal china. While it should satisfy longtime patrons, the redesign is bound to make Crossroads attractive to younger diners who found the former setting stuffy, too.

Walls are gone, clearing out the lounge, which now opens onto one of the Triangle's most inviting lawns. The famous Front Porch, which will feature a few more Fridays on the Front Porch music events this season as well as Tailgate'Inn gatherings during home UNC football games, is set with cozy dining tables and outdoor sofas and chairs.

As before, the fare focuses on regionally sourced ingredients prepared in a mostly Southern style, evidenced by a soft opening late last week. Diners can choose from the bar or restaurant menus, or a mix of each. The affordable all-day bar menu features "sharing jar" appetizers ($5 each or three for $14) like silky butterbean hummus with confit olive and "snacks" ($7–$12) such as the crispy fried green tomatoes topped with a tingly blend of horseradish sauce and crumbled blue cheese. "Plates" range from the Crossroads Salad ($8) to a six-ounce steakburger ($9) and BBQ shrimp po'boy ($12), making Crossroads a reasonable splurge.

The signature cocktails I tried, the Carolina Lemonade and Blackberry Fizz ($10 each), were not especially memorable, though the server was successful in suggesting wines to complement entrees chosen from the restaurant's dinner menu. A glass of Carletto Pinot Grigio ($9) was just right for the clean flavors of roasted apple, corn and Swiss chard with cider moonshine reduction. It supported a plump, perfectly cooked Sunburst trout filet ($22). And a robust pour of Belltown Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) was a good choice for cutting through the richness of the fork-tender short rib pot roast with lightly roasted fall vegetables ($24).

There are plenty of other temptations on the menu, including vegetarian-friendly mushroom-and-Carolina-Gold-rice cakes with stewed pigeon peas, pumpkin and braised kale ($18) and wild boar meatloaf with buttermilk smashed potatoes and charred carrots ($23). Next time...

You'll be able to boast of extraordinary resolve if you're able to push away the dessert menu ($5–$10) without placing an order. We were unable to resist the gingery pear crisp topped with a quenelle of sorghum-butter pecan ice cream and pistachio pie garnished with mascarpone and a drizzle of the inn's signature honey.

Crossroads is still led by Executive Chef James Clark, who is as happy with the $400,000 behind-the-scenes improvements in the kitchen as he is with the splendid dining room. New refrigerators have been installed and the work flow improved to serve hotel guests and diners who should fill the added seats. The kitchen was closed three days longer than planned because the 40-year-old ventilation system's replacement needed a new steel infrastructure to support its weight.

"It was frustrating, but it's great now," Clark said while surveying the meals, many of them cooked on his favorite battered old pans."We couldn't get rid of those. That's where all the goodness comes from."
This post first appeared in Indy Week.

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