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Pancuito in Hillsborough


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Pancuito in Hillsborough

fussycouple | | Oct 28, 2007 07:39 AM

What a nice little hole in the wall to be served chef’s choice.

We made reservations and ate there last night. The setting is unpretentious, yet comforting. Frank Sinatra style mafia songs played in the background the whole evening, something I really enjoyed.

But don’t think of this as an Italian restaurant, please. It is a Local restaurant that has a chef who greatly enjoys Italian and Southern methodologies.

The menu is short: you basically have a choice of 3-4 first courses, 3-5 entrees, and 3-4 desserts, no more. This is a feature of the restaurant, not a shortcoming. Prices run near $10 first course, $21-28 2nd course, $8 for desserts.

The wine list is nearly as short, 90% of which is served by the glass as well as the bottle, and is exclusively Italian wine. This is also a design feature. It turns out that at one point or another I’ve had nearly every wine on their list, they apparently share a distributor with Wine Merchant in Raleigh or something. All of them are drinkable, the pricing isn’t bad. Wine, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks are your options.

The menu changes frequently, apparently. One of the reasons for this is that the chef prefers to buy local food whenever possible, and they have an emphasis on organic food, humanely treated, antibiotic-free food, etc. In fact, we heard about Pancuito from Fickle Creek farm, locally.

The service is pleasant and restrained, not too formal.

A cordial glass of prosecco began our meal, right after we sat down. Water and tea were provided, and our wine orders were taken, specials were explained.

We ordered peach bellinis, and a bottle of moscato d’asti.

1st courses were veal meatballs over white beans, duck leg with grits & red-eye gravy, and beef carpaccio with fresh greens.

Main courses were stuffed trout porchetta, and lamb chops with polenta.

Desserts were a lovely fall pumpkin cheesecake, and a brown butter cake with cream cheese ice milk.

All dishes were fairly complex, with additional ingredients and com-pli-ca-ted seasoning, don’t be misled by my simple descriptions here.

The duck leg with grits and red-eye gravy was the best thing we ate, and competitive with any duck I’ve had anywhere, ever. The meat was flavorful, falling off the bone done (even the tendons and gristle was falling off), the fat was rendered down perfectly into jelly, and the skin was crispy and permeated with deliciousness. And as an old NC hick (that's me), you don't get any better than grits & red-eye gravy. A big “oh wow” moment.

We had no serious complaints about any of the food, the service, the wine, the atmosphere. It was cozy and comforting, pleasant, warm, not too formal, not stuffy at all. The food was right up there with other high end places across the triangle. We are happy to add this restaurant to our rotation of nice places to eat around here; which include Piedmont, Bonne Soiree, Il Palio, Fearrington, Squids, Panzanella, etc.

In truth, going here for some reason reminded me of the first time I ate at Irregardless, back when Arthur Gordon opened it in the 70s, and it reminded me of going over to eat at Bill Neal’s new restaurant when he opened Crook’s Corner. Neither of these restaurants were high-falutin’ haute cuisine, neither wanted to be, both were institutions in their own right and well deservedly so. Regardless of the fate of Pancuito, I expect to be hearing from Aaron Vandemark for a long time.

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