Thanks again to Scott, Nab, Chapel Will, D.Hound, Sant and Nick for your excellent suggestions and advice re my recent trip to your area.
We stayed in Fearrington Village, outside Chapel Hill. It's quite lovely, and a benefit of staying there is that a delicious breakfast is included. Eggs and smoked salmon on puff pastry; eggs with bacon, sausage, potatoes and fruit; delicious granola - plus many similar items I didn't get to try.
Dinner one night at the Fearrington Restaurant. Lovely. Delightful. Delicious. We had the three course prix fixe. I started with the celery root soup around a truffle flan, my wife had the goat cheese with beets. Mains: Braised lamb on cabbage with fingerlings and carrots, mushroom and haricot vert over polenta cake. dessert: passionfruit tart w/banana ice cream, chocolate souffle. all accompanied by a lovely California zinfandel. Perfect service, more "formal" (NOT stuffy) atmosphere than the following places.
Another night: Magnolia Cafe in Durham. Absolutely eye popping-ly good. I know there's at least some disagreement on this board (I did a search) about Magnolia, but our experience was outstanding. to start: mixed greens with spiced pecans and a salty vinagraitte; smokey, earthy carrot soup. mains: mushroom polenta; pork confit over flat white beans. dessert was a shared piece of chocolate toasted almond pie. This was, I think, the perfect "upscale comfort food" meal - and I mean this in the most positive way. Service was friendly, excellent.
Another night: Nana's in Durham. Liked it a lot. starters: i'm forgetting the soup my wife got; duck breast salad. Mains: short rib, spring vegetable and corn polenta; venison and mashed potatoes with squash and little onions. shared a pineapple cake for dessert. A lovely cabernet to wash it all down. Service was very friendly, very good.
If I was giving out comparative stars for the food, I'd give Magnolia 4, Nana's 3, Fearrington 2. All were wonderful and I'd gladly return many times to any of these places.
Oh, almost forgot! Lunch one day at the Barbecue Joint in Chapel Hill. big pile of 'cue, sides of green beans, baked beans and hush puppies. Loved it all. Next day: no lunch, food intake was starting to get a little....challenging.
A great food weekend - thanks again for your help!