Here’s a puzzle for you: It’s a Saturday afternoon and you want to go out to eat where you can watch the Carolina Football game with your nine closest friends, but kickoff is in twenty minutes and the group wants to meet in a convenient location in town with parking. Where do you go?
It may be an oddly specific set of criteria, but it’s a challenge that plagues locals looking to watch a big game in downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro nearly every weekend. While the intimate spaces of most restaurants around Franklin Street are charming in their own right, they make it almost impossible to find a seat with a good view of a television without having to stake a seat out nearly an hour and a half before the game starts. And it’s even harder trying to find convenient parking. It’s certainly a testament to the incredible sports culture in the area, and the newest branch of Charlotte’s successful Hickory Tavern has moved in to help.
Only three months old, there is certainly nothing modest about the new Hickory Tavern location on Main Street in Carrboro. Located under the large Hampton Inn development, the restaurant boasts forty beers on tap, fifty TVs, a covered terrace, and a wide-open dining area. I arrived right before the dinner rush on a Thursday afternoon and was promptly seated at a high-top near the bar. There were twelve TVs in my direct line of sight and I counted at least twenty-seven in full view of my seat, all tuned to various sporting events. My waitress, Courtney, was knowledgeable and patient as I worked my way through their fairly large menu. Courtney suggested the crab dip and hot wings and I was in the mood for fish tacos, so I placed my order and tried to choose which of the nine games they had playing to watch.
The Crab Dip ($5 for a small order, $9.5 for large) was a surprisingly light affair, with nine pita points arriving with my small order. Despite its cream cheese base, the sparse addition of diced onions and celery created a pleasant balance reminiscent of tartar sauce. The crab was very abundant, though I was slightly disappointed to see it had been thoroughly mixed with the other ingredients instead of allowing for large chunks to remain. The most satisfying part of the dish by far was breaking through the browned crust on top to collect the very first scoop, and a squeeze of lemon before each bite added one more level of freshness that made the appetizer wholly satisfying.
One of the items Courtney really touted was Hickory Tavern’s “Charred” hot wings, in which the kitchen sends the wings to the grill after coming out of the deep fryer. She also recommended the “Bee Sting” sauce (a mixture of their standard hot wing sauce with honey, get it?), so I ordered six ($7 for 6 “Charred” wings, $13 for 12). Though the caramelization from the grill made them sweeter and slightly difficult to eat, the wings retained a muted spice that contrasted well with the candied honey.
By far, my favorite item was the Fish Tacos ($9.5 for two tacos and a side): Two lightly seasoned, grilled Tilapia filets on flour tortillas topped with Pico de Gallo, lettuce, and Remoulade. From beginning to end, the hidden star of the tacos was the small layer of tangy Remoulade spread on the bottom of the tortillas, cutting like a needle through each bite of the fatty Tilapia. The Pico de Gallo combined with the loose-leaf lettuce effectively created the hydrating layer fish tacos so desperately need. If there was any small, nit-picky change I would make about this dish, it would be to add a slice of lime on the side to squeeze over the tacos. Otherwise, Hickory Tavern’s balance of savory fish, tangy Remoulade, and refreshing Pico de Gallo makes for the perfect dish to enjoy in the shady confines of the terrace.
All in all, you should not hesitate to go to Hickory Tavern in Carrboro for your next big game. Not only is it impossible to be seated anywhere that doesn’t have at least one TV in your direct line-of-sight (trust me, I checked), but the seating is plentiful and the new five hundred car parking deck behind the building no longer makes parking in Carrboro a matter of luck, to say nothing of the great food. Who knows, maybe you’ll even stop inside Cameron’s and Womancraft on your way there.