Southern Rail is a nightlife and dining complex in downtown Carrboro. The Station, their main bar, is housed in a refurbished train station, and the dining takes place in vintage railroad cars. They also have a large beer garden space and two more bars housed inside the facilities. On a warm night with a DJ or band playing outside, Southern Rail and the Station are happening.
I hadn’t tried the food since they first opened five years ago, so I decided to remedy that and investigate whether Southern Rail offered good options for a bite between drinks.
The Location: 201-C East Main St. The different feels to Southern Rail’s nooks and crannies are a definite plus. The main dining car hosts golden-mustard walls, chandeliers, and old photographs hung on over the windows, creating an elegant ambience.
The Company: A good friend accompanied me on this quest to evaluate Southern Rail’s dining car charm and menu appeal.
The Meal: The menu is diner fare; it tends toward items like nachos, meatloaf sandwiches and pasta primavera. I started with a house cocktail, the Apple Jack. Orange and lemon juices were muddled with bourbon, and they mellowed it nicely. A dash of cayenne made the drink fun, and honey soothed each sip.
For my meal, I chose the smoked beef brisket with roasted red peppers, barbecue aioli, caramelized onions and arugula. Smoked brisket can often be too dry for me, but this one was delicious. Thinly sliced, it was similar in taste to freshly smoked bacon. The various accoutrements helped hold its moisture in, and the soft ciabetta roll had a nice crust and fluffiness. The tater tots, however, were nothing exceptional and already a bit cold by the time they were delivered.
My friends’ choice, the Flyer Roll, was a steak sandwich with caramelized onions, melted fontina, sautéed peppers and onions, and au jus. She enjoyed it at first, especially the au jus, but found it too rubbery about halfway through and couldn’t finish it. The fries were standard fare.
Dessert was next. Three simple-sounding options were given: cheesecake, chocolate cake and crème brûlée. I chose chocolate, and I did not expect the beautiful dessert we received! It was an almost molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, topped with berry sauce and a beautiful strawberry rose. The plating was impressive, and the dessert was darn good, too. The cake was chewy on the outside and moist like a not-quite-cooked brownie on the inside.
The Service: There were a few small snafus for a slow evening in the restaurant. Our food was brought to the wrong table, and the dessert took a while to come out. For a meal while imbibing, however, I’m not too picky.
The Final Bill: Two sandwiches, one cocktail, and one dessert came to $35. The sandwich prices ($10) were a couple of bucks too high for the quality of their sides. At first glance, I thought the $8.50 cocktail was too much as well, but it won me over with sophistication once I tasted it.
The Verdict: If you’re partaking in Southern Rail’s lively bar scene, and you feel a bit peckish, the brisket sandwich and chocolate cake are worthy treats between drinks. The dining car also provides a lovely respite from the more crowded bar areas.
Rebecca Gomez Farrell is a Durham-based fantasy, horror and romance author and a freelance editor. She reviews the Triangle’s restaurants and cocktails on her blog, the Gourmez, contributes to the food blog Carpe Durham and writes television commentary for All My Writers.