Tucked behind an unassuming strip mall in the heart of Franklin Street, Butternut Squash is a new vegetarian restaurant in Chapel Hill that is worth the search. The food is fresh, the menu is diverse and the service was great. I went to this restaurant with my favorite carnivore curmudgeon. He was a little grumbly about the prospect of eating at a vegetarian restaurant, so I promised that if he walked away hungry after eating here I’d take him to go get a burger…
The restaurant is a little hard to find and I’m sure that they suffer from folks not knowing it’s even there. You have to go behind a building and scan a bit to find the doorway. It’s a small space with clean lines and was filled with sunshine on a Saturday morning. We came right when lunch was being served and only one other table was occupied. Within about 30 minutes, another two tables were filled so I’m sure that they can still fill the tables despite the awkward location.
Butternut Squash restaurant serves lunch and dinner and brunch on the weekends. When we got there, the items off the brunch menu were finished being served for the day, but the cheese grits and biscuits with vegan sausage gravy looked interesting to me. I’ll definitely come back to check them out.
The menu included a variety of small plate tapas including spinach pie, feta basil dip with peppers, and flash fried goat cheese. We started with the hummus and crispy fried tofu. The carnivore curmudgeon is a little afraid of tofu, but he happily consumed the freshly baked vegan rolls and olive oil that was brought to our table. I didn’t mind at all that he’s not a tofu fan because that left more tofu for the rest of us. It was perfectly fried, light and not a bit gooey. The hummus, served with ample pine nuts, was smooth and tangy. It went very well with the fried tofu.
Meanwhile, it was difficult to order our main dish due to the large variety of vegetarian and vegan items – pizza, burgers, pasta, sandwiches, hot wings, lettuce rolls, curry and more. There are also weekly farmers market specials, using fresh in-season ingredients, to add to the variety.
I ordered the farmers market special of rice tacos stuffed with eggplant, topped with a spicy salsa fresca, sounded really good. It was served with a giant spinach side salad with a fresh green dressing. (Yes, I forgot completely forgot to write down what kind of dressing it was. Perhaps that’s because I was starving and ready to dig in.) The rice formed a unique taco “shell” that surrounded the rest of the ingredients. It was so good that I would have loved to have one more taco and a little less of the salad.
The pizza special was a whole wheat pizza base topped with olive oil, spinach, tomato, tempeh bacon, and cheddar cheese. The tempeh bacon added a smoky flavor to the dish and was quite satisfying and I believe one comment at our table was, “The tempeh tastes like actual bacon! Taste it!”
The carnivore crumudgeon ordered the 3 cheese sandwich served with fresh herbs, tomatoes, red onion and avocado. He declared it a success…until he hit the pesto in the second half of the sandwich. It was as if the avocado in the one half was replaced with pesto. The avocado was gone. The curmudgeon is not a fan of pesto so it’s quite understandable about why it hit a sour note. In fact, the description on the menu said nothing about pesto (but perhaps it was the “fresh herbs”?) The highlight of the whole meal came from a little unassuming side dish of red cabbage and carrots. For such a simple dish, it had really complex flavors. It had an asian flavor to it provided by what we determined to be sesame seeds and sesame oil. I could have eaten much more of it but had to give up trying since it was served with the curmudgeon’s meal and he quickly laid claim to it.
The highest form of praise for a vegetarian restaurant is one where a carnivore curmudgeon can walk away full and satisfied. In fact, my curmudgeon never once mentioned that he wanted me to pay up on my offer to stop for a hamburger on the way home. In fact, he commented that when he comes back he’d order the 3 cheese sandwich – sans pesto. Oh, and he wanted to return to try the omelet for breakfast, too.
133E West Franklin Street
University Square, Chapel Hill, NC 27516