Restaurant Profile: Sophie’s Grill & Bar

Exquisite Mediterranean rack of lamb
Exquisite Mediterranean rack of lamb
Stuffed zucchini with lamb
Stuffed zucchini with lamb
A private room accommodates up to 16 guests.
A private room accommodates up to 16 guests.
A vintage photo of owner Desi Nikolova’s grandparents.
A vintage photo of owner Desi Nikolova’s grandparents.
Distinctive Kapama stew (left) and classic borscht
Distinctive Kapama stew (left) and classic borscht
Jumbo tiger shrimp served atop a couscous cake
Jumbo tiger shrimp served atop a couscous cake

When considering Sophie’s Grill & Bar in Cary, a timeworn cliché comes to mind: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

From the outside, you may be tempted to assume it’s just another sports bar. But as you approach the front door, a chalkboard sign clearly indicates this is no ordinary eatery: Wednesday is Latino night, Saturday features belly dancing, and Sunday involves Russian trivia.

“We have a variety of events as Sophie’s appeals to diverse people in our community who seek a place that offers personalization and inclusiveness,” said proprietor Desislava (Desi) Nikolova, who hails from Bulgaria. “We’re not corporately owned, so we can cater to a wonderful array of unique requests and serve our guests better with our team’s efforts and with very good food.”

Hospitality reigns supreme at Sophie’s, which somehow manages to please the beer-and-burger crowd as well as those seeking an authentic Eastern European experience.

It’s not often you see jumbo chicken wings and Hungarian goulash on the same bill of fare. Never mind baked Armenian figs and stuffed Bulgarian peppers.

If you’re in the mood for a burger and fries, order the next-level-good My Big Fat Lamb burger with feta cheese. Or choose Neli’s burger, named after beloved manager Neli Dimitrova — a beef patty crowned with melted Bulgarian cheese and scratch-made lutenica, a Bulgarian spread containing red peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.

From left to right: Manager Neli Dimitrova, Owner Desi Nikolova, and Chef Galina Nikolova

Among the tempting Old World entrees prepared by chef Galina Nikolova (no relation to the owner), consider trying the Slavonian stew encompassing Croatian-style chicken, potatoes, and vegetables served in a clay pot; the grilled Serbian pork sausage seasoned with traditional spices; and cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef, pork, and rice topped with Hungarian paprika sauce.

For a special treat, call in advance and request the incomparable Kapama stew brimming with pork, chicken, beef, Bulgarian pork sausage, cabbage, tomatoes, and rice.

“I prepare the Kapama stew myself,” Desi said, “and it includes a Bulgarian spice called chubritsa.”

While Desi enjoys accommodating loyal regulars who come in and order from the menu, she also relishes opportunities to host elevated private functions.

“We are not just a grill and bar, but we are also a fine-dining restaurant for special occasions,” she explained. “We see a lot of different people from various nationalities, and we are well suited to cater to their needs. We do weddings, receptions, anniversaries, birthdays — all types of group events and parties.”

To assist her in pulling off memorable special occasions, Desi reached out to Cary resident Paul Rhoades, a wild game chef and field-to-table consultant who makes himself available to Sophie’s for private events. Rhoades brings solid credentials ranging from his training at The Culinary Institute of America to his extensive experience cooking in upscale restaurants.

On the day we visited, Rhoades prepared a sampling of impressive offerings including grilled jumbo tiger shrimp marinated in lemon-garlic vinaigrette served atop a couscous cake; fresh red snapper with a tomato-based fish stock; and Mediterranean rack of lamb crusted with oregano, mint, and parsley with Swiss chard and roasted garlic potatoes.

Special occasion chef Paul Rhoades (left) with Wine Master & Dining Room Manager Simeon Ganchev

“I like to keep things simple while offering something distinctive,” said Rhoades, whose wife is Bulgarian.

Reserved events take place either in a charming private room with seating for 16 guests or at several community tables in the main dining area that can easily accommodate larger groups. Offsite catering also is available.

“I like to meet with people to discuss what type of event they want and the budget they have to work with,” Desi said. “We provide beautiful food and drinks for a reasonable price, and we do not charge people to rent the space.”

Sophie’s also now serves its exclusive Nikoloff private-label wine imported from the country of Georgia. Presented in dry and semi-sweet varieties, red and white wine is made from Saperavi and Rkatsiteli grapes harvested in 2020 from the Khashmi village region.

“Georgia is one of the oldest wine-making countries in the world,” said wine master and dining room manager Simeon Ganchev. “The Nikoloff wines we serve pair nicely with the food and are well balanced on the palate.”

Wine dinners are scheduled at least once a month. Call or check the website for dates.

Beginning May 14, the restaurant will offer a weekly Tuesday afternoon high tea service from 2 to 4 p.m.

Sophie’s is open daily at 11 a.m. with continual service for lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended at dinner, especially on weekends. An outdoor patio provides seating for 50.

“We try our best to satisfy every guest,” Desi said with a smile.


  • Desislava says:

    Wonderful article about Sophie’s from the wonderful writer David McCreary!
    We loved the pictures as well!

  • Nikolova says:


    I am appreciative that you and your photographer took such great interest in Sophie’s Grill and Bar. This wonderful article and photos are the highlight of my career! My parents, family and friends from here and around the world are delighted and happy for me, so know that I’m deeply appreciative of your work at Cary Magazine.

    The many new customers we are meeting read your story and had not heard of Sophie’s until now. They have all enjoyed their experience here and will come back. Several patrons have commented that Sophie’s is their favorite new place!

    Thank you very much and please come back again and again!


  • Neli says:

    Dear David,
    We really do appreciate your kindness And professionalism.
    Our restaurant and our guests love your article about there favorite restaurant.
    Best to you and your team

  • Paul Rhoades says:

    Thank you for such a great article about Sofie’s grill and bar! I look forward to seeing all our fantastic guests during our special events.

  • Simeon says:

    Thank you David for the wonderful article about Sophie’s !

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