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Friday, July 6, 2012

Greenville (NC) Eats: Chef and the Farmer

Chef and the Farmer's sausage and biscuits.
Dinner at Chef and the Farmer was, for me, one of the best dining experiences I have ever had. I know that is a line usually best kept for the end, but it really was that memorable and influential. In fact, this post is almost over a month and a half after the said dinner, just enough time to sit back and reflect on one of the most thoughtful meals in recent memory. The fact that a chef like Vivian Howard, who could have easily worked anywhere she wanted with the skills she has, and co-owner Ben Knight opened Chef and the Farmer, a really high-class eatery using local-just-about-everything food to produce some truly contemporary eating in the tiny town of Kinston, whose population barely registers on the map, is kind of a miracle itself. With all the awards and praise this restaurant has received since its opening in 2006, it still shocks me that this culinary experience, this really unforgettable night I had there started with something as plain, ordinary and Southern as sausage and biscuits.

Of course, these weren't ordinary sausage and biscuits, but delicate, ultra-buttery and indulgent sausage and biscuits using local pork and its drippings to perfection. A simple slab of mustard sets it over the top, making for an eye-opening starter. 

Dinner was a whirlwind affair at our table, in a good way that is, as it was a friend's birthday. A plethora of dishes rained down upon our cozy spot right next to the kitchen, including: wood-fired oysters, wood-fired clam and shrimp and grits, a chef and the farm burger using local cattle, another sausage dish with roasted squash, cauliflower, and thinly sliced radishes, a deceptively simple-looking plate of roasted carrots and beets, pan-seared trout on roasted turnips and wilted turnip greens on a sweet onion bisque, and their cast-iron pimento grits with bacon. 

Wood-fired clams and shrimp and grits.

Our feast was just flat out delicious from top-to-bottom, but the standout for me was definitely the trout, with its perfectly roasted turnips and turnip greens soaking up the sweet onion bisque. Just perfect. The roasted beet and carrot dish, with a lemon aioli and bread crumbs was also dynamite all-around. Chef and the Farmer really knows how to crank great depths of flavor out of the simplest of ingredients, making their dishes stand out and pop. 

It being a birthday, we of course had to grab desert (although, being at Chef and the Farmer is reason enough for desert!). We had some really amazing food already, but this dish, this zucchini crumble with cinnamon brown sugar ice cream on top was just phenomenal. The zucchini was cooked down to perfection; sweet, yet subtle, it has kind of the texture of a peach cobbler  but with a milder taste that was just spot on with the ice cream. We also ordered a buttermilk sorbet with blueberries, which seemed so ordinary on paper but was an absolute "ah-ha!" moment the second one of us at the table took a bite. 

My two years in Greenville has led me to a lot of eateries, some good - even great - but Chef and the Farmer stands miles above them all as one of the best places I've eaten not just in the Greenville area, but in general. This was a meal that might not even had happen if it were any later, as a fire that devastated portions of the facility shut down the restaurant from January to late April. Through some perseverance, however, they reopened, and are back to making the best food East Carolina has to offer. 

Chef & The Farmer on Urbanspoon


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