Chef & the Farmer - Kinston, NC
Have any chowhounds been out there yet? I'd never even heard about the place, but Greg Cox just gave it 4 1/2 stars and apparently locals out east hold it in the highest esteem. Chef has worked under Wylie Dufresne and Jean-Georges Vongerichten and features fresh, local ingredients and haute Southern cuisine. This definitely looks like a destination restaurant (or perhaps as part of a day trip to New Bern pairing it with lunch at Tryon Palace Seafood or something).
Chef & the Farmer
120 W Gordon St, Kinston, NC 28501
Chef and the Farmer is a very good restaurant. It's located in a very tastefully renovated old building in Kinston and has innovative food with lots of fresh seasonal vegetables and intelligently sourced products. It would be a very good restaurant in any city, but is amazing for it's locale. Being an hour away from me, I do not get there often enough. The chef, Vivian, and her husband have treated us great on our visits and their service and beverage program blow away anything in Goldsboro or Greenville. I have struggled to find interesting places to eat in this part of the world and would be happy to run down the relatively short list of restaurants worthy of a visit. And yes, the newspapers down here are a joke.
You need to try both restaurants, as they are wildly more interesting than offerings in greenville. I fully understand and deal with the babysitter issue, but try both restaurants on the early side with children and they will be accomodating. Both options are far more interesting than anything in Greenville, especially if you like wine. I am not tech savvy enough to add links and such, but here is a start on the other worthy dining spots:
Beefmastor - They serve one thing really well. A juicy ribeye cooked perfectly with garlic, salt and pepper. The restaurant is an oddity. Zero ambiance, wine list and menu, but fun as hell and they charge a $2 corkage fee for wine brought in. You sit in your car and wait for them to call you in.
Quince - Had a pretty good lunch there. Neat space and shrimp & grits worth going back for. I have heard service can be an issue, but not on my visit.
Mirabella's - The first time I've had an interesting pizza in Eastern NC. Other items were a step above most local pizza joints. I believe they have opened a place in greenville. If so, it is currently the best pizza there.
If you find somewhere worth eating, let me know. Madison seafood is a candidate, but expectations must be realistic.
Grand's - Sunday lunch only. They put out a very good soul food buffet. Highlights include fried chicken, chicken pastry, collards, braised cabbage, butter beans, black eyed peas, overly sweet potatoes and any other veg or bean available. Avoid anything you wouldn't expect on a soul food buffet.
On the Square - Conflict of interest will prevent me from going into detail, but a must try for upscale dining at very reasonable prices.
Japan Inn - This is just if you are in greenville and need a sushi fix. I think they have the best sushi option after trying the other candidates. Order ala carte (no all you can eat option) and ask them to cut the rice in half. Was served fresh grated wasabe root on one visit. Wavecrest roll, although an American style roll, is a must order.
LA Lounge - Although pricey, possibly the best fine dining option in Greenville. This does not, however, qualify the restaurant as a very good restaurant. Chef change could render this rec obsolete.
B's Barbecue - My second favorite barbecue joint in NC (next to Pete's in Ayden).
El Azador - Authentic Mexican and always really good. Especially on Fri - Sun when they serve tamales and pollo asada. I know Naco has other favorites that I haven't tried, but there's something wildly addictive about their coal fired chicken stuffed into homemade corn tortillas with salsa verde/rojo.
A thai restaurant - That's not the name. It's not Thai kitchen. I'm just too tired to look up the name. It's a real thai restaurant and it's killer. I think there are three thai restaurants in greenville. Worth searching out and I'll get back to the name.
Fourth Street Wine Bar - I'll keep this brief due to conflict of interest, but if you like wine, artisinal cheese and other specialty antipasti, this is a neat place to check out
That's a start. I would love this list to be expounded upon. When I have more energy, I'll add to it. Living in eastern NC can be interesting/challenging for those who love to eat, but there's no reason we have to be tortured by fast food and mediocre chain restaurants.
The problem with us and kids is that our youngest is having a really bad case of the terrible threes, and it's just not enjoyable to take him to anywhere that doesn't have a casual atmosphere- and even that is a challenge. When eating in Greenville, we can use drop-in daycare, but I don't know of any in Tarboro or Kinston. I have family reasonably close to Tarboro, though, so we'll make it to On the Square...eventually.
Wilson: I completely agree with you on the Beefmastor Inn. A must-visit in the area.
Wilson also has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the area, and the taquerias and such to go with it. I've tried two of them(Las Palmas and El Mexicanito) and both were really good. I give the nod to El Mexicanito- they griddle their tortillas perfectly, and the salsas are the best in the area. As good/better than top Triangle places like Los Comales and Fonda y Birrieria Jalisco.
There are also large Hispanic populations in Lenoir, Wayne, and Duplin counties. I've been sketching out a book on the NC taqueria scene and as such, I've been planning to get down there. Pink Hill only has around five hundred people, but has three taquerias.
As for tacos in Greenville, the two places I frequent most are Supermercado El Rancho and El Picante. El Rancho has a huge, uneven menu. Some of the stuff on it is a total loser(the pozole was right out of Indy and the Temple of the Doom), but they have a lot of good stuff as well. The fried quail is excellent(albeit accompanied by utterly pedestrian rice and beans). The tortas are good and very interesting. They also have the best barbacoa that I've found in the area. The tacos are good, but outclassed by other Greenville/Wilson places. They steam their tortillas rather than grilling them, and I'm pretty sure the tortillas are not freshly made as at other spots. But they're perfectly fine if you're in the neighborhood. El Rancho also has some Central American items on the menu from time to time. Pupusas spring to mind, there may be others.
El Picante has a bit of a Tex-Mex bent, but there are plenty of authentic items on the menu. Any of the Ensenada/Nayarit style tacos are excellent. The tortas are good, although their bolillos are a touch too big for my tastes. But I usually order off the specials board. Anything in salsa verde is a good bet, although it's pretty mild, so ask if you want it more spicy. They take plastic and speak English- this is a very unintimidating place to introduce yourself or a slightly skittish someone else to authentic Mexican food.
I need to get reacquainted with El Azador, which has been really good on the occasions that I've eaten there. Unfortunately, I work on weekends a lot, so it's been tough to get over there to try the chicken.
I agree with you about Japan Inn for sushi. We tried it a few months ago and thought it was the best thing going at the moment. Ditto on your Wavecrest roll recommendation. That's what I had the first time I was there. Really good. I was really unimpressed with Wasabi 88. This is an area that you would think Greenville could find some strength in, given its relatively large Japanese population, but if there is a secret menu in any of these hibachi places, I wouldn't even have a clue as to how to go about getting served from it.
GK Cafe is a new soul food option in Greenville, although they seem to still be working the kinks out. They don't have a proper menu, just two daily specials, but despite that, they've been out of one of the main items on a couple of occasions that I've gone. What I've had has been really nice though. Excellent sides and dessert items.
Barbecue: Pete Jones is my favorite, although not by much, given the often sloppy presentation(gristle, etc.) Maybe it's nostalgia, but I remember the cracklins being better and no gristle when I went with my grandfather in the 80s/early 90s.
Jack Cobb in Farmville is good too- on par with B's in terms of flavor and mouthfeel. A very clean bbq.
Bun's in Windsor is great, and I've heard good things about Whitley's in Murfreesboro, but they were closed for a while; I'm not sure if they ever opened back up.
Thai: the place in Greenville you're thinking of is Saeng Thai, and it is excellent. They do really interesting specials- I had a strawberry curry from there a few days ago. Lemongrass is boring and should be avoided, and I haven't tried the one that's out on Memorial, near Bonham Meats. They have sushi also, IIRC.
Marabella does have a Greenville location now, although it's very small and not a full blown sit down. Definitely the best(and most interesting) pizzas around. We also like Michaelangelo's a lot, with the caveat that my only pizza eating experiences outside of the South came in Latin America, so I am not what you would call a connoisseur.
Odds and Ends:
Taquerias and such in the Far East: El Autentico in Washington is pretty good, although they had a low sanitation rating when I ate there(looked clean enough, though). There's a panaderia(La Perla, I think) in Washington that does really good tres leches cake.
I ate at Garcia's Grill in Roper a lot in the late 90s and it used to be a frequent on-the-way-to-the-beach stop for us, but it closed for a year or so before reopening recently(same owners, apparently). So, I'm not up to date on it, but it used to be really good.
Tryon Palace Seafood in New Bern does the best fried seafood I've found in the area. It's attached to a fish market, the owner is an ex-commercial fisherman who sources all or most items locally. Everything I've had has been fresh and perfectly cooked. I am incredibly picky about seafood, especially fried seafood, because my family have always been avid sport fishermen. We used to take weekly fishing trips to Ocracoke in the summer, and the only seafood I ever ate as a child was cooked the same day it was caught. Tryon Palace Seafood is as good as those backyard fish frys we used to have.
Carol's in Robersonville does good soul food. The sides are to die for. And they have pretty tasty bbq as well. A lot of locals like the Filling Station, but I think it's aptly named and utterly forgettable. Carol's is also one of a handful of places that I can think of that serve chitlins. I haven't had them yet, but I know a couple of people who rave about them.
Ben Jones' in Everetts does the best turkey bbq I've found, and really great eastern NC style bbq chicken. It's a home based operation though, and he used to be pretty erratic as far as when he had the chicken. I'll see if I can get some details.
We made it over to Kinston to try Chef and the Farmer last night. Bottom line: excellent food and one of the best things going in the area.
I was feeling difficult and ordered fish, which is one of those things that I have really strong opinions about. I had a grilled tilefish fillet with steamed clams, butterbeans and chorizo, and a very good tempura vegetable(can't recall what it was exactly). The sauce was just right- a little piquant, picking up more heat as you eat more and start to get into the beans and chorizo. The fish was cooked perfectly.
My wife had a hanger steak with duck fat fried potatoes. I had a bit of this and it was very good(the beef was local, from Nooheroka Natural in Greene County). This is a good deal on Tuesdays, as they offer a special which includes the hanger steak, a salad, and dessert for $21.
We also had a couple of mojitos which were really well done. Dessert was great as well. I thought the blondie with ice cream was only okay, but the apple upside down cake with caramel ice cream was insanely good.
You know I grew up in that area and it came about after I was in college. Never been, but considering the town.. being one of the best things in the area isn't hard to do.. All kidding aside, I have heard glowing things and while surprised that it has lasted this long, I hope it continues its success. Them good ol' boys need somewhere to impress a client and Kings nor Bojangles isn't going to do it anymore... Yes I'm just kidding.
I hope if I ever get back to Kinston that I can give it a shot.
I'm an eastern NC native as well, and the fact that it's in Kinston definitely provokes some cognitive dissonance. We were there at opening on a Tuesday, and they had a good crowd in there by the time we left, so it looks to be doing just fine. It's easy to miss, though. I realized when we found it that I'd been driving past it several times a year, probably for as long as it's been open, and hadn't noticed that there was a restaurant there. The signage is very inobtrusive, and that full scale Civil War ironclad replica across the street tends to draw your eyes that way.
Well I remember the story in either the N&O or Free Press talking about the Exec. Chef/Owner being from the area originally. I'm glad it's bringing a touch of class to the area and offering "real" classy dining as oppose to stale offerings like House of Wang or whatever may be in Frenchman's Creek now. Would be funny to see something like a foodnetwork show pop up there.. though foodnetwork to food is almost like what MTV is to music now.
Chef and the Farmer is truely a gem in the town and if it is based upon local purveyors than the title of the restaurant is simple and to the point.
re: Liz Biro
Thanks for this tip. I'm eyeing a drive down there for dinner in the coming weeks.
EDIT: I really like the look of their Wednesday chef's tasting menus. I just called and they have them every Wednesday, four courses, chef being at his "creative best." All four courses for $35. What a steal.
I had the tasting menu this past Wednesday. It was a steal at $35. Started out with a shrimp two ways dish spicy served with citrus. Small sweet shrimp and a shrimp fritter. Tasty way to start. Next was a Celery Risotto, country ham, orange/ celery gremolata. This was nicely done. Subtle and well integrated flavors. Third course Hedgehog Mushroom & Foi Gras Stuffed Quail Breast, roasted garlic polenta, fig/ quail jous. Another nice dish. The polenta tasted pleasantly of roasted garlic. I liked the quail a lot. For a breast, there was a lot of flavor. Finally, Tres Leches Cake, spiced blueberries, caramel. Nice presentation, nice dessert. Overall, I was quite pleased by the food, service and room. I'd say the food tastes as good as Poole's in Raleigh with a little more flair on the menu & presentation. The service was really good. Plenty of servers, all friendly and attentive without hovering.
This menu really took the edge off a rainy winter night. Heckuva deal, too!
If I lived closer, I'd be a regular.
Just wanted to add a little more praise for The Chef and the Farmer. We went down there on Wednesday; they didn't have the tasting menu going, but it was a great experience anyway.
Appetizers: the pizza with homemade sausage and broccoli rabe was very good, but the fried oyster toast was inexplicably delicious.
Mains were both perfect: scallops with winter vegetables and the sage-crusted Berkshire pork chop with smoked kale. Possibly the best pork I've had in eastern NC, which is saying something.
Dessert: one of the best creme brulees I've had. If I'd not had to drive home, I'd've been all over the $7 glasses of Tokaj.
I'm not very knowledgeable about wine, but the list looked fantastic to me and the two glasses we had (a Spanish Albarino and an Oregon Pinot Noir) were delicious.
They also have great bread -- I would pay some serious money to get bread like that in Greenville. Does anyone know if they bake it in-house?
All in all, I'd be thrilled to find this restaurant in any city, and in Kinston it's a miracle.