Big-City Cuisine in a Quaint, Small NC Town

The town of Hillsborough, North Carolina, is a small, picturesque town just 12 miles from Chapel Hill and 42 miles from Raleigh.

The charming, Southern town of Hillsborough

It's kind of a two-stoplight-type town with plenty of charm.  Hillsborough, located in Orange County, is becoming a haven for writers, artists, and a new culinary genius.

On this blustery, frigid night for our area, we took a road trip with Will’s mom to Hillsborough to have dinner at Panciuto.

Panciuto on S. Churton Street
We started a new Christmas trend this year and decided to give a dinner out as our present to her.  While the kids were with a sitter, it was time for us to go on a new culinary adventure.

Aaron Vandemark, the owner/chef of Panciuto, received many national accolades last year, including a coveted nomination as a semifinalist for “Best Chef: Southeast” by the James Beard Foundation.

This charming restaurant has a farm-to-table approach for its dining selections, using all North Carolina farms, some as far away as 48 miles from Hillsborough. The seafood arrives fresh from North Carolina or nearby Southern states.  The menu changes weekly, and it is planned around what is in abundance at the farms.  Everything is prepared from scratch.  Forty farms actually supplied the food for the menu when we dined. 

For starters, we shared a Meat and Cheese Board. 

This $17 appetizer was delicious.  Probably better shared with two people

This plate is made up of smoked farmers’ cheese with pepper jelly, New Moon with fig jam, Asiago with banana butter, Hickory Grove with honeycomb, pickled sunchokes, prosiutto, grilled bread and coppa.

Panciuto’s menu is small, but big on the wow factor of marrying flavors and uniting farm-fresh ingredients. We had five items to select for a main course.  Eggs were in abundance this week, and three out of the five courses had some type of egg combination in them. 

I was the odd man out because I just didn’t want an egg in my entrée that evening.  I don’t know why, but it was just my mood that evening.  The waiter suggested the chicken ragu en cream sugo with pici dumplings, carrots, boiled eggs, parcel, radishes, and parmesan for a cold evening, but I didn't listen. 

Choosing between the two entrees without an egg, I chose spaghetti nero with shrimp, seaweed, spicy tomato, bacon, breadcrumbs, and orange zest priced at $25.

Spaghetti Nero

 I truly went outside my culinary box.  I had never eaten black spaghetti in my life.  The pasta is flavored with squid or cuttlefish ink, which turns it black. 

The shrimp were plump and succulent.  The flavors blended nicely.  It was a good dish, but, truthfully, I wanted to eat it blindfolded because the black pasta bothered me, and I had no idea it would do so until it appeared in front of me. 

Will and my mother-in-law raved immensely about the dishes they chose with an egg in them.  Will ordered seared beef sausage with potato gnocchi, tomato butter, fried egg, and arugula.  My mother-in-law’s goat cheese-filled tortelloni in cream with fried egg, pepper jelly, pea shoots, breadcrumbs, radishes, and maple bacon completely disappeared from her plate, which is kind of rare for her.  She was completely delighted with her choice.  I tasted it and was a little envious that I did not choose it as well.

But I quickly put all my past Medusa thoughts about my entrée away when this chocolate delight arrived.

Chocolate Malted Ricotta Cake. Desserts are $7.

This chocolate malted ricotta cake with malt ball and chocolate sauce was pure heaven at each bite.  It was phenomomal.

Our road trip to Panciuto was well worth the trip.  I definitely want to go back and experience the flavors of a spring or summer menu.  There is no doubt that Panciuto is bringing big-city cuisine with a Southern influence to a great little town.  If more accolades come the chef’s way, it may be harder to get a table at this place in town.

Want to Go: 
110. S. Churton Street
Hillsborough, North Carolina
Wednesday through Sunday 5:30 pm-8:30 pm
Entrees: $20 to $30

I must know. Have you ever had black spaghetti?

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