A Reason to Just Breathe
One would think that a speakeasy just couldn’t fly in that little in-between town of Kernersville. Affectionately known as K-Vegas, with the exception of traffic, it’s anything but Vegas. It has charm, with coffee shops, convenient stores, and a burgeoning and welcoming downtown. But no bars and certainly no speakeasy, which is what Breathe Cocktail Lounge claims to be. A five-dollar investment gets you a year-long membership and access to an inviting bar/lounge that begs you to inquire and just chill, or you know….breathe.
Our monthly Chef’s Table found us here. We wanted to do something a little bit different in April. And we wanted more folks to get to know owner Christine Federico and her business. So a sold-out dinner guest list arrived with high hopes and hungry bellies and we settled in.
Breathe Cocktail Lounge opened last November after a decade of dreaming and planning by Christine and Federico. They already owned the successful boutique, Eclection, serving a tiny menu of small plates, wine and coffee. Local artists and makers sell their new and repurposed goods and it’s all eye candy and wonderful implements for your home or self. Over the years, the couple have gathered vintage items and even turned others’ trash into treasure to create the upstairs storage area into something so much more. “We just had this space and it was like a big closet,” Christine Federico told us. “Every time I passed something on the road, I’d grab it and just put it in storage. Other people brought their stuff here too. And we tossed around a bunch of ideas about how to put the space to use. We decided that what Kernersville really needed is a really good bar.”
The concept was decided and shortly thereafter they hired super popular mixologist John Vavryshko IV as a bar manager and it elevated the bar program at Breathe to a new level for the neighborhood and rivals any craft cocktail bar in the area.
Now, the space is a vintage meets industrial space with lots of cool lighting and comfy seating. It really is beautiful inside.
Christine has been cooking her whole life and created a menu that began in the cafe area of
Eclection and evolved into a tasty and intriguing selection of modestly priced small plates upstairs at Breathe. We enjoyed five courses, with an Asian flare.
Fresh Spring Roll
This was a fresh spring roll filled with fresh shrimp that you’d find in an Asian restaurant. It was light and had that satisfying combination of sweet shrimp with crunchy veggie, herbs and rice paper noodles with a side of peanut sauce and a plum sauce. It was a delicate introduction of what was to come.
Tuna Tartare with Asian Slaw
This tuna tartare was bright pink and so fresh with a wonderful flavor of sesame oil throughout. The little rice cracker that was laid in-between the tuna and the bed of seaweed paper offered an unexpected crunch.
Thai Chicken Meatballs
These little chicken meatballs have been on the Eclection menu downstairs and a Federico household favorite. They’ve since become a neighborhood favorite. The meatballs were an obvious choice to transition to Breathe’s menu as well as our Chef’s Table menu. They’re meaty, of course, with a sweet and tangy sauce with a slight kick. These meatballs are always on Breathe’s menu.
Citrus Chili Pork Belly
Christine nailed this pork belly. She told me it had cooked all day. But what made the pork belly even more satisfying was the incredible crunch on the skin. A little bit of that pork skin with the tender meat wrapped up in a mouthful of ramen made the perfect bite.
Mochi Dessert Cocktail
Mixologist Vavryshko created our dessert that featured a number of spirits for a Mochi flavored cocktail with rum, saki red bean paste and a little bit of orange blossom water. Vavryshko then floated a bit of heavy cream on top. He served it with a side of the traditional dessert mochi, which is a rice cake made of mochigome, a short-grain japonica glutinous rice. The lounge didn’t make the mochi, rather we were encouraged to try a taste of the cocktail, followed with a bite of mochi as a comparison. The mochi was sweet with an interesting texture. The cocktail was far superior and the thickened cream was a fun touch.
The traditional menu at Breathe Cocktail Lounge varies. There’s a pimento cheese appetizer, charcuterie, those delightful meatballs, and if you have trouble deciding, you can pick three for a special price. Breathe also has wine dinners with special themes and is always coming up with new ways to share what they’re cooking up. The cocktail menu is ever evolving too, as Vavryshko loves to create new flavors. However, can we please suggest the Bread & Butter? Yes, like the pickles. Vavryshko makes a shrub that brings all the flavors of that sweet and savory pickle to a party in a coupe glass. We highly recommend.
An annual VIP membership to Breathe is $5. The lounge is open Wednesday-Thursday 5pm-12am, Friday-Saturday 5pm-2am. Eclection is open downstairs Monday-Thursday 10am-8pm and Friday-Saturday until 10pm. Eclection does have a small selection of bites to eat in its cafe, including cheese, olives, wine and coffee. Visit eclectionnc.com for more information. You can learn more about Christine Federico, John Vavryshko IV and Breathe Cocktail Lounge on my podcast, “At The Table With Triadfoodies” on the Triad Podcast Network, downloadable on your computer or mobile device.
Our next Chef’s Table is Tuesday, May 23 at Sedgefield Country Club, where Chef James Patterson will surprise us with multiple courses. For tickets visit Triadfoodies on Facebook.