H Street Kitchen is aiming to open by Aug. 2 in the former Varsity Theater on Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street.
The 200-seat casual, full-service restaurant is part of the ongoing revitalization of Hillsborough Street across from N.C. State University. The city, university and developers have spent millions on the street with a focus on adding more apartments, retail and sit-down style dining options.
H Street Kitchen is the work of Gary Bryant, a longtime Raleigh restaurant executive and N.C. State graduate. In the kitchen is chef Adam Rose, who has worked at Jujube, Elaine’s on Franklin and the Siena Hotel’s Il Palio restaurant, all in Chapel Hill. Last year, he opened the critically acclaimed, but now closed, Black House restaurant at Straw Valley Food & Drink in Durham.
Rose said he originally intended the menu for H Street Kitchen to be American comfort food, like what you would see at a classic diner. But he changed course when he saw how diverse the population was along Hillsborough Street when school was in session. “It’s one of the most multicultural corners of North Carolina,” Rose said Thursday. He aimed to create a menu to “make all these people feel as comfortable as I am in a diner.”
So you’ll see pulled pork and collard ramen, which might appeal to a Japanese student as well as alumni from Eastern North Carolina. There’s also chipotle lime hummus and a grilled pork bahn mi sandwich.
That’s not to say there isn’t comfort food on the menu. There is “Two Brothers Meat Sauce,” a nod to the longtime pizza place on Hillsborough Street, served over linguine, and “Missing Mama,” roasted turkey on top of stuffing (well, actually a savory bread pudding) with gravy, green beans and cranberry sauce.
All six burgers on the menu will be smashed and made with all-natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free Angus beef; the Highway 64 burger with Velveeta cheese is an homage to the burgers served at Johnson’s Drive In in Siler City.
Prices range from about $9 for burgers to about $12-$16 for entrees, except a rib-eye steak, which tops $20. There’s also appetizers, sandwiches, salads and snacks, including chips, fried Brussels sprouts and that stuffing served under the turkey with the Missing Mama entree.
Despite the lower price point and the more casual setting than Rose’s previous restaurants, he brings his obsessive technique-driven cooking to H Street. For example, the French fries are blanched in 170-degree water for 15 minutes before being twice fried in oil.
Running the front of the house is Eric Harris, 31, who previously worked at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Yardhouse and for Empire Eats, which owns Sitti, The Pit and The Raleigh Times.
Bryant has a long history in the Raleigh restaurant scene. He opened the first Bear Rock Cafe in the Lake Boone Shopping Center in 1997. At its peak, there were 33 cafes in nine states. In 2004, Bryant brought in a private equity firm to help with financing during what was hoped to be a large expansion via franchising. In 2008, he resigned and went to work for Empire Eats and later for the company that owns Tribeca Tavern.
Bryant was drawn to Hillsborough Street’s redevelopment. He graduated from N.C. State in 1984 and worked as a student manager for the basketball team under coach Jim Valvano. His father, Charlie, was president of the Wolfpack Club.
The Varsity theater, which opened in 1941, was designed by Hendersonville-based architect Erle Stillwell, who used a modernist style for the theater’s facade. The theater closed in the 1980s and was converted to a McDonald’s and later a bookstore.
The new restaurant includes a bar, open kitchen and seating on the first floor, as well as on an 800-square-foot mezzanine and patios above the entrance. The restaurant also will offer valet parking to customers after 5 p.m. (It is worth noting that street parking and campus parking lots are free after 5 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends.)
H Street Kitchen will be open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Info: 2420 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, 919-725-1983, facebook.com/hstreetkitchen/, Twitter and Instagram: @hstreetkitchen