Thursday, December 10, 2015

Chef & the Farmer and Our Anniversary Trip to Kinston, NC

(via here)

Have you heard of A Chef's Life?  I wrote about it in a post about my favorite "foodie shows" here.  It's one of the shows that I make a point to watch each week.  Chef Vivian Howard and her husband, Ben, have a restaurant called Chef and the Farmer in small-town Kinston, NC.  The show is about their adventures with the restaurant and in life.

The couple is incredibly endearing and very real--and the cooking is fun to watch and farm-to-table, as you may have guessed from the name.  Ever since the first season of the show, (they just finished season 3), I have wanted to visit Kinston, NC to eat at Chef and the Farmer.  That wish became reality in November, as a mini-getaway for James and my 7th wedding anniversary.

the ceiling at The O'Neil
We drove up on a Saturday morning and stayed the night in a beautiful, newly-renovated boutique hotel called The O'Neil.  I highly recommend this place--not only is it beautiful and affordable, but it's right next to all the fun spots in Kinston.  The hotel was once a bank, and the decor is made up of mid-century vintage items--carefully curated to provide a cozy and kind of down-to-earth-swanky feel to the place.  Check-in and out is extremely easy and our bed was amazing.

To kick-off the afternoon we visited Mother Earth Brewing to sample some local brews. They happened to be having a release party that day for their Silent Night seasonal beer, so there was a great big ole party going on--and everyone was invited! Great beer and a really cool place with indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a corn hole game and tours of the brewery every hour.

Next stop was The Boiler Room for more drinks and appetizers before our reservation at Chef and the Farmer.  The Boiler Room is a new restaurant also owned and operated by Vivian and Ben--it's a more casual place, but equally delicious and fun.  James' favorite thing was the Pork and Beam: bacon-infused bourbon served with a piece of candied bacon.

 I loved the broccoli and cheese with crispy fried onions on top. (The best way to eat a vegetable.)

And finally it was time for us to head to Chef and the Farmer. I have to admit, I was a little star-struck and loved being able to look around the restaurant and see staff that I have watched on TV all these years!  Ben was working the front of the house, and we noticed pretty quickly that Chef Vivian was not working in the restaurant that evening. (Not that I was going to be an annoying super-fan or anything, promise!)

We started with flash-fried collards with sea salt: addictive. And fingerling sweet potato skins loaded with deliciousness.

Jedd's lettuce salad

Next I had a Jedd's lettuce salad and a savory beef hand pie. 

James had dayboat flounder with a mustard and brown butter vinaigrette.  His was our favorite of these dishes, but they were all delicious.

For dessert we ordered the bread of the day and a slice of chocolate beet cake.  The homemade bread, shaved meat accompaniment, and garlicky whipped butter was hands-down my favorite part of the meal.

To top this amazing day and drinks and food, ever-so-randomly, a friend from Columbia walked through the door with 3 other women, and stopped to say hello on her way to her table. She casually mentioned that she was in town visiting Vivian--an old friend from boarding school--and did we want too meet her?  Um, did we want to meet Chef Vivian Howard--my favorite current TV persona?  The answer was undeniably yes, so Elizabeth asked Vivian to come say his and she graciously complied.  She was exactly as she seems on TV: beautiful, humble, embarrassed by her fame, and very real. Talking with her was the perfect ending to an awesome weekend in Kinston.

Thanks for saying hi, Vivian and thanks for sharing your life with us viewers.  And thanks to Elizabeth for hooking it up!  

James and I are already planning our next visit to Kinston; well-worth the 4 hour drive from Columbia, SC.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Best Shortbread Cookie in Columbia: Rise Bakeshop

Birdie and I flitted down to Rise Gourmet Goods &Bakeshop a few weeks ago to grab some goodies as a reward for her finally bring potty-trained! (Anyone who has ever potty-trained a child knows the elation.)

I had first heard of the new bakery when reading this article by Eva Moore of the Free Times.  I mean, who doesn't want to try something called a s'moreo?!

Birdie picked out a chocolate crinkle cookie and I chose a shortbread cookie with black pepper for Jones. I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you it's the best shortbread I have ever eaten. And shortbread is one of my favorite types of cookies.  These are the best. Buttery and just the right texture, with a hint of pepper.  So delicious.

I also grabbed a container of pimento cheese spread to balance my late-afternoon snack, and it was commendable as well.

Fast forward 2 weeks and it was crunch-time to grab some snacks for Thanksgiving dinner pre-gaming.  Boiled peanut hummus and caramelized onion dip from their fridge were no-brainers, and the buffalo shmear made the list after I tried some in the store. All paired with some house made pepper crackers.

They had some pretty clever and unique gift baskets made up which would be great for holiday gifting.

In short, Rise Bakery is one of my new favorite spots for appetizers, sweets, and party goodies! And their clean and modern branding and logo is a little eye candy to boot.  Check them out for lunch or brunch or snacks or party food! And definitely shortbread.