IN KINSTON ???


Jan 4,’14:  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 quite 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 “pee-stop” 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 “pee-stop” 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 other 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 hommies 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..... KABOOM!

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 hommies told me about!  Chef & The Farmer does subtitle 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 “some of 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-thingys” 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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Posted: January 03, 2014 at 3:40 PM by SaidWHATMedia | with 20 comments
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Comments
Emmette Taylor
Sorry it took you so long to try the Chef. Great place run by two great folks.Really borders on a miracle that it can succeed in Kinston with mainly the 75 mile support radius. Grew up in Deep Run so remember all you mention. Let's have a "shout out" also for Aunt Jennie's bakery and Ritz soda shop? Wow, the good ole days are gone. Canton, Ga.
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BL: WOW... Aunt Jennie's and Shady's !!!! :-)
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1/7/2014 7:29:46 AM

thailand
"Did you recall that quote on the base of the Confederate Soldier statue that used to be at Emma Webb but is now "out on the by-pass"?
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"Not For Wages, Not For Glory. Twas for Home and Right they fell."

Drove out on the bypass by Kings and saw it as I headed to Atlantic Beach to revisit family memories there too...... That quote--a brave testament of character that a lot of your readers likely relate to......Maybe not so the other side? Good ole Kinston......
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BL: I recall it for its lyrical sound when recited. It probably was viewed differently over at Adkin High in East Kinston.

I'm going back down for Felix Harvey's funeral tomorrow. Should draw quite an A-list crowd of prominent NC Democs.
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1/5/2014 12:09:48 PM

GP
Hoping to dine at C&TF sometime. We found ourselves trying to recognize some of the locals when viewing.

Vivian is a NC State grad.
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BL: Me too. I never recognized anyone either. I think their regular clientele is not Kinston-based. Likely draw from a 75 mile radius..... Greenville, New Bern.....

Vivian AND "Mr. Amphibious" and YOU.... many K-towners went thru NCSU.
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1/5/2014 11:16:39 AM

DonaldP
Enjoyed article very much. Kinston was a wonderful place to grow up. I am glad that you and I and many more had that opportunity. I am glad Vivian's restaurant is a hit.

Thanks for remembering Parrott Brothers.
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BL: Drove by Parrott Brothers leaving C&TF. Already got the Easter biddies in the front window. :-)
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1/5/2014 11:01:31 AM

thailand
"Did "your Nancy Williams" live across from Park Theater ??"

Nancy Williams (be funny if she reads this) was a childhood heartthrob of mine who lived with her (Dr. Williams) family in a brick house just up from the Park at the top of Queen Street (same side as the park).....

Saw Forbidden Planet w/ Leslie Nielsen at the Park.....Charms suckers, Raisinettes, Goobers, and aircon.

Nancy was a beauty....Good ole Kinston....
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BL: I figured that was her! :-) Damn fine taste amigo. Her older sister, Dottie, had many secret admirers too. Kinston, like most small towns of that era, had an abundance of "teen queens" to be sure.

The "Williams house" is still there. I saw Dr No at The Park.

Did you recall that quote on the base of the Confederate Soldier statue that used to be at Emma Webb but is now "out on the by-pass"?
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1/5/2014 10:43:34 AM

thailand
I stowed away a lot of wonderful childhood memories during my early years growing up along Holman Street in Kinston.....
​ My friends Jimmy Rochelle and Nancy Williams come to mind.....​
But alas, last summer I made it down to the old neighborhood in my dad's vintage Buick La Sabre and drove around that once charming little town....The charm now, though, is ​only a memory it seems as my neighborhood has become part of the 'hood' and when I stopped in front of our old white house on that hot afternoon to get a few clippings (with the owner's approval) off the spreading dogwood dad planted years ago. about six startled young men jumped up off the front porch as if I was 'the man' in an unmarked white sedan....I drove on......Park Theatre and Shopping Center in decay, that lovely city park where my brother played little league baseball and where I learned to swim, the whole neighborhood like out of that Back to the Future scene--what happened to pretty little Kinston?

Do you remember a restaurant name Pharaoh's (Mikes?)--Big Boys and delicious toasted chicken salad sandwiches.....Out by the other park.

A lot of wonderful memories packed into those early years in Kinston......
​Granger High and Kinston Eagles, Kings, Barbecue Lodge, Mrs. Harvey's house and grounds where we sneaked on as youngsters.....
And now 120 dollar suppers! I just finished a meal of noodles with shrimps and vegetables and eggs for 40 baht (33 to the dollar)......Hard to make the adjustment when I come to Raleigh.....Be back for baseball and will visit Kinston again.....Maybe even drive by Nancy Williams old house, have a meal at The Chef and the Farmer Restaurant.....​

And Kinston is still pretty to me......​

From Thailand
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BL" "Pharo's" Home of The Big Boy - across from the ballfield at Fairfield Park. Next to Mike's Steak House. "Carlyle's" was the Drive-in that served the Teachers Memorial / Emma Webb Park crowd. Both long gone.

Yes.... most of "our" Kinston is gone, or might as well be. Even Grainger Stadium sits vacant without a team.

Did "your Nancy Williams" live across from Park Theater ??

The new Woodmen Center out by Frosty Morn is quite nice and there are a few new plants on the way to Falling Creek... but Kinston has not aged well overall.

Jim Hunt's Global Transpark turned out to be just a money grab scam for his cronies. :-(

Sigh.... lets hold tight to those memories from the 60s.
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1/5/2014 12:15:34 AM

Charles
Poor Mister Waffle. I wish someone would do something there.
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BL: I'm sure Vivian would have some ideas.
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1/4/2014 7:47:36 PM

Ben Knight C&TF
Hi Boblee,

I really enjoyed your review! It was a lot of fun to read, and I am glad to hear that while we may have some differences of opinion on the political front, we can agree on the merits of eating a good plate of food!

Thanks for coming back to Kinston and cheering for the home team.
Happy New Year,

Ben Knight
GM Chef & the Farmer
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BL: Indeed! :-)
1/4/2014 2:11:19 PM

duckfetch
Vivian sounds like Eastern NC , or maybe your retry down east woman. And that is a good thing.
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BL: Its my understanding that she grew up on a farm near Deep Run, went to NC State then headed to NYC for her culinary career. She admits she never imagined coming back .... until her parents offered to back her in a local restaurant.

She is an incredibly talented "culinarian / chef" as well as, apparently very very "liberal" befitting her time in NYC I suppose.

There is, of course, a major difference between being "a Democrat" and being "very liberal". But I do like her food A LOT.
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1/4/2014 8:22:31 AM

cooldela
Going back a ways there was a "duck pin" bowling alley near where the restaurant is today. Mr. Denmark's Citgo station was on the corner. The bowling alley had guys who would reset the pins. Some of the pins had rubber bands around them so that even a drunk could knock them down. You could bowl and drink beer if you had a quarter and looked at least 12. This was in the late 1950's and duck pin bowling was the thing to do on Saturday afternoon. Then cross the street to the Hines Ice Cream building and get a cup of ice cream right off the line. Later the Hines Ice building became home of the H & N Auto Repair shop which was operated by the famous Beach Music legend Red Hughes and local Paul Noble.

The good old days were good.
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BL: They were both "good" and "old".

Yes, I recall the duckpin bowling place and Hines Ice Cream.

And Hubert/Reid/Donald Parrott's family Seed & Feed store.... and Lovick's Cafe .... both still operating. :-)
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1/4/2014 7:48:36 AM

cooldea
And just wait until the GTP produces those 100,000 jobs. As for high living in Kinston, there are about 113 people who can afford it. The rest of us are the supporting cast.

If you grew up in Kinston then you realize the truth in the old saying, "Kinston is different."

And so we are, so we are. I'm still trying to figure out how we have survived this long.
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BL: Indeed. And that all makes C&F's success so amazing. I'm sure Vivian does not live off of local bizness.
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1/4/2014 6:56:15 AM

Barry
Been wondering about Chef and Farmer. We gotta go check that out.

I understand completely about a $120 meal being "worth it."

I like to think I appreciate value for money, and I don't spend money all that easily or comfortably, even though I am blessed with more than I need and certainly more than I deserve.

But I can still get misty-eyed thinking about the tasting menu at Babbo (in NYC's West Village) in the summer of 2007, and I think that was north of $100 *per person.*

Some experiences are so sublime as to be worth paying this kind of money for, and if you are lucky enough to be able to enjoy them from time to time, God bless.
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BL: Agree. This one IS worth it.
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1/4/2014 6:51:04 AM

Claude Kennedy
BL, Enjoyed your comments on the C&F and also K-Town. This is a great restaurant in a great town that you and I grew up in.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year.
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BL: Also toured The Woodmen Center - VERY NICE! Looking forward to the BkBall Reunion there in March.
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1/3/2014 9:38:45 PM

58 wolf kennel
I'm getting old. Pee break is always in Goldsboro where I get a BigQ sandwich for $4. And I just love the Struttin Wolf on the wall. Then on to New Bern and Kennels Beach. If I'm still hungry, it's Charlies in Bayboro.( One of my sisters former students)
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BL: Not sure of the jersey color preference of King's brothers. I think "green" as in money is their favorite color.

Goldsboro would be halfway to Greater New Bern area.
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1/3/2014 6:29:33 PM

Robedixon
Ok you got me at the $120 visit. I watched the show myself, checked out the menu prices, and could not see $120 for two. But yes we still are planning a visit hopefully in January. Thanks for the reminder about that drive through pharmacy, my dad and I used to ride through that store to by drugs and always considered it quite cool. Even got out of the car sometimes to shop it too.
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BL: And that was with One beer and One glass of wine. But.... it's WORTH IT!
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1/3/2014 5:59:46 PM

Yogi
Hmmmm... Might have ta make it a point to go there the next time we come through there on a trip to see the nephew down at "da beach". On a different note how about OU and UCF in the line buster bowls? I've never seen Nick looking so perplexed for an extended time period. It was like the end of the iron bowl for a 3.5 hour time frame. And NO ONE woulda took UCF even steven much less as the fav. the Baylor bunch never saw that one coming. I'm a hopin' Clemson does the same tonight.
Have a great one Bobby and thanks for the eatery tip even if'n they are a bunch of liberals.
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BL: Talk food with'em. Not politics.

Stoops was on The Herd this AM and was ripping "The Great SEC" up and down.

I kinda feel sorry for Katherine Webb.

Upcoming wrap-up on the Bowls next week.
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1/3/2014 5:50:27 PM

Mike
Watched that Chef's Life thing 2-3 times. Long enough to conclude that lady seems a royal a$$ pain.Good thing she can cook.
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BL: Hey, she IS "a liberal"; but yes, she can "cook".
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1/3/2014 5:31:29 PM

Lewis
I travel from Beaufort to Raleigh about 6-8 times a year, but have never but once stopped in K-town for a meal. This next time around may be a first and I will try out The Chef and the Farmer. Wife and I do like great cuisine.
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BL: Definitely make reservations. They are always busy.
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1/3/2014 5:29:27 PM

EMc
I had heard about this place.... but not quite "the way BobLee describes it". :-)

Might be worth a trip "back home".
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BL: Oh, it definitely is!
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1/3/2014 4:35:58 PM

JJ in Oakland CA
I am REALLY glad to hear this. $120 in KINSTON!!!!! I thought I’d never live to hear that. Go K-town.
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BL: I am UNDERSTATING the experience!
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1/3/2014 4:34:10 PM

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