Restaurant Spotlight: Chapel Hill’s finest
Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery dedicated to downtown
by Danielle Jackson
In 1994, when a Chapel Hill landlord announced plans to open a T.G.I. Friday’s along East Franklin Street, then-law student Scott Maitland was appalled.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of a chain restaurant dominating our downtown,” he says.
So Maitland dedicated his third year of law school to starting Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, which has earned numerous awards for its brews and ambience since it opened in 1996.
Something for everyone
Top of the Hill was conceived to be the social crossroads of Chapel Hill.
“Much of my motivation stemmed from noticing that there was nowhere in town where every segment of the community came together,” he says.
“It’s a place where faculty, staff, students, townies, and visitors can all come and enjoy our town.”
While Maitland admits that there are many great restaurants in town that serve different price points and social desires, Top of the Hill caters to all customers at all price points.
The décor is upscale yet casual, with a menu that reflects the town’s diversity. Entrées range from steaks and seafood to pasta and regional specialties, and are priced so that everyone from graduate students to executives can find something they like.
“The clientele reflects our community,” Maitland says.
“You can come in any day and see everyone from the chancellor to a professional athlete to a nine-year-old soccer camp attendee to a prospective student.”
To accommodate such a wide range of customers — and to solidify its dedication to downtown Chapel Hill — Top of the Hill is doubling its size. The establishment recently announced plans to occupy the 11,000-square-foot space on the soon-to-be-built second floor of the former Carolina Theatre building next door. A majority of the space will be used for private dining and parties up to 200 people, with a smaller gameroom area for pool tables, dartboards, and a bar.
“Over the years, customers have asked us to provide that type of space, so when the opportunity arose we jumped at the chance,” Maitland says.
“It was always about being on the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets and showing off our amazing downtown, which has survived since 1789 as a vibrant community center,” he adds of the location and view, which patrons can see from its outdoor deck.
“We hope that we contribute to that vibrancy.”
Under the influence
Top of the Hill also is the largest brewpub in the South, serving almost 3,000 kegs per year. Its handcrafted beers include Big Bertha Brown Ale, Blackwood Mountain Stout, Chuck and Stone Black and Tan, Leaderboard Trophy Lager, Old Well White, Rams Head IPA, and Singleton Ale.
According to Maitland, it also is the largest alcohol seller in the state, and its homebrews have earned more than a dozen medals in the World Beer Championships.
Now Maitland is taking it one step further with the expansion of Top of the Hill that includes a vodka distillery in the nearby former Chapel Hill News building.
“Brewing our own beers over the years, my respect and admiration for small distilleries grew while I became more perplexed as to why all of the alcohol in the state was purchased from other states and countries,” he says.
“One day, I realized that we should make our own alcohol using local grains, herbs and other ingredients,” Maitland adds. “And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Danielle Jackson is editor of Fifteen501, Wake Living and Triad Living magazines.
Cajun Salmon With Macque Choux and Tomato Jam
(serves four to six)
For the Fillets
4 to 6 salmon fillets
1/4-cup Cajun seasoning
For the Macque Choux
Oil to coat pan
2 cups corn
1/2-cup red onion, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream
For the Tomato Jam
2 cups roasted tomatoes
2 cups sugar
1/4-cup apple cider vinegar
1 small sprig rosemary
Coat salmon with Cajun seasoning and grill, sauté, or bake until done.
To make the Macque Choux, add oil to a large pot and set to medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaf and corn. Sauté for four minutes, then add Tabasco, sugar and heavy cream. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to simmer for five minutes. Remove half of the solids from the sauce and puree. Return to the pot and stir together (this can be made ahead, chilled and reheated).
For the tomato jam, add all ingredients to a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 20 minutes. Bring back to a boil and remove from heat. Let cool.
To roast tomatoes, remove the core of each, cut into pieces, and coat with oil, salt, and pepper. Lay out on a baking sheet and cook at 450 degrees until charred on the outside.
If you go
Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery is located at the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets in downtown Chapel Hill. The establishment is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday. To learn more, call (919) 929-8676 or visit www.topofthehillrestaurant.com.