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The Porthole, Their Rolls, and The Recipe

by Charly Mann

There are many things that people in Chapel Hill disagree on, but anyone who ever ate at the Porthole restaurant will tell you that they not only had the best rolls in the world, they were to die for.

The Porthole was located on Porthole Alley, off the 100 block of East Franklin Street. There are many things that made it unique, but only their yeast rolls made them unforgettable. In the Porthole you got a menu with a checklist where you indicated what you wanted. Two things that everyone got there was their iced-tea; which may have been the sweetest in Chapel Hill, and the rolls which you got an unlimited supply of. They were also famous for their Chef Salad, but everything on the menu tasted like the best home cooked food you ever had. It was also ridiculously inexpensive. I do not recall ever spending more than $2.00 for a meal when I ate there from the early 1950s to the mid 1970s.

The Porthole Restaurant Porthole Alley Chapel Hill, NC

The Porthole Restaurant of Chapel Hill was home of the world's best ice tea and rolls

Their rolls were always warm and right out of the oven. I had a friend who called them Hot-Buttered rolls, but to me they were Porthole rolls. Bob Vermillia managed the Porthole. I think the owner lived in Durham, and had the last name of Timmons. I remember one long time waiter was named Wallace Oldham.

The History of the Porthole Restaurant Chapel Hill

The Porthole Restaurant of Chapel Hill is no more and is now the Enterprise Resource Panning Department for UNC

Since the Porthole is no longer in existence, I will share a recipe that I guarantee will rekindle the tastes of those rolls. Just make sure to have some extra-sweet iced-tea on hand to drink with them. I should also warn you that the magic of these things disappears when they cool down.

The Porthole, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Required ingredients:

· 1 cup whole milk
· 2 pkg. dry yeast
· ½ cup butter, melted
· ¼ tsp. salt
· ¼ cup sugar
· 2 eggs
· 4-1/2 to 5 cups flour
· You will also need some additional melted butter

First warm the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Mix 1/3 of the milk with the dry yeast in a small bowl and let sit until bubbly, about 15 minutes. In a large bowl, combine remaining milk, melted butter, salt and sugar and beat until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the beaten eggs and bubbly yeast.

Next add your flour, ¼ cup at a time, beating on high speed with a stand mixer. When the dough gets too stiff to beat, stir in rest of flour by hand, if necessary, to make a soft dough. Turn out onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, until smooth and satiny. Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size, about 1 hour. (You can also place covered the dough in the refrigerator overnight. This works really well. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding with recipe.)

Punch down the dough and roll out on floured surface to ½” thickness. Cut with 3” round cookie cutter. Brush each roll with melted butter and fold in half to make half circles. Pinch edge lightly to hold, so the rolls don’t unfold as they rise. Place in 2 greased 13x9” pans, cover, and let rise again until double, about 45 minutes. (If you refrigerated the dough, this will take longer, about 60-75 minutes.)

Bake rolls at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan immediately and brush with more melted butter. Don’t use the same butter you used when forming the rolls - melt some fresh just for this step. Makes about 24 rolls.



Andy      12:00 PM Wed 11/19/2014

I grew up in Chapel Hill and worked at Foister&#39;s Camera Store for about 10 years, 1965-1974. During 1968-1972, I was a student at UNC. <br \> <br \>The Porthole Alley was just kitty-corner across the street from Foister&#39;s and on the edge of campus. Needless to say, I often went to The Porthole for lunch. <br \> <br \>All the waiters were as kind as any men I knew, but Wallace was &quot;my waiter,&quot; and if I had time, I always waited for one of his tables. I&#39;m so glad to read comments from his daughter and grandson. Thank you for him! <br \> <br \>-- <br \>To Bebe and Bob, the Merritt football player was Jack Merritt whose nickname was &quot;The Battering Ram&quot; and the inspiration for Carolina&#39;s Mascot, Ramses. Jack went on to become a Chapel Hill policeman, and I believe he lived on Pritchard Avenue. Read more at the DTH archive: http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/67937300/ <br \><br \>

Meredith Ott      12:06 PM Thu 3/13/2014

I waited tables at The Porthole Restaurant from 1980-1982. I can still remember those rolls. Getting them out of the refrigerator, slathering them with butter with a huge paintbrush and baking them fresh in the oven. I am sure those rolls were the cause of many of freshman 15! I also worked with Wallace, and Joe, and enjoyed my time with both gentlemen who were kind and dealt with us young upstart kids very well. It was a true dining experience and reading this brought back so many memories of a wonderful experience!

Donna Oldham-Moore      6:38 PM Fri 3/7/2014

Thanks for mentioning my father Wallace Oldham regarding his excellent service that he gave everyone at the Port Hole Restaurant.

Matthew Oldham      12:24 AM Fri 3/7/2014

My grand father is the long time waiter you remembered from The Porthole Restaurant. My greatest memories as a child are the summers I&#39;d travel from upstate New York with my brother and sister, to spend with him in Chapel Hill. <br \>Many mornings he&#39;d wake us up and go to The Porthole before his shift. Our first stop was the ice machine and our second was the Coke fountain. He used to say &quot;go get ya&#39;ll some Co Cola&quot;.<br \>After his shift, we&#39;d often go fishing.<br \>Thank you for putting his memory into words.

Merle Smith      11:43 AM Thu 9/12/2013

The owner of The Porthole was Tim Timmons who lived on Oakwood Drive in CH.

CoolFatDog      11:53 AM Sun 8/5/2012

Thanks so much for sharing the recipe. Now - if there is anyone out there in Porthole Heaven who knows the recipes for the Sweet Tea and the Spaghetti with meat sauce, would you please send a link or post those? My kids have no idea what they have been missing. Thanks to anyone who can pick up the gauntlet on this one.

TomtheJazzman      8:16 PM Wed 8/17/2011

I not only can taste the hot rolls but loved the 10B-Hamburger Steak with grilled onions, peppers and gravy. I ate there several times a week and always had the 10B. I really miss it when I walk up the alley when in Chapel Hill.<br \><br \>This is a business that was build on good service and food at a fair price.

Lisa Higgins Shugoll      9:39 PM Mon 6/6/2011

I ordered the same thing every time: 10, A, E, 1000 Island, Tea<br \>I don&#39;t even remember what that was, just remember the letters.

Laurie Chapman      1:32 PM Thu 6/2/2011

OMG!! The Porthole!! My absolute favorite restaurant on the Hill. I was a student from &#39;73-&#39;78, and dinner there was a must each week, or a couple of times a week my first years on the Hill. Three or four of us were regulars, and would would walk across campus from Joyner to the Porthole for a cheap meal that was super.. I remember the booth we sat in and Wallace...he was awesome, and so nice to four little freshmen!..and remember the trays the food was served on, the chef salads, the pitchers of tea, and the ROLLS!! Always will remember the smell and taste of those rolls. The absolute best in the world! I must make this recipe...I feel another &quot;freshman 15&quot; is around the corner if I&#39;m not careful (well, I was lucky and it was only a Freshman 5, but today, it would easily be 15!!) <br \>Anyone else remember the Bacchae? Our favorite haunt on Thursday nights. And I so miss the lasagna at the Rat!! Have NEVER been able to fix make it like they did. Anyone know how they did it? And Sundays at the Coffee Shop...such wonderful memories....must stop before I start to cry!!!

Frank      8:26 AM Mon 5/9/2011

I worked a couple of hours a day at the Porthole for $10 Week plus two meals a day. They did not open until 11AM but I ate enough lunches and dinners each week to gain 25 pounds in one semester. Twenty-four of those pounds had to be from the rolls. I worked in &#39;69 and &#39;70. As mentioned, Bob was the manager and Walllace was one of the three waiters. The other two were Joe and Slim. Great memories of a great era.

evenanerd      12:30 AM Wed 3/23/2011

OMG - I had almost forgotten the taste of a good roll. I&#39;ve been avoiding bread of all kinds for a lot of years but if Portholes were still around I would kiss Atkins goodbye for one bite of one of those rolls. They had great salads too. Sorry today&#39;s &#39;heels are missin&#39; out on some good eatin&#39;. Thanks for sharing the recipe and ruining my diet. <br \><br \>Class of &#39;81

Stanley M. Farrior      7:53 PM Fri 1/14/2011

I have fond memories of the Porthole Restaurant. I was taking predental courses in 1963-64 and when I had time I was fortunate enough to work anytime I had available with the Chapel Hill Electric Utility Co. My boss then was Mr. Ben Potter who like I was an Engineering graduate from NC State. When I spoke with him about a parttime job and told him I was a State Grad. I could tell that was about all that it took. I had to be capable in his eyes coming from West Raleigh. Mr. Potter and the Porthole owner were good friends and every morning about 10:00 the engr. staff would walk down the alley to the Porthole and hot coffee was always ready for us at no charge. Ron Kizer would slip down the street and pick up a bag of delicious danish treats. Gale Winslow was another who took breaks with us.Yes they were wonderful times and make up some wonderful memories..........Of course in my six years in Chapel Hill my wife and I were blessed to enjoy many of those fantastic hot rolls and the meals to go with them.........

Stanley M. Farrior      5:34 PM Tue 11/30/2010

My wife Ellen, daughter and myself lived in Victory Village while I was in dental school from 1964 to 1968. While there the EPA Building was built and most of the houses on Johnson Street on the West side including ours were torn down getting ready for the new EPA Bldg. It was a sad sight to see our little house torn down in about 5 minutes with a swinging wrecking ball. We moved up the street about 300 feet to 101 johnson St. I saw one of the VV houses burn to the ground in a matter of minutes one day while I was looking out of a window on the side of the dental school building. They were extremely busy; but good days living in VV. Everybody was in the same boat and all in all wonderful memories were made during our years in Chapel Hill. If anyone out there knows how to locate a map of old VV in the 60&#39;s I would love to hear from you.<br \>Sincerely, Stanley M. Farrior

Mark      1:53 PM Sat 7/24/2010

Go to youwereheretees.com to buy The Porthole tee shirt, with the original logo. Also see The Rat, Hector&#39;s, and many others.

Newt MacCormack      5:14 PM Sun 7/18/2010

I was a student in Chapel Hill from 1958 to 1962, then returned for three years (1965-68). During the latter period, I worked out of the old Orange-Caswell-Chatham-Person-Lee District Health Dept., which was headquartered just on the edge of campus in an old fraternity house just up from the Porthole. The food at the Porthole was always good (especially the rolls) and reasonably priced. I remember a man named Cecil Proctor being manager of the restaurant sometime during these years; he was a friend of my father&#39;s when they grew up in rural Dillon County, SC.

Neal F Rattican      4:47 PM Sun 5/30/2010

I loved the Porthole, where I almost always ordered &quot;!0B&quot; — hamburger steak with peppers and onions. Can&#39;t wait to replicate those rolls.

Jon Silverberg      6:48 PM Fri 3/19/2010

When I was a grad student in 1969-70, I ate a lot of inexpensive lunches at the Porthole...fried chicken and meatloaf come to mind, as well as the rolls and sweet iced tea, of course...the atmosphere of the place was quite a change from what I was used to in Brooklyn...my mouth misses those rolls...the other eatery I remember was the truckstop General Sherman&#39;s, just this side of Durham...a group of the grad students in Craige dorm used to relax watching Johnny Carson weekday nights, and then head for General Sherman&#39;s after 1 am for country ham and biscuits...<br \><br \>P.S. When I was there, Victory Village still existed...the bungalows were used to house married grad students...

vwlinney      5:20 AM Mon 1/18/2010

My BF took me to the Porthole after the first football game of the school year. The interior was Carolina blue with some portholes on the wall. Perhaps the name was a tip o&#39; the hat to the Navy ROTC program.<br \><br \> The yeasty rolls were designated &quot;Pocketbook Rolls&quot; from their resemblence no doubt to a man&#39;s wallet or pocketbook. In those days most Tarheels ate bisquits either made from scratch or from refrigerated pop open dough, the levening being baking powder. The perfume and taste of a hot fresh yeast roll were both novel and intoxicating. Once I set up housekeeping, I found the Pocketbook Rolls in the &quot;Joy of Cooking&quot; were called Parkerhouse Rolls by the rest of the world. That name would have been utterly meaningless to most Tarheels as it was a Boston, gasp! snooty Yankee restaurant.<br \><br \> I still love the homeyness and comfort and charm of the name Pocketbook Rolls.

Arthur Cogswell '52      2:41 PM Wed 11/4/2009

All I will say about the rolls is that, when I pulled the piece with the recipe up on my computer and saw the picture of that old red brick building, my mouth began to water. And how many years has it been?

Eric Murray      8:03 PM Fri 10/9/2009

Yes, what a place to eat. My first week as a freshman, the dorm RA took many of us there several times... What memories! Ate there many times over the final 2-3 years of the place. <br \>Yes, do Hector&#39;s, too! And Trolls! Ok, we didn&#39;t exactly eat there, but spent many a Thursday night there. PBR pitchers were what, $2.50?<br \><br \>

Bob Morrow      1:20 PM Mon 10/5/2009

The Porthole operated from 1942 until 1985, closing on August 2 of that year. Jim Cotton, brother of &quot;Mama Dip&quot; Mildred Council, worked there before becoming employed at the Rathskeller.

Richard      1:05 PM Mon 9/28/2009

The Porthole was a favorite of mine during my years in CH--&#39;64-&#39;72. I am surprised that others have not mentioned the other two things that made the Porthole what it was: sweet tea and fried chicken. To a poor and hungry student, about the best Sunday dinner you could have was a basket of rolls, an order of real southern fried chicken, and a bottomless glass of their sweet tea! It has obviously been a long time, but I can still taste and smell those wonderful dinners from the Porthole, and I think the whole thing was about $2-$3. I was very sad on a visit some time back to see that it was closed and going to be torn down. I guess the Rat is now gone along with the Ranch House and of course, Danziger&#39;s, which was a kind of a gift shop that the owners of these two restaurants ran. I remember taking dates to dinner on Sunday to the buffet at the Ranch House. It was about $15.00 or less for all you could eat--that was sure a lot of fun. The other place I really liked was the Peddler, where steak was, I believe 65 cents an ounce for prime beef grilled to perfection. Great memories of great places!

Bob Jurgensen      10:39 PM Sat 9/26/2009

Bebe: The Porthole was on the right side of that alley as you walk toward the campus. My dad used to manager the Carolina Coffee shop and I grew up in CH in the 50&#39;s and 60&#39;s - it was definitely on the right, that small stand alone building just before you walk onto campus - it&#39;s used as offices now I think. I long for those buttered rolls - they were truly incredible. <br \><br \>Merritt? I recall he became a police officer in CH - I once got in trouble at the age of about 14 and met up with him - my mom told me he used to be a famous football player for UNC in the 40&#39;s - can&#39;t recall his first name but I remember him well.

Bob Jurgensen      9:00 PM Sat 9/26/2009

Oh my gosh, I was born and raised in CH in the 50&#39;s and 60&#39;s and used to work as a projectionist at the Varsity - we used to go over the Porthole and buy a bag of those buttered rolls and eat them like candy! So fascinating to find them on this site, and a recipe to boot... I&#39;m definitely going to try to replicate them. LOVE THIS SITE!

Bob Jurgensen      8:58 PM Sat 9/26/2009

Oh my gosh, I was born and raised in CH in the 50&#39;s and 60&#39;s and used to work as a projectionist at the Varsity - we used to go over the Porthole and buy a bag of those buttered rolls and eat them like candy! So fascinating to find them on this site, and a recipe to boot... I&#39;m definitely going to try to replicate them. LOVE THIS SITE!

JUDYTHE DINGFELDER      11:46 AM Fri 8/14/2009

We moved to Chapel Hill in 1967 and almost immediately discovered the Porthole Restaurant. Wallace Oldham was an incrediblly kind, gentle, nice and excellent waiter. We would often wait extra time in line to be seated in Mr. Oldham&#39;s section. He was a &quot;one of a kind&quot; and, although he may well be gone, we have always spoken of him glowingly over the years.<br \>

Bebe Johns Fox      7:03 PM Wed 4/1/2009

I have an old photo of a garage where repairs of the few cars in Chapel Hill<br \>were made. My grandfather, Bruce Strowd, owned the business and took orders from those who wanted to ORDER a Ford! The frame building was built in 1914 and on the back side of the photo Bruce or someone wrote that it was located near where the current Porthole. Bruce&#39;s next and final building was the 1926 20,000 sq. foot STROWD MOTOR COMPANY, facing Franklin St. and the side of the building was on Columbia St. Bruce was the pioneer auto dealer in the area. I have some photos of three buildings and a couple of the inside. The Grand Opening was the greatest thing since UNC commencement...two bands, inc. Kay Kyser for the then hip generation and another unnamed band for the more mature attendees. All kinds of funny contests were enjoyed throughout the day which involved local names that I remember...I was born at Watts in Durham in 1938 but we lived in the Southern Part of Heaven. Bruce was of 1770&#39;s stock..<br \><br \>I would love to know exactly where on the alley that the Porthole was located. I THINK I recall it was on the left as one walked toward the campus...behind the Carolina Coffee Shop. <br \><br \>I hope someone reads this and lets me know for sure.<br \><br \>ALSO, would love to know exactly which Merritt, a notable UNC football player in 1920, aka THE BATTERING RAM, who was an Orange County native, was the inspiration for Vic Huggins idea of purchasing a ram from TX to serve as the UNC mascot...HELP!!<br \><br \>Bebe

Drew Lavin      5:24 AM Wed 4/1/2009

I remember the Porthole in the early 50s. I was just a baby ..maybe 3 or 4?. Mom and dad were students at UNC..(I am 58 now). We lived in &quot;Victory Village&quot; on Jackson Circle. We always ordered the salsbury steak, mashed &#39;taters....dessert was ice cream . Dad liked chocolate I liked vanilla. It was a very traditional restaurant with very elegant &quot;old school&quot; black waiters...you have to remember this was the &#39;50s... they would bring the food and I remember a folding tray they used to deliver the food and remove the plates etc...<br \><br \>Just wonderful. ....back in &quot;the day....&quot;

Sylvia Clark      1:48 PM Fri 3/13/2009

I can still taste those rolls. I&#39;m going to try making some this weekend.

MillieOne      6:02 PM Wed 3/11/2009

I loved the Porthole. Do you know why it closed? Please do a piece on Hectors!

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Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.



What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

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Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".



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There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.



The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.





The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.





William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.



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Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.



The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.



Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.



Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.



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