Farm-to-Table Dining in North Carolina

Farm-to-Table Dining in North Carolina

Chef and the Farmer in Kinston is featured on the Peabody award-winning PBS series A Chef’s Life

The number of small, sustainable farms in North Carolina is on the rise, as people across the state seek out local food grown by folks they know. Nothing reflects this better than the bounty of farm-to-table restaurants to be found in every region. Here is a sampling of some of the tastiest offerings, from west to east.

Guadalupe Café
As soon as Guadalupe Cafe opened in 2004, chef/owner Jen Pearson established relationships with farmers throughout Jackson County to source ingredients for her tropical-fusion dishes. Since then, the small, cheerful eatery on Main Street has become a cherished spot for Western Carolina University students and for anyone in search of affordable, creative dishes, including tapas, tamales and tacos, all served with local produce, meat, fish and dairy. Guadalupe also supports the arts community by hosting music and art events.

The Market Place
Since 1979, the Market Place has been one of Asheville’s culinary centerpieces as well as the area’s farm-to-table trailblazer. When chef William Dissen bought the casual upscale restaurant in 2009, he maintained its core mission and even expanded it, adding modern dishes of his own, such as celery root and goat cheese ravioli and Sunburst Farms trout with beluga lentils. While Dissen is known mostly for his culinary creations, he’s also an environmentalist, working to promote sustainable seafood and helping to organize a local composting effort among fellow restaurateurs.

After introducing the farm-to-fork concept to the Charlotte area during two decades spent working for other restaurant owners, chef Tim Groody finally has his own place. He and family members opened Fork! in 2013 and immediately drew diners, and praise, from the Queen City. The restaurant, situated in a historic house, exudes upscale comfort, while the food is contemporary and fresh. The menu, which changes daily, often includes house-made mozzarella, coastal flounder and beef brisket, with a long list of seasonal sides.

Sticks and Stones
Sticks and Stones became an instant hit when owner Neil Reitzel opened the pizza joint in 2008. The salads are locally sourced, as are the stone-fired pizza toppings, including sausage and beef, dairy products and goat cheese. And then there’s the dough, prepared with locally milled organic flour from Lindley Mills in Graham, and cooked to crispy perfection. The focus on local carries through to the interior, artfully designed with recycled wood and metal. On Saturdays, the restaurant hosts a farmers’ market in its parking lot.

Chapel Hill
The Asian-influenced Lantern, trumpeted locally and nationally for its local sourcing and inventive dishes, isn’t content to rest on its dozen years of laurels. In 2013 it debuted Lantern Table, an additional space for culinary events and cooking classes, and Lantern Garden, a patio bar with full menu. Chef/owner Andrea Reusing, the state’s only James Beard Award winner currently running a restaurant, continues to follow her course of serving simple and superbly seasoned dishes while she also advocates for human rights for farm workers.

Piedmont chef and co-owner Ben Adams doesn’t need to look far for local ingredients – the Durham Farmers’ Market is next door and his co-owners run nearby Coon Rock Farm. Piedmont was among the first farm-sourced restaurants in Durham when it opened in 2006. Since then it has changed ownership and chefs, but Adams’ arrival in 2013 brought renewed vigor to the farm-to-fork role. Adams creates sophisticated dishes that reflect the region, such as North Carolina blue crab, with celery root confit and roasted cauliflower.

Chef and the Farmer
When New York chef Vivian Howard took up her daddy’s offer in 2006 to finance a restaurant – if she returned to her eastern North Carolina roots – she had no idea she was kicking off an urban revitalization in Kinston. Several years later, she and husband Ben Knight continue to run the celebrated Chef and the Farmer, which has inspired the birth of other downtown restaurants and businesses as well as the Peabody award-winning PBS series A Chef’s Life, focusing on the daily business of running a seasonally inspired restaurant.

Rx Restaurant and Bar
Even before they’d developed a menu for Rx Restaurant and Bar, owners Josh Novicki and chef James Doss were farm to table – they salvaged wood from a tobacco barn to make a bar and dining tables. From there, Doss lined up farmers and fishers to tap for the freshest ingredients. Now Rx, open since 2012, has emerged as one of Wilmington’s top dining destinations. Housed in an old drugstore (hence the name), Rx’s menu serves Southern with a twist, including garden pea risotto and duck with kale.

Chef Clark Barlowe personifies locally sourced, having began his culinary career with his family in his hometown of Lenoir, and later attending Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. After working for prestigious dining establishments such as The French Laundry in California and elBulli in Spain, he opened his dream restaurant, Heirloom, in early 2014 (at age 27). The menu changes daily, which spurs anticipation from repeat visitors who enjoy the dishes — angus steak, sweet-potato gnocchi, or catch-of-the-day — created from fresh ingredients produced in North Carolina.

Also check out our guide to a farm-fresh tour of Western North Carolina.

Diane Daniel writes about food, travel and the environment, and is the author of the guidebook Farm Fresh North Carolina.

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