WILMINGTON — Having a fine-dining vegetarian restaurant has been in the back of Laura Tiblier’s mind for 20 or so years — even before she and her husband opened Ceviche’s in Wrightsville Beach in 2014. It wasn’t until the last four years that her concept became more refined — and vegan.
Now, with business partner Anastasia Worrell and a team of culinary experts, including chefs Nikki Spears (former owner of Nikki’s sushi and Sealevel Gourmet) and Dave Herring (former owner of Sweet n Savory), Tiblier’s idea will manifest into The Green House. The restaurant will be opening in the old Moe’s Southwest Grill on Military Cutoff, next to Slice of Life, by the beginning of summer.
It will be Wilmington’s first fine-dining vegan experience, where vegetables are put on display front and center and elevated to new levels of flavor. According to Tiblier, the restaurant will be high-end American.
“A lot of restaurants with different ethnic cultural influences include a lot of vegan food — Indian food, Latino food — and it’s funny because American food feels so steeped in meat and dairy,” Tiblier said. “So we decided there’s not a lot of restaurants that focus on modern American vegan food.”
She said the menu will be very clean, to the point of even avoiding meat substitutes, like famed Beyond Burgers or seitan. Instead, it will focus on the richness of nuts, seeds and beans, wholesome grains, bright, flavorful vegetables, and the creativity of what thoughtful vegan cooking can be.
“Like our lovely lentil ragu,” Tiblier explained of one dish. “The pasta is made from lentils and the sauce is made from lentils. In my head, I thought it would be heavy, but Nikki brought such a brightness to this dish with fresh tomato . . . She peeled and seeded all the tomatoes, and then dehydrated the tomato skins and made them into tomato chips. So, not only did it taste delicious, it decreased waste, which is what we want to do: use every part of the vegetable.”
The Green House menu will include eight or so appetizers — a soup of the day, spiced eggplant chips, hearts-of-palm fritters. It also will focus on homemade boards, tapping into the cheese and charcuterie offerings seen in many fine-dining restaurants. Only, at The Green House it will be vegan cheeses and vegetables.
“The chefs made a Camembert recently — it’s so good. I mean, you just want to eat the whole thing,” Tiblier said.
While some cheeses will be made from cashews, not all will be.
“Nikki did a cauliflower Parmesan one day, a pine-nut Parmesan another,” Tiblier said. “We’re just trying different ones so there will be a variety of nut and non-nut cheeses.”
There also will be a mushroom board and a pepper board, featuring the vegetables prepared in a variety of ways: stuffed, marinated, pickled, made into relishes, julienned into a salad, roasted, blistered and charred.
A pâté board will be on the menu too. Though it won’t have animal fat driving its flavor, a cleaner profile will come from pâtés made of carrots, sunflower seeds, pea pesto, and other beans and nuts.
A section will be dedicated to salads — like a root-vegetable ribbon salad with butterbean and pomegranate. Around eight or so main entrées will be listed, including braised roots with chimichurri sauce and BBQ rainbow chard ribs, served with greens, stewed cabbage, and mac and cheese.
“There is an eggplant filet with a parsnip-potato puree that is just beautiful,” Tiblier said.
Though the restaurant is focused on American flavors, the mushroom stroganoff tips its hat to Tiblier’s business partner’s roots. Worrell is originally from Moldova and grew up eating stroganoff.
“It’s served over a roasted buckwheat porridge that is definitely paying homage to her childhood,” Tiblier said.
Tiblier and Worrell met at a few fundraisers in town throughout the years. Tiblier has been vegan for four years now, though vegetarian longer. She said Worrell, too, has followed a plant-based lifestyle for a while now. Both made changes for health reasons, and also because they care about animals and are against the intensity of America’s commercial, industrial farming complex.
“It’s been a beautiful partnership,” Tiblier said of their working relationship. “Anastasia’s traveled all through Europe — obviously, it’s her home. So she has a very European view of the world, and the vegan scene over there is just — and I don’t even mean vegan, just sustainability in general: It’s part of their fabric of life. So it’s like second nature to Anastasia, and it’s been a really good point of view to have in creating The Green House.”
The restaurant’s design concept centers on natural wood in its tables and accents, all built by Coastal Live Edge’s Jon McDow. The restaurateurs are repurposing the fixtures from the old Moe’s space and will have various shades of white as the color scheme. Smith Haynes out of Atlanta — who also is designing downtown’s Seabird, opening this month — is working with Tiblier and Worrell, along with architect Blair Goodrich and Delphi Construction.
Tiblier wanted durable fabric for the seat cushions, something similar to vegan leather. Yet, she needed it to be more sustainable as most vegan leather contains plastic.
“Also, the fabric industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet,” she said. “And so I found this vegan leather from Mexico. I know it’s not local, but it’s made out of cactus.”
She also had her heart set on the kitchen being gasless. She envisioned induction stovetops and ovens, which are 84% energy efficient.
“That delayed us probably two months,” Tiblier said. “But in the end — and this is quite ironic to me — we could not physically get enough electricity into our building [for induction], unless we spent an astronomical amount of money, because the building was built probably 20-plus years ago. But it was also owned by Duke Energy, which is right behind the building.”
They’ve settled back on gas, 40% energy efficiency, yet will still be focusing on sustainability in other areas. First and foremost, they hope to build a greenhouse to grow the restaurant’s lettuces and herbs. Also, they will work with local farmers and makers, even down to the bar program, which will be half non-alcoholic.
“We’re looking at some innovative products to bring in,” Tiblier said. “One is with Conjure [Oils], which makes tinctures that are vegetable-glycerin based.”
Tiblier learned tinctures with vinegar bases could produce some small amount of alcohol from the fermentation process.
“And people that don’t drink can actually have a little bit of a reaction if any alcohol is in it,” she said. “Conjure has several different tinctures — one can make you energetic, this one might help sleep, and another might help colds.”
The Green House also is working with Home Body Field Goods on shrubs — non-alcoholic syrups made with fruits and aromatics.
Tiblier said they’re looking at items from the company Seedlip, which makes products to mimic flavors of alcohol; one tastes like gin, another has a citrus-clove-herbaceous flavor. The Green House will have beer and vegan-based wine, too, and hopes to work with local breweries, but hasn’t settled on any quite yet, since it’s still in the beginning stages of designing the bar menus.
In fact, the team is finalizing all menus soon, which will include weekend brunches with homemade pastries, like muffins, biscuits and breads, as well as granola. Grits, crepes, porridges and scrambles will be included.
A dessert menu will feature homemade ice creams, panna cotta with a brûlée top, exotic fruit tarts, almond torte, and dark chocolate cake.
“The one I’m most excited about is the elevated milk and cookies,” Tiblier said. “It will feel like you need a tiara with its very special presentation: a cookie of the day, served with a chilled glass of hemp milk — or whatever milk we decided to make — on a golden tray.”
The Green House will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tiblier said they’ll be hiring around 25 to 30 staff in coming months ahead of opening early summer 2021.
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