Friday, May 20, 2016

The Shoppe Bar and Meatball Kitchen

Located at 370 East Main Street in Carrboro, The Shoppe specializes in meatball plates and sandwiches. There is a full bar, and food and drink specials change regularly.

As a concept, a meatball bar straddles the line between the ridiculous and the sublime. In practice, The Shoppe leans far more toward the latter than the former. Whether you are craving a classic spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce or want vegetarian balls with greens or a salad, this establishment has you covered.

To start, The Shoppe features some genuinely comforting ambience. Candlelit tables, unobtrusive background music, and classy décor make this an easy place to settle into.

Service is another major plus. Our server, Jarely, did a great job of breaking down the menu, offering recommendations, keeping drinks filled, and generally making sure that we had an enjoyable meal.

As befits the branding, meatballs are the name of the game here, but rather than cobble together preconfigured dishes with questionable names, patrons are given the freedom to make their own combinations. Choose your ball (beef, chicken, pork, veggie, or the daily special), your sauce (tomato, parmesan cream, pesto, meat, mushroom gravy, or the daily special), and your side (risotto, polenta, potatoes, ziti, or the aforementioned spaghetti or collard greens). For our first visit, my wife opted for beef meatballs and mushroom sauce while I tried the spicy pork meatballs with parmesan cream sauce. We each started with a market salad (mixed greens, avocado, and goat cheese) and shared a family-sized portion of risotto.

The food was nothing short of excellent. The salads were refreshing and featured goat cheese creamy enough to win over my goat-skeptical spouse. The meatballs came four to an order and were generously sized with almost no filler. The spicy pork meatballs played well with the richness of the parmesan cream sauce while the beef meatballs soaked up the bold mushroom flavor of the velvety sauce. The highlight, however, may have been the risotto, a daily special accented with hints of peach. Creamy and appropriately textured, it complemented the meatballs perfectly. At $8 for an order of meatballs, a piece of focaccia, and a side, you’ll easily get your money’s worth.

If there is one area where The Shoppe could use some improvement, it is in the availability of nonalcoholic drinks. Granted, this is a bar, but the absence of iced tea and coffee was sorely felt.

“Meatball bar” may still invite some snickering, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Great food and service coupled with a cozy environment and fair prices make The Shoppe a must for those in the Carrboro area.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Grey's Tavern

Located at 343 South Elm Street in Downtown Greensboro, Grey’s Tavern offers burgers, sandwiches, and other casual fare. There is a full bar, and Grey’s is home to weekly trivia and karaoke and occasional live music.

With so many downtown dining options and a more prominent pub (Natty Greene’s) right next door, Grey’s is easy to overlook. But if ever you should want a break from the bustle (and the inflated prices) of downtown dining, this low-key spot is worth considering if you aren’t in a hurry.

Grey’s is nothing fancy, but the décor – worn wood, old brick, and lots of TVs – suits its ambition. This is a classic bar/pub/tavern, no more and no less. Accordingly, the menu is somewhat limited, but what they do offer here, they prepare competently if unspectacularly. I opted for a fried chicken sandwich my first time out. Though the breading was very crisp, the meat thankfully remained moist. The sauce (orange ginger?) proved to be a touch too sweet, but there were plenty of other sauce options available. The coleslaw here is finely chopped and none too vinegary. Only the fries were a real standout: thick, hand-cut, nicely browned, and well-salted.

Servers seemed amicable enough, but the kitchen was decidedly slow-footed. Our group of five may have been the only patrons at one point, but you wouldn’t have known it from the time it took for our food to arrive. On the other hand, Grey’s pricing is favorable for a downtown location. Sandwiches and sides can be yours for south of $10.

With a convenient location, reasonable pricing, and good-enough food, Grey’s is a decent option for a casual bite to eat. There is room for improvement on several fronts, but Grey’s does spare you some of the headaches (crowding, expense, pretension, etc.) that occasionally mar downtown dining.

Grey's Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

After civilians are accidentally killed when the Avengers thwart a bioterror attack, Secretary of State “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) presses the team to place itself under United Nations control. Guilt-ridden Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) agrees, but Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who has grown suspicious of governments, objects. When Rogers’ friend, formerly brainwashed assassin Bucky (Sebastian Stan), is implicated in an assassination plot, the team is divided further, and Wakandan noble T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is drawn into the conflict. Meanwhile, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) aims to manipulate Bucky for his own ends.

Though Marvel has – astonishingly – managed to avoid becoming a victim of its own success, this film, more so than any of its other offerings, seemed to be tempting fate. It adapted an extremely divisive comic book plotline, crammed in tons of characters (including a few who are introduced for the first time), and debuted not long after Dawn of Justice turned many casual moviegoers away from superhero films. Despite these factors – and despite being the third film in a superhero trilogy (paging Spiderman 3 and X-Men: Last Stand), Civil War simply had too many talented people working well together to fail, and so it didn’t.

Those without a Marvel pedigree may find this movie impenetrable, but anyone who has enjoyed previous offerings will enjoy the returning faces. In addition to those mentioned above, Civil War features Black Widow, War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man. These aren’t just glorified cameos, either. Scarlet Witch is conflicted over the dangerous potential of her abilities while Vision continues to try to become human. However, the new characters threaten to steal the show. Boseman’s Black Panther is a powerful presence with a convincing accent while Tom Holland’s version Spider-Man – a brilliant but awestruck newcomer – is a refreshing take on a character who has been done to death. At its core though, this is still a Captain America movie, and Rogers gets plenty of character development. Most notably, this film pulls him further away from the boy scout archetype and shows him as someone who will try to do the right thing even if it puts him on the wrong side of the law.

The affability of these performances helps disguise the fact that much of the film’s plot is an excuse for these characters to fight one another. The combat is as capably choreographed as ever and the film glides through its two-and-a-half hour runtime without any pacing problems, but compared to the zeitgeist-tapping paranoia and spy intrigue of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is some missing dramatic heft here. Superheroes being asked to confront the costs of their heroics has been explored many a time now, and though Civil War tackles this theme earnestly, it just doesn’t have the same resonance that it would have a decade or two ago.

While Civil War is not really a deeper film than its predecessors, it is arguably a more entertaining one. There’s more humor on display here than merely Stark’s now-familiar snark (Falcon, Ant Man and especially Spider-Man get some great lines), Zemo’s schemes keep viewers guessing as to his endgame, and the movie lays groundwork for more spin-offs and follow-ups without feeling at all like a placeholder. Even if taken as a lateral move rather than an improvement, credit directors Joe and Anthony Russo and producer Kevin Feige for being able to keep the momentum going.