A pop-up meal blossoms on a spring evening

By Casey Suglia     Photographs by John Gessner

5:45 p.m.

An outdoor fireplace crackles as a dozen guests mingle at the home of Jeff Kelly and Scott Harris. Tony Cross, of Reverie Cocktails, mixes a drink specifically designed for the night, the “Ágætis byrjun” — Icelandic for a good beginning. It’s a combination of Grüner Veltliner, a dry white wine from Austria, and Conniption Gin, a North Carolina-made “Navy strength” gin far more potent than your average bottle. Cold-pressed organic pineapple juice made at Nature’s Own, and smoked rosemary simple syrup, handmade by Cross himself, combine for a savory and sweet cocktail. Cross smacks the rosemary garnish to release the herb’s essence.

“The cocktail is local, as always,” he says. “It’s seasonal and springlike.”

The outdoor kitchen and bar of the home, located just blocks away from Broad Street in Southern Pines, serves as the perfect place for entertaining. “We host small dinner parties out here all time,” Harris says. But tonight is different. A mixture of people — some strangers, others friends for years — gather for a seasonal pop-up dinner created by Southern Whey’s Angela Sanchez and Chris Abbey, and Jen Curtis of Chef Warren’s.

“This was the brainchild of Jen and me,” Sanchez says. “It was a way for us to do something outside of the box and express our creativity away from our day jobs.”

6:15 p.m.

Sanchez sets out a tray of fresh, seasonal produce and cheese from Southern Whey — some local like Paradox Farm’s Cheese Louise spread. “The dinners all have different vibes or themes,” Sanchez says. “But our meals always have a local emphasis.” As the days lengthen and nights shorten, spring is the perfect time to match people and food. New blooms, new friendships, new beginnings.

6:30 p.m.

In the kitchen, Curtis plates the meal — a mix of local ingredients with fresh flavors hinting at the start of the season. The night’s menu is North Carolina pork belly served on a bed of locally grown grits from Anson Mills. A niçoise salad with North Carolina speckled trout, pickled okra and Amanda Curtis’ locally grown Heirloom Eggs.

“The meal is based on the coming of spring,” Curtis says. “There’s a Southern influence. We’re all transient here. Some of us have Northern roots, but we embrace the culture. Every tradition is identifiable, especially in food.”

“The meals are made so they’re easy to pass and share,” Sanchez says. “Guests are encouraged to sit wherever they want and make new friends.”

“People being together and sharing food always leads to something else,” Curtis adds.

7:00 p.m.

The guests gather around the table and talk about what’s new on Netflix, the wavering weather and the changing landscape of Southern Pines, as the sun sets behind them.

“The great thing about this backyard is that it feels like an oasis, but it also feels like we’re in Southern Pines,” Harris says. “It’s our own secluded space. We created our own environment here.”

Christin Daubert, a librarian, has attended all of Curtis’ and Sanchez’s pop-up meals, yet is constantly surprised by the place she and her husband, Justin, have called home for three years.

“I love this tiny little town,” Daubert says. “Every day I meet new people.”

7:20 p.m.

Dusk settles in and the cake — made with applesauce, rye flower, and dates with a pecan glaze — is served. Kelly and Harris’ yellow Labs, Lil’ Bit and Izzy, join the party for dessert, sneaking a bite of cake from some new friends of their own.

8:00 p.m.

The chill of the spring evening sets in the air, a reminder that the warm weather is still weeks away. The night feels young. The guests stand in front of the cracking outdoor fireplace, sip wine, and chat as if they’re new old friends.

“Spring is about renewal, change. We shed the past, move forward, and do that tonight with wine, conversation, and good food,” Sanchez says.   PS

Menu For A Southern Spring Night

Niçoise Salad with a Southern Twist –

Watercress, Belgian Endive,
Confit New Potatoes, Spring Radish,
Pickled Red Onion, Pickled Okra, Haricot Vert, Asparagus, Heirloom Eggs Soft Boiled Eggs and Smoked Speckled Trout
Citrus and Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette


NC Heritage Breed Ossabaw Pork Belly –

Star Anise, Juniper, Fenugreek and
Kombu Braised Pork Belly with
Anson Mills White Corn Grits,
Pork Braising Jus & Napa Cabbage,
Citrus and Mint Melee


Applesauce Cake –

Applesauce, Carolina Ground Rye Flour, 
Medjool Dates, Pecans with
Sorghum Caramel and
Marscapone Cheese whipped
with Local Honey

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