Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Left My ❤️ in Kinston, NC--A long, slightly unrelated post...

...but there is a small book review embedded within the post...

We could also call it the "How I spent my vacation" essay

Sandwiched in between two extended family events on a road trip south, my husband and two kids spent two nights in "eastern Carolina." If you want to meet people who instantly friend you, hear sweet accents harmonize, enjoy delicious meals at every turn, and learn a little bit of history all topped with a splash of southern charm and hospitality, you must put a visit to Kinston on your bucket list. And for your sake, I hope it moves to the top.

Why Kinston? Ever hear of the show on PBS, "A Chef's Life"? Most people haven't. Kevin is proud to claim that it is his favorite show and surprisingly has never denied it once when I have claimed him to be Vivian Howard's (the show's creator) biggest fan. In fact, and he would hate that I am saying this, but his face lit up whenever he saw or heard references to the show throughout the town. 

The first site we saw when we pulled into Kinston--the farmers market featuring Brothers Farm

I emailed Beth a few weeks ago to make our reservation and I should have known from the start that it was going to be an unforgettable experience all around.  After a long drive from Charlotte, we pulled into the Neuseway Park to set up camp.  Although it isn't a fancy place, it has character.  It's on the river.  It's quiet and if we had more time we'd be able to go to the planetarium or even kayaking. Next time!  Plus, you really can't beat the price--$6 per night!

Our reservation at Chef and the Farmer was at 7:30.  Yum.  We ordered almost everything on the menu!  From bacon wrapped peaches for Kevin to fried ocra with ranch ice cream to brisket and cornish hen--it was all heavenly.  Our server, Jessica, became our friend instantly and gave me the recipe to my unforgettable cocktail as well as "found" an extra slice of the chocolate deliciousness that we really desired for dessert.  Kevin recognized one of the servers from the show and we saw the back of Vivian!  She was up on the next level having a business dinner.  Coming this far, it was just exciting to be only yards away.

We had a full day in Kinston on Thursday.  Since we were planning on having all our meals out, we didn't even pack our camp stove or coffee pot therefore our first stop was Middle Grounds Coffee House.  It was there we met Amber, our Barista and Sara Smith, the new Director of Marketing for Chef and the Farmer.  Poor Sara--she pulled up a chair and sat with us for so long that I'm sure her coffee was cold by the time she left.  I probably owe her a drink.

Mother Earth Brewery was our first stop.  Started by a couple of Kinston/Lenoir County guys (son-n-law/father-n-law pair), this brewery has a future.  It is the first environmentally sound brewery in the country from the architecture to the packaging and they give back to their own community.  You can tell that Kinston is proud of them.  RJ, our knowledgeable tour guide, also happens to be the percussion player for the local band, The Vanilla Gorillas.  We noticed the band from a poster at Middle Ground promoting an upcoming gig so felt like we were meeting a celebrity!

Who wouldn't want to work in a place that has a slide?!
Do they need a librarian and/or research scientist?

Even though the reviews were mixed for Olvera Street Taqueria, we went anyway and had a satisfying lunch.  My mahi salad was filling and loaded with guacamole.  The family enjoyed their tacos as well.

And our day isn't even half over!  Sara recommended a couple of arts places to visit and so we did. One place offers space for artists to work and Bruce gave us an extensive tour of the place.  Turns out Jane, the wife of Warren (of Brother's Farm) rents space there, too.  Lots of good Kinston art happening right there from pottery to painting. We also went to the Arts Council and had a fun docent as a tourguide.  She had the perfect Eastern North Carolina accent and she knew it.  I'm just sorry we didn't get her name.  Upstairs is a husband and wife art exhibit.  The husband paints local residents in action.  Guess whose painting we saw?! RJ's!

Notice the sculptures?  Kinston has a whole outdoor art trail!

Here's the LIBRARY part:

It was time to take a little break so where does a family like ours do that?  The library, of course! We were there long enough for me to find on display and read The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson.  Hamster, George Washington (GW) from second grade and Barry the Bunny from first grade team up to set free Biter from kindergarten.  But now that Biter is with the kinders, he has become a bit more zen, talking about his feelings, referencing the 70s soundtrack from "Free to Be...You And Me" and changing his name to"Sunflower."  GW, Barry and Sunflower meet up with Harriet and her mice minions from the upper grades.  A fight ensues in the cafeteria with jello flying everywhere.  Not exactly something I would want to find in the morning if I was the 6:00 am custodian.  What happens to the three classroom pets?  Do they survive the wrath of Harriet and the minions?  You'll have to go to Kinston or just your nearest library to find out in this laugh-out-loud-I-almost-cried graphic novel!  And happy news! A sequel should be out this winter!

What's a visit to a town if you don't pop into their library?

We were the only ones in the CSS Neuse Museum that afternoon, giving us full reign and even Zack the opportunity to dress up as a Confederate sailor. It was a great opportunity to get some Civil War education and see the remnants of a real Confederate gunboat.

The original gunboat

Sailor Zack

Before dinner we went back to the brewery to regroup, charge devices and rest a bit more.  It was there that we met Linda and Brian, two folks from Chicago who had also come to Kinston for the restaurant.  Instant bond! Friends for life!  Tari has dreams of going to college in Chicago (or at least to see "Hamilton" there) and we will definitely call them up!  They even spent the night at Warren's Bed and Breakfast!

Vivian and Ben's "Boiler Room" was our next destination.  Although none of us got the signature burgers or oysters, it was still delicious.  It was fried chicken special night and OMG!  Zack and Kevin both ordered it and Tari and I wished we did, too.  Oh and who do you think we saw there? Just our new friend, RJ.

As the sun got lower in the sky and tempers could start getting shorter, we didn't seem to find that with the Kinston folks.  Hour after hour, they were all still friendly and welcoming to this family of Yankees.  Maybe it was because there was a big announcement that day that "Baseball is back in Kinston" or maybe this is just how they always are.

We ended the evening with music in the park.  It was there that we ran into Linda and Brian from Chicago, Bruce the artist and saw our Arts Council docent rockin out.  I couldn't stand to have the day end so we went back to Chef and the Farmer to say goodbye to Beth.  We hugged.  I bought some swag (doesn't everyone need a C And F euro sticker?) and promised we'd return soon.

Our new friends, Linda and Brian, from Chicago!

And oh yeah, we ran into Amber the barista waiting for pizza.  "What did you end up doing today?" she asked.  I tried to sum it up in 140 characters or less, probably unsuccessfully.

The Next Morning

Although we filled up on coffee and food at Lovick's, recommended by Sara, we still had to stop in to Middle Ground to say our farewell to Amber and our new favorite coffee shop.  While there, Sara walks in!  We chat some more and thankfully her coffee isn't made yet.  Someone snaps a photo of all of us so we can keep this wondrous little town in our hearts for a very long time.

Pancakes bigger than his head!

Thank you Vivian, PBS, CreateTV, WHMT for sending us to Kinston.  To Kinston, we thank you for the memories and to all the people who were so sweet to us--we almost put a "For Sale" sign on our front lawn.

with Sara and Amber

Kinston could use a bookstore, especially with Vivian's new cookbook coming out in October--which happens to be published by Little Brown!
Could the store on the left work?

Vivian's cookbook hits stands on October 4 but you can preorder now!
That way, you can make one of her dishes that night!
Do you think my students would be into a book release party???

I will proudly wear this shirt around Castleton, Schodack, New York and beyond!

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