See this map?
That red spot is Kinston, North Carolina.
Get in the car immediately and go there. If you are not in driving distance, fly to Raleigh and rent a car. But go there.
I had an opportunity to go to Kinston. I have a really great friend living there, so I experienced the truly local view of a great food experience. It helps that he has never met a stranger and everyone loves him. I got the royal treatment and keys to the kingdom every time I was introduced as his friend. Swanky! (I know, be jealous)
I’m sure lots of you have seen A Chef’s Life on PBS. It features Vivian Howard and Ben Knight, owners of the restaurant Chef & The Farmer. Everyone raves about the food.
The raves are justified.
Sure, this place is popular because they have a PBS show. Yes, this is a one of those “all local” sort of restaurants that are (Hallelujah) all the current rage. But damn. EVERYTHING is done right.
I am going on record here.
This was the best restaurant experience of my life.
I’m going to give you some insider advice to make this trip even better. Their second restaurant is called The Boiler Room. On Thursday night in this Oyster and Burger Bar, they serve two hotdogs and fries for $7. Pitchers of beer are half price. Let me just add that those hot dogs are house made from their own beef scraps, and the fries are cooked in duck fat.
Read that last sentence again.
Now close your mouth.
So here’s the deal. Go to Kinston on a Thursday night. Go to the bar at Chef & The Farmer, order some small plates, and get a custom cocktail from the incredibly talented and personable barkeeps. I would suggest the pork belly skewers, the Benton’s Bacon wrapped watermelon rind, and the benne seed fried green tomatoes. Don’t plan to have deep and meaningful discussions with anyone. You won’t be able to form coherent sentences because this food will stun you into submission.
As early in the evening as possible, stumble across the street and order the hotdogs and fries all the way. Drink some beer. You might be able to form sentences with your cohorts when you are on the second pitcher of beer.
Honestly. I can make some astounding food, but nothing I have ever put together has this level of WOW.
Fact: I am hard to impress.
There is a meal in New Zealand I will never forget. Chef Mark Hibbs knocked my socks off more than once when he had Ratcliff on the Green, and there are a few other good restaurant meals I can recall. But this? The décor, the presentation, the service, and the attention to detail are only surpassed by the incredible love and skill that have gone into making this food.
I’m thinking you should find a hotel nearby and maybe plan a day trip to the beach on Friday, but first make reservations for a full meal on Friday night at Chef & The Farmer. Order everything you can possibly afford on the full menu.
When you finally arrive home on Saturday night, you will be compelled to send me a handwritten thank you note for sharing this excellent advice.
Have I ever steered you wrong when it comes to food?
Me? I’m busy trying to make friends with a pilot who has a small plane and likes to make frequent short trips for dinner.