Pyewacket (This restaurant is now closed)
431 West Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC
Review Date: (prior to 1997)
Reviewers: Lynda Wait, Allen Huffman, Dilip Barman, Gail Riley, Siew Yang, Brett Bednarcyk, Glenn Abbey, Joy An
What a difference a frame of reference makes! Nearly all of our reviewers loved their food at our outing at Pyewacket. "Very good" and "delicious" and "very tasty" were common refrains. Almost everyone commented on the atmosphere, too: a cozy lounge looks out onto Franklin Street, the rear of the smallish restaurant is set in glass within a courtyard complete with gardens, fountains, and statuary. The thoroughfare from the front back, where we sat, half the group on a cushioned bench along the wall, was very comfortable. But the Pyewacket veterans among us were more discerning, and were uniform in their lament of limited fare. The consensus: while plainly a great place to dine, Pyewackets unfulfilled potential can sully your judgment over time.
The appetizers and salads did not disappoint. Seven of the thirteen were vegetarian, and our resident vegan, Joy Anandi, raved over the Onion Soup, it was light and rich, acceptable to Joy without the chewy cover of baked mozzarella. (I liked it too, but prefer the gooey mozzarella lid.) Dilip and I, always in the spirit and eager, shared Hummus and the Cheese and Jalapeno Quesadilla. He liked them both: the Hummus was "good, nice and lemony, [but he wished] it had more garlic" and the Quesadilla was "nice & hot (pepper-wise)." I found the Hummus fine but the quesadilla dry and boring. (Too, Dilip wished for more salsa. I wonder, could he not flag the waiter, or was that desire an afterthought?)
Our waiter, now that I mention it, did inspire comment. It took him a while to report to the table, and when he did, he admitted no knowledge of our review, and got a little "testy" at our questioning about fundamental ingredients. But apart from his impatience over our interrogation (and ours over his indifference), the service was fine. So had Dilip craved salsa as he scarfed quesadilla, it would have been his. I have enjoyed their Spanakopita and salads on many other occasions, and they are quite good. In fact, I've had all kinds of dishes at Pyewacket over the past eight years, and I honestly don't remember a bad one.
The menu, now that I mention that, changes every three weeks or so, or so our waiter assured us, in the midst of our group lament when we learned the number of veggie entrees. (He did acknowledge, in an aside, that a given incarnation might very well have fewer veggie entrees... When I returned to Pyewacket the other night after Apple Chill [April 30], it was again three out of thirteen entrees: the same Lasagna Verde, a different Mexican dish, and Indonesian Curried Rice.)
Thirteen diners, three veggie entrees, and we only sampled the Chili Rellenos and Thai Vegetables and Noodles! The Rellenos, two chilies stuffed with cheddar cheese, battered and deep-fried, were served with black beans and rice. "Nice flavor, but a little too greasy" noted Dilip. "Good food, but nothing to write home about," noted Glenn, a Pyewacket veteran, concluding "this place has done much better in the past." Rondi Eliott also commented that "there were far fewer options than I remember...The variety was poor for vegetarians." Lauren Bednarcyk found the range of selection "disappointing." Her Thai vegetables were "very tasty," but she dispatched them with faint praise: "It was a nice twist on the typical pasta primavera most restaurants provide as their 'token' vegetarian dish." Thai Vegetables and Noodles, happily, were uniformly acclaimed. "Crunchy and fresh and done just right" says it all, almost. "I liked the spiciness," added Lynda Wait. It was also presented well and topped with chopped peanuts, which added an unusual touch. Thirteen eaters, three veggie entrees, and nobody ordered the Lasagna Verde. (I've had it many times. Super. The way lasagna ought to be: stacked and layered with lots of spinach, mushrooms, and ricotta. Especially hearty with their "excellent", "fresh tasty bread.")
I neglected to record their desserts. There was a good selection, but we were mostly stuffed. (Quantity was another positive remark.) Glenn reminds me that "there were no egg-free desserts." Gail Riley's sole review comment was the German Chocolate Cake was wonderful." I had Onion Soup and sampled several appetizers. I finished the Thai Noodles heaped on my plate and washed it down with red wine. So then I had Chocolate Fudge Pie and coffee. A marvelous finish.
Most folks become vegetarians in stages, first eliminating red meat, then fish and fowl. (Those who achieve veganism, too, apparently, travel through similar "lacto-ovo" and "lacto" stages.) I note this phenomenon because it helps explain, I think, why I expected more at our outing at Pyewacket. I had not dined there in a while, and remembered it as a great place for vegetarian fare. But when our gang of thirteen sat down to peruse our menus, we were disappointed to learn that only three of the twelve entrees were vegetarian, and only one was vegan. I realized then that my many previous visits to Pyewacket had been during my "no meat, but fish" stage. Then, a menu centered agreeably on well-prepared seafood pleased me. Now, such a menu, with seven fish dishes, was only limiting. But Pyewacket is more than a nice, cozy restaurant.
"Don't they have music on weekends?" queried Dilip in his notes. No, but they have music on other nights, during the week, up front in the lounge. Modern jazz (smooth electric guitar, stand-up bass, keyboards, small drum kit, that kind of thing), or blues, or sometimes bluegrass, folk, Irish--all with no cover and all played at a volume which permits conversation (except maybe right in front.) They passed the hat. You can sip Bass or Guinness (or whatever you like). And enjoy their limited, yet quite good, vegetarian fare.