When I went back to find this menu, I was surprised to see that it was also the week when I reviewed the Lebanese restaurant in downtown Raleigh, Sitti. (If you missed that, you can read it here) Re-reading the review reminded me that I owe you all a review for Margaret's Cantina in Chapel Hill. I had heard about the Cantina over my many years of living in the area, yet had not made an effort to go there until about a month ago. Boy, have I been missing out!
Margaret's Cantina was first opened in 1992 by Margaret Lundy, who grew up in the Southwest and apparently wanted the South to make friends with the Southwest. From what I can gather on their website, Margaret must have been affected by Parkinson's Disease and retired. The restaurant sponsors a monthly dinner to benefit the Parkinson's Clinics at both UNC and Duke, in honor of Margaret, the Cantina's founder. In fact, the restaurant appears to be quite community-centered and has dedicated an entire page on their website where folks can find out about (and donate to) the charitable organizations that it supports.
The Cantina has been open long enough and is community-centered enough to have created a seriously loyal following. Several of the reviews that I came across on Facebook and their site mention how pleased long-time customers were that the new owner, Young Fenton, has remained true to both Margaret's recipes and her business ethic. I didn't know any of this background when I went there, and maybe one of the benefits of my ignorance is that I approached my dining experience without any preconceptions.
Here's what happened when we went: My first impression was homey. This leads to my one complaint about them - neither on the website, nor on their Facebook page do they have any really good photos that I could use in this post. That is really only the complaint of a blogger trying to make her post visually attractive; still, it is a note to self for me of the importance of good quality photos in one's marketing plan. Back to the restaurant. What made me think "homey" when I walked in the door? A narrow waiting area with a basket of, get this, toys and books to entertain children while they wait. This is huge, and I have never seen it anywhere else. Some places have a coloring sheet and the tiny box of 4 crayons, but you don't get that until you are seated, and even then, if your child is not into coloring, well then, you out of luck. My son (who really is not a colorer) found a Calvin and Hobbes book that had him so engrossed that he didn't want to leave before finishing the story. In fact he was so quiet that my honey and I could actually have a wonderful, adult conversation without continuous interruption. Did I already mention what a huge plus this was?
It was so important that I would go there again, even if the food were not great. However, the food really was great, and since this is a restaurant review, I should tell you about it. I almost don't remember what we had and am trying to dredge it from my memory by looking at their online menu. First of all let me say that they had a strong selection of vegetarian and vegan options, a seasonal specials menu (not on the website), and a very reasonably priced children's menu. I ordered a mushroom and greens quesadilla from the specials menu, which was delicious and very fresh tasting. I was surprised that for $11 I only received the quesadilla and no side dishes, but hey, I guess that is the price for fresh, locally-sourced food. Since I have a pretty big appetite and I was planning on reviewing the restaurant, I ordered a second entree for both myself and my son. I can't remember what I had the second time around but it was something that came with beans and rice and was much more filling (for about the same price).
The service was very friendly and attentive. Our waitress was an older woman who was so casual, yet knowledgeable about everything that I wondered if she were Margaret (like I said, I knew nothing of the backstory at the time). The decor was cool - I think they were showcasing local art (for sale) on the walls, although, I am such a foodie nerd that I was far more taken by the gigantic info-posters in the women's bathroom of fresh and dried chilies (please don't tell my artist friends I said this). The food was really good, and I totally plan on going