by Tina Haver Currin
photographs by Christer Berg
As Raleigh continues to land on Forbes lists as one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States – #1 in 2013, #2 in 2014, #4 last year – the city is, understandably, evolving. According to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance’s State of Downtown report, published late last year, we can expect to see 1,840 new downtown residential units over the next year, resulting in more than 3,000 new residents. While all those new city dwellers eagerly await a downtown grocery store, they need somewhere to eat! Thankfully, we’ve become a hotbed of innovative new restaurants as well.
It helps that Raleighites love eating out. Our most recent restaurant week attracted over 16,000 downtown diners and generated nearly $300,000 in revenue. The recent addition downtown of original concepts like the patisserie lucettegrace, the bakeries Boulted Bread and Night Kitchen, the salad and juice spot Happy + Hale, the sandwich place Linus and Pepper’s, and of course Ashley Christensen’s Death & Taxes (just named a James Beard award finalist for best new restaurant of the year), is keeping things interesting. Downtown began the year with 129 restaurants – and that number’s already growing. Here’s a look at four new spots that have recently opened or will open soon, all of which add to our choices and to our city’s unique culinary culture.
Provenance, chef Teddy Klopf’s new restaurant, opened in the SkyHouse building at 308 S. Blount St. in February. Klopf, 31, decided it was time to hang out his own shingle after four years in Charleston at McCrady’s under the wing of James Beard award-winner Sean Brock and a year as the chef de partie at Herons in The Umstead Hotel & Spa.
The New Mexico native says he chose Raleigh because he can find fresh ingredients and supplies here from all over the state – something he’s been “almost obsessive” about at Provenance. Klopf hopes the restaurant recalls a time when food was used as a connector between places and people.
“I was speaking with my grandfather a few months ago, and he told me a story about how, as a child, a rabbit that his sister had taken care of would within a few hours be in his belly,” Klopf says. “Over the course of one generation, that’s been lost. This is about trying to reconnect with where your food comes from.”
Provenance is open Wednesday mornings through Sunday afternoons. The restaurant’s downstairs breakfast and lunch menus change daily to reflect what’s locally fresh and in-season. The upstairs section is reserved for a subscription dining service, which makes meals tailored to diner’s individual preferences; the upstairs will also hold a reservation-only dining series on Friday and Saturday nights. Served as a tasting menu, the series will allow the team to explore other cultures and ingredients through a North Carolina lens.
Though the Provenance menu is entirely N.C.-based, Klopf says he’s concerned about more than the place the food is grown. Animal and environmental welfare, in addition to taste and quality, are integral parts of the Provenance mission.
“Just because someone is making cheese in their basement down the street doesn’t make it good,” Klopf says, with a chuckle. “We’ve spent months exploring the state, one back road at a time, to find the best producers, craftspeople, and artisans.”
That same spirit is reflected in the dining room. Billy Keck and Melody Ray of Raleigh Reclaimed made the tables from a single poplar tree in Chatham County, while David Brown and Christina Shipman at New South Manufactory fabricated the staff’s uniforms and aprons from North Carolina cotton. The plates were custom-made in the community of Eli Whitney by Chris Pence, Mark Warren, and the team at Haand. Local artist Kalesia Kuenzel created the restaurant’s artwork with leftovers from the tables, benches, and woodwork.
“It sums up our zero waste philosophy, as all the ‘scrap’ became, quite literally, the canvas for something beautiful,” Klopf says. “We’ve gone to great lengths to make sure this is a place that gives an impression of all things North Carolina. I thought it might be a pipe dream to try to source all the materials for the space from the state, but when I found out we could do it, I said, ‘Well, if we’re going to go for it, then we might as well go for it.’”
A Place at the Table
A Place at the Table is the brainchild of 25-year-old N.C. State alum Maggie Kane, who grew up in North Raleigh. After graduating in 2013 with degrees in international relations and Italian studies, Kane planned on continuing her work in the nonprofit sector, perhaps abroad. She never thought it would lead her into the restaurant business – it’s not an industry she knew anything about. “I have learned a lot already by Googling,” Kane says, laughing. She relies on her 12-member board of directors and volunteers within the restaurant industry to teach her what she needs to know.
This fall, with their help, Kane and company will open a pay-what-you-can café in a newly-constructed seven-story building at the corner of Hillsborough and Horne Streets, across from the N.C. State campus.
A Place at the Table is taking a bit longer to open than a typical venture might, because it won’t just be a place that serves good food – though it plans to do that, too – it’ll also be a nonprofit. The establishment will join nearly 60 others across the country connected through the One World Everybody Eats Foundation. The foundation started in 2003 with one of the first pay-what-you-can cafés in Salt Lake City, Utah. Currently, the closest similar concept is in Boone.
“If it can work in a small town like Boone, it can definitely work in Raleigh,” says Kane. “We have a lot of awesome restaurants, and we live in a city with a lot of great resources for people facing food insecurity. What we’re missing is a place that brings all people together. That’s what these restaurants can do.”
A Place at the Table will focus on providing its customers with chef-prepared, healthy food choices, grown locally whenever possible, for a price of their choosing. Kane will work with restaurant partners to provide her staff with a stream of fresh, donated excess food that would otherwise be headed to the garbage.
The organization’s first big event will be a pop-up brunch at Solas on Glenwood Avenue on April 2. Kane is working with Leadership Raleigh, a nine-month leadership incubator run by the Chamber of Commerce, to put the event together. Like all of A Place at the Table’s meals, the brunch will be offered to diners for whatever amount they can pay. Kane hopes to recreate April’s pop-up event on a monthly basis until the construction on Hillsborough Street is finished. If all goes well, A Place at the Table could open as early as August, she says.
“We would like to have our startup costs and an operating budget when we open,” she says, so the delay is “a blessing in disguise.”
In the meantime, “We’re able to do these pop-ups to show who we are. I really believe in collaboration, and I think that Raleigh is shifting toward that. If we all do a little bit and we all contribute what our passions are, it makes Raleigh – and the world – a better place.”
With its plush couches and fluffy pillows, dark walls and golden chandeliers, the new art gallery and wine bar Vita Vite, at 313 W. Hargett St., feels more like an elegant living room than a bar or gallery.
“Vita Vite was born out of my passion for wine and art, and is a place designed for guests to enjoy both under the same roof,” says owner Lindsay Rice, a 30-year-old from Warrenton, Va. Rice has worked in museums and galleries, maintained a professional photography business, and most recently managed an antique shop in Washington, D.C. But her ultimate goal was to open her own gallery.
With Vita Vite’s open and comfortable atmosphere, Rice says, she hopes to invite people to enjoy both art and wine, two cultures that are often considered exclusive. “I wanted to create a relaxing, non-intimidating environment” where people are “exposed to beautiful artwork,” she says, but aren’t required to devote all of their attention or energy toward it.
That might mean curling up in front of a fireplace with a good book and a glass of wine, or gathering with friends to play board games at a communal table. The bar’s name comes from the Italian words for “life” and “vine,” inspired by the creativity that revolves around the two, says Rice, and “how they bring people together in a common space of appreciation for the beautiful things that can enrich and enhance a life.”
Her location on Hargett Street provides access to a thriving arts community, as well as a network of supportive businesses working together to enhance and grow the city. As soon as Rice saw the building, she knew it was the perfect spot.
At Vita Vite, framed art and paintings hang not only for ornamentation, but also for purchase. The spot’s intimate atmosphere is designed to help guests “visualize the art in their own homes,” instead of on a stark white wall or an industrial gallery setting.
Vita Vite currently represents 11 Southern artists – including Raleigh’s Caroline Boykin and Alice Miles – with an eclectic mixture of painting styles. One photographer, Doug Van de Zande, is also represented. Rice hopes to expand the art offerings to include more photography, as well as sculpture and ceramics, throughout 2016.
Although Vita Vite’s main focus is wine, the bar also offers plates with fresh-baked bread from local bakeries, like Yellow Dog and Boulted Bread, paired with toppings like pimento cheese, hummus, and pickles. The plates allow the spot to highlight local specialties for sale in the bar’s small retail section.
“Launching a startup company myself, I feel it’s important to support similar companies and products that come from small, family-run businesses in their first or second year of business,” says Rice.
Living Kitchen, slated to open this summer in City Plaza’s Charter Square Tower, will be open for breakfast, but don’t expect to find cheesy scrambled eggs or a side of bacon. Instead, look for something like the living bagel: a raw bread made from flax, almonds, zucchini, olives, and herbs, topped with cashew sour cream and organic tomato, onion, and basil.
The restaurant’s original incarnation, known as Luna’s Living Kitchen, opened in Charlotte in July 2010 with a mostly raw menu made from locally sourced organic fruits and vegetables. This summer, owners Juliana Luna and Stephen Edwards say they’re excited to be expanding east.
Luna, a native of Bogota, Colombia, was raised by a nutritionist mother and says she’s always thought of food as a way to nourish the body and to bring people together. Encouraged by the confluence of nearby vegetarian restaurants like The Fiction Kitchen and juice-and-salad bars like Happy + Hale – plus the built-in downtown lunch crowd – Luna says City Plaza seemed like a great place to expand their concept of nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes in a comfortable environment.
“There are a number of restaurants that position themselves as healthy. We approach it a bit differently,” says Edwards, Living Kitchen’s president. “We strive to deliver creative dishes with unique flavors in a beautiful environment, 100-percent organic and exclusively plant-based. For us, that’s the palate that we work with.”
Living Kitchen’s menu is unexpected and inventive with its use of healthy foods, like nuts, seeds, and produce. There are sunflower seed “refried beans” and cauliflower rice, sweet potato noodles and dulse-flake “tuna” sandwiches. The restaurant also offers more traditional selections, like kale and Caesar salads and, yes, even beer for diners (there’s also kombucha beer for those who want an additional nutritional punch to their suds).
Though the restaurant features online ordering and handy on-the-go items like sandwiches and smoothies, everything is prepared with fresh ingredients and is made-to-order. You won’t find any hot lamps here. “We are a full-service restaurant with a strong focus on hospitality, which means premium preparation and presentation of the food together with superior table-side service,” Edwards says.