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Various plates on a table.
The spread at Bombolo in Chapel Hill.
Forrest Mason Media

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Chapel Hill Newcomer Bombolo Refuses to Be Categorized as an Italian Restaurant

The menu at Bombolo ranges from turkey neck ragu to halibut khao soi

What exactly is Bombolo (764 M.L.K. Jr Boulevard, Chapel Hill)? A quick glance at the sign above the front windows of the space gives an answer:“Ceci n’est pas un restaurant Italien,” which means,This is not an Italian restaurant.”

Except it is. Or it sort of is. Italian-adjacent might be a better way to describe it — or Italian-inspired. Regardless, the best way to figure out what in the heck is going on in the kitchen at Bombolo, and in the minds of siblings and owners chef Garret Fleming and Eleanor Lacy, is to look at the menu.

Bombolo, which opens today, is the second Chapel Hill restaurant for the duo. Their popular barbecue spot Big Belly Que (now closed) was known for pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a barbecue joint, and it seems Lacy and Fleming have applied that same ethos to the offerings at Bombolo.

There’s a ragu, made with turkey neck and served with a ribbon-like mafalde pasta, and meatballs in the form of juicy, pillowy pork and veal polpette.

Turkey neck ragu.
Turkey neck ragu.
Forrest Mason Media

But there’s also Turkish-style lamb manti, New Orleans-inspired barbecued shrimp, beef cheek rendang, and halibut khao soi. It’s though the pair took the concept of “pasta” and expanded it to include noodles and dumplings from around the globe, plus whatever else inspires them at the moment.

The lobster pot is reminiscent of a late summer meal in Maine, with massive chunks of lobster served in a crock pot and swimming in lemony butter, with plenty of bread alongside for dipping.

Dessert is Lacy’s territory, and the signature chocolate bombolo is not to be missed. Inspired by the French pastry chocolat royal, Lacy’s version relies on a crunchy praline base topped with a thick chocolate mousse to deliver on both texture and flavor.

Halibut khao soi.
Halibut khao soi.
Forrest Mason Media

Lacy also puts her Level 2 Wine & Spirit Education Trust training to good work with a carefully chosen wine list that pulls mostly from Old World regions, with a few detours in keeping with the overall theme of the restaurant. Sparkling rosé from New Mexico, anyone?

Bombolo feels like that rare restaurant where the chefs get to cook what they actually want to cook, rather than what they think the dining public wants them to cook. It’s a daring menu in a town not necessarily known for pushing culinary boundaries, and it's clear that Fleming and Lacy are inviting diners to come on a journey with them rather than just plopping plates of food down on tables. With seating for less than 50, it's an intimate setting in which to undertake that journey.

Bombolo is open for dinner beginning at 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.

A woman and a man sitting at a bar.
Owners Eleanor Lacy and Garret Fleming
Forrest Mason Media

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