ACME, Carrboro NC
after having some mixed experiences, i've come to the conclusion that this place is a bit of a gamble. i really want to love it, but can only just like it. regardless, if you do take the gamble, best hand to play is order a special that features some local ingredients. call ahead to find out and then decide.
crawfish fritter appetizer (they called them beignets, but i can't bring myself to call them that), was pretty blah. only one of them actually had any crawfish taste to it, the others were dense and full of filler.
entree was a NC flounder stew (bouillabaisse) in a lobster saffron broth with some tasty chunks of wild boar sausage. to fullfil the requisite "stacking arrangement" that every restaurant seems to love, they put the flounder on a rather annoying crostini. stew was otherwise pretty darn good.
1 app, 1 entree, 1 glass of red, 1 bourbon came to around $40 pre-tip.
This used to be my favorite place to have brunch. However, the last two times that I have eaten at ACME I have had terrible service. A month ago my waiter interrupted my tables conversation to disagree with a point I was making. Granted, my waiter was correct and I was wrong, but it was still an odd thing for a waiter to do. Today, after an hour of watching other customers come in after us and finish their meals, we decided we should talk to the manager. The manager, without checking to see if there had been a problem with our order, told us that it was brunch and that we were going to have to wait. Her demeanor was not rude, but was entirely unsympathetic and showed a surprising unwillingness to help. I guess when you’re that busy you can afford to lose some customers. Well you've lost this one.
If I could describe ACME in one word it would be inconsistent. I have to admit that I only go there for brunch, but I have been there a lot. I think I am pretty qualified to give an unbiased opinion of the restaurant. I usually have below average service and above average food for a reasonable price and a good location. However, recently I have been having below average service and food.
Last Sunday's brunch - he service was pretty much terrible. Although our waitress was apologetic, she was very slow and forgot basic items, such as the mixed greens with the Acme breakfast. Our food was cold and fairly lousy.
I always feel that waitstaff is not prepared on Sunday for how busy and hectic it gets. Yet, they have had a busy brunch for over 2 years and the service keeps getting worse.
I've had a number of very good meals at Acme, along with a few disappointments. Overall I'd rank it as a pretty good restaurant. I've had some absolutely wonderful dishes there, most often when ordering from the specials menu, as suggested by a poster above.
I should add that I think they make a very, very good burger, which is on the everyday menu. Acme is one of the few places in the Triangle where you can get a burger cooked medium-rare. Most places burn them--they almost have to, since you are required by state law to cook them to at least medium unless you grind the beef yourself, which most restaurants don't do. I suspect that if you order a burger there medium, the chef assumes that you, like most Carolinians, want all flavor and moisture cooked out of the burger. Personally I wouldn't expect a burger--or a steak, or any other piece of beef--ordered medium to be any good at any restaurant, so I'm not surprised that Acme's medium burger was not good.
I haven't ever had the service problems mentioned above, certainly no worse than the service problems one generally encounters in the Triangle, where there doesn't seem to be a large supply of expert servers (not as big an acting community here as in big cities, I guess ;-) ).
Finally, I'm reasonably sure that trichonosis is no longer a danger with pork. Many fine restaurants now serve pork cooked to medium rare. If it's high-grade pork and the kitchen is clean, there shouldn't be any danger there. Either that or I've been incredibly lucky, because I've had pork cooked to medium-rare numerous times in good restaurants and never suffered any ill effect.
My husband and I have gone to Acme twice so far. The first time was pretty good. The second time was the worst. The waiter was at the most 18 years old...So we ordered the burger - medium (me...pregnant and hungry for one) and the pork tenderloin (him). The burger was (this is not a joke) burnt inside and out....we had to return it, we couldn't even get our teeth through it. To make matters worse, the pork was still bloody!!!! We didn't notice this until after the burger was sent back... and at that point we decided it was best not to eat anything else from the establishment. The waiter was short and curt with us until we left. We still gave him a ten dollar tip... we are not too smart. ANyway, DO NOT GO to ACME unless you are willing to get trichimosis (sp?) or break your teeth on a burger... There are much better and less expensive places in Carrboro...go to those... for instance Crooks Corner, Provence, Panzanella...etc
My wife dined at Acme and calls it the worst semi-expensive meal she's ever had. Interestingly, it was named one of the ten best restaurants in the Triangle this year, which just goes to show what newspaper food critics know, or rather what they are required to say. Another of the top ten restaurants was Fiesta Grill, a low-profile Carrboro Mexican joint where I eat regularly. I enjoy Fiesta Grill but by no stretch of the imagination could it be considered one of the top ten restaurants in the Triangle. I can't remember the other restaurants on the list but I remember thinking that the whole thing was wacko.
I went to the N and O site to find the article but had no luck. I did however spot the headline "Franklin Street Sizzles." Franklin Street sizzles only by an awfully low estimate of what it means to sizzle. There's not a single restaurant I particularly care for after having had a blase experience at 411 West recently.
In my experience -- and I write this as a former reporter for a metropolitan daily -- newspaper reviews are feel-good puff pieces meant to placate the locals and encourage advertising. They're not to be trusted.
re: David A.
While I don't entirely share your opinion of Franklin St. (having had good meals at Talulha, Latern, and Elaine's but I agree that 411 is average at best), I certainly hear you on the food critics. What gets me is that everyone seemingly ends up with about 3 out of 4 stars regardless of what they say in the text. I've read reviews where they just go on and on about how good it was and it gets...3 stars. Then you read another where they actually point out some significant flaws and it gets...3 stars.
In my hometown (Santa Cruz, CA) Indy paper, we actually had a good critic who once panned a high end restaurant because their food was, in fact, god awful. If you could have seen the community wide hell-storm that followed. It was as if she had no right to say anything bad. Stores threatened to stop carrying the paper, they were flooded with hate mail. The basice sentiment was that they all thought it was mean spirited to go after a business like that. Of course, where do they stand on the topic of serving garbage and charging a ton of money for it? Don't people want to think that their restaurant reviewer is actually objective?
Sorry for getting off topic...
re: David A.
that's exactly right, David - they're not to be trusted. i never read them, nor do i place any weight on their reviews for anything, inlcuding films.
for the most part, i only utilize 3 main resources for finding eats: 1) personal testimonials from trusted palates, 2) chowhound.com, 3) my own gut-feeling. as far as ACME goes, i actually first wound up there for work purposes, had a mediocre meal, but had a sneaking suspicion that they could be better outside of a large party. that suspicion has only partly held true as i mention in the previous post - some good things, and some sub-par things. it's a far cry from "the worst" IMO, but we really shouldn't have to deal with hit-or-miss places. that's the purpose here - we're optimizing every bite.
FWIW, i rank 411 below ACME. 411 = b-o-r-i-n-g.