Eastcut Sandwich Bar, 3211 Old Chapel Hill Road, 984-439-1852; eastcutsandwich.com
Eastcut Sandwich Bar is a restaurant that could exist pretty much anywhere. And actually, that’s what feels so present-day-Durham about it. The owners are NYC-area transplants (as am I) who moved to the area for graduate school, fell in love with it, and decided to stay (as did I). It’s a familiar story that many Triangle-area students and young professionals can probably relate to. Eastcut capitalizes on that fact with a menu that draws from all over the East Coast and can satisfy a range of sandwich cravings, from an Italian deli sub to a messy cheesesteak.
A sign in the parking lot reads “Now Entering Sandwich Utopia,” a nod to the concept’s untethered appeal. What it also hints at is something a little more tangible: the sandwiches here are really, really good. The sesame roll, brought in daily from La Farm Bakery in Cary, is the best I’ve ever tried: sturdy, but not difficult to bite through, and thick enough to be an important sandwich component without being overwhelming. Most everything else, from deli meats to hand-pulled mozzarella, is made in house.
But, while the dishes are made from scratch and the space is contemporary, the sandwiches themselves are classics that stay true to their original versions. There are no made-for-Instagram mashups here—this is food that’s made to be eaten, not just photographed and tweeted about.
Vibe: The owners set out to build a neighborhood place for transplants from all over the country, which is a theoretical oxymoron that works outstandingly well in practice. The space feels very home-away-from-home, too, with a wrap-around porch that makes it feel a little like you’re walking into a house party, not a restaurant. East Coast state license plates, arranged from north to south around the entryway, are a good reflection of the overall feel: deliberately cute and energetic, but not in your face.
Staff is friendly, and the counter-to-table service is quick. Plenty of natural light makes the dining room inviting, and the place is busy on weekends but never congested. You could be in and out in fifteen minutes, but a good beer list and novelty boozy slushies (which can double as dessert) mean it’s also a fun place to hang out. The front patio is nice in warmer weather, and the (huge) heated backyard garden invites year-round al fresco dining.
Menu: The ten core sandwiches are mostly familiar favorites drawing from different East Coast regions. They’re elevated in the sense that ingredients are fresh, well-seasoned, and made mostly in house, but unpretentious overall—no fancy add-ons or unnecessary riffs. The list is meat-heavy, but both vegetarian offerings are winners. A handful of substantial salads, hot and cold sides, and appetizers round out the menu. On weekends, a four-item brunch menu offers breakfast sandwiches and pancakes.
What to order: Start with the hand-pulled mozzarella sticks, which are bigger and way better than your average pizza-place appetizer. The salads are creative and fresh, but I wouldn’t recommend any of them over a sandwich unless you’re dead-set on greens. (If so, go with the super Tuscan chopped salad, which gets a good kick from cherry peppers.)
If you’re craving a deli sub, choose the spicy gabagool. You might laugh at the Sopranos reference, but fresh mozzarella and the trio of cured meats—prosciutto, salami, and the namesake hot capicola that New Jersey Italians somehow came to pronounce as “gabagool”—make for a seriously good sandwich. Whether or not you’re vegetarian, the beets and goat is a standout, with cream-cheese-like whipped goat cheese and a generous pile of tangy greens. Both the buff chick and the parm feature a generously thick cut of fried chicken that stays crispy even after it’s smothered in sauce (buffalo and marinara, respectively). The only real liberty Eastcut takes is with its cheesesteak, topped with sesame-soy onions and stuffed with curly fries. Specials change often, but are worth checking out: lox and cream cheese on a roll, a shrimp po’boy, and a meatball sub have all made recent appearances.
Many of the sandwiches come in two sizes; a small round is big enough for most appetites, and I’d opt to add a side over upgrading to a large hero. The potato salad and curly fries are good, but sweet potato tots are the best. For kids over twenty-one, there’s the Merry Meal: your choice of the buff chick or a burger, plus a side, a beer, and a free koozie.
Price: Sandwiches are $6-$12.50; sides are $1.50-$3; salads are $6.50-$12; appetizers are $8-$9; boozy slushies are $5-$8; a Merry Meal is $13.
Perfect for: A well-priced lunch away from your desk; a casual, kid-friendly family dinner out; a big weekend gathering.