Monday, September 7, 2015

A tale of two restaurants

One of the things we wanted to do most while on our vacation last week was to have supper at Vivian and Ben Howard's restaurants in Kinston, NC.  The Howards and their restaurants are the stars of the PBS show A Chef's Life.  Sparky and I are huge fans of the show and we've passed by Kinston many times in our North Carolina beach trip travels so we decided to treat ourselves and stay a couple of days in Kinston in order to eat at both places and to explore the area that we usually drive past on our way to the beach. 

Months before we left for vacation I called and made reservations for us and a friend who lives near the Raleigh area who we wanted to have with us on this adventure and on the appointed evening in question, last Thursday night, we all met at Chef and the Farmer.  When we got inside and hooked up with our friend I noticed that the place seemed smaller than I had imagined, but it didn't matter.  I was happy to be there and to eat the fine cuisine.  

We got there a bit early and had a drink at the bar and the bartender was exceedingly friendly.  After our drink we were seated and then the experience began in earnest.  I was hoping for a good time but instead I found myself in another dimension of greatness.  The service was impeccable.  Our waitress was a complete and total pro and the support staff was impressive.  I never lacked for clean cutlery, a fresh napkin, or my water glass filled.  (I was driving so I could only have one beer.)

Then the parade of food started.  We ordered several 'small plates,' aka appetizers.  We had the flash fried kale chips (very good), the fresh oyster ceviche (it was fabulous, it tasted like the ocean on a tomato slice), the sausage and cheese grits (another winner), and the sweet potato bread topped with fresh tomatoes (good but nothing to brag about).  

Next up was the entrees.  Sparky had the whole trout, our buddy Wendy had the flounder, and I had the braised pork shoulder.  All three entrees were good, the trout was the only one that wasn't that special.  They were a little over priced in my opinion but the Howards are in business to make money, not to give discounts to fat bastards like me.  

We ended the meal with a flight of three desserts which were a brownie with ice cream, a piece of coconut tres leche cake, and a fig upside down cake, they were all delicious.  

We ended up dropping nearly $240 on supper, drinks, and tip, but it was well worth it.  The service was great, the ambiance was wonderful, and it's a bit of a kick to finally get to have supper at a restaurant we've seen grow before our very eyes on TV.  I doubt I'll ever get to have supper at a Gordon Ramsay owned place, or any of the exotic places Anthony Bourdain visits, and I definitely won't be having supper at any of Jamie Oliver's establishments, but I can and did have a great meal at Chef and the Farmer.  Would I go again?  Oh yes.  But the next time I go, if I ever get to go again, I'll skip the entrees and have more small plates.

The next night we decided to have supper at Boiler Room, the Howard's oyster bar and burger joint.  Where the Chef and the Farmer is fine dining and priced accordingly, their Boiler Room restaurant is super casual and much more affordable.  We went on a Friday night around 6:30 PM and it was pretty busy but we got seated quickly at the bar.

The hipster waitress got my beer order wrong, but I didn't raise  fuss because she was pretty busy and it was the last night of our vacation and I didn't want to get stressed out or to stress anyone else out.  Since it was so busy, we decided to skip appetizers, although I was ready to try some raw oysters, and we ordered our entrees.  I had the surf and turf burger, a burger topped with tomato, lettuce, deep fried oyster bit, and a jalapeno relish, and it was a terrific. The crunchy deep fried oysters were perfect with the silky smooth medium well burger.  Sparky had the catfish po'boy, which she enjoyed immensely.  I had a vinegar based slaw as a side and Sparky got the spicy fries as her side, which we shared.

Since we skipped the appetizers we decided to treat ourselves by sharing all three of the desserts options, which were small dishes of banana pudding, soft serve topped with apple and cinnamon crumbles, and a bread pudding with a scoop of ice cream.  All three were great but our favorite was the bread pudding, it was a huge cube of tasty caramel infused bready goodness.

Compared to what we paid the night before, our meal at Boiler Room cost us a lot less but was in many ways just as delicious.  The service was a little spotty but after the stellar service of the night before, anything would have been a let down.

I was quite impressed with Boiler Room, the food and the prices can't be beat. Would I go again?  Hell yes and next time, I'm getting a dozen oysters.

Alas, we did not get to meet or even get a glimpse of Vivian Howard, evidently she's busy writing a cookbook and doesn't mix as much with the customers these days.  Sparky thought she spotted her husband Ben in the kitchen at Chef and the Farmer but she wasn't entirely sure.  It would have been nice to meet both of them, but evidently the fame that they've gotten since the show has been airing has made them a little shy about hanging out with yokels like us.

1 comment:

gmb said...

Burger with fried oyster = best thing ever. Oh god, I need to try that.