(Part 6 in our Kinston Series)
Kinston, NC, continues to ride the crest of publicity generated from the PBS-TV show “A Chef’s Life” based on Vivian Howard’s rise to fame for the Chef and the Farmer restaurant she opened nearly a decade ago with husband, Ben Knight. If you don’t know the story, we’ll sum it up as local girl heads to the big city with big dreams and a determination never to return to her small Eastern NC town, only to be enticed back to her roots where she succeeds by outlandish proportions.
Yet there is another compelling story, one about the another Howard daughter, Vivian’s older sister Leraine, who has always called Kinston home and whose aspirations centered on the land where her family’s feet are fully planted in the soil —muddy hog-farm soil — as one of America’s leading pork producers. As a child, Leraine actually dreamed of being a farmer, so serious in fact that she attended North Carolina State University to study agriculture. Events changed her plans, but she never left, instead raising a family and using her business acumen to become a highly-respected businesswoman.
This year Leraine Howard Tolston chairs Pride of Kinston Inc., a nonprofit organization created in 1984 to lead the revitalization of the city’s downtown core of 27 blocks. On a daily basis, she leads by example as owner and operator of Queen Street Deli and Bakery, an eatery that sits on the thoroughfare once called “The Magic Mile,” an allusion to Chicago’s famouse shopping street. (Hear more about it and meet Leraine in the accompanying video.)
Standing behind the counter that displays her highly-touted cookies and baked goods, Leraine says the term Magic Mile was Queen Street’s moniker back when tobacco was king, “All these stores used to be booming, and when I was a little girl, we used to come on Saturday and shop and spend all of our money.” Leraine says Pride of Kinston embraces that sentiment and hopes to bring “The Magic Mile” level of commerce back. She readily cites and credits her sister as a main player in the movement, but a quick walk around town also reveals a supporting roster putting runners on base for the clean-up batter: For example:
- The CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center that opened this spring at 100 N. Queen St.; (252) 522-2107; http://www.nchistoricsites.org/neuse/neuse.htm
- The O’Neil, a recently opened luxury boutique hotel, 200 N. Queen St.; (252) 208-1130; www.the-oneil.com
- Mother Earth Brewing at 311 N. Herritage St.; (252) 208-2437; www.motherearthbrewing.com
- The Red Room live-music venue at 220 N. Herritage St.; (252) 520-2000; www.thered-room.com
- Community Council for The Arts at 400 N. Queen St.; (252) 527-2517; www.kinstoncca.com
- Caswell No. 1 Fire Station Museum at 118 S. Queen St. (252) 521-5648; http://www.visitnc.com/listing/caswell-no-1-fire-station-museum
- The area is also known for its Civil War sites.
Ideally, the Queen Street Deli would be the lead-off batter in the lineup, fueled by its popular breakfast items: Eggs Benedict, million-dollar pound cake French toast (yep that’s one item), Belgian waffles, three-egg omelets, quiche and a wide selection of gourmet coffee. The team would continue its fuel fill at lunch over sandwiches like The Queens Chicken Salad (roasted chicken with toasted pecans, cranberries, flat leaf lettuce on wheat-berry bread), Neuse River Roast Beef (roast beef, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato & bistro sauce on multi-grain bread) and Truston’s BLT (Applewood smoked bacon, Havarti, lettuce, tomato, honey mustard on wheat-berry bread). There’s even homage to Leraine’s personal passion — Pride of Kinston — with the appropriately named Prides Pimento (Pimento cheese, sliced tomatoes & bacon on toasted wheat-berry bread).
We could end there, brandishing Leraine’s pride in her hometown. However, we have to add that her paninis are tasty, heartfelt and filling and that her “No Time To Cook Freezer & Refrigerator Items Section” is a well-conceived idea for busy families. Examples of the family-style, family-sized meals to go are Chicken Broccoli Wild Rice Casserole, Beef Stroganoff, Taco Lasagna, Chicken Divan, Shepherds Pie and The Other Woman’s Meat Loaf. Available by pre-order, these take-out meals feed two-six people for under $30.
Queen Street Deli and Bakery handles private parties too in the main restaurant, which seats 88, with space for 16 in a conference room plus another space large enough for 30. Catering’s also available; Leraine will joyfully assist anyone who wants to throw a party or needs a picnic spread for the beach. And we can attest: She does so with flair.
Leraine’s well-known for her sweets selection: Black Magic Hershey Bar Cake, Million Dollar Pound Cake, Ms. Ruth’s Fudge (which she made with Ms. Ruth growing up as a child), 16 Layer Cake and Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Blondies (the locals’ favorite). Her Red Velvet Cake was featured on “A Chef’s Life” when she made it with her sister.
Back to pride: Leraine loves her town and gives credit where it’s due, but she easily and earnestly earns her place in the starting lineup and the All-Star team.
If You’re Going: Queen Street Deli and Bakery is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 117 South Queen St., Kinston. Call (252) 527-1900 or visit www.queenstreetdeli.com. Check the Wednesday Family Meal selections, available starting Sept. 30, at https://www.facebook.com/queenstreetdeli. Call by Tuesday for Wednesday pickup. A recent example: $27, including tax, feeds two-three people a menu featuring Pork Stir Fry with snow peas, carrots and broccoli served with rice, an Asian fruit salad and almond cookie. Stuffed Peppers, Chicken Lasagna and Baked Spaghetti are other recent entrée examples.
For more about what to see and do in Kinston, go to www.visitkinston.com. Tip: If you want to dine at Chef and the Farmer, call very early for reservations.
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LuxuryTravel Examiners Kathy M. Newbern and spouse, J.S. Fletcher report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.