Noted Chef’s New Spot Rooted in Family Histories

Brandon Sharp ’97 is starting from scratch with his new restaurant, Hawthorne & Wood, in Chapel Hill’s East 54 complex. (Hawthorne & Wood/Briana Marie)

Brandon Sharp ’97 earned Michelin stars for seven consecutive years, starting in 2008, as chef at Solbar, a fine-dining restaurant in California’s Napa Valley.

Now he’s starting from scratch with his own place in Chapel Hill’s East 54 complex. Hawthorne & Wood, in space formerly occupied by the Raaga Indian restaurant, offers a taste of California with a Southern twist. The menu changes daily, but think Core Sound oysters with a ragoût sauce and fresh farmers market ingredients.

Local diners may know Sharp from his two years as chef at Crossroads in The Carolina Inn. “That was just serendipity,” he said. He and his wife, Elizabeth, and their children were looking to move back from California and happened to see the inn’s ad for a chef.

Brandon Sharp ’97. (Hawthorne & Wood/Briana Marie)

Sharp left the inn last year with Hawthorne & Wood in mind. The name comes from California neighborhoods where his in-laws have lived. “We wanted it to be personal to us and selective of California without being too obvious,” Sharp said. “They’re two good, strong names and are part of the family history.” Chapel Hill touches on some history from his side of the family. “My grandparents lived here, and my parents met at Chapel Hill High. My mom grew up less than a mile from the restaurant. I was adamant that I wasn’t going to open this anywhere other than Chapel Hill.”

Sharp learned to cook in a Mexican restaurant while in high school in Greensboro. After majoring in philosophy at UNC, he went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America in 2000. That led to his becoming chef at fine restaurants in San Francisco and New Orleans, the French Laundry in Napa Valley and Solbar.

Besides family, Sharp was drawn back to Chapel Hill by diners’ growing awareness of fine dining and the value of fresh ingredients. “There’s a collective consciousness of people being more cognizant of trying to eat locally, and much more interest in conversations about food.”

Sharp wrote about mixing Southern and Asian cuisines to make char siu bao, or barbecued pork buns, and shared the recipe in the Review’s July/August 2014 food issue, available at

3140 Environ Way |

Spooning Up New-Fashioned Ice Cream

Cindy and Dave Somasunderam make ice cream with liquid nitrogen instead of the traditional churn. They say the result is denser, creamier and more flavorful. You can judge for yourself at their Blue Spoon Microcreamery, which they opened in April in the former Sugarland bakery space in downtown Chapel Hill.

The New Jersey transplants — who had a similar shop in Palo Alto, Calif., and were looking to move back East — blend the usual cream, eggs and sugar in a bowl connected by a hose to the nitrogen tank. “The liquid nitrogen freezes the mixture instantly, so there isn’t air in the ice cream, and the flavor is more concentrated,” Cindy said. “It freezes so fast that the ice crystals are small. … It makes a vapor, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Many people have never seen ice cream being made like that.”

Among the most popular flavors are bourbon vanilla with salted caramel swirl; maple bacon crunch, which is vanilla with Cindy’s homemade bacon brittle; and a variation of Belgian shortbread cookies. Toppings include bacon brittle, Cindy’s homemade hot fudge and salted caramel sauce, cookie crumbles, crushed Oreos, toasted almonds and toasted peanuts. A vegan option is available, usually coconut, and a fruit sorbet, milkshakes and sundaes. Coffee, espresso and affogato will be made with locally roasted beans.

140 E. Franklin St. |

Happiness From a Warm Bowl of Pho

“When you eat a bowl of nice, warm soup, it’s kind of uplifting and fulfilling.”

Hence the name of Pho Happiness, new on West Franklin Street, said Andy Hoang, co-owner of the restaurant with his wife, Yuki Hires, in the space of the recently closed Guru India. He is Vietnamese; she, Japanese. Together, they strive to give a modern twist to traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Pho Happiness offers more than 10 kinds of pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup. “It’s made to order,” Hoang said. “People can make modifications to it.”

The fare is reminiscent of what he grew up eating. “My mother worked really hard at a restaurant and a grocery store. She’d cook a big pot of pho [pronounced “fa”], and we’d eat it for a few days.” She made other dishes, too, so pho isn’t all that’s on the menu. There are pan-fried entrées with various proteins and vegetables, banhmi sandwiches, egg rolls and more.

508A W. Franklin St.|

Peño’s Mediterranean Grill Expands to Franklin Street

Before deciding what restaurant to put on Franklin Street, Shad Kirley went to Peño’s Mediterranean Grill in Wilmington to test the food.

Opening in May, this will be the first Peño’s with beer and wine. (Peño’s)

“It was the best gyro I’d ever had,” he said, and thus he became the new owner of the Peño’s franchise for Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, in the former Tama Cafe space besides Starbucks, opening in May. It will be the first Peño’s with beer and wine. Kirley expects customers will take readily to “our famous jalapeño and cilantro hummus,” whence Peño’s takes its name, written with a pepper draped over the “n” as the tilde accent.

Renovations include moving the storefront back 15 feet to allow for outdoor seating under an awning.

105 E. Franklin St. |

— Laura Toler ’76


Share via: