The best way, to learn a language, they say, is to immerse yourself in it. I spent the past few weeks learning Italian by traveling with a few, and sitting at dinners, and riding in cars, when the only words being tossed about were in a language other than my own. And it really works! I experienced the local, beautiful, delicious food of the Research Triangle (North Carolina) with una banda dei Italiani, and it was bene, molto bene.
In Chapel Hill, there is una piccolo piazza where all the food is terrific, "the corner of yum and delish," I like to call it. For breakfast, you hit 3 cups, local coffee haven, where coffee is shade grown, locally roasted and seriously good. For lunch, you can head next door to Sandwhich, where a sign prooudly announces that SLOW FOOD = GOOD FOOD. As you are sitting there eating your pancetta, mozarella and arugula sandwich, you can see one of the owners of the local Chapel Hill Creamery arrive with the day's delivery of fresh handmade cheese. Sit outside and enjoy the ridiculously good weather, then head around the plaza to Locopops, where they make a multitude of popsicles using local ingredients, with such flavors as Mexican Chocolate and Honeydew Balsamic Mint.
By now you'll be ready for dinner, and you'll head into Lantern Restaurant. Really, you are not allowed to eat dinner anywhere else, go to Lantern, go directly to Lantern (Do not pass go, do not collect $200). Chef/owner Andrea Reusing is creating completely local, seasonal, Asian infused American food. Every single thing on the menu is a homerun. I recommend everything, and since it's seasonal, the things I had won't be there when you go, but whatever is there will wow you. Start with a Junebug (it's a cocktail), and if you can, do like we did and share all of your appetizers. Don't be shy about taking the last boccone (bite) of the pig's head terrine shmeared on hot pane (bread) served wrapped in a banana leaf. And don't be scared of the sea urchin sauce on the scallops sashimi--I promise it's wonderful (taste the crack of sea salt as you bite in).
If anyone, Italian or otherwise, invites me back to this neck of the woods (I didn't even mention the pickled pig's ear salad I had at the BBQ, or the emu in balsamic and fregole (strawberry) sauce I had in Raleigh), I will say without hesitation: Si! Andiamo! Or as the Piedmontese say, Duma!