Tuesday, May 30, 2023

From fine to casual fare, restaurateurs bringing 2 new concepts to local dining scene

The Preston Restaurant dining experience reflects “1900s meets modern classic,” according to Gerin, with gold and milk glass chandeliers in the main dining room and a bespoke mural wallpaper. (Courtesy Alfalfa Hospitality Group)

WILMINGTON — By summer, a duo of eateries will be operating in the Cape Fear region by a new hospitality group. 

At the Pointe at Barclay, emphasis will be put on a different style of the all-American burger at Oklahoma’s Original Burgers. Downtown at the newly renovated Graystone Inn Bed and Breakfast, a fine dining experience at Preston will showcase the creativity of chef Thomas Calhoun.

READ MORE: Olivero offers sneak peek of menu ahead of summer opening

Preston Restaurant is slated to open June 9 inside the boutique hotel, according to chief operating officer Dave Gerin. Monday, Gerin and his two partners, Ace and Jamie Alfalla, were doing a photo shoot of the dishes to appear on the menu.

Roughly 30 items are featured, prices ranging from $14 to $90. 

“We each wanted a piece of our inspirations and experiences to be told on the menu,” Calhoun said. 

For instance, lobster lasagnette is an homage to Jamie’s father.

Before he passed away a few years ago, he was always in the kitchen creating homemade pasta and playing with seafood. Calhoun’s dish contains lobster, tomato butter, asparagus and herbs. 

“He had a vision to own a hotel and that’s where it became Jamie’s dream,” Gerin explained.

Alfalla Hospitality is also the owner of Front Street Inn and Verandas Bed and Breakfast; the Alfallas previously were in marketing, particularly for real estate and the hospitality industry, for years.

“The boom of people moving and relocating, spurring the growth in Wilmington, was just starting to take off at the end of 2020,” Gerin said, noting when the Alfalla’s saw the Graystone on the market, they made an offer.

“That essentially helped them decide where they would grow their roots,” Gerin said. “Living on the south shore in Long Island, surrounded by beaches, they felt right at home in Wilmington.”

The restaurant will seat roughly 60, both indoors and outdoors. (Courtesy Preston Restaurant)

They purchased the 100 South Third Street property for almost $2 million in June 2021, according to New Hanover County property records.

Jamie became aware of Calhoun through various restaurant channels and with her love of fine-dining decided to pursue the culinary partnership.

A graduate of Scottsdale Culinary Institute campus of Le Cordon Bleu, Calhoun has worked under the tutorship of James Beard Award nominee Laura Sawicki at La Condesa in Texas and helped open the restaurant in California. He also worked at Lenoir and Aviary Wine and Kitchen, both in Austin, and is skilled as a pastry chef.

“I’ve been cooking from a young age, and took my time learning and working for several talented chefs in the past before feeling I was ready to take on a role as intensive as being the chef at Preston,” he said. “I love the bread and pastas we’ll have — made fresh and you can taste the care we take when you eat it.”

He favors Preston’s pork belly appetizer, which contains crispy Berkshire pork, cooked for eight hours, served with apple port jus, polenta, pickled onion and watercress. 

Seafood will also be a focus, with a kanpachi crudo showcasing a fish that is used in only a few restaurants in the states.

“This fish is special because it is bred to be free of parasites that can be found in most wild, and some farm-raised fish,” Calhoun explained. “Also, it is farmed in a sustainable environment. Seafood is being overfished at an alarming rate, so buying from this farm that focuses heavily on health and long-term sustainability is really important to me. Also it is one of the best tasting fish I’ve ever had.” 

The Southern-inspired dishes will be prepared with modern and traditional cooking techniques. The chef said he utilizes seafood brines, various cures for meats that are sustained at different lengths of time, and preserving vegetables at peak season to use year-round at Preston. 

Calhoun praised the new food scene he is acclimating to, particularly for its breadth of farmers markets and fresh-from-the-sea offerings, such as oysters. A half-dozen on the Preston menu come topped with pink pepper maggi, shallots and citrus granita.

“Really, I want to show the best of what the ingredient has to offer,” Calhoun said, “and that means taking care in each step along the way.”

Gerin called Preston a true elevation of craft American cuisine, where service will be refined and all items offered, from its food down to the cocktails, will be made in house with careful thought and attention.

It has a butcher section on the menu to reflect a modern steakhouse experience, featuring a filet, strip and ribeye, offered both as certified Angus beef and as waygu.

There will be a heavy emphasis on bourbon from the bar, as well as an impressive wine selection.

“The wine room features all of the original millwork, very much still dated to the building with the history,” Gerin explained. 

Graystone was constructed in 1905 by Elizabeth Haywood Bridgers, the widow of Preston L. Bridgers — the restaurant’s namesake. The Bridgers’ lineage dates back to Robert Rufus Bridgers, Elizabeth’s father, who founded Wilmington/Weldon Railroad and became the president of the Atlantic Coast Line Railway, in operation until the 1960s. 

The wine room is Bridgers’ former library. Alfalla Hospitality Group spent the last few years renovating the bed-and-breakfast to its former glory; it opened for reservations last fall. 

Gerin called it Jamie’s “labor of love,” having designed the space with contractor Dave Nathans of Urban Building bringing the renovation to life.

The dining experience reflects “1900s meets modern classic,” according to Gerin, with gold and milk glass chandeliers in the main dining room and a bespoke mural wallpaper. The ceiling is gold-leafed, with crown molding preserved, while the original fireplace in the bar is finished with gold trim.

The restaurant will seat roughly 60, both indoors and outdoors. By the end of the year, the group will also launch a speakeasy, the Juniper Room, in the bed-and-breakfast.

Five miles away in midtown, a fast, casual dining experience will also open under the reign of friends, including Gerin’s wife, Lauren, and another couple, Donohue and Rachael Whyte. Oklahoma’s Original Burgers will take over the former Crave Hot Dogs and BBQ location; the concept is poised to evolve into a chain, Gerin said.

The group of restaurateurs and friends, originally from New York, often would dine out in the city in search of the perfect burger. 

“The Oklahoma smash burger — or Oklahoma fried onion burger — was always our favorite,” Gerin said. 

Born from the Great Depression in western Oklahoma, the creation’s flavor comes from onions added to a burger to bulk up the meat. Onions were priced inexpensively at the time, while meat prices soared. 

To achieve a perfect gooey, crispy and juicy bite, 3-ounce patties are cooked with thinly shaved onions atop. Caramelized flavors seep into the meat, which then is smothered in cheese and tucked into a potato bun.

Gerin said the traditional way to eat it is plain: “Once you try it, it’ll change your life.”

However, Oklahoma’s Original Burgers will have traditional topping options — mayo, ketchup, mustard, lettuce tomato, pickles. Prices will start at $8 for single burgers, with double patties in the $14 range.

The restaurant will also have fries and shakes. Though the ice cream won’t be homemade, the process of the shake will be “distinguishably noticeable from a regular milkshake,” Gerin said. 

According to Wilmington Business Journal, the group will be using a Swirl Freeze machine, which allows for customizable flavors using soft-serve ice cream. The shakes will be offered in fun variations, including cereal and cookie flavors. 

The restaurant, located at 1407 Barclay Pointe Blvd., Unit 401, will open by summer, Gerin said —  likely by the end of July or beginning of August. 

Have restaurant news? Email shea@localdailymedia.com.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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