Chef and the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina is a restaurant that has been on my wish list for several years.
A couple of years ago I bought a copy of Chef Vivian Howard‘s fabulous cookbook Deep Run Roots and felt like I knew her by the time I finished reading it. This in turn lead me to a new found passion to cook Southern food. And then our wonderful daughter in law Eve turned us on to her Chef Howard’s wonderful TV show which was on PBS for several years but recently ended. Steve and I binge watched it while we were visiting Brian and Eve in Raleigh. And, of course, I bought Eve her very own copy of Deep Run Roots.
So going to Vivian Howard’s restaurant was a must. But the problem was that it was too far from Raleigh to just go for dinner. But then our son had the brilliant idea for us to go to celebrate his birthday and my birthday which are just a few days apart and to make a weekend of it. He made hotel reservations and off we went!
On our way we did make a lunch stop for some excellent Eastern North Carolina BBQ at Sam Jones BBQ which you can read about here. And yes, we were careful to save plenty of room for an amazing dinner at Chef and the Farmer. Even making reservations months in advance the only reservation we could get was at 9:15. Of course this gave us plenty of time for cocktails and a walk around downtown Kinston. The walk took about 10 minutes. It’s a very small town that is at the beginning stages of revitalization largely due to the popularity of Chef and the Farmer and her other restaurant the very casual Boiler Room. And since the Boiler Room is just around the corner from Chef and the Farmer we chose to have some drinks there. If we had another night in Kinston we would go there for dinner because the seafood coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled fabulous.
I have to say that I was quite surprised at how sophisticated Chef and the Farmer is. The interior is quite contemporary and spacious with a very Northern vibe, polar opposite to what I expected in this very rural and rustic town. The hostess graciously seated us but informed us that unfortunately Chef Howard had already gone home for the night to be with her twin kiddos. Her absence certainly did not affect the quality of the food. We began the evening’s culinary adventure with the Carolina Grain Pull Apart Bread that came with a fresh cheese spread similar to pimento cheese that was topped with a spicy tomato relish; along with a Small Plate of Handmade Pasta with guanciale crumble, bread crumbs, caramelized onions, farm onion soubise, charred bok choy and Parmesan. And as a bit of lagniappe we were presented with a Share Plate of Flash Fried Collards delicately rained on with sea salt. I was not expecting the collards to be so addictive. Even Brian, who is not a fan of collards, loved these crispy gems. Now you would expect that after a lunch of delicious BBQ we wouldn’t be all that hungry. You would be wrong. Each dish that came out was so farm fresh and well seasoned that we inhaled each one as if it was our last meal!
Which brings us to our entrées. We each ordered something different but except for a reluctant forkful or two none of us was willing to share. Steve’s North Carolina Shrimp and Grits had creamy, perfectly seasoned grits, sweet shrimp fresh from the nearby shore and the delectable enhancements of mushroom and spicy tomato ragout, scallions and bacon. Brian order the very tender and succulent Brittany Ridge Pork Chop that was accompanied by dirty farro and sweet and sour beets. Since I rarely cook steak at home I opted for the Painted Hills Beef which was crowned with herbaceous chimichurri and came with marinated cabbage and beautifully crispy on the outside creamy on the inside potato croquettes. It was swoon worthy. But the award for the most beautiful plate went to Eve’s selection the Sunburst Farms Trout. I think serving whole trout is a gutsy move because it can be intimidating for the diner to remove all the bones. And trout is a boney fish. But here is what made this dish such a show stopper. Our server came to the table fully prepared to meticulously debone that beautiful fish. And I almost forgot to mention that the trout came with perfect partners of a root vegetable purée, charred citrus, gremolata and fried parsnips.
And you cannot have a birthday celebration without cake. So stuffed as we were the four of us shared a spectacularly delicious chocolate layer cake filled with chocolate mousse. It was so good that, yes, as you can see we licked the plate clean!