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Fresh seafood in Chapel Hill

  • m

My husband and I are moving to Chapel Hill from Boston this summer, and I'm already starting to miss the abundent fresh seafood. Any suggestions for restaurants or (more importantly) good retail outlets for good fresh fish or shellfish?

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  1. I missed the thread on Tom's in Carrboro. Sounds like that's the place.

    3 Replies
    1. re: MelissaR

      Tom Robinson's in Carrboro is the place. Located one block south of Main Street in a cinderblock hut. Only open Thursday through Sunday. Very good. Nice folks too, very helpful.

      1. re: Tom from NC

        I have to say that I have been less satisfied with Tom's. The place looks the part, but it sometimes has an unpleasant odor (which seems to me a bad sign) and many items are frozen rather than fresh. I've walked in two or three times and never been tempted to buy. I wonder whether the store's partisans can recommend specific items to be tried. The place to lament is the Squids fish market, which regrettably closed a few months ago.

        To the new resident from Boston: the scarcity of fresh fish will be the least of your problems. Wait till you arrive at the question of Chinese or Italian food! That will really depress you. In other ways, of course, I expect that you'll find Chapel Hill very pleasant. For one thing, the people are awful nice.

        David A.

        1. re: David A.

          Have you gone on Thursday? When I lived in Carrboro that was the day he got in his seafood and the good, fresh stuff went pretty quickly.

    2. t
      Tom (From Raleigh)

      Mostly we get our seafood from Wellspring, or Whole Foods as it's now called. The quality is always very good, although a bit expensive.

      I'm guessing the one in Chapel Hill would be the same as the Raleigh store:


      Whole Foods Market
      81 South Elliot
      Chapel Hill, NC 27514
      919.967.0228 fax

      1. b
        Bill Falconer

        We moved here from Hingham in 1987 and the best fish we've eaten since then has been on our trips back to MA to see our son and grandkids. Chapel Hill is a great place to live in but you won't find that fresh moist fish that you get in Boston. You will miss the seafood but enjoy the rest! Welcome to NC!

        1. Whole Foods is definitely your best bet year-round... But if you head down to the beach in the summer (which you must) you can bring back an abundance of fresh-caught fish. Good luck!

          1. What about the seafood stand across from the Famer's Market in Carrboro? It looks interesting, but I already had my menus planned so I didn't stop there.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Panski

              Go next weekend - ask what's fresh, and advice on how to cook it. You won't be disappointed!

              1. re: inmybackpages

                I say that if Tom supplies some of the best restaurants in the area with seafood, then we can probably feel safe to shop there. I have never had anything but super fresh product from him.

                1. re: Pigloader

                  Tom Robinson has the best and freshest seafood in town. I used to work there, and we went through literally gallons of bleach. Not only is Tom fastidious, he is very vested in ocean conservation of NC -- his father grew up in the Inner Banks, and Tom feels strongly about preserving his heritage.

                  The market is hosed down regularly and the fish iced constantly -- if there was any (bad) fish odor, it must have been in the summer after a busy day. But, I mean, it's a fish market -- should it smell like a bakery?

            2. I gotta throw out Fishmonger's- though I don't remember if it's Chapel Hill or Durham.
              If it's not Chapel Hill, it's worth the drive.

              1 Reply
              1. re: chuckee

                It's in Durham, across from Chapel Hill, and I agree, worth the drive. Nothing fancy, but they know how to do seafood.

              2. I will trade: I am going to Boston for the weekend and would love suggestions from you. I live in Raleigh, but for Chapel Hill, I like Lantern on Franklin. Owner/Chef Angela Reussing is an avid member or 'slow food' - she uses and buys as much local/fresh as possible. You are not going to get the fresh, fresh like Boston. Whole Foods is your best bet to buy. If I think of more, I will post. Welcome to NC!

                1. Earlier this year we compiled a list of eco-friendly and health-friendly seafood from the following sources:




                  It was a short list, particularly since I grew up in a time and place where we used "tilapia" as chum, not human food, and I still can't bring myself to actually eat it.

                  What isn't on the list is almost as interesting as what is on the list, they don't include a number of local NC fish, which I guess aren't commercially viable enough to have statistics on, like Spot or Puppy Drum, or Virginia Mullet. Even so, if the bluefish are no longer edible (which breaks my heart, seriously), how can I assume these would be safe either.

                  By the time we finished eliminating eco-unfriendly caught fish, and fish you *shouldn't* eat for health reasons, we had very little left. As a consequence we've cut back severely on seafood.

                  What do we do instead? We are focusing on antibiotic/hormone-free locally-raised pastured meat from farms that practice sustainable agriculture, all of which is so far on the other side of "organic" that sometimes it still makes my head spin around.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: fussycouple

                    I've asked myself the same question - where do out find info on the eco and health friendliness of popular nc fish.

                    I was able to get info about the the eco friendliness of the various species here http://www.ncdmf.net/stocks/index.html though not all list the method of catch.

                    The virginia mullet and whiting are apparently the same(kingfish) Who knew? I did not realize they and the spots were so overfished.

                    Croakers apparently have high levels of contaminants. The only nc products with good eco and health ratings are shrimp and mackerel

                    1. re: quazi

                      Footnote: I like Tom Robinson's just fine, though I used to LOVE the Squid's seafood market. Also, the Estes Drive Farmer's Market has been having a good guest vendor with their weekly fresh seafood (outside Southern Seasons, soon to be located for the winter INSIDE University Mall ((yeah))).

                  2. I've got to add my 2 cents. I've been disappointed with Tom Robinson's, too. Nothing I've ever bought there has been truly wonderful like I'd expect it to be. We live outside Chapel Hill and I go all the way to Earthfare for my fresh fish. Kirby is the fish manager and he'll tell me when something is worth getting or not. He also grinds the best ground chuck for really terrific burgers, etc.

                    I, too, used to get seafood from Squids, but gave up when it stopped being a real market with real hours and became part of the restaurant. We hated to see it go.

                    As far as eating out, the only seafood restaurant we reallly love is Catch in Wilmington and it's so good, we go down just for lunch. Squids disappointed. Blu disappointed. Seafood specials at 411 and their sister restaurant in Raleigh are usually very good. Moules and fries at Rue Cler in Durham are very good and a great bargain. For what's supposed to be a foodie destination, we've found remarkably few restaurants that wiin our hearts.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: yahooer

                      Yeah, Catch in Wilmington is probably the closest seafood restaurant to the Triangle that does seafood right - where the ingredients are fresh and the preparation spot-on. I occasionally head down there just for lunch, especially in the winter on days when the weather is much warmer there than in the Triangle (and it's a whole lot greener down there in the winter too with all the live oak trees). Catch is now open for dinner on M-Thursday, according to the website.

                      I also like South Beach Grill in Wrightsville Beach.

                    2. I second (or third, or fourth) those who've mentioned Tom Robinson's, but also the shrimp man across from the Farmer's Market in Carrboro. Actually, if I'm making shrimp or scallops, I will only go to the shrimp man. Those NC shrimp are sweet! And the guys who sell it are really helpful.

                      On Tom's: I find Tom odd. Small town odd. He'll ignore you to talk to someone else for a long time, which, as a Yankee, gets on my nerves, but as a Southerner I like that he takes time with people. As for his fish, I would recommend just talking to him, because he will tell you what's good and fresh and from NC (getting to the question of sustainable catch). I have changed my menu based on his recommendations and haven't been disappointed.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ksherk

                        You find Tom *odd*? Of course he's odd, he's a character, and _very_ proud of it!

                        Still, he stands behind what he sells, and some of the best restaurants in CH surely must agree, as his wholesale business is really his main source of income. Consider yourself lucky if he takes an interest in you and gives you some cooking tips.

                        But he is definitely a Southerner, through and through.

                        I'm biased, and I consider him a dear friend (and I've learned a lot about cooking seafood from him).

                        I'm probably one of the ones he's talking to!

                        (But just go ahead and butt in.)

                        1. re: kizil

                          Agreed, if he's talking to someone else about cooking I generally take note mentally and get whatever they are getting!

                          1. re: inmybackpages

                            Yes, ask and buy the local fish, which is freshest. I've gotten really superbly prepared trout almondine at Panzanella, that's hard to do. Scallops too, they get rubbery in a minute. And the mussels are very good.
                            Remember waters are different. The fresh mussels I ate in Galway were briny-tasting (wonderful) but the waters here are warmer. So different expectations. We're lucky to have so much seafood.

                      2. Southport Seafood Company delivers Fresh Local seafood from the coast of NC and it is extremely fresh! They just became a permanent vendor at the South Estes Farmers Market in Chapel Hill. They sell almost anything that is local and fresh- 2 THUMBS UP!!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ross74

                          Please understand that I don't want to pick on you, but I genuinely would like to know:

                          a) how is their fish tested for PCB's and Mercury? Many fish indigenous to NC, including blue fish, atlantic croaker, king mackeral, bluefin tuna, marlin, shark, swordfish, blue crab, spanish mackeral, and wahoo have health advisories now for one or both of these two pollutants in specific, up to "don't eat this".

                          b) how often do they test? what % of their catch is tested?

                          c) is it all wild? Is some of it farmed?

                          d) Do they keep it on ice, do they flash freeze any of it? Is any of it previously frozen?

                          e) What ecological standards do they adhere to? Example: bluefish are currently being overfished, resulting in population problems. Obviously they won't have red snapper if they are supplied from NC waters, but do they take notice of fish populations that are being depleted?

                          If you know any answers to any of this, it would be appreciated. Between the Monteray Bay Aquariam Fish Watch and the Environmental Defense Fund health advisories, there ends up being a very limited number of fish we consume in our family.


                          1. re: fussycouple

                            Not sure if this site will answer your questions, but here is there website, which has a contact us link:


                          2. re: ross74

                            they are also at RTI every Thursday:

                            You can get on the email list, but be prepared to get 2-3 emails a week about their fish availability.