In Wilmington, North Carolina, the Green House is not just an homage to the restaurant’s plant-based menu—it’s an entire experience. Attached to the restaurant, a small greenhouse comprised of 18 tower gardens is overseen by in-house horticulturist Michelle Lyon-Heatherly. It was over a lunch date that Green House owner and longtime vegan Anastasia Worrell first spoke of these restaurant plans with Lyon-Heatherly. Worrell’s idea to bring vegan fine dining to Wilmington was thanks to her friend and now business partner Laura Tiblier, a fellow restaurateur who previously opened Ceviche’s with her husband, Hunter. Then came Peruvian-born executive chef Mauricio Huarcaya, who now looks to his fine-dining background to bring a “new” kind of ceviche to the Green House. At the merging of these paths, the Green House is finding its identity while sticking to its roots as a restaurant meant to evolve the idea of farm-to-table.
Local diners go for the unexpected, while those from out of town—often members of one of the many film crews regularly shooting productions in the area, correlated actors—find comfort in a concept familiar to their West Coast home base. Yet Worrell, a seasoned restaurateur, is still determining if Wilmington is ready.
“Sustainability, being vegan, and part of our bar program being zero-proof is something we believe in. It’s a passion project,” she says. “Our menu is fluid. We’re constantly adjusting based on what’s available and what’s in season. We’re here embracing vegetables as art and putting our farmers on a pedestal.”
In the greenhouse, Lyon-Heatherly first seeds basil, lettuces, chard, cilantro, and more into a cube of lava rock. Later, the cube is dropped in the tower garden system. Only a small number of US restaurants use these on-site tower gardens, which Lyon-Heatherly calls “farming of the future.” An average 21-day harvest allows living plants to be immediately used in dishes like kale and arugula salad, chilled asparagus soup, and chickpea Merguez. The signature Tower Garden salad, topped with earthy radishes and a subtle white balsamic vinaigrette, is where her work shines.
“I’ve been growing commercially for 25 years, and this is another level of sustainability and quality,” Lyon-Heatherly says. “Most food travels an average of 2,500 miles to get to our plate, and when food is harvested it loses 10 percent of its nutrient content every day for the first four days. Here, this is a living plant. There’s nothing to compare it to.”
A theme of sustainability floats through the restaurant. Worrell and Tiblier settled on a biophilic design (a concept of connecting humans with nature) that incorporates meditative qualities. Limewash plaster walls are introduced as living, breathing material. Guests are greeted by a lofty fiddle leaf fig tree, while plants section off banquettes made from the reclaimed wood of a 180-year-old warehouse. Often found in commercial kitchens, quarry tiles of untreated clay span the length of the restaurant. Upon request, a maximum of four guests can dine in the greenhouse with a five-course tasting and wine menu.
While Huarcaya brings with him an impressive background—including working under James Beard Award-winning chef Mike Lata at Charleston’s FIG—he wants to embrace an era of simplicity (and small plates) at the Green House.
“I look at everything as a science,” he says. “I want to continue delivering artful, intricate plating but also focus on vegan dishes that are user-friendly and not too outside of the box. You can find great food anywhere, but my focus is, how do you make the guests intrigued and not hesitant?” Besides an analytical mindset, Huarcaya looks to his Peruvian roots, specifically dishes learned from his grandmother, to provide bursts of bright flavor that are familiar—even if the plate is composed of vegetables.
“Peruvian influence can be complicated— there are bold, strong flavors that make your palate go ‘wow, what is this?’ It is also very Japanese-inspired with chiles, ginger, and garlic,” he says. “I love to be on my toes every day, while still keeping certain things on the menu for regulars. Vegan food to me is both interesting and upcoming; it’s certainly a challenge and a science for the everyday chef.”
On the Menu
A favorite of Huarcaya, cabbage is braised low and slow in the oven. Creamed potatoes serve as the base while a pine-nut-and-golden-raisin vinaigrette lends delicate yet jammy earth notes. The final punch is delivered from Calabrian chiles infused into the cabbage.
This quintessential, refreshing staple gets a vegan makeover with hearts of palm and coconut meat as a textured center. Avocado crema adds weight to the offerings, while the dish as a whole is topped with a sweet yet acidic leche de tigre.
Grilled Lion’s Mane
Sourced from Wholesome Greens, lion’s mane mushrooms are simultaneously smoked and slow roasted over the course of three days. The infusion of flavors is complemented by rotating ingredients of roasted beet, ginger gastrique, and smoked beet jus.
Green Goddess Mocktail
The Green Goddess shines a light on the Green House’s robust mocktail offerings. This deceiving sipper starts with a base of serrano Amethyst spirit. Next, earthy notes appear from the addition of matcha, and a bright, lingering finish is thanks to a local lemon-lime shrub and a refreshing dash of cucumber juice.
- by TLP Editors
- by Lena Melentijevic