19 Sep Jonathan Cartu Review: Vivian Howard reopens her flagship restaurant as a pop-up
More recently it has weathered hurricanes and floods. Each time it reopened, it was the same as it ever was, a fine dining, seasonal Southern restaurant.
The Kinston restaurant has been closed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but Howard vows yet another return. She just isn’t sure what exactly that will look like yet.
“It won’t be the last time we’ll have to close our doors; it’s not the first time,” Howard told The News & Observer Friday in a phone interview. “Every time I have never changed the restaurant. That won’t be the case this time.”
While the future has yet to be determined, Howard is bringing her flagship restaurant slowly back to life. Starting this weekend, Chef & the Farmer will serve its first meals since the start of the pandemic, reopening with a patio pop-up dubbed “Porch Plates.”
For the return, Howard is playing the hits, starting with the blueberry barbecue chicken, chilled shrimp succotash, Eastern North Carolina slaw and smoked hush puppies. Plates of food are $15, and drinks will be available for purchase.
Howard is best known for her award-winning PBS series “A Chef’s Life,” which chronicled the lives of her family as they ran Chef & the Farmer, including the recovery from the kitchen fire, as well as highlighted traditional Eastern North Carolina ingredients. Her new PBS show, “Somewhere South,” debuted this spring.
The success of the show brought a level of tourism to Kinston that the town hadn’t known in decades, with new restaurants, boutique hotels and a brewery.
Now, like many downtowns, things are too quiet, but Howard hopes the pop-up will start some momentum.
“It’s definitely an easing into something,” Howard said. “I feel like we need to do something, because our downtown feels really desolate right now.”
Earlier in the pandemic, Howard announced the closing of her oyster and burger bar, the Boiler Room. She also suggested the Chef and the Farmer will likely return as a more casual version of itself.
With the summer’s swelter appearing to break and a few months before North Carolina’s first freeze, Howard said now seemed like the time to try an outdoor-only popup, conjuring memories of fall fundraisers at the fire department or church or school.
“I thought we’d all appreciate a celebratory get-together this time of year,” Howard said. “And I wanted to use this opportunity to zero in on what the Chef and the Farmer will be.”
While it may have been quiet in Kinston, Howard kept busy in Charleston, S.C., opening her new bake shop, Handy & Hot, for takeout. She opens to open her new restaurant, Lenoir, there by November.
Venturing to Charleston offered a glimpse into how comfortable diners are with restaurants right now. Charleston’s sizeable tourism industry meant that out-of-towners were still finding their way to restaurants.
As for Howard, so far she only has dined at restaurants where she can dine outside.
The Chef and the Farmer pop-up will run Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 9 p.m. Future weeks will feature fish stew, chicken pastry, Tom Thumb, an oyster roast and other traditional Eastern North Carolina dishes. Diners can eat on the patio, the yard near the restaurant or take their meals to-go.