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Since September 2013, Kinston has basked in the spotlight thanks to the wildly popular “A Chef’s Life,” the PBS documentary series that follows Chef Vivian Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, as they run their farm-to-table restaurant, Chef & The Farmer.
The program showcases the town’s tight-knit community of farmers, artisans and brewers. Broadcast to 96 percent of the U.S., the show boasts 2.5 million viewers. Only in its third season, it’s already won a Peabody and a Daytime Emmy. And for four years straight, Howard was a semi-finalist for the James Beard title of Best Chef in the Southeast. All this fanfare can make it tough to get a table, however. Reservations are accepted 90 days in advance, but the bar area is first come/first serve, and many diners have luck popping in. Howard and Knight are also good about updating the restaurant’s Facebook page with open last-minute reservations.
Although it would be easy to take the eastward, hour-and-a-half drive just for a taste of Chef Howard’s seasonal menu, stay a little longer.
The town, more than 200 years old, is home to important moments in history, and visitors can retrace the past at Kinston Civil War Battlefield Park and the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center for a glimpse of a Confederate Navy ironclad boat.
And Kinston’s public art trail—the largest public art collection in North Carolina—gives an unexpected showcase of creative metalwork with its animals and murals. The metal animals by NC artist Jonathan Bowling create a sort of entrance to the arts and cultural district at Mitchell and West Blount streets. Just this month Kinston finished phase one of its Arts Riverwalk, a pedestrian and bicycle friendly path that follows the Neuse River, linking the arts and cultural district to the downtown entertainment district.
Kinston is a great stop for the art-loving foodie.
Kinston Music Park, Spring Hill and South Queen streets, africanamericanmusicnc.com
Dawn to dusk daily.
Kinston is a stop on the eight-county African American Music Trail of North Carolina, thanks to Nat Jones, Dick Knight and Levi Rashbury, all influential members of the James Brown Band and Kinston natives. The Kinston Music Park honors them and other African American musicians through sculptures, mosaics and song lyrics etched in concrete through the park.
Middle Grounds Coffeehouse, 212 N. Herritage Street
7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
After noticing the lack of coffee shops in downtown Kinston, entrepreneur Jessica Dawson decided to open her own this past September. Pop in for a Happy Camper frappe with flavors of marshmallow, chocolate and shortbread, and stay late Thursday evenings for open mic night from 7 to 9 pm.
Mother Earth Brewery, 311 N. Herritage Street, motherearthbrewing.com
Born from a deep respect for the art of brewing, Mother Earth Brewery proudly serves a variety of beers, even some made with American-grown hops. Free tours are available Tuesday through Saturday; make sure to enjoy the beer garden on a sunny day.
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