Downtown’ Clayton’s newest restaurant is billing itself as offering “the only rooftop dining in Johnston County,” but that is by no means Manning’s only attraction. Owner/chef Howard Manning’s cooking is a good bet to tempt more than a few foodies to venture across county lines.
A graduate of Johnson and Wales in Charleston who has worked in numerous restaurants across the South, Manning is applying his twenty-plus years of experience to giving a modern twist to his favorite dishes from his childhood in South Carolina. On the menu, that translates to the likes of shrimp and local stone-ground grits with country ham gravy; an award-winning chicken and sausage gumbo; and Jennifer’s filet (named for Manning’s wife and partner), served with oven-roasted butternut squash and zucchini. The chef’s flame-grilled pork tenderloin topped with grilled Granny Smith apples and caramelized onions in apple brandy sauce has already won a devoted following.
Appetizers and light bites include lump crab cakes with fried green tomato and sweet corn relish, flash-fried chicken livers, pork tenderloin sliders, and a Cajun chicken sandwich on a toasted brioche roll.
When uncooperative weather puts a damper on the al fresco option, a dining room whose furnishings include a large Oriental carpet and an antique hutch (a wedding gift to the Mannings) offers a warmly inviting alternative. A custom-made cherry bar downstairs and an upstairs lounge provide further consolation.
Manning’s (406 E. Main St., Clayton; 919-585-7005; manningsonmain.com) serves lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday, remaining open until midnight on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.