January03/ 2014

One may have numerous spouses, children, jobs, cars and cell phones in one’s life; but only one Hometown.   Endearing / enduring memories of “my hometown” go with you wherever Life takes you.  I have always been proud of mine.  Good thing ‘cause we are forever linked.

Thursday night Blondie & I went there.  “There” being Kinston, North Carolina.  Home of “pure artesian well water”….. Charles “Amphibious” Shackleford….. assorted less infamous but much more accomplished athletes…. and THE #1 Stop-to-pee between The Triangle and da Beach.

Our destination was The Chef & The Farmer Restaurant.   GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST! What’s a “world class eatery” doing IN KINSTON ??

That #1 “Stop-to-pee” is, of course, Neuse Sports Shop out on the bypass and next to King’s Barbecue.   For over 50 years folks headed to/from “da Beach” (aka Morehead, Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle) along Hwy 70 have stopped “to pee” at Neuse Sports Shop / King’s.

It’s the urinating version of Lourdes.  Being the geographical midpoint ‘tween Raleigh and da Beach, it has a magical effect on kidneys, bladders, and the internal plumbing involved.

But this isn’t about “peeing” or riding King’s Pink Pig or The Confederate Statue just down the road – “Not For Wages, Not For Glory…. T’was For Home & Right They Fell”.

For a middle-class white boy in the early 60s, Kinston was Richie Cunningham, Beaver Cleaver and American Graffiti with a cherry coke on a soda cracker.  Both me and Kinston have changed over the ensuing decades but the memories are still pure gold.

My K-town homies had been telling me for several years about “this fancy smanzy restaurant run by acoupla New York liberals”.   Circumstances and beach trip schedules had never coincided to try it out.

I knew it was located just off Queen Street behind Felix Harvey’s old HQ and Brody’s.  That put it just a block from Jimmy Rose’s daddy’s Lenoir Auto Parts, Parrott Brothers, and The World’s First Drive-In Drug Store which is now Kinston’s only micro-brewery.

The “coupla New York liberals” turned out to be Vivian Howard and her husband Ben.   Vivian was a born/bred Lenoir Countian who had left Kinston in her rear view mirror for New York as soon as she “was of age” vowing never to return until her Mom & Dad offered to back her and Ben in a restaurant venture in Kinston.

Restaurants in Kinston traditionally fall into three categories – (1) King’s Barbecue – (2) the usual fast food chains – and (3) assorted ethnic “all-you-can-eat” joints with misspelled signage.   No one has ever mistaken Kinston’s culinary offerings for Charleston, San Francisco, Boston…. or Greenville or Goldsboro.   Until Vivian & Ben opened The Chef & The Farmer on Gordon Street in my hometown.

The C&TF opened in 2006, did pretty good, and then burned down in 2010.   Restaurants have burned down in Kinston before usually on purpose to collect on insurance.   Not the case with C&TF.  Vivian & Ben set about to rebuild their dream and then along came a PBS film crew….. chefs-lifeKABOOM!

If it’s ever your dream to open a legitimate 4-if not 5-diamond restaurant in a sleepy little town surrounded by fallow tobacco fields….. you might pray that one-day a PBS film crew shows up to “do a show about you”.

Whoa….. PBS?  Whatchudoin’ watching PBS BobLee?

I figured you might catch that.   Just don’t tell AgentPierce.  Like a teenage boy reading Playboy and saying “it’s just for the articles on stereos and sports cars….”   I just watch PBS “when they have a series on fancy restaurants in my hometown”.

So me and Blondie started watching the PBS documentary – A Chef’s Life – about Vivian’s  “prodigal daughter returns to goofy little ol’ hometown to open a fancy restaurant” story.

Hey, that’s the fancy restaurant my K-town homies told me about!  Chef & The Farmer subtitles itself “a progressive eatery”.  Me and my “conservative wallet” politely ignored that.

Aside:  Despite spending ten years in the really really fancy hotel bizness, I am not an epicurean by any means.   I know wine comes in three colors and sorbet is “kinda like sherbet”.   I’m an eater not a diner much less a “fine diner”.   Give me a big bowl, a big spoon and fill it with something with “stew” on the end of its name and I’m happy….. that said:

I freakin’ LOVED our deee-lightful evening at The Chef & The Farmer.   I wore socks (not required) and laid my napkin in my lap not tucked into my chin and I could pronounce what I wanted without just pointing and saying “…. that please”.

The Chef & The Farmer KICKS BUTT in every category.  You gotta go to Kinston and try it.  It’s always busy so Reservations Strongly Advised. ….. LINK.

They even have a killer wine shop that carries all three colors of vino.

Vivian is on the cutting edge of the quite trendy  “farm to table” movement.  She buys most/all of her meats and vegetables directly from area farmers and then employs her “fancy NYC-trained chef” tricks to it.

They offer three different “grit casserole-thingies” that are to die for and well worth the $10 per.   $10 for a small bowla grits?   You could get a 55-gallon drum of Brunswick stew at King’s and get change back from your $10.  The menu changes with what’s available and in-season.

I had one of their specialty entrees – Fried Rabbit Tenders in blah blah with yadda yadda sauce.   Awesome!  Sure I tried it because it was “rabbit”.  The Angus Barn doesn’t offer rabbit.

The ambiance of the place is “rustic urban vibe”.   That’s not as fru-fru goofy as it might sound.  Every course was wonderful and then there’s the staff ???

“Staffing a very fine dining establishment in Kinston” has all the built-in obstacles of “running for mayor of Chapel Hill as a Republican”.    Try as one might God never intended either one of those to ever happen.  But Vivian and Ben have done it.

The staff (its an open-kitchen concept) looks like it was brought-in by central casting from a Bobby Flay or Emeril or Wolfgang Puck place.   Really.   Professional…. just attentive enough….. just engaging enough….. effortlessly efficient….. perfectomundo!

What more can I say?  The tab was $120 for Blondie and me and worth every dollar of it.   I don’t think my first car, a well-used ’59 Nash Rambler purchased about three blocks from the restaurant, costs $120.   FWIW it was “worth it” too.

You HAVE to travel down 70 to Kinston and try The Chef & The Farmer.  Here’s the link again….. LINK.   As fine as any restaurant you will find in Charleston.

Tell Vivian (we did NOT meet her) – “some crazy right-wing sumbitch in Raleigh sent me”.   Then try to describe her reaction in a reader comment.

Bon Appetite….. y’all.

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