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Downtown’s Parkside keeps it (hyper) local.
It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and Jenessa Mitchell and Todd Henderson are cozied up together in a corner booth in downtown’s Parkside, brightly lit by the restaurant’s giant, sunny windows. The afternoon rush has slowed down to a couple enjoying a late lunch and a pair of regulars posted up at the bar, who Mitchell and Henderson greet warmly on their way in.
Behind Mitchell and Henderson—Parkside’s co-owners and co-founders—the wall is decorated with distinctive panels of barn wood. The wood, the couple explains, was sourced by friend Billy Keck, owner of Raleigh Reclaimed, from a Cary barn house he took down while the couple was renovating the erstwhile Brewmaster’s Bar and Grill space in 2016.
It’s just one example of how the new and the retro, but always the hyperlocal, come together to create the buzzing atmosphere of the restaurant located just across the street from Nash Square Park.
Whether or not you’ve ever stepped inside, you’re likely familiar with the neon red-and-green “restaurant” sign hanging over Parkside’s entrance, greeting visitors. It’s the longest-glowing neon restaurant sign in North Carolina, in fact, and these days, it serves as a beacon for the entrance to the Warehouse District.
Mitchell and Henderson are proud of their location on Martin Street, of the burgeoning District and of Raleigh itself. Henderson, a Raleigh native, grew up going to lunch with his mother at Joe’s Place, a diner that occupied the Parkside space for nearly three decades starting in 1979. This is why, when the couple first started conceptualizing Parkside, they took care to try and capture that love for locality the best they could.
“I’m proud of everything we do here [in Raleigh],” Henderson says. “So, I really wanted to source things hyperlocally.”
Besides the barn wood-paneled walls, all of Parkside’s tables are made from the same enormous North Carolina poplar tree. Keck crafted these tables, too, and if you could somehow manage to line them up in a row, you’d be able to make out the wood vein in the center of the tree that runs through them all. Mitchell and Henderson decided to leave the table edges raw, a design decision Mitchell says was intended to showcase the natural, caramel-colored wood. The final hyperlocal piece to come together for the restaurant’s furniture was the 37-foot bar top, sourced from a local walnut tree.
Everything else in the restaurant comes, if not from Raleigh itself, from elsewhere in North Carolina, a nod to the state that the pair now calls home after relocating here from Austin, Texas shortly before opening Parkside. The stone behind Parkside’s bar is sourced from the Smoky Mountains; the booths come from Carolina Custom Booths in High Point; the cabinets behind the bar are from a local craftsman at the Raleigh Flea Market and the couple upcycled their chairs themselves, using the old ones from Brewmaster’s.
The overall effect of the furniture and decor is a homey, inviting space that feels more neighborhood eatery than high-turnover trendy, though Parkside is undoubtedly popular and thriving.
“We wanted somewhere that felt diner-esque and local,” Mitchell says. “Somewhere you could come in a couple of days a week and the bartender knows your name.”
Parkside’s food, a collection of classic Southern comfort dishes done up in a contemporary cooking style, is also very much local. Ingredients are sourced from Locals Seafood, Yellow Dog Bread, Fox Farm and Forage and the State Farmers Market, to name just a few places.
For Henderson and Mitchell, menu items are reminiscent of the dishes they grew up eating themselves, ones that aren’t uncommon in the South. The Braised Short Rib Stroganoff expands on a Mitchell family favorite; Joe’s Meat and Three is an ode to Joe Sciolino, the owner of Joe’s Place (and now Henderson’s very good friend), and the Auntie Nessa, a gooey grilled cheese sandwich made with cheddar, provolone and brie on grilled sourdough, is Mitchell’s go-to.
“We tried to combine those comfort foods and still pay homage to what I grew up on in this building,” Henderson says as folks begin to trickle in for dinner. “It’s really just an eclectic place that’s representative of exactly where we are, and exactly where we should be, at the exact time we’re supposed to be here.”
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