So I have to confess, I’ve never watched an episode of Vivian Howard’s A Chef’s Life series on PBS. But given I live in North Carolina, I had certainly heard about the Chef and the Farmer out in Kinston years ago and the wonderful gourmet eats it served. So eventually I got curious to see what Chef Vivian was doing in the kitchen given all her appearances in Raleigh so I took a trip out east to check out her more casual restaurant, the Boiler Room. And I have to say that while it may not have as much acclaim as the Chef and the Farmer, it’s worth the drive. Chef Vivian definitely has got some skills in the kitchen and hospitality side of things based upon my short visit to Kinston.
If you’re headed out to Kinston, understand that it’s a very small town of a bit over twenty thousand people and North Street is a main thoroughfare. Both Mother Earth Brewing and the Boiler Room sit on this street and I found that a lot of customers at one, hang out at the other. Oddly enough, Boiler Room is located down a hidden alley that looks a bit dark and wary. There’s a lit neon sign at the far end of the alleyway and the Boiler Room sits behind a nondescript doorway, part way down.
Inside Boiler Room, you’ll be met in front by a hostess kiosk and small bar. In the main dining room, you’ll find the main oyster bar and retro tables lining the perimeter of the space. The leatherette and chrome seats smack of the 70’s and the washed wood planking on the walls gives it all a nautical feel. It’s a simple and comfortable space that’s nicely decorated if not memorable. I grab a seat at the busy front bar since I’ll be dining solo tonight.
I order up a delicious cocktail mixed with a swirl of honey and start perusing the laminated menu. It’s short and while offering quite a bit of seafood, has some other basics on the beef and chicken side of things. But I’m still having problems choosing my order, it all looks so good! Inside, the dining room is filling up even at 5:30pm. It’s a mixed and more mature crowd of foodies in the know. I put in an order for some Oysters Boiler-feller, the blueberry barbeque chicken sandwich and a side of poutine. How can you go wrong with potatoes and gravy?
Given how busy it is on a Friday night, it takes a bit of time for my food to arrive but the oysters Boiler-feller look spectacular! Three oysters perfectly browned with fondue cheese, collards-bacon and tomato topped off with some parmesan cheese. I eagerly work through all three which are some of the best baked oysters I’ve tried! A delicious, savory seafood treat with a lot of umami from the cheese and bacon, an excellent start.
Next up are my poutine fries and barbeque chicken sandwich and both look great! The poutine is PHENOMENAL, a deep, beef gravy slathered over crisp fries and what’s that I see? Chunks of pork shoulder mixed in?! Wow. You could make a meal out of this side but if not, it’s certainly worth sharing. The blueberry barbeque chicken sandwich is another stunner. Grilled brioche bun covering a chicken breast, gouda and what looks to be at least four slices of perfectly crisp bacon. Even with all this savory on a bun, the blueberry sauce and taste stands out making for a meaty, fruity mouthful. While chicken sandwiches can often be boring, not at the Boiler Room. I’ve even heard that when blueberries are in season, they use local berries to dress up the bird.
Given the bar service, it’s a great experience even with a busy bartender. And the bar is quite lively, I strike up a conversation with my seat-neighbor who had also been seated next to me at Mother Earth Brewery. Let’s just say that Kinston is a small town and I’m guessing that most people end up at the same places. But color me impressed with Chef Vivian’s Boiler Room. While it may not have the same acclaim as the Chef and Farmer, I loved the casual atmosphere and stellar, flavorful food. And I have to say that the lower price points just makes her food that more accessible. My dining experience at the Boiler Room was awesome which has piqued my curiosity about the Chef and the Farmer but let’s save that story for another day…