Best Places for Outdoor Dining

These 4 NC restaurants rank among nation’s best places for outdoor dining. Here’s why

By: Simone Jasper, News & Observer, Charlotte Observer

July 15, 2022

North Carolina is home to some of the nation’s “best restaurants for outdoor dining,” a new report finds.

With views ranging from mountains to the water, it might not be a surprise that four places in the state were recognized as having top al fresco dining experiences. The eateries earning nods from the restaurant reservation website OpenTable:

To create the rankings, OpenTable said it considered more than 13.6 million “verified” U.S. reviews gathered from its website between May 2021 and April 2022.

“The overall score is made up of unique data points, such as overall diner rating, user klout, total number of reviews, and regional overall rating,” OpenTable wrote in a July 13 news release. “Qualifying restaurants were then scored and sorted according to the percentage of reviews, for which ‘outdoor dining’ was selected as a special feature.”

Of the 100 restaurants that earned spots on the list, Green Valley Grill is no stranger to recognition. The Greensboro eatery was recently named among the nation’s top places to grab brunch, McClatchy News reported in May.

This time around, the restaurant focusing on “Old World European and Mediterranean flavors” was recognized for its shaded courtyard that photos show has cascading greenery.

Another Greensboro location that’s part of the same restaurant group also earned a spot on the most recent OpenTable list. Photos on Print Works Bistro’s Facebook page show the French-inspired restaurant has tables nestled under trees and umbrellas, making for a “shady oasis.”

If you’re a fan of mountain views, another high-ranking spot was Sunset Terrace at the Omni Grove Park Inn. The seasonal restaurant in the popular tourist destination of Asheville debuted soon after the inn was built in 1913 and has charmed visitors with its “traditional American cuisine,” according to its OpenTable and Facebook pages.

On the other side of the state, some customers said they can’t get enough of the scenery at The Oyster Rock Waterfront Seafood, which overlooks the Calabash River roughly 50 miles southwest of Wilmington. The family-owned restaurant uses ingredients from the nearby Atlantic Ocean and other regional sources, according to its website.

OpenTable didn’t share numerical rankings for the restaurants on its list but said the state with the most top-ranking places for eating outside was California, which had 37. Data from the website shows the number of restaurants with outdoor dining listings has grown since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

“Outdoor dining played a major role in buoying the restaurant industry over the last few years, and restaurants took note — whether adding, expanding or elevating their offerings,” Susan Lee, chief growth officer at OpenTable, wrote in the release. “Offering outdoor dining is now a key part of restaurants’ business, and we’re happy to see that diners continue to embrace it.”

Green Valley Grill Courtyard

Print Works Bistro

Green Valley Grill, eight other Triad restaurants honored by Wine Spectator

Green Valley Grill, eight other Triad restaurants honored by Wine Spectator 

By: Daniel Finnegan, Triad Business Journal 

September 28, 2020

Nine Triad restaurants are among the best in the world when it comes to wine, according to Wine Spectator.

The publication named 21 area restaurants to its 2020 Restaurant Awards list, which recognizes eateries with extraordinary wine lists. This year’s awards program recognized 3,776 dining destinations from all 50 states and more than 79 countries internationally. Winners were named in three categories, broken down by the variety of vintages or wine regions.

Green Valley Grill in Greensboro earned the highest grade — the Best of Award of Excellence — of the area restaurants honored by the magazine. The Best of Award of Excellence award is given to restaurants with 350 or more selections that represent a variety of vintages or wine regions. Wine Spectator cited Green Valley Grill for its selection of wines from France, Italy and California.

Eight Triad restaurants received the Award of Excellence, which recognizes establishments with at least 90 wine selections. Among them was Print Works Bistro in Greensboro, which like Green Valley Grill is owned by the Quaintance-Weaver Group.

The other Triad winners were:

  • Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Greensboro
  • Village Tavern in Greensboro
  • Village Tavern in Winston-Salem
  • Ryan’s Restaurant in Winston-Salem
  • Butcher & Bull in Winston-Salem
  • Outwest Steakhouse & Saddleroom in Kernersville
  • The Celtic Fringe in Reidsville

The only North Carolina to earn the magazine’s top ranking — the Grand Award Winner — was the Angus Barn in Raleigh. Twenty-two N.C. restaurants received the Best of Award of Excellence.

AAA 3 Diamond Restaurants 2020

16 Triad restaurants make AAA’s list of Diamond-rated eateries

Triad Business Journel, February 2020

No Triad restaurants earned AAA’s coveted Four- and Five-Diamond ratings for restaurants this year, but 16 did earn Three Diamonds.

Eight restaurants from Winston-Salem, seven from Greensboro and one from Burlington earned Three Diamonds. In addition, 27 Greensboro restaurants earned an Approved rating, plus 20 from Winston-Salem, 10 in High Point, 7 in Burlington, 5 in Reidsville, 4 in Asheboro, 2 in Kernersville and 1 in Clemmons.

The Triad restaurants to earn Three Diamonds:

Winston-Salem

  • Bernardin’s Restuarant at Zevely House
  • Bleu Restaurant & Bar
  • Paul’s Fine Italian Dining
  • Milner’s American Southern
  • Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro
  • Rooster’s Ktichen, A Noble Grille
  • Ryan’s Restaurant
  • Village Tavern

Greensboro

  • 1618 Seafood Grille (Friendly Ave.)
  • Di Valletta
  • Green Valley Grill
  • Liberty Oak Restaurant & Bar
  • Lucky 32
  • Print Works Bistro
  • Undercurrent Restaurant

Burlington

  • Grill 584

AAA overhauled its Diamond rankings in January, revising the tiers into which it sorts hotels and restaurants. Under the new ranking system, the auto club – which first started awarding diamonds to show its road-faring members the best places to eat and sleep while traveling – gives the following designations:

  • Five Diamonds, meaning the restaurant serves leading-edge cuisine, ingredients and preparation with extraordinary service and surroundings
  • Four Diamonds, meaning it offers distinctive fine dining and good service amid upscale ambiance
  • Three Diamonds, meaning it serves trendy food skillfully presented in a remarkable setting
  • Approved, meaning the restaurant meets the standards of AAA inspections

Heron’s of Cary was the only North Carolina restaurant to earn the Five Diamond designation. It is one of 67 restaurants nationwide to receive the award, representing just 0.2% of the more than 30,000 restaurants that were awarded Diamonds. Heron’s is located in The Umstead Hotel & Spa.

Ten North Carolina restaurants earned Four Diamonds from AAA, including four in the Triangle. The Four Diamond restaurants are:

  • Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern in Raleigh
  • The Fairview Dining Room in Durham
  • Crossroads Chapel Hill
  • Il Palio Ristorante in Chapel Hill
  • Kimball’s Kitchen in Duck
  • Manna in Wilmington
  • 1895 Grille in Pinehurst
  • Chef and The Farmer, Kinston
  • McNinch House, Charlotte
  • Gamekeeper Restaurant & Bar, Boone

Standout by the Glass

9 Restaurants with Standout By-the-Glass Selections

A fresh way to explore world-class wine lists

 Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards, June 2018

Wine lovers often gravitate to bottles when dining out. But if a restaurant has a strong selection, by-the-glass pours are an exciting way to discover something new or sample a trophy bottle without sampling the full price. These nine Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners go above and beyond with by-the-glass lists that excel in diversity, value, quantity, or all three. Enjoy exceptional by-the-glass selections at these dining destinations across the country.

Selections of wines by the glass can change frequently, so check with the restaurant for availability of specific labels.

Dine al Fresco in the Courtyard at Green Valley Grill

GREEN VALLEY GRILL
A local leader in Greensboro’s wine scene
The O. Henry Hotel, 622 Green Valley Road, Greensboro, N.C.
(336) 854-2015
www.greenvalleygrill.com
Open for lunch and dinner, daily

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 520
Inventory 10,000
Wine strengths General manager and wine director Martin Hunt manages the wine list, covering a range of regions but excelling in California, France and Italy.
Cuisine Our culinary team at Green Valley Grill sources local ingredients for a Mediterranean-inspired menu featuring plenty of comfort foods.
Value-driven The moderately-priced wine list shows particular value when it comes to the extensive by-the-glass picks, which span the globe. Most are under $10, including labels from Louis JadotMatanzas Creek and Leonildo Pieropan.
Sommelier-picked samplings There are three flights of four 2-ounce pours available, each with a theme such as “Tour of France” and “Explore Pinot Noir.”
Innovative ownership Green Valley Grill and Print Works Bistro are part of Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels, a hospitality group owned entirely by its more than 600 staff members. This rare structure, called an “Employee Stock Ownership Plan,” ideally provides better benefits for employees and better experiences for guests.

See the full list of Restaurants with Standout By-the-Glass Selections

To check out more wine-and-food destinations around the world, see Wine Spectator’s more than 3,500 Restaurant Award–winning picks, including the 87 Grand Award recipients worldwide that hold our highest honor.

Do you have a favorite you’d like to see on this list? Send your recommendations to restaurantawards@mshanken.com. We want to hear from you!

ESOP Fable

Dennis Quaintance’s ESOP fable

By Chris Burritt, Business North Carolina
Photos by Stacey Van Berkel

Dennis Quaintance and Edgar

Edgar Lujan, right, has worked for three Quaintance-Weaver properties since 1998. He now is a server at Print Works Bistro

Back in 1978, Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family’’ reverberated through Dennis Quaintance’s first restaurant in Greensboro. Franklin’s Off Friendly had just opened, and the disco music was intended to pump up the waitstaff.

A year ago, Quaintance dusted off the ’70s hit for an even bigger employee gathering. He and his partners had decided to sell their company, Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels, operator of some of Greensboro’s best-known upscale establishments. The O.Henry Hotel is attached to the Green Valley Grill, while Print Works Bistro adjoins another boutique hotel, the Proximity. Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen operates two restaurants, one in Greensboro and the other in Cary, after closing eateries in Winston-Salem and Raleigh about nine years ago.

Quaintance, 60, was planning for the future — and not just his own. Rebuffing queries from larger hospitality companies wanting to buy the businesses — if they had followed that course, the partners could have pocketed a higher valuation, he says — Quaintance and his partners had something different in mind.

One morning last November, after the Sister Sledge tune had revved up the standing-room-only crowd of employees, Quaintance said they were now the owners of the company he and his wife, Nancy, had started 28 years earlier with Greensboro real-estate developer and business investor Mike Weaver. The three had sold the business to an employee stock ownership plan, with the trust borrowing 100% of the transaction’s value. The owners collected no money at closing, while no bank financing was involved.

Authorized by Congress in 1974, ESOPs enable employees to own the companies where they work. The upside for workers is that company profits are plowed into employee retirement plans, while avoiding conventional corporate income tax.

“Every time we do something to make the company worth $1 more, we all share in it,’’ says Quaintance, who heads operations, while Nancy is part of the marketing, sales, operations and culinary teams. “Every time the value of the company goes down, we all share in that. Our interests are 100% aligned.’’

ESOPs remain rarities in a business world dominated by closely held, family-owned companies. Only one of the 100 largest ESOPs in the U.S. is based in North Carolina: hardwood-veneer and plywood maker Columbia Forest Products Inc., of Greensboro, according to the nonprofit National Center for Employee Ownership. Many public companies encourage workers to hold shares. But the center defines ESOPs as businesses in which at least half of all employees are eligible to participate in plans — and those employees collectively hold at least 50% ownership.

To take part, workers must be 18 years or older, have worked for the company for more than a year and gotten paid for at least 1,000 hours yearly. Vesting occurs after three years. (Weaver can’t participate in the ESOP because he’s not an employee.) How quickly retirement benefits accumulate for Quaintance-Weaver’s 620 employees — from managers to porters, cooks to housekeepers — depends upon the company’s profitability. The more money generated by operations, the quicker the debt shrinks, leaving more money for employees’ golden years.

Dennis Quaintance, Nancy King-Quaintance and Mike Weaver

Among the first people Dennis Quaintance, right, met after moving to Greensboro in 1978 were Mike Weaver, a civic-minded real-estate developer and investor, and Nancy King, who later became his wife. Weaver backed Quaintance as he built a hospitality company that includes the Proximity Hotel, which opened in 2007.

Seller financing of ESOPs is a rarity among business owners, who typically prefer selling to the highest bidder rather than risking their own retirement savings on an employee plan, says Dale Gillmore, principal of Make An Impact Consulting Inc. in Cornelius. Much of the net worth of most owners of privately held companies is tied up in their businesses, and their ownership stakes typically represent most of a company’s value.

Owners typically don’t want to wager that a company’s value can be sustained or increase, says Gillmore, who wasn’t involved in the Greensboro deal. Weaver and the Quaintance family “are betting on themselves and the employees to maintain and improve the company’s culture. It’s a gamble they’re willing to take. They are not getting rich with an ESOP.’’

Selling the business to an independent party “would have broken my heart,” Quaintance says. The couple’s 19-year-old twins, Dennis and Kathleen, are not interested in working for the company. “We sold the business, but we did not sell the culture. In fact, we enhanced the culture.’’

Green Valley Grill

To be sure, the trust bought the restaurant and hotel operating company, not the real estate. The couple, Weaver and three other partners own both hotel properties and lease them to the operating company. They are valued at more than $32 million, county records show. Separately, Quaintance and Weaver own the real estate for Green Valley Grill, Print Works Bistro and the Lucky 32 locations.

Like other employees, the Quaintances are entitled to ESOP retirement units, akin to shares in a company. But annual awards of retirement units are capped for highly compensated managers because federal laws — enforced by the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service — prohibit the use of ESOPs as tax-avoidance schemes. Plans are intended to favor younger employees who stay with the company for many years.

Quaintance started working in the hospitality business at 15 as a housekeeper’s assistant at a Missoula, Mont., hotel. After high school, he worked at several hotels in the Northwest before moving to Greensboro in 1979. Sipping a sparkling water on the patio of the Proximity Hotel, a cool space shaded by magnolias and tucked between the tall darkened windows and white brick of the hotel and Print Works Bistro, he asks a server to turn up the volume of a Roberta Flack song streaming over the sound system. Walking past a shrub, he plucks a stray dead leaf and tosses it out of sight.

Quaintance’s meticulous style stretches back to his early days in the industry. Just weeks after partnering with Bill Sherrill to open Franklin’s Off Friendly 38 years ago, he spotted a college-age waiter goofing off while emptying ash trays. Quaintance grabbed the waiter — this writer — by the necktie and told him loafing on the job was unacceptable. I worked there in the summer of 1979 and the following Christmas break. Mary Lacklen, also a former server at Franklin’s, is now director of Red Oak Brewery’s beer hall in eastern Guilford County, opening later this year. “He always believed in training his staff and setting them up for success,’’ says Lacklen. “He has a methodical approach to everything he does.’’

During his stint at Franklin’s, Quaintance met Weaver, a regular customer, and his future wife, Nancy King, who worked at the restaurant while on Christmas break from Cornell University. After leaving the restaurant in 1981, Quaintance had stints in business planning, wine importing and managing chain restaurants. Nancy worked for Marriott Corp. in Charlotte.

On a trip to Europe in the mid-’80s they decided it was time to plan their future. Riding a train on the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria, they settled on three possible choices: “Mr. and Mrs. Hotel and Restaurant” in Greensboro; “barefoot and pregnant” in New Mexico, where Nancy would teach and Dennis would buy, fix and resell airplanes; or move to Europe, with Nancy working for Marriott in London or Amsterdam.

Both wrote “Greensboro” on slips of paper. “It sounded so typical,” Quaintance recalls, “but why should we sacrifice what’s exciting to us?”

Lucky 32 Cary

Lucky 32 was Quaintance-Weaver’s entry into restaurants in 1989.

Returning to North Carolina, Quaintance joined the Greensboro-based Tripps chain of casual, restaurants. By 28, he was overseeing five sites. He then circled back to Weaver, asking for a $500,000 loan to start his own restaurant. Instead, Weaver proposed a 50-50 partnership, with Quaintance running their first restaurant venture, the Lucky 32 on Westover Terrace in Greensboro. It debuted in 1989.

Almost a decade later, they opened the O.Henry Hotel, named and designed after the first modern Greensboro hotel that was built in 1919 and razed 80 years later. Both were named for native son William Sydney Porter, who in the early 1900s wrote short stories with surprise endings under the pen name O. Henry.

The Proximity Hotel, which opened in 2007, is named after one of Greensboro’s first textile mills. One hundred rooftop solar panels give a nod to a modern-day achievement: It was the nation’s first hotel to receive the highest environmentally friendly honors from the U.S. Green Building Council. To retain its uniqueness, Quaintance has never signed a franchise agreement with a major hotel company. The goal is to provide a memorable stay for travelers while also entertaining neighborhood folks, much like the old hotels that were centers of community life.

On a recent afternoon in June, Quaintance wore khaki shorts, a blue-and-white-striped shirt and sandals. The look is in keeping with his hotels, which are high-brow but comfortable with unexpected touches reflecting the CEO’s personality.

Two bikes propped inside the entrance to the Proximity Hotel are available for guests. An afternoon tea at the O.Henry attracts locals, while refurbished London taxis provide transportation for hotel guests, including complimentary rides to the company’s three restaurants. In Quaintance’s view, the ESOP is like one of those taxis: He figures to keep driving for at least a decade, unless “I notice I’m slipping, or people tell me I’m slipping, or if I lose my mojo,’’ he says. Shared ownership is a fuel additive, boosting morale and productivity that will result in more satisfied patrons.

Selling Quaintance-Weaver to employees addresses one of the biggest headaches for the hospitality industry, which has a high turnover rate: “How do you get people to stay?’’ Greensboro restaurant critic John Batchelor says. “You make it in their interest to stay by making them partners in the enterprise.’’

Given wage rates in hospitality, motivating workers is a constant challenge. Half of Quaintance-Weaver workers leave within a year, typical for the industry. Another four in 10 leave in the first four years. “If their hearts aren’t into it, we’d rather they go off and find their bliss,’’ Quaintance says. “If our dream is a 10, we’re at a six,’’ he said. “We’re still unfolding.’’

The ESOP also helps Quaintance move toward his goal of creating a meritocracy. “We don’t [care] about what your gender is, whether you are skinny or chubby, if you are black or white, gay or straight, Muslim or Christian,’’ he says. “What we care about is how you behave when you’re here. We are professionals. We don’t need to be friends. We want to be colleagues. We wind up with these amazingly rich relationships without the complications.’’

O.Henry Hotel

The company has expanded with two hotels in Greensboro’s Friendly Shopping Center area, including the O.Henry, which opened in 1998.

Since announcing the ESOP, Quaintance has coached CEOs of seven companies on the process. “I’m sold on ESOPs,’’ Quaintance says. “I’m big on doing whatever I can to further the notion and reality of economic justice. Don’t hear me being pious. I just think the wealth gap and its growth is not sustainable, and since we don’t seem to have a better idea than free-market democracy, we might as well do all we can to make it work.’’

How much employees will receive in retirement payouts is hard to estimate because so many variables exist, Quaintance says. He offers two scenarios: A 26-year-old employee works for the company from 2016 until retirement at age 65. If her current pay of $25,000 increases by 2.5% a year, she receives about 2.5% of her annual pay in retirement units and the value of the units increases by 2.5% yearly, her account would total about $70,000 at 65. But if the percentages double to 5%, her retirement fund might swell to around $325,000, aided by the power of compound interest.

While employees do not invest their own money into the ESOP, Quaintance-Weaver also offers a 401(k) plan that enables more retirement savings.

“We have no idea what the value of those retirement units will be in the future,’’ Quaintance says. “They could be really low; they could be significant. It all depends on how well we take care of our guests and colleagues and if we are lucky enough to have at least somewhat favorable market conditions.”

Edgar Lujan, a server at Print Works Bistro, is betting on his company’s success. The ESOP is “like a cherry on top of the cake,’’ he says. “We work at a place that enables us to pay our bills, buy a house and take care of our families. It’s hard for me to think about working for another hotel or restaurant.’’

In the 22 years since he moved to the U.S. from Mexico City, Lujan, 45, has worked in restaurants and construction, sometimes two jobs at a time. Moving to Greensboro 20 years ago, he worked initially as a dishwasher at Red Lobster.

He joined the O.Henry Hotel as a porter when it opened, then became a waiter at the adjacent Green Valley Grill. He shifted to the waitstaff of Print Works Bistro in 2007. “There is stability — that is what I love about this place,’’ Lujan says. “If you perform well, you will be successful. Having retirement, that’s awesome.’’

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Quaintance-Weaver joins other ESOP-owned companies active in North Carolina, including Valdese-based Valdese Weavers LLC, San Francisco-based design firm Gensler; Milwaukee, Wis.-based money manager Robert W. Baird & Co.; and Omaha, Neb.-based engineering and architecture firm HDR Inc. As of 2014, 126 ESOPs were based in North Carolina, according to the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Employee Ownership.
The largest U.S. ESOP, Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets Inc., entered the state in 2014 and now operates 27 stores that collectively employ more than 3,000 people. More than 80% of company shares are owned by staff, with the balance held by the founder’s family. Shares equal to about 8% of annual pay is distributed to those who have worked for the company for at least one year. Many long-term employees accrue hundreds of thousands of dollars of Publix stock over their careers, perhaps explaining why turnover is a fraction of the retail industry’s average, Fortune noted in a 2016 story. With about 1,150 stores from Florida to Virginia, the company had profit of $2 billion on revenue of $34 billion last year.

Williams on Wine

Williams on Wine: Cooking + Wine

By: Ed Williams, 1808 Magazine

October  26, 2017

Executive Chef Leigh Hesling leads an interactive cooking class at Print Works Bistro, part of Print Works/Green Valley Grill series.
Executive Chef Leigh Hesling leads an interactive cooking class at Print Works Bistro, part of Print Works/Green Valley Grill series.

THE DISH

Print Works/Green Valley Grill’s Cooking Class series is and isn’t about the cooking. Sure, Executive Chef Leigh Hesling shows you step-by-step how you’re dish is prepared, aided by large video screens and mirrors. This sit-down food-and-wine pairing is all about experiencing the textures, aromas, taste, culinary ambiance and fellowship with your table mates.

THE CURRICULUM

This three-course meal varies depending on date and season — and what’s in season. The wines paired with the courses are particularly well-thought out.

THE GUY

Chef Hesling claims Australian roots, his Aussie accent unmistakable. He’s part Julia Child, part Tasmanian devil and equal parts Barnum & Bailey. He and his assistants fly around the room, dropping ingredients tableside or showing the dish in-process.

RECIPE?

Yep, you get ’em. Each step of the prep work, sauce, or entrée is outlined on a set of cards so you can follow along. Even if you never try to replicate the dish, you’ll learn cool tips and tricks of the trade.

THE COCKTAIL

This kick-starter is a special concoction from the resident mixologist — and explains why I’m spending more and more time in the bitters section at my favorite food store.

THE WINE

Well-chosen from the U.S., Spain, France, Portugal, Germany and Australia. Chef Hesling explains why they work alongside his dish.

THE LANGUAGE

Perhaps the most entertaining piece of a two-hour afternoon. Avocado should not be subjected to “smoosh-tification.” Raw tuna should be “dice-tificated” provided things don’t get out of hand during the “mix-tifaction” part of the dish, which might include some “soak-tification of the beans” and “jam-ifacation of the plums.”

Hesling reminds: “Of course, I’m in charge of the Queen’s English.”

Other phrases you might hear: “Because I can.” “Because it’s so awesome.” “Because it’s so sexy.” “Now that’s a life-changer.”

WHY YOU SHOULD GO

Most fun you can have with your clothes on. The 2018 series makes a special holiday gift.

2018 SERIES

Proximity Hotel (704 Green Valley Road): 12:30 p.m. Feb. 17, 12:30 p.m. June 9, 12:30 p.m. Sept. 22

O.Henry Hotel (624 Green Valley Road): 12:30 and 6:30 p.m. March 24,12:30 p.m. July 28, 12:30 p.m. Oct. 27

Tickets: $85 per class or three for $235. Order at www.printworksbistro.com/cooking-class/ or contact Lee Healy at 336-478-9126 or lhealy@qwrh.com. Reservations required.

Ed Williams, director of public information at Alamance Community College, likes to pass along helpful tips from this class to culinary students at his college.

Green Lodging News

QW ESOP Trust a Rare Example of Sharing the Work, Sharing the Wealth

By: Glenn Hasek, Green Lodging News
March 3, 2017

If a green lodging hall of fame existed, Dennis Quaintance would certainly be in it. I first chatted with Dennis almost 10 years ago when his Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels (QW) was building the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C. At that time the goal was LEED Gold for the 147-room property that features a solar hot water heating system on its roof and other energy-saving features. The Proximity later became the first hotel to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum level of certification. Quite an achievement.

This past fall, Dennis and the other founders of QW announced that, after 28 years of operating one of the top-rated hotel and restaurant companies in the South, they had sold 100 percent of their company to its 600+ staff members. The sale made the company one of only a few employee-owned restaurant and hotel companies in the United States and generated a lot of local media buzz. (TPI Hospitality in Willmar, Minn. is also employee owned.) “We’ve sold our interest in QW to the QW ESOP Trust because we believe that it’s the optimal way for QW to be owned and managed in the future,” Dennis said in a press release about the sale.

An Employee Stock Ownership Plan is a program that offers a company’s staff members an ownership stake in the company. This sort of ESOP is actually a trust that’s been created to purchase 100 percent of the equity in the company in order to provide retirement benefits for the company’s staff members. After one year with the company, staff members age 18 and above who work 20+ hours a week start accruing retirement units. They will be fully vested after just three years.

Even before the sale, there was a lot of evidence employees liked working for QW. More than 50 staff members at QW have been with the company more than 10 years.

Business Approach to Remain the Same

“Our priorities here at QW will remain the same,” Dennis says. “In other words, having a sincere intention to be of genuine service to our guests will stay as our company’s highest priority, with a close second priority of being of genuine service to our QW colleagues. Our third-highest priority is to be of genuine service to our owners. Now, via the ESOP, our owners are our staff members, so our second and third priorities are sort of combined!”

According to QW, the QW ESOP Trust is a natural next step for the community-based, locally owned company. It fits perfectly with QW’s Sustainable Practices Initiative, which considers how company decisions affect current and future generations, as well as their Fairness Doctrine for diversity and inclusion.

The QW ESOP trust now owns the QW operating companies, not any real estate. QW leases its restaurants and it manages the hotels for a fee. That has been the structure all along. There will not be any significant operational or leadership changes as a result of this ESOP program.

Succession planning becomes part of every company’s business strategy at some point. “Handing over the keys” has got to be much easier when you have such a talented group of employees to carry on the company’s mission. This all certainly would not have happened without the leadership of Dennis and the other QW founders: Mike Weaver and Nancy King Quaintance. A big tip of the hat to them all.

Jessica’s Mash-UP

Jessica’s Mash-Up

The many hats of Jessica Mashburn
By Brian Clarey, Triad City Beat
August 10, 2017

Jessica Mashburn and group

Tonight Jessica Mashburn is a DJ, posted in the raised corner of the lounge at Print Works Bistro while a genuine disco ball throws raindrops of light across the walls.

The regulars show precisely at 10 p.m. to this pop-up dance party; 45 minutes in, they’re keeping three bartenders and a cocktail waitress hopping with complicated drink orders as dancers fight for space on the floor before the DJ stand. By 11 p.m., the first conga line snakes past the wait station and through the lounge.

“Happy anniversary, Crystal and Jeff!” she shouts through the mic.

The party ends at 1 a.m., so Mashburn’s taking them up a steep curve with some classic disco and a little Bollywood before dropping “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi’s slow-burn dancehall grind with Damn Yankee — the version without Justin Bieber. The number incites vigorous activity on the dance floor, where sweat and hormones are starting to flow.

“[This song] will be requested four or five more times tonight,” Mashburn says as an aside to a reporter.

And then it’s “Dancing Queen,” by Abba, and women take turns standing on the raised platform in front of her DJ stand, dancing to the appreciative crowd.

See that girl. Watch that scene. Dig the dancing queen.

“Abba-dabba do it!” Mashburn implores from her perch.

She’s forsaken her usual headgear tonight — a collection of hats, headdresses and fascinators that take up an entire wall of the bedroom she’s appropriated into a costume closet — her hair now in low pigtails and a pair of oversize, pink-tinted glasses that wouldn’t look out of place resting on the nose of Elton John. She’s bouncing and sliding, pumping and rolling her arms so enthusiastically it looks like she might be sneaking in a workout.

The night wears on as a soft, coppery rain falls on the fancy cars in the parking lot and a patron hustles outside to put the top up on his convertible. The demographic swirls with young professionals, empty-nest scenesters and veteran club-hoppers, not too young and not too old, with nowhere else to go on a Friday night.

“There’s not a lot of classy places in town to go dancing,” Mashburn says. Where craft beer, tattoos and local bands are the cultural mainstream, the pop-up dance crowd in Greensboro is a genuine subculture.

She identified and built this scene through hustle and drive, landing it at Print Works, whose parent company, Quaintance-Weaver Mashburn has been associated with since she used to wait tables at the Green Valley Grill more than a decade ago. Now she regularly works wedding receptions here at the Proximity Hotel and the O. Henry Hotel, both as a DJ and performer, and programs all the music for other QW properties.

And then there’s this pop-up dance party, a way to make the party public.

It’s got the feel of a great wedding reception, a country-club social, the nightclub of a high-end cruise ship, a high-school reunion afterparty. Jessica Mashburn owns it: their diva, their interlocutor, their dancing queen.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she shouts into the mic, “Lexie is getting married tomorrow!”

Wooooooo!

Upstairs in the Midtown home she shares with fellow performer Evan Olson, across from his studio in the loft, she keeps her finery.

There’s a wall of costumes, every one she’s ever made: a Wonder Woman suit, a Rockford peaches uniform from A League of Their Own, along with patterned dresses and separates in a full rainbow. The top shelf tumbles with headpieces, some she made for High Point Furniture Market with couches and dressers, others for New Year’s Eve, one for the last episode of “TheLate Show with David Letterman,” another with the five Olympic rings. She made one of a literal house of cards, to commemorate both the Netflix show and the precarious nature of our government. And there’s one she made just last month, the “Spy-crowave,” a shot at the Russia scandal enveloping the Trump White House.

Jessica Mashburns hats

There are pillboxes and sun hats, boas and beads, masks, tiaras, false flowers for her hair, wigs, a cascade of party shoes. Brooches, scarves, wraps, medallions, colors that mimic the brightly colored houses in certain Caribbean neighborhoods.

It’s difficult to tell if the wardrobe is part of her act, or if her act is an extension of the wardrobe.

Mashburn dresses to suit the gig. She plays the chanteuse when she works with Dave Fox’s jazz trio, provides a colorful counterpoint to Olson’s minimalist fashion sense in their AM rOdeO sets, goes full-on Mardi Gras when she’s alone behind the piano. When she sang “America the Beautiful” and the National Anthem before a Grasshoppers game in May, she wore a stylish blue jacket and a short, full, blue houndstooth skirt. When she performed her original piece about repealing HB 2 onstage at Birdland in New York City, she wore a little black dress belted in red with a matching red cardigan. And a swan on her head.

She was born to do this, whatever this is.

Mashburn’s parents are bluegrass musicians whose friends filled her childhood home in Greensboro with that high, lonesome sound. Her father played bass for the Carter Brothers. Her mother was one of the first organizers of Merlefest.

They taught her to play piano, and from there she ascended through the the Music Academy of North Carolina in Greensboro before completing her education at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, NC, with a brief stopover at UNCG.

When she was still a student at Southeast Guilford High School, she used to watch her mother spin records at Bench Tavern. Somewhere along the line she learned to tap dance, work a room, write a song and make a hat.

Now she sings and plays guitar, piano and a little bit of mandolin; she could probably do a serviceable job on a drum kit, if you put her behind one. She’s got an accordion she’s trying to wrangle a nice sound out of, and a violin she’s been trying to play, she says, her whole life.

The result is a weird mix between Lady Gaga and Shirley Temple, David Bowie and Liza Minelli, Nancy Sinatra and the New York Dolls. And if she can’t find a stage for it, she will make it happen.

She plays the solo shows on piano and in the duo with Olson, and holds down vocals with a jazz combo. She takes the wedding gigs as DJ and master of ceremonies, and as an officiant can even consecrate a marriage. She pops onstage at Birdland like a seasoned pro and will even play your birthday party if she can fit it into her schedule. She’s been asked to take part in stage musicals, but she can never find the time.

She’s booked 16 gigs just this month, between the regular Tuesday night AM rOdeO gigs at Print Works, semi-regular slots in the lobby lounge at the Grandover Resort, private events at the Greensboro Country Club and the Wyndham Tournament and a one-off at the Greensboro Public Library for the One City/One Book Fashion Show & Dance Party.

And if she doesn’t have the perfect outfit for each one, she will make that happen, too,

It’s the night before the pop-up, and though she’s got no gigs on the calendar there is still work to be done.

Tonight Mashburn is a songwriter, sitting at the piano in her living room while late-afternoon sun streams through the windows.

“Mueller,” she sings softly above a D-minor 7 chord. “Oh Mueller,” and then the notes move up the C-major scale. “It’s Mueller time… what will he find….”

She stops.

“What rhymes with subpoena?”

Jessica Mashburn

The day’s news saw the announcement of Special Investigator Robert Mueller’s grand jury, which has been hearing evidence about possible collusion between the Trump administration and Russia.

Mashburn’s no fan of the president or his party — she and Olson have a short catalog of political material, though it’s more the Smothers Brothers variety than Phil Ochs. She uses social media, too, to make her opinions heard. Some of it finds its way into her act, always tempered with humor.

“All the great political protest songs have already been written,” she says. “And when people come to see me, they expect a little humor. I think it’s the best to write political songs that sound kitschy, like ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.’”

She rhymes Trump with, “What a dump,” works “Katrina” in there to resolve the “subpoena” issue and casts a verse that glances off the infamous “Pee Pee Tape” and OJ Simpson.

Mashburn says she left UNCG’s music program because it relied so much on classical training and performance, while at Sandhills she could concentrate on music theory.

“I wanted to learn how to be a gigging musician,” she says. “If someone says, ‘Let’s play “Mustang Sally” in C,’ I didn’t want to need the sheet music.”

She started performing right away, eventually landing slots with UBU out of Jamestown and Billy Scott & the Prophets, two regionally touring bands that brought her from southern Florida to Atlantic City, NJ.

“Then I wanted to somehow create a career that was mainly in my own ZIP code,” she says. “You sleep in your car in a Walmart parking lot enough times, that will happen.”

Tonight’s a rare night off from the stage — she gigged with Olson last night and the pop-up isn’t until tomorrow. There’s a DJ slot in two nights at a private party in Summerfield, and then it’s back on the grind by Wednesday.

Maybe the Mueller piece will be ready by then.

“There’s a man that’s been making the news,” she sings now at the piano to a meandering Broadway beat. “You’d not want to be in the president’s shoes. What will he find? It’s Mueller time.”

The song needs some work, but she’s already got the perfect hat.

 

CNN Travel

15 Charming Cities in the American South You May Have Overlooked

By: Perri Ormont Blumber, CNN
August 4, 2017

(CNN) — There’s more to America’s Southern states than cities such as Nashville, Austin and New Orleans.

In fact, in recent years, so-called “second-tier” cities in the South have witnessed a massive boom in hotels, restaurants and micro-everythings.

Travel companies agree, too. “With the appeal of an all-American road trip style of travel, famous barbecue cuisine and a rich musical heritage, we’ve seen international bookings to Southern US destinations double in the last year,” says Intrepid Travel’s Director of North America Leigh Barnes.

Their “Southern Comfort USA,” trip — which weaves travelers through Savannah, Georgia; Asheville, North Carolina; the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond — has experienced a whopping 180% growth. With diverse picks ranging from San Antonio and its old Western feel to post-industrial Birmingham, Alabama, here are our 15 favorite Southern cities flying under the radar.

Use our suggestions as a launching pad, but in true Southern style, do yourself a favor and leave the day up to wherever your Frye boots take you.

1. SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

EAT

A flight of stairs below street level, SA’s River Walk offers plenty of opportunities for dining and nightlife.

Grab a stool at Ocho, where you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the water, and wash down an order of the huitlacoche quesadillas with a Havana margarita.

Keep the buzz going at Jazz, TX, where on any given night you may catch jazz, Texas Swing or salsa. The tequila-based “For Grit and Glory” cocktail with jicama juice, watermelon and spicy salt foam may be enough to persuade you to sidle up to the mic for your own rendition of the Bob Wills classic “San Antonio Rose.”

STAY

The St. Anthony feels haunted in the best way possible. After you’ve gotten the perfunctory shot with the hotel lobby’s grand piano (Billy Joel recently test drove its keys), head to the new Sky Terrace, a hip rooftop scene with live music on Saturdays.

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A vibrant city perched on the San Antonio river, the bustling River Walk melds European charm with Tex-Mex flair. In addition to the eateries, there’s shopping, museums and river taxi tours.

Sure, there’s the Alamo, the historic battlegrounds for the famed fights during the Texas Revolution in 1836. But San Antonio has a lot more going for it.

Venture to the Southtown Arts District, on downtown’s southern tip, or scope out The Pearl for its brewery, events, weekly farmers market and more.

2. BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

EAT

You won’t go hungry in The Magic City. Eat too much swordfish and blistered okra at Hot & Hot Fish Club; drink too many icy cold brews at revered local haunt The Garage Cafe.

Keep the soigné vibrations rolling with a meal at Highlands Bar and Grill, a beloved establishment that doles out Southern grub with a French finesse.

There’s a new food court. Pizitz Food Hall is housed in a former downtown department store, but until crowds fade out, we’d choose Carrigan’s Public House on the outskirts of downtown. There, savor fine bites and killer martinis on their comfortable roof deck.

Barbecue is its own food group here. Carlile’s BBQ has the best potato salad in town, while Dreamland Bar-B-Que churns out melt-in-your-mouth ribs.

STAY

Sleep it all off at the newly restored Redmont Hotel, with an ambiance that still tips its hat to the roaring ’20s. Meanwhile, the Westin Birmingham has a Todd English restaurant, outdoor pool and free airport shuttle.

PLAY

Gaze at 56-foot Vulcan, the world’s largest cast iron statue, designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti in 1904.

It’s located inside Red Mountain Park, which contains two city overlooks, three treehouses, a giant dog park and zip lining.

As one native puts it, “It’s free to go look at Vulcan’s bare ass, but you have to pay to ride the elevator up to the observation tower and gaze out on the city.”

On a more serious note, there’s plenty to see at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

Or, make your way toward Sloss Furnaces, a national historic landmark that bleeds gritty, post-industrial splendor and is completely free to visit.

3. GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA

EAT

For your first real meal in Greensbohemia, savor a superior Banh Mi at Bánh Mì Saigon Sandwiches & Bakery.

Or, flip a coin to decide between Crafted – the Art of the Taco and Crafted – the Art of Street Food. The grilled, stuffed avocado at Taco showcases divine intervention, as does the shrimp bibimbap at Street Food.

At Southern comfort food emperor Lucky 32, brace yourself for dreams about their signature Voodoo Sauce, a trademarked secret that’s a tangy riff on North Carolina’s barbecue glaze.

Southern standouts like flash-fried artichoke hearts and local pulled pork on johnny cakes grace the seasonal menus, and one of their Carolina vesper libations should always grace your place setting.

STAY

Siesta in style at the O. Henry Hotel, where you can enjoy traditional afternoon tea daily in the lobby, weekly live jazz performances on Thursday and Saturday and loaner bikes, should the mood strike to take the city by two wheels.

Another fine pick is The Proximity Hotel, an AAA Four Diamond property, that’s employee-owned and the first LEED Platinum “green hotel.”

There are gorgeous gardens and greenways, along with eclectic furnishings and art made in the local community.

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After hitting up the tourist must-dos of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, explore GSO’s funkier side.

First, visit Hudson’s Hill to choose from heritage denim and handmade gifts. Then, catch a show at Triad Stage‘s Pyrle Theater or The Barn Dinner Theater, which has been operating since 1964.

Finally, book a one-of-a-kind tour at Replacements Ltd., the world’s largest supplier of vintage and contemporary dinnerware, crystal, silver and collectibles.

4. NORFOLK, VIRGINIA

EAT

Norfolk is home to a surprisingly dynamic vegan scene (our guess is it has something to do with animal rights group PETA being headquartered here). And even if you’re not into plant-based eating, do yourself a favor and try the vegan breakfast burrito at Yorgo’s Bageldashery.

At night, book it to A.W. Shucks, a raw bar hangout for locals, or enjoy a formal experience at Todd Jurich’s Bistro that has all the perks of an upscale restaurant (stellar service, interesting menu, fun people watching) with none of the pretension.

When hunger strikes again, head to Commune.

New for 2017, locavores and those traveling from abroad will particularly appreciate the 100% Virginia-sourced menu. Everyone will drool over the sourdough doughnuts with pastry cream and strawberries.

STAY

Rest your weary feet at brand-new Hilton property The Main, which is booking up thanks to its spectacular ballroom for weddings and conferences.

Or, check into Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, where you can soak up picturesque harbor views with your she-crab soup or crab cake sandwich.

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Shopping fiend? The new Simon outlets open this summer. There’s also the colossal MacArthur Center.

If you’re in the market for new ink, book it to the NEON District for Fuzion Ink Tattoo and Piercing Studio, followed by an improv show at Push Comedy Theater.

5. KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE

EAT

Go upscale with modern Southern fare at Knox Mason or spear your fork into hybrid dishes at Bistro by the Tracks where the duck ramen is as inspired as the traditional butcher’s crock pie.

Our pick for the South’s most important dish? Sweet P’s BBQ and Soul House, where a rack of ribs and pint of ‘tater salad is about three racks and seven pints too few.

STAY

Any vacation that starts off with an old fashioned smoked right before your eyes is likely a good one. At the newly opened TENNESSEAN Hotel’s restaurant, The Drawing Room, sling back one or two of the aforementioned elixir before wandering around Knoxville’s highly walkable downtown hub.

The Oliver Hotel is a boutique property downtown with an outstanding beverage program at its literary-inspired speakeasy, the Peter Kern Library (order the Holly Golightly or Holden Caulfield).

PLAY

Studded with musical venues, funky restaurants and a weekly seasonal farmers market worth planning your trip around, the city center pulses with a contagious energy.

Sweat off gluttony by paddle boarding along the Tennessee River or head underground for bowling at Maple Hall, a boutique 11-lane setup that feels like it could just as easily be in London or Los Angeles.

6. LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

EAT

Treat yourself to a meal at Red Barn Kitchen, where there’s a whole hog barbecue roast on the last Thursday of every month. With a moonshine cocktail en tote, beeline to the upbeat patio, which often hosts local musicians.

The Kentucky State Fair runs August 17-28 with live music, cooking competitions and one of the world’s most acclaimed horse shows. America’s largest indoor fair also boasts The Great American Spam Championship, if canned meat is your thing.

To try more things, frolick around town with food-centric Mint Julep Tours where the Chicken Fried, Gettin’ Pickled and Butter My Biscuit tours will all ensure you’re not hungry for the next nine years.

If you favor staying in one spot, sip on a boozy milkshake and enjoy grub like a grilled cheese that (almost) rivals dad’s at Red Herring Cocktail Lounge & Kitchen.

STAY

Book a room at the 21c Museum Hotel tucked into the heart of downtown.

If the wide open road calls, tack on a quick road trip (about an hour and a half) to Shaker Village — where you can take in 34 original Shaker structures in the country’s largest private collection of original buildings from the 1800s — and spend the night at The Inn.

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There’s way more to Lou-ah-vull than bourbon, horses and fancy hats. For instance, geek out at “Hunger Games: The Exhibition” as you explore the wild world of Panem at Frazier History Museum (through September 10).

And then, of course, there’s the bourbon, horses and fancy hats. Running into all three is pretty unavoidable here. Be sure to carve out time for a drink at Lola, the fabled upstairs bar of Butchertown Grocery. It’s got a speakeasy vibe, and one hell of a drinks list.

7. CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA

EAT

Nosh on Mediterranean bites at Red Pump Kitchen, or get comfortable at Draft Taproom, a haven for craft beer lovers, with 60 taps (the self-serve pouring system allows patrons to pay by the ounce).

The Fitzroy and Brasserie Saison are both newcomers and have beautiful interiors, along with stellar food.

STAY

Plan your stay at The Townsman, C’ville’s newest boutique property arrival with four carefully appointed rooms in the downtown hub.

If you’re looking for something a little more isolated, treat yourself to a stay at Keswick Hall at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 48-room manor’s gold medal goes to its prestigious golf club, though we gravitate toward the grounds’ three pools.

PLAY

There are two types of people who come to Charlottesville: Dave Matthews Band superfans and everyone else. If you’re in the former group, you’re likely making your pilgrimage to Miller’s, where Matthews himself once tended bar, to Matthews’ own scenic Blenheim Vineyards and to the Pink Warehouse where the band played its first official gig.

If you’re everyone else, swap Dave stalking for visiting a presidential home like Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, or Highland, the former digs of James Monroe.

Burn off all the eating at Shenandoah National Park, where you can snake your way through quiet wooded hollows and marvel at cascading waterfalls on the same hike. Pack lunch and set up an impromptu picnic within the 200,000 protected acres, alongside songbirds, deer and more wildlife creatures.

8. GULF SHORES, ALABAMA

EAT

Music lovers, head to Lucy Buffett’s (yes, sister of a certain Jimmy) LuLu’s for an energetic vibe and serious seafood platters.

Or, complete your Bushwacker (an ice cream-based cocktail that’s as popular as a vodka-soda here) crawl at Flora-Bama, a dive bar, multistage music venue, oyster bar, Sunday church and occasional rodeo rolled into one beachside locale.

Finish up with a boozy cake from Rum Sisters or play mad scientist at newly opened The Yard Milkshake Bar, and create a custom dessert. Who said a glazed doughnut or brownie isn’t a suitable milkshake topping?

STAY

Newcomers to the hotel scene include Best Western Premier-The Tides, Hotel Indigo, and in July 2017, the area welcomed Island House Hotel, a Doubletree by Hilton.

One of the most luxurious oceanfront condo options is Turquoise Place, which even has its own on-site lazy river.

Gulf State Park also offers lakefront cottages and around 500 RV sites and a tent camping area (many have swimming pools and other amenities). Newly launched Gulf Shores Travel Trailer Rentals will allow you to reserve a spot at any of the local campsites, and then drop off an RV for you and pick it up when your vacation ends.

PLAY

Make as few plans as possible — you deserve it. Plop yourself on the sugar-white beaches (which rival any Caribbean treasure) with a stack of magazines or a book. If you’re so inclined, a beachside slow-flow class with Glow Yoga is a relaxing delight.

It’s hard to have a bad night at the open-air Wharf Amphitheater (acts this summer include Kenny Chesney, Green Day and Eric Church), where in true vacation mindset, your best bet is probably walking up to the box office 20 minutes before the main act takes the stage — the $20ish bleacher seats are surprisingly stellar.

Dreading the vacation hangover? Blow off some steam at family-owned hub The Factory, a giant web of interconnected trampolines, Tarzan swings, foam pits and more that lets kids of all ages bounce their way out of back-to-reality malaise.

9. WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA

EAT

Seafood is king here, though you can find plenty of menus graced with Southern staples like butter beans and pimento cheese, if you’re seeking more down-home cookery.

At PinPoint Restaurant, chase a radish in NC butterbean hummus or candied pecans with a Tropical Lightning IPA from Wilmington Brewing Company.

A surprising standout is Indochine, where one order of the braised Vietnamese catfish is about one too few. Meanwhile, seafood seekers can spear their fork into daily specials or slurp up oysters on the half shell dusted with bacon, pimento cheese and more.

STAY

The Graystone Inn, built in 1905 by a railroad magnate’s widow, proves a nice place to count sheep and a spot you may also recognize from “Dawson’s Creek,” “One Tree Hill” and “Sleepy Hollow,” among others.

To fulfill your veranda rocking chair fantasies, check into The Wilmingtonian, on a quiet street dripping in tree-lined perfection that’s only a short walk to the Cape Fear riverfront, a scenic strip studded with watering holes, eateries and specialty stores.

All in all, Wilmington may have that dreamy, laid-back pace, but this port town is gaining serious momentum: an Embassy Suites opens in the fall and Aloft and Westin properties are also in the works.

PLAY

Don’t skip town without paying a visit to Airlie Gardens, an alternate 67-acre universe with live oak trees (it gets its name from the 472-year-old Airlie Oak), a freshwater lake and winding paths of seasonal blossoms.

Another spot to absorb Southern culture at its finest is Bellamy Mansion Museum, an 1859 architectural prize that talented tour guides will bring to life with tales of its former residents.

10. GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI

EAT

Start at Triplett-Day Drug Co., a family-owned soda fountain that will teleport you to the “Leave it to Beaver” glory days.

Next, scope out the eclectic Fishbone Alley, a mural hunter’s Eden, which puts you a stone’s throw away from more local artwork, bars, restaurants and live music. (Be warned: Football game days are LOUD.)

Fight the heat with a small-batch icicle from Pop Bothers with inventive flavors ranging from Dragon Fruit to Graceland (an alluring medley of peanut butter with silky bananas and flecks of salty bacon).

Also book an outing with Tasty Tours in Downtown Gulfport, a three-hour walking culinary tour that spotlights five local dining establishments.

STAY

Rest your head at The Guest House at Gulfport Landing, an endearing bed and breakfast that dates to 1906 (it was restored in 2014, so you won’t need to worry about unplugging).

Or try The Almanett Hotel & Bistro, a cozy restaurant and inn overlooking the Mississippi Sound where all six guest rooms sport a private terrace. Worth noting: The shrimp here is beyond.

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Grab a ferry to one of the area’s barrier islands for a half-day excursion with Ship Island Excursions (full-day trips are also available), where you’ll be spoiled with views of Fort Massachusetts, which was built in 1866, and idyllic beaches free from mainland crowds.

Also, it’s worth considering a wintertime trip, as holiday enthusiasts will rejoice in the spectacular Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival, which runs from the end of November through the start of January. Last year it drew 60,000+ guests, not only for the dazzling illuminated displays, but also for the food trucks, rides, live performances and the 40 acres of greenspace it takes up on the majestic Gulf of Mexico.

11. WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA

EAT

A city steeped deeply in Moravian roots (they’re a Protestant denomination with German and Czech heritage), you’ll note this the most in the Old Salem Historic District and on your taste buds; expect Moravian chicken pie, sugar cake and thin cookies (try the ginger ones). Local brewery Foothills Brewing even creates a Moravian Porter every holiday season.

A glass of wine is always in easy reach here, too. Gaining traction as the gateway to the Yadkin Valley wine region, the state’s first and largest American Viticultural Area established in 2003 and now booming with 45+ wineries.

Or, take a tour and tasting of whiskey at Broad Branch Distillery. Another solid bet is Sutler’s Spirit Co. where you’ll swear their handcrafted gin is the nectar of gods.

Beer fans, drum up a list of tasting notes (and a hangover) at Small Batch Beer Co., Wise Man Brewing and Hoots Roller Bar & Beer Co.

STAY

The first Kimpton-brand hotel in the Carolinas, Winston-Salem recently got The Cardinal Hotel, inside the historic R.J. Reynolds building. Between the adult recreation room (oddball feature: an adult-sized twisting slide), indoor basketball court and bowling alley, you won’t get bored here. Don’t miss a meal at the ground floor’s Katharine Brasserie, named after the Reynolds’ family matriarch.

Landing in spring 2018, another historic downtown structure,The Pepper Building, will be reinvented as a 75-room Hotel Indigo with two on-site restaurants.

PLAY

2017 marks the 15th season of the biennial National Black Theatre Festival, which features theater workshops and international vendors market, in addition to six days of theatrical performances.

For more cultural highlights, check out the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and Reynolda House Museum of American Art, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in August with the opening of “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern.”

12. FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS

EAT

Get a sense of Fayetteville’s local pride at seasonal First Thursday fêtes, May through October. Then, ride that happy buzz along the Fayetteville Ale Trail, a self-guided journey where you can fill in your beer passport with all the breweries in Northwest Arkansas.

Want to skip the trail? Try Columbus House Brewery, that hosts a running and cycling club and welcomes dogs with open arms. Alternatively, there’s Fossil Cove Brewing Co., which attracts an Ultimate Frisbee crowd and provides a ton of crave-worthy food trucks out back. Or try Maxine’s Tap Room, a combination revived hipster pub and community music hub.

Locals flock to Hugo’s , a mainstay since 1977, where the deep-fried potato skins are worth every calorie. For lighter fare, try Greenhouse Grille and marvel at how the hell they made Brussels sprouts taste so good (hint: frying them with pickled peppers and apple vinaigrette helps).

STAY

Waking up to the awe-inspiring Ozark Mountains has never looked better than at The Chancellor Hotel, and if your travels lean romantic, book your stay at the Inn at Carnall Hall, a lovely mansion that was once a University of Arkansas Residence Hall.

If you want to wallow in country vibes, choose Pratt Place Inn, a rustic and inviting getaway on 140 acres.

PLAY

To quote a native, “Fayetteville is this lovely Southern and Midwestern mix where the Bible Belt, SEC football, back-to-the-land hippies, Walton (the family behind Walmart) money and university professors all meet up.”

Recently, Fayetteville has been making headlines for the mountain biking trails throughout the region. And cyclists will be delighted to hit the Razorback Regional Greenway, a 36-mile trail that connects six cities in the area, with plenty of attention-grabbing vistas. But if pedaling isn’t for you, get a dose of nature with an hour drive to Kings River Falls for a hike and pristine watering hole views.

History buffs will appreciate a visit to The Clinton House Museum, the former first couple’s first home together stacked with memorabilia and a beautiful garden (they were married in the living room).

To end the night, leave self-consciousness at the door and join the square dance at Backspace, a quirky performance hall.

13. PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA

EAT

At Andy’s Flour Power, a croissant or thick french toast with nuts, strawberries and powdered sugar is the way to go for breakfast. Even the Greek salads come loaded with crab meat and juicy Gulf shrimp at celebrated restaurant Capt. Anderson’s, and you (or the kids) will never tire of the ritual cannon blasting at the nightly sunset celebrations at Schooners, which bills itself as “The Last Local Beach Club.”

STAY

Perched on a 27-mile strip of sugar-white sand beach where the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrew Bay come together, you’ll find more old-school Southern charm here than Miami-style glitz. We love the quiet west end of the beach and the spacious, airy Carillon Beach Rentals that also boasts five private pools, restaurants and a spa within a private community.

After a $30 million renovation, Sheraton Bay Point Resort really left no detail unaddressed, from the private beach area to all 36 of the holes on the Nicklaus Design golf course.

PLAY

Put the smartphone down and feast your eyes on the natural wonders at St. Andrews State Park — if time allows, tack on snorkeling or kayaking — especially the two nature trails that weave you through a smattering of coastal plant species.

For a more relaxing encounter with nature, set out on a 55-foot catamaran with Paradise Adventures.

14. BREAUX BRIDGE, LOUISIANA

EAT

Down by the bayou, it’s difficult to meet a meal you don’t like. You’re dining in the Crawfish Capital of the World, in which the yearly Crawfish Festival in May draws hundreds of thousands of hungry and thirsty visitors.

Revel in the liquor-soaked Zydeco brunches at Buck & Johnny’s, then enjoy a flawlessly prepared gumbo at Chez Jacqueline. You’re in Cajun country, so while the service may be slow, the homespun food will be well worth the growling stomach while you wait.

End the day by dancing your cares away at Whiskey River in nearby Henderson, where the proverbial levee never runs dry.

STAY

Book a room at The Juliet in neighboring Lafayette (about 9 miles away) or stay in town at the Maison Des Amis, a Caribbean-Creole property which has a spot on the National Registry of Historic Homes.

Another excellent option to call home is Maison Madeleine, where you can take part in cooking classes and bass fishing.

PLAY

If you or members of your party are antiquers, Lagniappe Antiques Market, spread over 17,000 square feet, is a must-see.

Meanwhile, nearby Lake Martin has made the Audubon Society’s list of top 10 bird watching spots in the United States.

15. GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA

EAT

Say cheers at The Dark Corner Distillery, a craft microdistillery with moonshine as good as your brother-in-law’s.

Dine at Smoke on the Water restaurant, a “saucy Southern tavern” where more cornbread stuffing is always the correct answer. (As is doubling up on the fried bourbon bread pudding.)

STAY

The Swamp Rabbit Inn is a refreshingly chic bed and breakfast that’s two blocks from its namesake Swamp Rabbit Trail, an 18-mile bike trail. Or, reserve your room at Aloft Greenville Downtown, close to downtown’s shops and restaurants.

PLAY

Ride your Reedy Rides bike rental loaner around town or please your inner speed demon at LeMans Karting Greenville, where you can drag your European karts up to 40 mph on a 750-foot long road course.

One day, slot in time to hit up Falls Park on the Reedy, which has beautiful gardens and trails.

Perri Ormont Blumberg is New York City-born and -based writer. She’s a graduate of Columbia University and the Natural Gourmet Institute culinary school. Follow her on Twitter @66PerriStreet.

A Clean Well-lighted Place

A CLEAN WELL-LIGHTED PLACE

By: R.S. Gingher, Sunset Hills Neighborhood Letter

(“What is music to you? What would you be without music? Music is everything. Nature is music [cicadas in the tropical night]. The sea is music, the wind is music. The rain drumming on the roof and the storm raging in the sky are music. Music is the oldest entity. The scope of music is immense and infi nite. It is the ‘Esperanto’ of the world.” ––Duke Ellington)

The jazz heritage of North Carolina in general, and Greensboro in particular, is strong. Think, for instance, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Billy Taylor, Nina Simone, Dannie Richmond, Johnny Best, Eddie Wilcox, Woody Shaw, and Percy Heath. Our neck of the woods is a hub for performance arts, bolstered by strong music programs in a half-dozen nearby colleges and universities, most of which are right here in Greensboro. A strong appetite for jazz has existed here for decades. What’s been missing, especially in recent years, is a working menu, a functional delivery system for musicians. That appetite seemed to grow alongside the more familiar physical desire for good food and

A strong appetite for jazz has existed here for decades. What’s been missing, especially in recent years, is a working menu, a functional delivery system for musicians. That appetite seemed to grow alongside the more familiar physical desire for good food and gradual emergence of fi ne dining here during the nineties and later. But the 2008 fi nancial decline combined with that of North Carolina textiles, furniture, and tobacco markets signaled the end for many restaurants and for many working musician’s venues. With their demise also went the last best hope for many local jazz musicians. And yet…one hot August Saturday that year over 1,100 area residents and friends appeared on our lawn, veranda, second- fl oor deck, and throughout the park. They had all gathered, along with the mayor, to hear the viscerally powerful sound of

And yet…one hot August Saturday that year over 1,100 area residents and friends appeared on our lawn, veranda, second-floor deck, and throughout the park. They had all gathered, along with the mayor, to hear the viscerally powerful sound of authentic jazz, delivered live by prominent jazz artists from the stage of a fl atbed truck parked on the street (W Greenway N) dividing the park from our front yard. This third “Greensboro Jazzfest” took the form of a fundraiser to support organizations with missions to introduce the transformative and salutary power of music to children. Appetite had met menu.

Over the years we’d held a score or more of indoor home concerts. But this outside effort was backed by sixteen companies, one of which, Natty Greene’s, materialized in the form of our neighbors and some staff for hands-on support and supply. There were bar and food lines, golf carts transporting folks to and from parking, half a dozen porta-pottyies rearing up like sentinels in park and yard, and everywhere a cool racial mix of young and old lounging in a colorful patchwork of pitched blankets and folding chairs.

I’ve sorely missed the Jazzfest days and those of hearing great instrumentalists and torch singers in several of our local restaurants. Fortunately, for 15 years O.Henry’s owners have wanted to offer cocktail-and-jazz vibes like those in the grand New York hotels of the 1950s. In 2015 this dream began to materialize. Hotelier Dennis Quaintance and impresario Victoria Clegg, perhaps sensing a “tipping point,” teamed up to offer jazz evenings. Now, in the magical space of the O. Henry Hotel’s social lobby, outstanding instrumentalists and vocalists pay homage to the great American classics each Thursday (5:30-8:30) and most Saturdays from 6:30-9:30. Its Ensemble-in-Residence is the remarkably skilled jazz trio––pianist Dave Fox, reed man Neill Clegg, and double bassist Matt Kendrick. On Thursday’s they back guest vocalists, serving up jazz classics from the Great American Songbook. On Saturdays, a variety of impressive jazz ensembles support stellar vocalists. Astonishingly, there is no cover charge, though performances here are on par with the best jazz offerings anywhere.

Beginning in 2006 a group of friends and I started lunching on Wednesdays at the Green Valley Grill (GVG), O. Henry’s restaurant. Now on jazz evenings the familiar pleasures of good food, relaxed conversation, and tonic companionship there continue, for GVG’s bar extends into the lobby then for cocktail and tapas service,

“Spirit of place” suggests a field of felt energy certain spaces possess, some indefinable but palpably real essence we sometimes call “good vibes.” Such arenas invite collective celebration and restorative fellowship. I like to call such an area “a clean, well-lighted place.” The magical core of the hotel is its entrance hall or lobby, designed after that of the renowned Algonquin Hotel in New York City. It’s unusually beautiful, with vintage half-moon lighting and honey-colored, wainscoted arcades, above which reads O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” There the entire text of his best-known story is in gilt on green pages covering all four walls. The entire effect is unique and “bespoke,” speaking for simple essence exclusive neither too old Greensborough or old Midtown Manhattan but to both––a quality familiar, lovely, and unpretentious.

It’s a perfect space to lounge, listen, and enjoy the music, a place of harmony, contentment, good fellow-feeling, and restorative atonement. You can’t miss discovering this after a single evening here. In the lobby’s portrait, the master storyteller himself lounges, newspaper in hand, and sets the tone, as if calming surveying this entrance hall and its sojourners. Now no weekend feels truly complete without a ritual lunch and jazz evening here.