When Bill Wigington and his wife Karyl Wigington opened their boutique wine-and-beer shop Cellar 55 in 2016, they knew incorporating food would be a winning proposition. Laurel Bar + Food opened last fall in the back portion of the business, and locals are finding much to love about the warm, cozy dining space.
“We’ve been doing wine and beer tastings on Fridays and also some wine dinners, but we’re really pleased that we could add a small restaurant,” says Bill. “People come from Fuquay and Holly Springs, but they also drive in from Raleigh.”
The Wigingtons partnered with seasoned chef Regan Stachler, known for his erstwhile farm-to-table outpost Little Hen in Apex. At Laurel, Stachler has created a Mediterranean-inspired menu that leans vegetable-forward by design.
“I had a heart attack at age 36 when I was running my former restaurant, so for my own health I started eating a Mediterranean diet,” he reveals. “Nowadays, I’m just passing this healthy approach along to the guests.”
Stachler says after he closed Little Hen, he took some time off from working in the kitchen.
“I was totally burned out,” he says, adding that the grind of working every night took a major toll on him. “If you had interviewed me a year ago, I’m not sure what I would have said, because I didn’t know what I was going to do next.”
Eventually Stachler started taking on some catering gigs and private dinner events. He also sold hummus and other scratch-made items at the farmer’s market.
Bill Wigington approached the chef on social media and began a conversation about potentially joining forces. Ultimately, the two men forged a partnership agreement, and Laurel came to fruition.
“The food is mostly eastern Mediterranean,” Stachler explains. “We focus on cuisine from Italy, Turkey, Greece and Morocco.”
A limited yet focused menu includes tahini-infused hummus, garlic-cured marinated olives and green beans with cucumbers and feta. Artisan toast options are fashioned with La Farm Bakery bread. Try the brie toast featuring wine-poached apricots and toasted walnuts or the roasted shallot spread crowned with lemon-and-dill mayo and fresh crabmeat.
“It’s great to have a local place where you can try different wines and enjoy healthy food options that are not your typical bar fare,” says regular guest and Fuquay native Ward Proctor. “And the rotating wine wall and draft beer selections mean there is always something new to explore.”
Stachler hand-selects the wines to pair with the food. At any given time, 16 wines are available by the glass. Beer is also accessible on self-serve taps.
“I also offer a good selection of salads,” says Stachler. “The whole idea with the cuisine is that it’s very shareable. It’s communal food. Just like drinking is social, we want the food to be social as well.”
Saturday food specials include heartier items like Italian meatballs, lamb and beef ragu and warm prosciutto-wrapped asparagus toast.
If you just want a snack, Laurel can accommodate.
“We showcase great artisan cheeses, and it’s a priority for us to pair that with beer and wine,” Stachler says.
Stachler sources provisions from local farmers whenever possible, citing Hilltop Farms in Willow Spring and In Good Heart Farms in Pittsboro as his go-to purveyors.
Whenever you visit Laurel, chances are good you will eat on a plate or serve food from a platter Stachler created himself. He enjoys making pottery, which he considers therapeutic as well as functional.
“I go to Cary Arts Center, and they have everything I need there,” he said. “Monday is normally my designated pottery day. I put my earphones in and go to my own little world.”
Laurel is open Thursdays from 4-8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 4-9 p.m.
“We plan to extend the days we are open at some point,” Stachler says.
Reservations are not accepted. Go early to secure a table.
LAUREL BAR + FOOD
1351 East Broad Street, Fuquay-Varina
You Need a Date
Among the tastiest menu items chef Regan Stachler creates are goat-cheese-and-almond stuffed dates. Just beware of getting hooked on them. Yes, they are that good.
“Dates are delicious and versatile, not to mention they are very healthy,” Stachler says. “I love using them in sweet and savory dishes.”
Stachler was kind enough to share his simple yet picture-perfect recipe with us. He sources goat cheese from Hillsborough Cheese Company
in Orange County.
- Slice each date in half and remove pit.
- Place 2 ounces of lightly salted goat cheese inside individual date.
- Roll goat-cheese-stuffed date in sliced or crushed almonds and enjoy.
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