BY KATIE DIXON | PHOTOS BY MASH PHOTOGRAPHY
At Fine Folk, food is viewed as a direct link to memory. “Some of my favorite memories growing up were surrounding food, specifically going out to eat,” says Fine Folk owner and head chef Chris Lopez, who runs the restaurant with his general manager and wife Maria Luna, who is also the restaurant’s pastry chef. “That communal aspect, having a good time with people who you care about … there’s something magical about the restaurant experience.”
For Lopez, many of these memories took place in chain restaurants, such as Applebee’s or Olive Garden. While he’s now a professional chef, he looks back at those moments fondly, and draws inspiration from them—so much so that he describes his latest venture—restaurant and wine bar Fine Folk—as “a wildly fun take on American chain restaurants.”
Nods to these chains can be seen in familiar dishes across Fine Folk’s menu—from “shareables” such as the jalapeño
crab dip, to entrees like the steak and onion rings. However, one major departure from familiar chains is the preparation and care that Fine Folk uses to elevate each dish. Everything is made from scratch, from the hand-cut fries to the house-made pasta weekly specials.
A POP-UP STARTUP
A trip down memory lane is not the only path Fine Folk has traveled. Although its brick-and-mortar location in Raleigh’s Gateway Plaza has now been open for about a year, the concept took a winding path to becoming a full-fledged restaurant. Lopez was originally the executive chef at Cary’s Postmaster, which specialized in seasonal, Southern-inspired fare.
When the pandemic shut down in-person dining, Postmaster’s team quickly realized the menu items weren’t meant to be served as to-go items. They needed a new concept—and fast. Gov’t Cheeseburger, branded from the start as “a temporary burger joint from the fine folks at Postmaster,” was born, and soon, burgers were flying out the door. Despite Gov’t Cheesburger’s rapid success, Lopez knew he wanted to do something more expansive long-term. That’s when he settled on Fine Folk, a name drawn from the Gov’t Cheeseburger tagline. Gov’t. Cheeseburger closed in November 2020 after a nearly eight-month run of burgers, and Fine Folk launched that Thanksgiving weekend.
For several months, Fine Folk operated as a pop-up four nights a week out of the Raleigh cocktail bar Foundation. Then, in March 2021, the team signed a lease on Fine Folk’s new home in Gateway Plaza. While they readied the space for opening, they transformed Union Special, the bakery next door, into a full-service restaurant four nights a week.
This experience of pushing Fine Folk food out of different kitchens contributed to a smooth opening in April 2022—and a ready-made fan base so loyal that Fine Folk was nominated for INDY Week’s Best New Restaurants list one day after officially opening its brick-and-mortar.
STAPLES AND SPECIALS
Along the way, Lopez and team stayed true to the concept of memory, and how it becomes linked with food. Visitors to Fine Folk can enjoy staples that will likely never leave the menu, such as spinach artichoke dip (which gets a kick from hot pepper bechamel and a funky flavor from fontina cheese), or wings that are seasoned by dehydrating lemon thyme—as a nod to lemon pepper dry rub—and then incorporating that into a citrus buffalo wing sauce. And yes, the popular burger from Gov’t Cheeseburger is still available—although it has evolved from its smash burger origins and is now a chargrilled burger “more reminiscent of Applebee’s,” Lopez says.
In addition to the staples, there are exciting specials—some in a regular rotation, such as the bottomless mussels on Mondays, and some that are only available for a limited time, such as a rosemary and garlic–rubbed prime rib served with fried potato salad. To create these inventive dishes, the team relies not only on their own memories and experiences, but also those of the community they serve. One example: the Mississippi Pot Roast, which one Fine Folk fan shared with the restaurant via an Instagram post about favorite food memories. “It’s basically cooking a chuck roast low and slow, with ranch powder and pepperoncini juice,” Lopez says. “And it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.”
In addition to serving up dishes that are equal parts creative and comforting, Fine Folk strives to create a comfortable atmosphere for all. The menu reflects this ethos, with vegan options and one fryer that’s reserved for gluten-free diners.
Lopez wants the restaurant to be whatever customers are looking for—whether that’s a place for a dinner date or a cozy spot to belly up to the bar with a good book. “We have a no-frills attitude,” Lopez says. “We’re making a place where people can just be people, and we thrive on the fact that we’re all here to put out good food.”
FINE FOLK’S PORK CHOP
This one is a summertime cookout stunner. The peas’ creaminess works beautifully with the char on the pork chop, and when you throw rice into the mix, it’s a game changer. Fine Folk likes to mix a bunch of chopped herbs into the rice to add pizzazz—think chives, parsley and a little lemon zest. This is a perfect dish to make for friends and family.
Black-Eyed Peas Ingredients
2 cups of dry black-eyed peas
2 poblano peppers, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups of heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
In one pot, cook the black-eyed peas until tender, then strain. In another pot, sweat the onion, garlic and poblano peppers.
Add the cream; bring to a simmer and allow the mixture to reduce a little. Mix in the cooked black-eyed peas and allow them to stew until the mixture reaches the desired thickness.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
1 tablespoon of buttermilk
2 cups of dry rice, rinsed thoroughly
3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
2 cups of chicken stock
Salt to taste
Put all of the ingredients in a covered pot. Gently bring the mixture to a boil,then reduce it to a gentle simmer and cook the mixture until done. Add salt to taste.
Pork Chop Ingredients
4 pork chops
Salt and pepper to taste
Grill, sear or bake the pork chops until they reach desired doneness. Ever-so-slight pink is recommended. Plate them up or serve them family style. Enjoy!