We all have our favorite ways of keeping warm through the winter months. For some, it's a crackling fire and a well-worn sweater. For others, it's a hearty bowl of stew, a big plate of Buffalo wings or some other piping hot, rib-sticking fare.
The closest thing to Buffalo wings you'll find at Nil's is chicken salad. Hardly what you'd call rib-sticking, and it's certainly not piping hot, but in its own way it's every bit as comforting as that favorite sweater. Owner Mustafa Karaca makes it from scratch, first poaching chicken breasts and, once they're cool, finely chopping them and tossing them with celery in a simple mayonnaise dressing.
You can get the chicken salad on one of Karaca's house-baked breads, from whole wheat to sun-dried tomato sourdough. Or you can get a dollop of the chicken salad atop a large Greek salad in a combination that, according to Karaca's wife, Sibel Hizaroglu, is the restaurant's most popular offering. Even in February.
In fact, the bulk of the offerings at this cheery little shop in historic downtown Fuquay-Varina is salads and simple deli sandwiches. Vegetarian fare is well-represented, with options ranging from kisir (a Turkish variation on tabbouleh) to egg salad on croissant.
If your craving insists on something piping hot, a cup of the soupe du jour - chicken, white bean, vegetable or a creamy, earthy red lentil that's made with a recipe the owners brought with them from their native Turkey - ought to satisfy. So would a cup of Turkish coffee, which you'd naturally want with your baklava or any of Karaca's other sweet temptations on display in the pastry case.
And if you're there for breakfast (Nil's is open Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.), you can taste for yourself what makes the spinach and feta omelet so popular.
For the most part, though, the warm feeling at Nil's doesn't come from the food. It's a warmth that's less tangible but just as real: fresh flowers on the tables, eclectic artwork on sunny walls and - most of all - the friendly greeting you get from Hizaroglu at the order counter. It doesn't take many return visits before you feel as if you're one of the restaurant's many regular customers. I'll take that kind of warmth over a fireplace any day.