411 Brunch in Chapel Hill, NC

Once, someone asked me where my favorite place in the world is. Actually, I was on a second date, and I posed the question, and then it was later posed to me.

I thought for awhile … Was it Buenos Aires, with its charming cafes and amazing dance clubs? Istanbul, with its stunning mosques, interesting culture and cuisine and vibrant joie de vivre? Istanbul certainly was spectacular—but is it my favorite?

“No, be more specific,” he said.

Favorite spot? Years ago, it would have been my childhood home in Minnesota.

After a good a good bit of thought, I replied with specificity. “Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the fall. On UNC game day. Sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s. Everyone is wearing Carolina blue and white—the boys in button downs and the girls in cowboy boots.”

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“Be more specific,” he said again.

“Fine. I’d be sitting on the front porch of the Sigma Chi house, on the bench on the left, drinking a beer with about ten of my friends and 50 or so more pals.”

There you have it. Although this hipster boy was not impressed by my penchant for fraternity houses and ACC football, I simply could not tell a lie.

Once a year, in the fall, I head back to my favorite place. I dig up my cowboy boots from the back of the closet, put a Carolina blue bow in my hair, throw on a sundress, hop in the backseat of my friends’ forerunner and head South. You see, I strategically plan my returns to my alma mater on Sigma Chi alumni weekend, when the house is overrun by 50 or so guys I hung out with in college and the actual students scamper out of the way, respectfully deferring to their predecessors.

That way, my days in Chapel Hill are like a time warp—it is 2006, not 2012—and my biggest concern is not my 401k but my B+ in financial accounting. I am 20, not 26, and in the twilight of my youth. It’s completely acceptable to drink Keystone Light all day, lose your sunglasses, spend too much money at the bar, and dance all night to a live Southern rock band. All this punctuated by a stellar win by the Heels over Virginia Tech in Kenan Stadium.

However, by Sunday, this brief flashback must end, and I must ease my way back into the real world. Beginning with one-half of my real-life duties, Bitching and brunching.

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So, I headed to brunch with my best friend Steph. I chose 411 West, one of two upscale brunch spots we frequented in college. The other is Crooks Corner, which has amazing French toast and an equally amazing wait time. I knew my body was less capable of coping with hangovers and wait times than in college—so I made a rezzie at 411.

In college, the rumblings of my Bitching days are now apparent, as I used to rave about 411′s beignets. We ordered the New Orleans doughnuts, hand-rolled, deep-fried, topped with powdered sugar and served with a chicory creme anglaise. Upon arrival, they looked a bit puny and over-fried. Certainly a bit lacking in the presentation. However, they tasted pretty good and the anglaise was overall the most impressive part of the brunch.

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As for beverages, we were heavy on the coffee and sans mimosas, as alcohol is not served before noon in North Carolina and this rule is strictly enforced.

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In addition to the beignets,  other house specialties at 411 West include the biscuits and gravy, shrimp n’ grits and a special coffee cake with weekly rotating favors.

Beyond house specialties, there are omelets, pancakes, waffles, Eggs Benny, and an assortment I’d sandwiches and salads. Basically, it hits all the stops for what’s required or desired in a brunch menu.

On this particular instance, the specials were a brunch burrito (hello, college town) and a prosciutto asparagus omelet, with shiitake mushrooms and gruyere cheese, which made even this vegetarian drool.

The shrimp n’ grits were made with prosciutto (which they took out for me), green onions and red eye gravy, which is made with Balsamic vinegar. It was inordinately soupy, resulting in Steph eying it suspiciously and questioning “Uh, is it supposed to look like soup?” My friends are quick to become Bitches by association.

Similarly, the grits was described as creamy, but was not rich, moist, or creamy. The flavor was fine—it had a nice flavor—but was nothing terribly impressive. Ben’s shrimp n’ grits blows 411 out of the water.

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Steph selected the Southwestern omelet, per the waiter’s recommendation. A three-egg omelet made with chili-rubbed chicken, salsa fresco and cheddar. It was topped with cilantro crime fraiche and served with a biscuit and one side—she chose fruit.

She says, “The southwestern omelet was light and tasty; nothing incredibly memorable but a nice way to start the day. Personally, it could have used a bit more of a kick, but healthy-sized splash of Tabasco sauce helped do the trick. Then again, I did live in Thailand for five months where 97 percent of the food I ate lit my mouth on fire, so it’s highly likely that my taste buds demand more spice than what is normally tolerated.”

Much to everyone’s dismay (hers, mine, and yours, Bitchy readers), the fruit was loaded with the horrors of bright green honeydew, with just one strawberry and piece of cantaloupe. A paltry fruit selection, if you ask us—and you did.

However, as this is the South, the biscuits were damn good. I ordered one as well, for dipping in my dish and both Bitches devoured them. However, this could be because there’s not much better than biscuits to soak up all the Keystone Lights you drank the day before at a frat house.

The Bitches say: B-. Things have either gone down hill since college–or we’re just not undergrads anymore. Next time, we’ll brave the wait at Crook’s.

411 West
411 West Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC
(919) 967- 2782

411 West serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

411 West on Urbanspoon

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