Mouthful

Former Magnolia Grill owners opening Carrboro pizzeria

Karen and Ben Barker, owners of the former Magnolia Grill in Durham, are opening Pizzeria Mercato, a new restaurant in Carrboro, with their son Gabe.
Karen and Ben Barker, owners of the former Magnolia Grill in Durham, are opening Pizzeria Mercato, a new restaurant in Carrboro, with their son Gabe. SHAWN ROCCO - srocco@newsobserve

Ben and Karen Barker, the James Beard-award-winning chefs and former owners of Durham’s Magnolia Grill, are opening a pizzeria with their son Gabe in Carrboro.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, the Barkers explained that they hope to open Pizzeria Mercato by the end of the year.

It sounds like the Barker running the show at the new restaurant will be Gabe Barker, who has spent the last five years cooking in the San Francisco area, including at Pizzeria Delfina.

“The opportunity to create a dynamic restaurant entity in Carrboro with his parents represents the realization of a professional and personal goal for Gabe,” according to the statement.

The Barkers are part of the reason the Triangle had 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.

For years, the Barkers were the only James Beard-award-winning chefs working in North Carolina. (They have since been joined by Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill and Ashley Christensen in Raleigh, who have both won Best Chef in the Southeast awards.)

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 the 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.

Weigl: 919-829-4848;

Twitter: @andreaweigl

  Comments