When love is in the air
Dining Ideas for Valentine’s Day
by Elizabeth Sugg » Photos by Mollie Tobias
While Valentine’s Day at first conjures up images of romance and a table for two, increasingly with all the offerings around it seems like the perfect time to embrace the people who are important in your life and remember them with small things such as a taste of chocolate, a bit of bubbly and as Cupid’s Day approaches, a festive meal out with a great group of friends.
There are definitely places for romance and intimacy in the Sandhills, however depending on your marriage state and how many school-aged children a person has, date night may be out and the romance may be in the book you curl up with on Valentine’s night! As February 14th approaches, think about those restaurants that have that good, just-the-right-speed service and a comfortable vibe, and if you are one of the lucky ones seeking a table for two, maybe choose a spot that’s intimate with an adventurous menu (it’s more than OK if you just branch out with the apps…). This is by far not a complete list, just a range of restaurant choices where the good food promises to seal Valentine’s evening with supreme bliss.
Ashten’s Restaurant & Pub
140 E New Hampshire Ave, Southern Pines
Not many people have had as much fun with their Valentine’s Day menus as Ashley Van Camp, owner of Ashten’s Restaurant, through the years. Silly, lovey dovey and sexy phrases find their way onto the menu with dishes inspired by them. One year “Rollin in the Hay” was a Heritage Farm Porchetta with roasted garlic sweet potatoes, while “Flirt” was a plate of Virginia Hog Island Oysters on the half shell. Chef de Cuisine Matthew Hannon has gotten into the act, too, and this year’s “Skinny Dipping” entree may just be the photographed Miso-glazed Black Cod with Lemongrass Ginger steamed with Little Neck clams, toasted farro, shaved beets and Conscious Cultivators micro fennel. A farm to fork restaurant since 1997, Ashten’s with Hannon at the helm continues to introduce its customers to community farmers as their daily menus are inspired by what is grown and raised close at hand. Book your table for
two – this is the spot to be adventurous!
672 SW Broad St, Southern Pines
A place to gather with two or many, owner Tammy Waterbury provides the welcome while her kitchen delivers a range of popular dishes that makes eating at Beefeaters relaxing with no guess work. Their range of steaks are prime rib, ribeye, New York strip, porterhouse and filet mignon with a choice of specialty seasonings and toppings from a house-made coffee rub to a mixture of grilled mushrooms, onions and cheese. If “Surf” is your Valentine’s Day craving, then choose from salmon, shrimp, catfish, lobster tail, cod, flounder, scallops and crab, all on Beefeaters’ extensive menu. And the bar makes a great martini.
Chapman’s Food & Spirits
157 E New Hampshire Ave, Southern Pines
When asked if Chapman’s would be doing anything special for Valentine’s Day, co-owner Kitty Hopkins said an emphatic “no”, explaining “Why would we change anything if people want to come here on Valentine’s Day – they want to know we’ve got what they’re coming for!” And that is a fresh take on comfort food. From shrimp wontons and mussels steamed with beer to burgers, sandwiches, salads, not to mention the daily specials from Chef Peter Hamm’s kitchen, there is a range to make a group of diners gastronomically happy. Chapman’s keeps the same menu for lunch and dinner freeing Hamm up to enjoy cooking in the moment with short runs of entrees such as short ribs falling off the bone or a shrimp pappardelle pasta with his signature tomato sauce. This is a versatile spot for some good food and a drink.
CharBar No. 7
100 Pavilion Way, Southern Pines
Centrally located between Pinehurst and Southern Pines and near the movie theater, CharBar No. 7 is one of those restaurants with a menu that can be downscaled if a burger or a really good salad is all you are after (try the Shaved Brussels Salad), or upscaled if you are craving grilled salmon or a ribeye. Their “handhelds” as they call them run the range of a Prime Rib French Dip to Blackened Shrimp Tacos, so this is an uptempo spot to bring the family to or a group of friends en route to a night of hearing some good music. With a special focus on locally crafted beers and a satisfying wine list, keep CharBar No. 7 on Cupid’s radar.
Filly & Colt’s at Little River
500 Little River Farm Blvd, Carthage
In the northern part of the county Filly & Colt’s at Little River is a popular spot for lunch and dinner. Husband and wife owners Karen and Jon Littlefield serve a menu with a range of American favorites in their equestrian-themed restaurant, a nod to the countryside and nearby horse farms that dot the landscape. Their offerings are versatile, for example, add grilled shrimp to a classic spinach or Caesar salad, or choose the 12-ounce ribeye or the homestyle meatloaf with two sides. If someone wants dinner and someone else wants a sandwich, mention their beef brisket or Reuben because both will hit the spot. They make a Whitefish Francaise that is egg-battered and sautéed with lemon and white wine that would pair well with a shared bottle of wine for Valentine’s.
2176 Midland Rd, Pinehurst
An open, stylishly spacious dining room sets the tone for an evening in a festive atmosphere with a lot of activity to seep in and enjoy. If your Valentine’s Day is calling for a chance to run into some people you may know, The Ironwood is a regular hub as it is perfectly situated off the main traffic circle, and its accessibility has made it a destination for fine dining be it for lunch, dinner or their well-liked Sunday brunch. Arrive early to have a drink in the comfortable bar just off the entrance before being seated because the party vibe in the air is just fun. Having been there with large groups, the kitchen has a knack for dishing up a range of extremely good, well-prepared hot food to a diverse group of diners, so consider that if you decide to eat out with a bunch of friends. Serving a seasonal menu that can be scaled up or down, their winter menu features a steak & lobster entrée, a pork osso bucco and a duck confit carbonara that is as decadent as it sounds.
Theatre Building, 90 Cherokee Rd, Pinehurst
A true family Italian restaurant opened in 2019 in the Village of Pinehurst, and it has taken off. Located in the historic Theatre Building, Lisi Italian has an open kitchen and a busy, buzzy fun atmosphere that simply fits the bill for a casual night out. Owned by Mickey and Jim Reale, Lisi is named for Jim’s grandmother Letizia, affectionately called “Lisi”, who was as much a gardener as she was a cook. Our family sat down with their “Pepperoni Pepperoni” pizza the first time we went, and we devoured the square 16-inch that had been drizzled with Calabrian hot honey. The next time we split a Caprese salad and shared the Rigatoni Siciliano and a Pork Rapini, a slow-roasted shredded pork sandwich with provolone. There are lots of options at this friendly place, and Valentine’s with the family is a good reason to go try it.
The Villager After 5
6 Chinquapin Rd, Pinehurst
There was a quiet opening in January at one of the most central, hopping restaurants for breakfast and lunch, The Villager Deli, in the heart of Pinehurst. A longtime advocate for the businesses in the town, owner Koley Keel was up for the challenge of creating a Villager After 5, a Thursday through Sunday dining experience featuring the exquisite food of Chef Prem Nath whose cuisine pioneered the American Fusion so popular at Restaurant 195 before leaving in 2019.
“I’ve been eating his food for 24 years, and have never had a bad meal – never! And to be able to team up with Prem…I don’t think it gets any better than that,” says Keel. Originally from New Dehli, India, Nath immigrated to the U.S. when he was about 30 years old, and only then began working in restaurant kitchens, all in New York City. Growing up in such an international city and then moving to one made Nath’s path to being a “fusion” cook, the mixing of culinary traditions, a natural one. The seasonal menu will be a weekly one featuring two curry dishes, two fish, a pasta, steak, vegetarian choices, and interesting appetizers to get the evening going. Beer and wine are being served with a liquor license coming soon. The Villager has a snug, lively restaurant so call ahead to reserve a spot.
There were many years as a golf and swim family that Valentine’s Day was dinner in a crockpot and a special dessert. Here are two yummy options to seek out and pick up.
C. Cups Cupcakery
105 Cherokee Rd Suite 1E, Pinehurst
This bright airy bakery recently opened in the heart of the Village of Pinehurst, and its friendly, drop-in space is warm and welcoming. And then there are the cupcakes. Baked from scratch each day, they are made with real vanilla beans, rich chocolate, fresh fruits and real butter. The chocolate and red velvet get the votes at our house! Visit the original cupcakery at 105 E. Pennsylvania Ave in Southern Pines.
Thyme & Place Café
155 Hall Ave, Southern Pines
Open at 10 am for brunch and lunch, Thyme & Place has a bakery case that is filled daily with seasonal, mouth-watering pastries, fruit tarts, cakes and cookies. When asked what was being brainstormed for Valentine’s Day, owner Leslie Philip described her twist on a coffee-and-cocoa tiramisu for two that she is calling Tira Me 2, a gorgeous concoction with an edible lace bottom, meant to share, and hey, that is what Valentine’s Day is all about.