By next spring, biking through Carrboro will offer a brand new benefit: stopping into Pizzeria Mercato for a slice (or a whole pie) on West Weaver Street.
The Board of Aldermen approved a permit for the restaurant, owned by Ben and Karen Barker, the award-winning pair who provided fine dining in Durham at the Magnolia Grill for 26 years.
The Barkers’ son, Gabe, will run the new pizzeria, but Ben Barker addressed the aldermen Tuesday night as they took the final steps. Grateful for the approval, he told the board the process had been lengthy, expensive and given him heartburn.
“I didn’t sleep at all last night,” he said.
As the aldermen commented on the prospects of the new restaurant opening, there was still more discussion about the measurements of sidewalks and planters and the installation of a bicycle rack for diners arriving on two wheels, not four.
As the board discussed having a more open sidewalk space without the planters that are already installed, building owner Chris Martin stepped up to offer some clarity.
“The planters are there because the town requested them,” he said.
The discussion continued, with a suggestion for an outdoor art installation. Barker told the board that would be attractive, but the time and expense of getting the approval for the project was in the way.
“It’s a big, expensive process to get to this meeting tonight,” he said. “If that could be reduced, some of that money could be spent on outdoor art.”
A rousing round of applause marked the final vote.
Later in the evening, the board voted 6-1 to approve a feasibility study for the proposed Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center (CAIC). The study is sponsored by Kidzu, the ArtsCenter and the UNC School of Government as part of its Development Finance Initiative.
The study will be paid for by the non-profit partners, but that wasn’t sufficient to win the vote of Alderwoman Jacquie Gist, who voted against the agreement.
“I heard loud and clear from the citizens of Carrboro that they are not interested in any arrangement that would now (or at a later date) financially commit them to a building for the ArtsCenter, so I saw no reason to move forward with a study that may raise expectations,” Gist said.
Still inching forward is the proposed Lloyd Farm development across from Carrboro Plaza. Progress on the mixed-use development halted when the aldermen could not muster enough votes to even set a date for a public hearing.
Because of the scope of that project, the aldermen approved a mediation process among all the parties to more definitively work through the issues in dispute.
On Tuesday, Planning Director Trish McGuire gave an update. The meetings have been helpful, she said. After six meetings with 22 people, there is a tentative agreement to move forward to a public hearing, a mandatory step in the approval process.
The board should get a consultant’s report from Andy Sachs, who facilitated the meetings for the Dispute Settlement Center. At that point, the aldermen say they hope to renew the discussion.
About the Barkers
The Barkers are part of the reason the Triangle has a culinary reputation. In 2000, Ben Barker took home the Best chef in the Southeast award from the James Beard Foundation, the Oscars of the food world. Three years later, his wife, Karen, took home best pastry chef, a national award.
After 26 years, the couple closed their well-known restaurant, Magnolia Grill, in May 2012. The restaurant’s last few weeks were marked by diners lining up outside trying to get a handful of tables available each night without a reservation.
The Barkers’ new venture will be a change from Magnolia Grill’s fine-dining fare. Pizzeria Mercato will be a full-service, casual restaurant serving “pizza Americano,” a hybrid of Neopolitan and New York pizza styles. The pizzas will be prepared in a brick oven-lined Marsal & Sons deck oven.
The menu also will emphasize “vegetable-based antipasti, soups, salads, side dishes and contorni” as well as offer a “revolving selection of piatti (meatballs al sugo, roast chicken, baked pastas, for example),” according to a release. Housemade gelatos, sorbets and simple desserts will complete the menu.
Italian wines will be offered by the glass, quartino and bottle, along with North Carolina craft beers.
The restaurant will be at 408 W. Weaver St., near the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, which inspired the pizzeria’s name.
Staff writer Andrea Weigl