Franklin Street -- hot or not?

triangle.comApril 28, 2004 

If you haven't heard, The Gap has announced plans to close its Franklin Street location on May 31. When it does, the empty storefront will double the distressingly large, er, gap that was created in the heart of the street when neighboring First Union bank closed its doors.

Meanwhile just two blocks away, the garish skeleton of Wicked Burrito continues to haunt the street more than four years after being shuttered by its owner, the Lone Star Steakhouse chain. Looks like the big boys are no longer bullish on Chapel Hill's flagship retail corridor.

But that hasn't stopped a lot of local restaurateurs from getting in on the action. The past few weeks have seen such a flurry of new restaurant openings that it's hard to keep up with them.

Catty-corner across the street from First Union's now-dark windows, Gabor Bodoki and Steve Broity leaped on the vacancy created when Tini's Tapas closed its doors at 100 West Franklin Street. On April 10 -- before the stoves even had a chance to get cold -- the partners opened Sunny Corner Bar & Grill (933-7776).

Somehow, in the nanoseconds between one restaurant closing and the next opening, Bodoki and Broity managed to put together a four-page menu with a something-for-everyone approach. The entree emphasizes pastas and other Italian dishes, but there's a decided all-American bent to the lists of appetizers (Buffalo wings, potato skins, nachos, etc.) soups, salads and sandwiches.

The menu even boasts a modest selection of tapas (risotto croquettes and Spanish tortilla, to name two), an offering that seems to have become almost obligatory nowadays.

Just two days before Sunny Corner's opening, Lime & Basil debuted a block away at 200 West Franklin. Gracie Vo and Thach Nguyen were evidently right when they saw a need for a Vietnamese restaurant on Franklin Street, because their little eatery has been packed from wall to lime green wall every time I've stopped by. If you're interested in squeezing in and checking out the vermicelli, noodle soups and other Vietnamese specialties, Lime & Basil (967-5055) is open for lunch and dinner daily.

A month earlier and a couple blocks further down, Caffe Pane & Vino (942-1556) opened at 418 W. Franklin Street. The tiny, marble-floored space, inherited from former occupant Mayberry Creamery, has a cozy European-cafe air, complete with sidewalk tables. That matches well with the offering of panini, crostini, gelati and an extensive wine list.

In the same block (456 W. Franklin St.), the long-awaited opening of Talulla's (933-1177) in the former Silk Road Tea House spot finally became a reality. The menu is the first in the Triangle to explore Turkish cuisine in depth, going far beyond the familiar kebabs and even stretching its embrace around the Mediterranean as far as northern Africa.

With offerings ranging from midye dolmasi (mussels stuffed with rice, currants, allspice and mint) to arnavut cigeri (lamb liver and onions sauteed in olive oil), Talulla's offers a whole new map of exotica for culinary adventurers to explore. And the setting -- a honey-toned tapestry of polished hardwood floors, Turkish rugs and chandeliers evocative of Moorish Spain -- is just right for the journey.

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