Post-Vacation Activities

We’ve been curious for some time about Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill. We have seen folks sitting on that wonderful-looking patio, staring down at the crowds, and we wanted to be up there. Perhaps we wanted to recapture something of the experiences we enjoyed at our beloved Six Feet Under in Atlanta, overlooking Oakland Cemetary.

Top of the Hill is too traditional for that, but we enjoyed our lunch there this morning. It was a your typical good bar/restaurant combo, done well–quick service from a nice college student, beginning the meal with the usual “Hi, I’m Alisha, and I’ll be taking care of you this morning”; safe, familiar menu options; and an interesting beer list, which we’ll have to try sometime when we’re not there at noon.

The food was neither spectacular nor disappointing, but for a total of $27 with tip, we can’t complain. Fred’s beer battered fries were the exception–crispy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside. The tomatoes on my shrimp salad with green goddess dressing were surprisingly sweet and flavorful–the advantage of ordering while they’re in season, I suppose. And the rolls were quite good–perfect little warm brioches, luckily for us served with no butter or oil. Fred’s bleu cheese burger was a fine if not memorable example of the genre. My salad was a bit on the small side, as were the shrimp–but enough for me in my state of post-vacation repentance.

But the view–well, that takes everything to a different level. Decent food and comfortable prices, overlooking Chapel Hill so that you can even see the distant hills–what more can you ask of life? As much as I like great restaurants and perfectly prepared food, I found myself offering up a small prayer of thanks that this beautiful spot had not been taken over by a place that only the wealthiest diners could afford, and that the owners were taking care of us little people quite nicely.

There was only one thing to do when we got home.

Louise, however, remained ever vigilant, on the off chance that a stray piece of food might jump out of the fridge.


We spent a happy Memorial Day Weekend Friday at Vespa in Chapel Hill. We love Vespa. And yet I know we really shouldn’t.

Why? Because they serve several dishes that are just not quite perfect, and with a $92 tab for two they should be getting there. (That includes tip, three drinks, entrees, salads, and bread.) Take the pasta with seafood and tomato sauce that Fred ordered–basically clams, scallops, and mussels served over linguini. (My horrible habits as a reviewer are again revealed; I never wrote down the name). The sauce was exactly right–a little brothy, a wee bit spicy, just the right amount of herbs. But the scallops had been cooked a hair past perfection and were turning rubbery around the edges.

My dish had similar issues. I ordered Penne al Fumo (at least, that’s whay my pathetic excuse for a memory recalls), which was basically smoked salmon in a tomato cream sauce with peas over penne. Again, everything was as it should be, except that the peas were, again, a teensy bit overcooked, having slipped from bright green into greenish-yellow. Perhaps they were related to the salmon.

But despite the prices and the imperfections, we’ll go back. We love being greeted and warmly welcomed by the owner. We love the warm interior, the patio with the cedar bushes and the white tablecloths, the attentive staff. We also love some of the dishes–like the house salad, simply but perfectly done with tomatoes, greens and just the right amount of vinaigrette, and the pasta dishes that do not involve seafood. We like sitting on Franklin Street and watching the earnest Chapel Hillians and UNC students stroll buy, though we do not like thinking about how very old we must look to them. And most of all, I think I like going to a place that does not remind of my former life here, and that makes me think of Italy, and of new possibilities, no matter how imperfect they may be.