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Southern Rail, Carrboro

I saw in the N&O that it finally opened! I'd love to hear reviews if anyone has checked it out yet. It seems like it'll have a neat atmosphere at least, in the rail cars...

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  1. My husband and I ate there last night. Lovely setting. When we arrived it was a little too early for dinner, so we had a drink at the entrance bar. The area was so pleasant we never moved on to a table, though I liked the way they did over the inside. There is another, larger bar and a beirgarten area also. Lots of nice little decorating touches.

    They have only been open since last Friday, so the menu will be changing. They hope to keep it seasonal.

    We shared a spinach, fresh basil, and strawberry salad ($6). Feta chese and a generous amount of walnuts were also added. Not exciting, but a nice basic salad. I only got one whiff of basil, though.

    My husband had the pork chop which was accompanied by a grit cake and a mushroom barley cream sause ($17). He loved it. The pork chop was massive and very moist. I found the coating a little salty, but I am very salt sensitive. Maybe it is unfair to judge since he only allowed me that one tiny taste. The grit cake was delicious.

    I had coriander-crusted tuna with fried baby leeks, asian greens with carrots and snow peas in a peanut sauce. I was a little disappointed in the dish, but that was my fault. For some reason I expected the tuna to be hot and the greens to be sauted. What I ended up with was cold slices of rare tuna placed over a salad greens with peanut dressing. Since I had just had salad for an appetizer, it didn't really hit the spot. But, I did like the fried leeks and the corriander crust on the tuna. Again, a very generous portion. I have several slices of tuna leftover.

    All in all, we will be back to try it again.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Panski

      Great review! I really do like the atmosphere.

      Curious...is the restaurant owned by the DC guy who attended high school in Chapel Hill, or did someone else take over? Anyone know?

      1. re: peetoteeto

        I think he's from here originally, but lived in DC for a while, and had/has a place there called Cafe St. Ex, which is fairly well thought of.

        1. re: peetoteeto

          Mike has two places in DC, Cafe St Ex and Bar Pilar, both of which I liked very much when I lived in DC. In fact, I had a deja vu experience last weekend when I had a drink at the bar at SR before going to a show at the Cradle. In DC I would meet friends for a drink at St Ex before going to a show at the Black Cat down the street!

          One of the things Mike did nicely at St Ex that it looks like he might be duplicating here is focusing on simple prep for seasonal food. One of the best meals I ever had at St Ex was a salmon filet on a bed of brussels sprouts, all perfectly caramelized. His tastes really put the focus on the food itself.

          Also, he's brought his wine buyer from DC as well. Should make for good beer and wine choices.

      2. Mike Benson is a very nice guy and I'm sure the place will do well. Cafe St. Ex is uber hip in DC and Mike is a very good fit for this location. I'll give it a couple of weeks to settle in but I have a lot of confidence in his ability.

        4 Replies
        1. re: tommio

          Is the menu veg friendly besides the salad?

          1. re: Rory

            We stopped by last night for a drink. The place is beautiful, very funky.

            The menu is very small, maybe 6 appetizers and 6 entrees (I could be slightly off on this). I think this is usually a good thing, because it means they can do a better job of just a few things. I do hope it changes fairly often though. There was one veg entree, 1 fish, 1 seafood, 1 chicken. I think it is kind of odd to have both the fish and the chicken entrees be salads, but they may well be delicious and maybe it is just until the weather gets cooler.

            1. re: LulusMom

              Hmm, thanks LM;
              I'm going out tomorrow night & I'll check the menu. I like atmosphere a lot. So maybe I'll give it a whirl. Dressy?

              1. re: Rory

                No, not at all. Very comfy and funky. Let us all know what you think.

        2. Tried to go this afternoon but was thwarted. Until everything comes online in a few weeks, there's no food served btw lunch (ending 2ish) and dinner (starting 5:30ish).

          The interior design was really cool looking and we're still looking forward to it. Thought about hanging out and drinking but on an empty stomach...

          1 Reply
          1. re: brokegradstudent

            I peered in at 6. The place was jumping (little kid hour) but the hostess was very nice & gave me the menu & I looked about.
            The bar is great, the menu looked excellent: crab cakes, scallops, gourmet corn bread, black bean cake, plust meaty things. I felt even better when I found out the chef used to work at Acme.
            I'm definitely going there

          2. Anyone know if they're open on Sundays? I can't find a website.

            4 Replies
            1. re: LulusMom

              Yes, they are, at least for brunch. I think dinner too.

              1. re: LulusMom

                I found this website: http://www.southernrailnc.com/ but it looks like they're still working on it.

                1. re: hungry in carrboro

                  definitely the menu was different. If I'd have seen veggy lasagna I'd have died how '70s; spare us;-)
                  Nice to see they are open late. Carborro is really jumping.

                  1. re: hungry in carrboro

                    Fantastic - thanks so much. I have no idea why I seem to always have problems with these things.

                2. We went for opening night (with kids in tow). I know, we're nuts. Actually didn't know it was opening night. Very small menu, but everything we had was very good. No kids menu yet - my son was happy for it - he had the salmon entree and licked the plate. The pork chop (mentioned above) was especially tasty. My wife did get a spinach, basil, and strawberry salad which was 80% basil, 10% spinach, but we chalked that and the somewhat spotty service to opening night jitters. Great redo of the space from the Crazie Mae's era, excellent for hanging out in one of the outdoor areas during good weather. Would hope they will flesh out the menu, kid's menu, lunch, etc as they spin up....

                  1. I'm so glad that you asked for a review. I can't wait. Friends and I are planning on going there tonight, and my mouth is practically watering already.

                    Southern Rail
                    201 E Main St Ste C, Carrboro, NC 27510

                    1. You may want to give this place more time to work out the kinks before eating there. Here's my review after having dinner there on Saturday night.

                      We arrived at 8pm, no reservations for party of four and a friendly host told us it would be 30 minute wait. The place was packed. We had drinks at the entrance bar, great atmosphere and reasonable prices on drinks. 5 or so beers on tap, a few specialty cocktails, and decent wine by glass selection. About 45 minutes later and no word, we checked in with host and were told it they had a table available but the kitchen was backed up so they would seat us in about 15 minutes.

                      We were seated soon after and got prompt service from our waitress. I had a different menu than my dinner companions (2 entrees were on mine that were not on theirs - tuna and pork chop). We cleared things up with waitress and ordered both food and drinks next time she came back - by that time we were hungry. Drinks and salad came out quickly, as did entrees. Almost too quickly, since my friend barely had time to start on her salad.

                      Two of us had the ribeye - mine ordered med rare was med, friend's ordered med was prepared med well. The ribeyes were a little tough in general. Thank goodness for the giant steak knife came with (think Outback). As I sawed away on my steak, my very oversized plate scooted around the hard slick table tops. Mashed potato 'cake' that came with was tasty enough, but zucchini was undercooked - had grill marks but was actually almost raw. I tasted friend's scallops that were delicious, but the portion size was awfully small (even more so on that huge plate) - only 3 sea scallops, 3 small spears of asparagus and a few slices of au gratin sweet potatoes.

                      Overall - great place to meet friends for drinks, but I'll give them some time to improve quality control in the kitchen before eating there again.

                      1. Four of us went this Saturday for dinner. There was an hour wait but we enjoyed a few drinks in the back 'garden'. (I would love to be there when a trains comes through).

                        What a great space! After watching so many businesses fail in this location it is encouraging to see someone finally use the space to its full advantage. Each area has a different vibe so you can have whatever dining experience you are looking for. We sat in the train car which was a little more civilized than the heavy drinking that was taking place at the bar.

                        Overall the place was a 'miss'. The martini I ordered tasted like it had vanilla in it. I asked the bartender if he had used anything different in the preparation and after saying 'no' several times he exclaimed, 'Maybe you taste the homemade vermouth.' Ah yes! That WOULD be it. He did give me a replacement without the addition of the home brew but there should be a warning as that stuff is horrible.

                        The wait staff could use a little more time in the kitchen learning about the food. I can't remember exactly what the special was but according to the waitress it has some 'stuff' in it mixed with some other 'stuff'.

                        The cheese plate was great with four different cheeses and large portions. We did have the treat of watching a waiter walk around for 5 minutes trying to find the table it belong too despite us waving our hands like drowning victims.

                        I had the crab cakes which were nice but definitely not anything special. I think I have had better out of the seafood case at the Harris Teeter. Two others in our party had the rib eye which really should be a hanger or at least a better quality rib eye with much less grizzle. The menu said it would come with mashed potatoes but without warning, came with polenta. The spears of zucchini were practically raw and flavorless. Pet Peeve Alert 1: I saw this dish with mashed potatoes on other tables while we were waiting. If you are going to serve a tough piece of steak I have generally found it best to not put it on top of the masked pots. This way, after having to use a considerable amount of muscle to cut it, you can at least enjoy the steak without it being totally covered in the potatoes. The penne pasta was made with coconut milk yet the overall theme of the dish was not Asian and the result was just weird.

                        Pet Peeve Alert 2. Waiters/Waitresses/Bussers, please do not take someone's plate away when they go to the bathroom. Also, if someone finishes before everyone else, please do not take their plate away until everyone is finished. It rude and is not the proper way to serve a table. I know you want to get everything cleaned up but you will not be saving that much time.

                        All this being said I am sure I will be back. Probably not for dinner but definitely brunch and/or drinks. I don't see the place going anywhere as the food is passable and I don't think many people expect as much as I do out of their meal and service. I had really hoped for something special food-wise but now feel like every time we think about going there it will be for the atmosphere.

                        1. I just went over there for lunch today- LOVED it! I had the "Lunch with Mary" pannini- basil, tomatoes, avocado (lots!), melted provolone. The tater tots rocked too! I didn't get to explore the train cars themselves; it was so beautiful, we sat outside. The wait staff was very attentive and friendly. I thought the prices were very reasonable ($6 for the pannini and tots). All in all, it was a great experience, one I am eager to repeat. This has officially become my new favorite lunch place! I'm eager to try it in the evening too. I love what the new owner has done with the space!

                          1. Went for dinner Sunday. The mom-in-law was willing to look after the 3 boys but she doesn't like staying up late so we arrived there at 5 PM. They told us they would seat us and we could have drinks and look over the menu but our food wouldn't be placed for order until 5:30 when the kitchen opened. We thought that was quite reasonable. However, after sitting down we noticed that two other tables were receiving their plates of salad and appetizers. When the waitress came over we asked what a a particular basket of food as it wasn't ont he menu. She said, "Oh, that's our homemade tater tots. The owner loves them." A saavy waitress would have asked if we wanted to order some-- I didn't ask since we were specifically told we couldn't get food until after 5:30.

                            There were only 6 entrees on the menu and when we tried to order the scallops we were told they were out? Out of an item before dinner service even started??? Isn't Weaver Streets' seafood department like a 100 yards from the restaurant? Anyway, we ordered the crabcakes with slaw and ribeye with mahed potatoes and broccoli rabe. The food was okay; didn't wow but was cooked properly. Actually, the highlights were two of the sides. The purple cabbage cole slaw was tangy, sweet, and crunchy. The rabe was sweet, crunchy, and buttery. Good beer and wine selection. Prices are fair. The best characteristic of this place is the space. A beatiful, chic place with both indoor and outdoor seating, both casual and semi formal.

                            I see this as a good place to go have lunch, brunch, or hang out and have a beer and nosh on an app or two, not as a place to have a fine dining experience.

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: bbqme

                              I had dinner there soon after it opened, and it was a disaster - service was clunky, dishes were bland. But that's right after it opened, and it's really not fair to judge by that. I've been to the bar a couple of times since, and it's nice: cozy, cool setting.

                              I'll go back and try again, but having lived in D.C. for a while and knowing St. Ex, I get the feeling it may wnid up more of a "scene" than a serious place to eat. And that's fine, of course, you just have to know what to expect.

                              1. re: ElSapo

                                I recently ate out there with a friend. It is so, so cute! For me atmosphere is everything, and it was an awfully fun place to be. I had one of the most expensive things- scallops with a sweet potato cake. It was wonderful. Highly highly recommended for a place that's just good fun!

                                1. re: altasprings

                                  I just ate at Southern Rail tonight. And it was utterly 1st class. We rolled in early, there was a charming fire in the stoves & the outer bar area was lively.
                                  We ate in the big interior room. The maitre'd was happy to show us the menu to see if there was enough variety for me, the mostly vegetarian, and my meat-eating friend. Definitely.
                                  The menu is much larger now with seafood, mushroom polenta and specials. Plus an 'all the time' BBQ sandwich and grilled cheese. Like that
                                  I went for the special: duck breast in a pomegranite balsamic fig reduction. My friend steak 'n frites with homeade cherry ketchup. We both were wowed by the size of the portions - huge. He adored his ribeye, soft lucsiouc, his frites were brown and crunchy.
                                  My duck was gorgeous, and meat is a rarity for me so I have high expectations. I really thought it was beef. Rare, chewy.. the big serving of reduction sweet and chunky, perfect. It was served with cous cous, Israeli cous cous, which is large & has texture and much harder to cook. Kudos. And spinach, delicious spinach cooked with onions. As a vegetarian I hate it when the vegetable is an afterthought. This was great.
                                  The waitress was lovely,attentive, but not obtrusive, giving suggestions & when I wanted to take the rest of my duck home, whisked it away to box it. The Maitre'd brought me a phone so I could ring my friends. Service is a huge part of eating out for me. The wine selection was very good too.
                                  As for dessert, we just had coffee as we were very full, but the butterscotch thing , apple crisp, & something else, sounded great.
                                  The chef used to work at Acme & dinner was New York excellent, in far nicer Southern surroundingsr.
                                  Southern Rail is worth every single penny. And is totally up to speed.

                                  1. re: Rory

                                    A few weeks ago I had the steak & frites - I think it was skirt steak with blue cheese and pomegranate with the homemade cherry ketchup... It was delicious.

                                    The best part for me was the price point. It was exactly what I would want to pay for a meal like that. I think it was $13? I feel like too often you are asked to pay that much for a mediocre meal. And yes, hearty portions, but not overwhelming, I didn't leave hungry which happens too often at nicer restaurants for me, because I don't have the cash to order appetizers and desserts.

                                    We ate in the bar car, and sat with no wait. We went before a show at the Cradle, and this is where we'll go again (in from out of town) the next time we see a show.

                                    1. re: runder

                                      A fellow hound wrote that Southern Rail was now sub par.. and I agree. It used to be great,but now don't bother.
                                      Tonight's steak was cold and greasy, and they used a a different cut, like chewing your cud. I had crab cakes; they're better from Weaver St. The waiter asked if we wanted dessert or coffee whilst still having our main course. As my friend said 'I'll take Panzanella any time , they are consistently very good.'

                                      1. re: Rory

                                        That might have been me, here:


                                        Though I'm not the only person to have not-so-great things to say about Southern Rail, as you can see in the other thread. Really disappointing.

                                        I do have an interesting followup, though. A couple days after our visit, someone from the restaurant called to ask us how we liked our meal! I wasn't home when the call came in, but husband was, so I asked him what he said. He didn't sugarcoat it - he told them the pulled pork sandwich was possibly the worst he'd ever had and that he thought tater tots (which came with my meal) belonged on the middle school cafeteria menu and not on the menu of an establishment that bills itself as upscale (and yeah, think about that - grass fed beef burger and tater tots out of the bag. Weird). So ouch - but now they now. And I do give them credit for caring enough to ask.

                                        1. re: Rory

                                          That asking about dessert while you're still eating your main is one thing that drives me crazy ... how on earth do I know if I'm not finished with what I'm eating if I'll be hungry enough or not?

                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                            Romansperson, I should have listened to you. And good for your husband!
                                            I know LM, it's so aggravating. Why not rush me; that's why I'm dining out to have a pleasant evening....not.

                                            Another thing, I wanted bread. They charged me a dollar for some crostini and melted butter. It's not the dollar it's the obnoxious no bread. As for the food, the chef Joe , left to work at the new Deli.

                                            1. re: samhopkins

                                              My parents want to return here for their anniversary. Is the food any better? Did they get a new chef?

                                              1. re: Rory

                                                We had a perfectly awful meal there Saturday night. I'm really sympathetic to waitstaff but they got EVERYTHING wrong. I ordered a sandwich with a dinner salad and got "home fries" instead. The potatoes were unseasoned potatoes roasted to about the exterior texture of a baked potato. The southernish chicken sandwich was bland and soggy. The crab cake appetizer was bready and way too little at the price point. My wife ordered an oktoberfest beer and was brought a Bad Penny.

                                                The interior is lovely and we may go back for a drink but I'm never ordering food there again.

                                                1. re: brokegradstudent

                                                  You've just saved my parents' anniversary brokegradstudent, when I restart planting my farmer's market garden you are getting something really special.
                                                  And I'm sorry you had a bad meal, there is no excuse. My dad used to love the steak frites. He doesn't have meat often so I want it to be great.

                                                  1. re: brokegradstudent

                                                    We've gone a couple of times just to have a drink, but I wouldnt' even recommend that. No one really seems to want to wait on you (they're very good at doing the whole eye avoidance thing - even when you're sitting at the bar) and it is really loud. I love the look of the place, but think of it as a last resort for a drink these days.

                                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                                      I joined this board just to post about my abysmal evening at the Southern Rail.
                                                      Now, when the place opened, despite the slow service and tendency to run out of popular items, I was still thrilled with it. The staff was friendly, the locale charming, the food was good, and most important, it is about two blocks from my home, and easy to get to. I WANT this restaurant to succeed.
                                                      Since the restaurant opened, my friends and I have eaten there about a dozen times. Additionally, we would sit at the back bar and just drink, and it had a great atmosphere, very convivial.
                                                      Last night, we decided to take my husband's visiting parents to SR, because we wanted to treat them to something special.
                                                      Now, I haven't eaten their for a couple of months, but we quickly assured the folks that despite the fact that the menu changes frequently, there are some standards that can't be missed.
                                                      Imagine my surprise when I saw that their menu had completely changed, and it had moved decidedly down-market. No matter, it's still a charming spot, and our waiter was awfully friendly, so we decide to stay. Of course, he immediately informed us that they were out of certain items (that happens every time, we weren't bothered). We place our drink orders and get down to the business of deciding dinner.
                                                      Long story short, my dinner was terrible (lucky it was cheap), I had a turkey breast sandwich, which was dry and tasteless, and actually tasted a bit off.
                                                      Worse still, I ordered a drink, and when it came, it tasted like there was no booze in it. Everyone at the table tried the drink and agreed, it was a tad on the light side. I got up and went to the bar to ask the bartender to maybe 'top it off' (I was being really friendly, remember, I like the place). She informs me that she didn't make the drink, the girl at the front bar had. She then proceeds to take my drink to the front bar. Weird, why couldn't she just fix it herself? Alright. I sit and wait. What should transpire, but the bartender from the front bar comes back to argue that she had indeed put enough booze in my drink, and was unwilling to fix it. Wow. Just. Wow. Really? I am no fan of the 'customer is ALWAYS right' tenant, but you don't want to argue with a customer, do you? That can't be good customer service. That's actually horrible customer service. I was really disappointed with the attitude.
                                                      Insult to injury, when the bill came, we discovered that we had been charged ten dollars for my weak drink! Luckily, I told our server what had happened, and he was cool and knocked a few bucks off the price.
                                                      I really cannot imagine that I will ever go back to SR after the experience we had last night. The food was mediocre at best, our server was nice, but the bartender was quite unpleasant. We couldn't be more disappointed. We used to go to SR with many friends, I will never suggest that restaurant to anyone ever again. Not even for drinks.
                                                      Boo, Southern Rail.

                                2. Hi there, nice review but don't book a party there. We were recently went to a Christmas party there - sort of.
                                  The host invited a bunch of friends and booked a band. Well apparently the two managers there don't get along and double booked the venue. As the band started to set up for the first party, everyone was asked to leave. The bar staff stopped serving guests from the first party at nine to allow for second (and later party) to come in. It seems the restaurant manager could have done more to accommodate this mix up. Bad form. They just lost my business and any recommendation to go there.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: mpepper72

                                    Well Southern Rail was decent when it first opened and had potential. I believe I have heard it has since changed management. Loads more sandwiches and safe food and less tempting offers. I can't speak about hte drinks. The idea of the lay out is cool except that the "Bar Car" is cramped, the bathrooms are not the best and whoever thought that an outside bar (without a way to close it in during winter) was a good idea should be fired from their job. Sorry but space heaters don't cut it. I can't speak to the Station as I had only been once, but seemed like everyone was having fun... even if it was cramped. Carrboro needs more places where the people actually care about who and what they are serving.

                                  2. So glad to hear other people have had service issues and food quality issues at Southern Rail! I was starting to take it personally until I read the recent reviews here. I used to go at least once a week here in Fall 2008 and it was generally awesome - interesting specials, fresh/local ingredients, good/friendly/prompt service, great atmosphere/good music though a little chilly in the winter - one of my favorite restaurants in Carrboro. I hadn't been there in a while and now started going again since it was so good in the past, but have been thoroughly disappointed. Terrible service - unless you get the cute brunette bartender to serve you - and the menu/specials are not as inventive/enticing and the food is very hit or miss. I had ordered the pasta special - but it was essentially spaghetti no 9 drenched in butter and a few herbs sprinkled on top and barely edible. The fried chicken sandwich was soggy, small, and soaked in oil. And when it's good it's not nearly as delicious as it was in the past. Though the loaded tater tots are generally still good. For now, I will severely limit my visits to just loaded tater tots and perhaps a drink until things improve.

                                    Southern Rail
                                    201 E Main St Ste C, Carrboro, NC 27510