In the Local Palate’s 2022 Restaurants Issue, our state-by-state guide highlights the new restaurants that have emerged since 2020. Here, contributor and Tar Heel native Jenn Rice gives an overview of new restaurants in North Carolina.
In March 2020, Greg and Subrina Collier opened Leah & Louise, a Memphis-inspired juke joint, with flavors adapted from Memphis, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; and New Orleans, in Charlotte’s Camp North End.
The duo is unapologetic when it comes to frank, but necessary, conversation on social media, further putting them on the map as advocates paving the way for Black-owned businesses to receive the recognition they deserve. The Colliers are also co-founders of Soul Food Sessions, a nonprofit to break the mold and create opportunities for African-American chefs, and most recently launched BayHaven Food & Wine Festival—the first all-Black food festival of its kind.
“Our biggest hurdle was trying to build a new business while also trying to sustain a long-standing business in the middle of Uptown,” says Subrina Collier. “Our biggest success was being able to create Leah & Louise and build something that allowed us to speak through our culture, heritage, and foodways,” she adds.
At Leah & Louise, guests explore the Collier’s vision of Black Southern cuisine by way of dishes like River Chips: chicken skins with “granch,” a delicious green onion and ranch mixture; the show-stopping Mud Island blackened catfish, sitting in a bath of smoked catfish stew alongside rice grits, pickled field peas, and candied pepper; and Leah’s cabbage: a modern take on smothered cabbage, plus a nod to Greg’s late sister, Leah, who continuously experimented with dishes in the kitchen. A “Pay What You Can’’ community dish has remained on the menu since day one, allowing patrons to enjoy their food, regardless of their social or financial status.
Greg Collier is hoping for more conscientious diners as restaurants maneuver the pandemic. “We hope the pandemic showed folks how difficult hospitality is and we hope they understand the folks that stayed alive to serve love to serve,” he says.
The Colliers have further evolved BayHaven Restaurant Group, partnering with Camp North End to open four new concepts in summer 2022: Passage Seafood (a modern fish camp reflecting the Carolinas’ terroir mixed with the Colliers’ heritage), the Abyss (a modern speakeasy led by Leah & Louise’s mixologist Justin Hazelton), Bird Is the Word (a “chicken-centric” counter-service spot), and B.A.D. (Beyond Amazing Donuts, from former Leah & Louise pastry chef Jasmine Macon).
Cocktail: Carolina Gold Coast, a combination of whiskey, amaro, Carolina Gold Rice orgeat, egg white, and Angostura bitters
Appetizer: River Chips, crispy chicken skins with green onion-inflected ranch dressing
Main: Mud Island blackened catfish over smoked catfish stew and rice grits
New Restaurants in North Carolina’s Triangle
Corpse Reviver | Durham
Science backgrounds and a true love for gin led Melissa and Lee Katrincic to the creation of Durham Distillery. By May 2018, the the two were the first distillers from the American South to be inducted into the Gin Guild in London. Corpse Reviver—a cocktail bar attached to the distillery—came to life in March 2020. The thoughtful martini menu acts as exploration through different styles of martinis, minus the intimidation.
Cheeni Indian Food Emporium | Raleigh
Dedicated to telling stories via food, Preet Waas’ newest concept is a portal into the world of Indian food and conversation. All in one space is a cafe, deli, fast-casual, dine-in, cooking classes, pop-up dinners, feasts, and retail, truly living up to its name Emporium. “I’m most excited about bringing true, regional flavors of India to the Triangle market…” Waas says.
Queeny’s | Durham
When the restaurants shutdown in 2020 and restrictions prohibited the sale of to-go cocktails, Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker had to reimagine their bar, Kingfisher. It whimsically pivoted to Queenburger, an outdoor patio serving smash burgers and cocktails. In January 2022, Queeny’s opened—a neighborhood diner with a late-night menu and playful drinks, plus a podcast studio and bookshop.
Union Special | Raleigh
Since expanding a second location in downtown Raleigh, Andrew Ullom has been a steady voice for implementing a living wage and healthy work environment for employees, plus a community bakeshop and gathering space. The Italian sandwich, on a fresh semolina roll, is not to be missed, while the grilled cheese and tomato soup brings back childhood nostalgia.
Crawford Cookshop | Clayton
Scott Crawford’s nod to casual neighborhood eateries reimagines elevated comfort food that’s garnished to perfection. The wings section includes duck wings for a sophisticated touch, featuring hot honey, brown butter, and peanuts. The catfish sandwich is an instant home run, along with the steak tartare, grilled oysters, venison meatloaf, a mouthwatering grilled romaine salad, and desserts.
More New Restaurants in North Carolina
Neng JR.’s | Asheville
Silver Cousler dreams up Asheville’s first Filipinix restaurant in the former Mothlight music venue space. Inside the seventeen-seater space, pork rinds and caviar are Cousler’s version of surf-and-turf. An oyster dish with sea grapes, cured quail yolk, and adobo mignonette is a spin on Filipino adobo. “I love seeing so many different people in one day—the joy it will bring to me to see them and also share a part of my life, Filipino food, with the world, is going to be sacred to me,” Cousler says.
Machete | Greensboro
Machete originally opened its doors just weeks before the pandemic turned all restaurants in the North Carolina to to-go only. Built on a concept of shareable plates, the team quickly (and successfully) pivoted. Within two years of being open, Machete ranked number eighteen on Yelp’s “Top 100 Places to Eat for 2022.” Best-sellers include pork and beef meatballs, tamarind-glazed pork belly, uni bottarga tagliolini, and fried potatoes with kimchi dip.
Seabird | Wilmington
Seabird opened as an effort to educate diners on fishing methods, sustainability, and how to eat seasonally. The swordfish schnitzel and Eastern North Carolina cioppino are two mainstays. Also not-to-miss are pastry chef Jim Diecchio’s desserts, which change with the seasons.
Leo’s House of Thirst | Asheville
“Leo’s is conveniently located at the top of our street, and in hindsight it’s easy to see that we selfishly created a spot tailored to what we prefer in terms of going out: a cozy neighborhood spot with top-notch food and a knowledgeable, yet relaxed, style of service,” owner Drew Wallace says of his new wine bar. The steak tartare, deviled eggs, and chicken liver mousse will draw you back, time after time, paired with the chill ambiance and an incredible wine list.
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Amber Chase
- by Emily Havener