If you find yourself wondering where to eat next time you’re in Chapel Hill, you should ask someone how to get to the Carolina Inn’s Crossroads Restaurant and Bar—for there you will find at least two of the most hauntingly satisfying dishes the Tar Heel town has to offer. Having attended a recent six-course tasting dinner, I have to keep telling my mouth that I cannot get into the car and drive from Durham to Chapel Hill to enjoy more of Chef James Clark’s innovations. I worry I might wake one night finding myself halfway there, my taste buds somehow having commandeered the rest of the my body. Lucky for me, I live but 20 minutes away.
The pulled duck confit sandwich is among the best things—literally—I’ve ever tasted, and as a sandwich girl, that’s saying something. This is an elegant interpretation of a grilled cheese, one that sports duck, fig preserves, caramelized onions, and Swiss. Chef Clark takes it a step further by using Duke’s mayonnaise instead of butter to grill this masterpiece to golden, crunchy perfection. The farmer’s bread is just the right amount of rustic to complement the gaminess of the duck.
What is now my favorite sandwich was presented as part of the first course amongst a trio of items Crossroads features on its lunch menu, including a seared Ahi tuna BLFGT (bacon, fried green tomato, and spicy aioli) and a truffle mushroom sandwich made with portobello, sottocenere (a soft truffle-infused cheese), and onion aoli. I knew with the first bite my sandwich bar had just risen to a new level, and with that was a bit worried I would spend the next five courses feeling underwhelmed.
The rest of the meal showcased menu items such as the crispy lamb terrine with creamed cabbage, onion vinaigrette, and granny smith apple salad, as well as the hidden taste potential found within two ordinary catches—Carolina coast triggerfish and white grunt. The fish were tender and flaky, the trigger sitting atop crisp pork belly, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, and corn milk butter, the grunt on a bed of confit of leeks, yellow beets, celery root horseradish purée, and watercress.
But the other main highlight of the meal was found in the second course of crispy oysters, served atop a country ham leek reduction and topped with a sunchoke relish. Since moving to the South about eight years ago, I have had a hard time understanding why some folks are so gaga for oysters. This course brought it home for me. They were creamy, the saltiness of the ham and the brightness of the relish delicately sandwiched the oysters in bold, yet harmonic flavors.
The trio of desserts served as a tasty affirmation that I love bread pudding, chocolate, and red velvet cake. A girl could used to all three of those flavor profiles after dinner each night. Having to choose just one will be quite depressing next time I dine there – for there will be a next time.
You do not have to be a guest at the hotel to enjoy the food, so there really is no excuse. But if you live too far away, then at least make Chef Clark’s oysters at home (recipe below). I guarantee that after popping one of these little gems, you will find a way to make it to the inn.
Executive Chef James Clark of The Carolina Inn’s Crossroads Restaurant share one of his favorite dishes, Crispy Oysters. These flavorful breaded and fried oysters are served with country ham and leak reduction topped with an artichoke relish. These delicious oysters are irresistible, so be sure to make plenty for sharing and definitely seconds for all.