WILMINGTON — Friday night Wilmington got a taste of its first fine-dining vegan eatery, The Green House Restaurant, as it hosted its soft opening to friends and family. Tonight it will debut to the public and open for dinner before extending hours into lunch and weekend brunches in coming weeks.
Every dish at the upscale American eatery puts focus on vegetables and clean proteins. Though brought to life by Laura Tiblier and Anastasia Worrell — Tiblier owns Ceviche’s in Wrightsville Beach and Worrell is a first-time restaurateur, whose husband Ray is well-known for running the Slice of Life eateries in town — the business women have taken pride in their restaurant’s creation becoming a true community affair.
Worrell pointed to local carpenter Matt Hosmer’s black coffee table sitting in the front waiting area and Kim James’ environmental-friendly white plaster walls and concrete benches as a testament to the hands that built their dream.
“We have so many people who know what they’re doing,” Worrell praised.
As customers began to fill up the 60-plus seats in the restaurant, James sat at the bar and enjoyed a glass of wine and meal while admiring her work.
“This is a lime wash,” she said of the plaster. James has worked on projects residentially and commercially, even in film (she has helped do sets for the Super Bowl). She spent six weeks doing three coats across the whole restaurant. “I used all natural, environmentally friendly, hypoallergenic plaster,” she said, “so it’s breathable and it doesn’t hold mold.”
Clean is the focus of The Green House at every level, from the building materials to the flavors of the menu to the design aesthetic. The black-and-white palette only gets a pop of color from the greenery planted throughout the space: around the door frame outside, on the patio, in between the benched seating throughout the middle of the restaurant. Horticulturist Michelle Lyon tends to the plants, according to Worrell.
“And there are a number of chefs who made this a collaboration as well,” Worrell said.
Executive chef Dave Herring’s careful curation of the menu has played out with input from local chef Nikki Spears (original founder of Nikki’s Gourmet and Sushi and Sealevel City Gourmet, both of which have changed hands throughout the years). Worrell’s friend, Anna Masteller, a trained French chef that specializes in vegan food, also consulted.
Herring made his mark in Wilmington as the founder of Sweet and Savory Café and Sea Salt Bakery in Hampstead but said he stepped back 10 years ago because of burnout. Returning under a vegan umbrella felt like a welcome challenge, according to the chef.
“It makes me better working with ingredients that I usually don’t use,” Herring said.
The Green House menu is 18 items deep, broken up into “The Beginning” (“cheese,” “pâté” and vegetable boards), “The Following” (salads and soups), “The Main” (entrees) and “The Sweet” (desserts). Diners will find delicate summer roasted vegetables — carrot, sweet potato, onion — served with smoked cheddar grits, a saffron beurre blanc and chimichurri, with summer beans. It’s one of Herring’s favorite dishes.
“I’m really excited about the fact we have our own ‘filet,'” Worrell noted.
It’s the vegan’s take on a traditional steakhouse meal, served with parsnip-potato puree and roasted asparagus. A whole eggplant gets braised and seasoned, topped with a red wine demi-glace, crispy shallots and fresh grated horseradish.
A Southern BBQ plate comes with smoky “ribs” of Swiss chard, served with homemade mac and cheese, cucumber and tomato salad, butter beans, and a square of blue cornbread with cashew butter.
“This is her dish,” Worrell said, pointing to Masteller as she approached.
Masteller has been a vegan for a while and even went raw vegan for seven years. She credits the lifestyle for helping resolve health issues and even increasing fertility (she had twins). She also conceptualized for The Green House a homey lentil ragu dish — “just like, you know, an Italian grandma used to make,” Masteller said.
“It’s not on the menu yet, but it will be,” Worrell assured. “We are still working on the best gluten-free pasta recipe.”
It’s one of the challenges Herring is excited about perfecting, not just for pasta but desserts and baked goods: “trying to reproduce gluten flour with the right ratio of grains and starches.”
“You have to try the vegan, gluten-free chocolate cake,” Worrell told Masteller.
Tiblier manned the expo line in front of the open-kitchen window, where Herring and his team of sous and pastry chefs carefully plated each order. The chocolate cakes were coming fast, as were starter boards.
Dr. Donald Bland sat at the bar with his date to enjoy a meal of fennel and sausage, as well as the wild mushroom stroganoff. The bartender delivered a raspberry chocolate cake to them.
“This is awesome,” Dr. Bland said.
“I’m a sometimes vegan, sometimes pescatarian, sometimes carnivore,” he added. “I don’t miss the meat here; I think the fennel and sausage was my favorite.”
A classic Italian dish, the “sausage” is made of walnuts and white beans, and comes served in a pool of bright red tomato gravy and fennel.
“We were thinking about our menu constantly changing with seasons,” Worrell said. “But we’re so proud of this, I think this is a mainstay, and every chef will then have a chance to maybe do a tasting menu, with wine pairings with each course.”
The restaurateurs reached out to the owners of Red Bank Wine nearby in Mayfaire to curate the all-vegan wine list. They also consulted with Nick Sorrells, who bartended for Tiblier at Ceviche’s for years before opening his own bar-catering business, Flying Cloud. Sorrells created six alcoholic beverages — such as the habanero margarita (“Angels and Demons”) and a brandy elixir (“Peach Brandy Flip”) — as well as six “conscious cocktails,” Green House’s non-alcoholic beverage list for those who prefer to stick to a healthy lifestyle.
“Anastasia doesn’t drink and she wanted to make sure that there were options, and it wasn’t just juice and soda,” he said. “As you can see, there’s no liquor on the back bar.”
He pointed to plastered cubicles James had created, each showcasing glasses and tinctures, as well as nonalcoholic spirits.
“It’s a movement,” Sorrells said, “the conscious cocktail.”
He researched products, including Seedlip and Rasāsvāda, for months. “They’re all about Eastern medicine, and there’s a lot of things in there that are healthy for you,” he explained.
Sorrells did tastings and experiments, especially to hone in on bitter components he likes from traditional spirited drinks. “Like I can’t use Campari to bring that bitter, so what do you do? Use like sand bitters, which is an Italian bitter soda, to give the same flavor, just no alcohol,” he said.
For those who prefer the punch, Sorrells also crafted alcoholic classics with a twist: a gin and tonic with cucumber and hints of basil, or a take on a Greyhound, with vodka and grapefruit, but also bergamot and rosemary. His favorite, though, is the house-named cocktail, featuring Green Chartreuse, fresh pineapple and nutmeg.
“It’s really herbaceous,” he detailed.
Herbs used in the restaurant are picked straight from the outdoor patio filled with planters of lettuces, cilantro, parsley, basil, and other greens. Worrell said it will eventually become a full-fledged greenhouse for the restaurant, custom built with glass and including aeroponic towers. Diners will see the food literally go from plant to plate.
“That’s the cool thing about having an experience like this: You can have four or five courses of food, have a full wine experience, have a three-hour dinner if you want, and when you get up, you feel like your mind is clear,” Masteller said, “not like when you eat a big heavy meal. It’s not like, ‘I need a nap’ or ‘I can’t deal with people anymore.’ You notice your mood changes from when you sit down at a restaurant to when you walk out the door. Here, you’re walking out the door with a spring in your step, like you still feel the energy and the goodness, and it’s all the nutrients your body knows what to do with.”
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