Note: This restaurant was reviewed in 2005 under the name Trilussa la Trattori
401 W. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC
Review Date: (prior to 1997)
Reviewers: Meg Gallagher, Jeremy Horne, Linda McCall, Nancy McCall, John Meckley, Linda Meckley, and others (?)
Cafe Trilussa is a tiny place, on the corner of Ransom Street, across from the bus station, and next door to the Internationalist Books store. On a nice night there will be a table or two out on the sidewalk, and probably several couples hanging around to be seated. They know, as we learned, that with this pleasantly differently place, "it's definitely not the standard boring offerings."
The menu is vegetarian-friendly. There is a daily soup and several salads for starters. (Both appetizers were fish.) Then, there is a separate selection of vegetarian entrees followed by pasta dishes. (Followed by a slew of "main courses", centered primarily on fish.)
The only salad sampled by our reviewers was a Caesar salad ($5.25). Nancy McCall found "too much spine" in the romaine. (I don't know whether she sought omission of the anchovies, but they were there, too.) Trilussa also offered an "Eloise salad" of mixed greens, spinach, mushrooms, and garlic crostini with balsamic vinaigrette ($4.95), and a "Corfu" salad of romaine lettuce mixed with Caesar dressing, parmesan cheese and croutons ($5.25). They are big plate coverers.
There were four veggie entrees offered, including "Ravigote": mixed greens, wild mushrooms and tomatoes sauteed in olive oil and served over roasted eggplant ($8.95). Linda Meckley was very pleased with this very tasty dish and "really enjoyed the sauce and all the greens," but would have preferred wilder mushrooms. The Melazanne Fritte (eggplant, squash, mushrooms and marinated tomatoes, sauteed in garlic and olive oil, $8.50) was also sampled, and I interpret Jeremy Horne's absence of comment as a modest endorsement. The French Vegetable Curry (fresh peas, carrots, potatoes and onions sauteed in a golden coconut curry sauce, served over rice, $10.95) got an express "so-so" when John Meckley tasted Linda McCall's order. Her report: "I loved the potatoes...but it had a bit too much squash." The fourth veggie entree, a Vegetarian Paella (risotto and seasonal vegetables, served with a lemon garlic saffron sauce, $8.50) was left untasted.
Of the seven pasta dishes, only two were vegetarian. John Meckley liked the Rigatoni Arabbiata (rigatoni sauteed with tomatoes, peppers, onions, spinach and ricotta cheese, $8.50), it was "zesty"! (It is also "mercurial". The second time I dined at Cafe Trilussa, my order of the Arabbiata looked a little strange, with suspicious bits mixed in which I prudently examined to reveal...pork! [The industry euphemism for the rotting, dyed, hormone-laden remains of a murdered pig.] The proper dish, which was excellent, was hurriedly provided, along with profuse apologies. (I wish they'd apologize to the pig, too!)
Meg Gallagher tried the "Orrechiette Baresi Grande" (portabella mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, carrots, peas, and arugula sauteed in a garlic olive oil sauce with orrechiette pasta, $8.95) and observed that the "portions were large." (If she didn't like the food, I guess this would be a negative.)
It was a terse bunch that converged on Franklin Street that night. Two comments were common, though. One, the restaurant is chilly. This is a function of another drawback. The place is literally a hole in the wall, with the door opening into the small, one room dining area. I ate lunch there one week before Christmas, sat near the back, and kept my heavy coat on. Charm and intimacy can quickly metamorphose into shivers and a cramp in the neck.
Common comment number two, Internationalist Books is right next door. This was a plus for our internationalist reviewers. So if you visit on a crowded evening, there's the best kind of browsing just steps away. And the meal is worth the wait.