Herons restaurant in North Carolina brings the garden to the table

Lamb loin dish being plated, as seen through the open kitchen
Chihuly sculpture in the lobby of The Umstead
Chihuly sculpture in the lobby of The Umstead

The contemporary dining room at Herons Restaurant is dimly lit, with generously spaced tables. Muted fabrics and wall coverings intensify the brightness of the glass-enclosed kitchen at one end of the room. Almost like theater, diners can watch busy line cooks plate meals with such precision that the dishes look like works of art when they arrive at tables.

Located inside the five-star Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C., Herons’ kitchen is overseen by executive chef Steven Devereaux Greene. At 35, he is one of the youngest chefs at the helm of a Forbes five-star, AAA five-diamond restaurant.

Each dish on the seasonal menu reflects a creative fusion of flavors and textures. The menu showcases organic produce, farm-raised meats and other fresh ingredients, with more than half the products sourced from 14 local purveyors in the surrounding Piedmont region. Service is professional but relaxed.

The genesis of this magnificent destination restaurant within a resort is unique, too. Sitting on 12 acres, the six-story, 150-room property is privately owned by billionaire James Goodnight and his wife, Ann, and was designed and built to their specifications. Goodnight, one of the co-founders of SAS software, is CEO of the SAS Institute, the largest privately held software business in the world.

The hotel is on the same sprawling campus that houses the institute, adjacent to Umstead State Park, a spectacular old-growth forest of 5,579 acres. The sustainable SAS Culinary Farm, also on the grounds, supplies many of the fresh vegetables and herbs used in the kitchen and grows apples, raspberries and blueberries.

Lamb loin dish being plated, as seen through the open kitchen
Lamb loin dish being plated, as seen through the open kitchen

Each evening, diners can choose from a three-course dinner ($80 per person), four-course ($90 per person) or seven-course kaiseki (selected by the chef) dinner ($125 per person). Wine pairings by advanced sommelier Hai Tran are available at $30, $40 and $60, respectively. The restaurant’s extensive wine list has been recognized by Wine Spectator. Herons also serves breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch.

The hotel, which has an extensive art collection that complements its woodsy surroundings, is only 17 minutes from downtown Raleigh — well worth a stop for a meal or overnight if you’re in the Research Triangle area.


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Herons Restaurant.

At the Umstead Hotel and Spa, rates start at $329 per night double-occupancy, plus tax.

This article by Irene S. Levine was previously published in the Chicago Tribune on June 5, 2015.

This post is part of a LinkUp to Noel Morata’s Travel Photo Discovery.

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