A new addition to Chapel Hill, Stoney River Steakhouse and Grill is an offshoot of the noted restaurateurs in the J. Alexander Restaurant Group. Located in the seemingly endlessly-improving University Place, Stoney River officially opens its doors today, February 27, at 4 pm. For some lucky patrons, however, the kitchen opened a little early.

In an invitation-only soft opening, the Chapel Hill location of Stoney River Steakhouse and Grill welcomed a full dinner crowd on Friday and Saturday night before the official opening on Monday. When the bill arrived at each table, it was with an additional surprise: the value of the meal had been calculated, but diners were not expected to pay for their food. Instead, the grand total was donated to the Eastern North Carolina Chapter of the Make-A-Wish foundation. A small envelope accompanied the check, allowing diners to donate to Make-A-Wish individually.

The entire dinner menu was available, and guests were encouraged to order whatever they wanted as part of a three-course meal: one starter, one entrée, and one dessert. The soft opening provided valuable practical experience for wait staff, allowed kitchen staff to get their bearings in a new restaurant, and benefited a wonderful cause.

The general manager of Chapel Hill’s Stoney River, Nik Rogers, will be joining WCHL’s own Aaron Keck this upcoming Thursday afternoon to reveal the total amount given to the foundation. Rogers will announce the total donations live on the air on March 2, at 3:06PM on the Aaron Keck Show on WCHL (97.9 FM, 1360 AM)!

Operating 42 restaurants in 14 states, the J. Alexander Restaurant Group and Stoney River are proof that “chain” doesn’t have to be a dirty word when it comes to upscale dining. Chapel Hill and Carrboro have an unusually high population of boutique and one-off high-quality restaurants for towns of comparable size. While Stoney River comes at a higher price point than many other area restaurants, prospective customers can take comfort in the fact that they most assuredly will be getting what they pay for.

Stoney River specializes in steaks that are hand-cut and impeccably seasoned, but that’s not to say that the selection outside sizable slabs of aged beef is lacking. Patrons will find everything from crunchy Ahi Tuna rolls and wild mushroom meatloaf to Hong Kong-style sea bass on the menu.

As far as a specific recommendation goes, the Coffee-Cured Filet Mignon was an obvious standout, taking a 9 oz. filet and curing it in a proprietary blend of coffee, brown sugar and molasses to create a cut that surprises with an exceptionally dark outside that disguises an unbelievably tender and juicy interior. Simultaneously smokily sweet and bitter without ever overpowering the meat, this entrée is a signature at Stoney River for a reason.

The “Stoney River Legendary Filet” also represents the restaurant well as a rich and buttery choice cut of red meat, weighing in with an impressive 12 oz. cut. Customization options such as crusted in bleu cheese or horseradish, served with chimichurri, Béarnaise or mushroom Maderia sauces, or even all-out decadence in Oscar style with lumps of crab meat and asparagus make the steaks at Stoney River able to adapt to any palate.

When it comes time for dessert, the carrot cake reigns supreme. The towering slices, more than enough for guests to share, are representative of the way carrot cake should be: dense, moist, never cloyingly sweet, and presented in three layers of vanilla bean cream cheese icing, caramel, and chopped pecans.