Acclaimed chef spearheads Double Oaks dining program
When James and Amanda Keith moved to College Hill in 2008, they couldn’t help noticing the regal white home on North Mendenhall near Friendly Avenue.
The only known residential design by North Carolina’s first registered architect, William G. Armfield, the Double Oaks estate is a prominent piece of Greensboro history. It was built for Rockingham County merchant Harden Thomas Martin in 1909, and as one of the few remaining examples of Colonial Revival-style architecture in the city, accepted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Members of the Martin family lived in the home until 1973, when it was sold and subsequently changed hands twice.
In 2016, the Keiths—a young, vibrant couple who moved to Greensboro in 2006 to complete graduate work at UNCG, purchased the home after eight years of admiring the property. The duo made quick work of renovating the grand home, which is quickly becoming a favorite hangout spot for their neighbors in Westerwood and College Hill.
That’s because, in addition to operating as a bed and breakfast, hosting overnight guests, weddings, and events, Double Oaks is open for all to visit, tour, or simply hang out and enjoy a beverage on the quintessentially-Southern wraparound front porch. When guest rooms aren’t occupied, doors are open for visitors to explore, read a book by the fireplace, or watch the artist-in-residence at work on the third floor. You can stroll through the gardens or admire the couples’ collection of vintage cars, including a 1912 Model T and a 1940 LaSalle.
In this house full of storied history, the Keiths are cultivating a culture of community, just like its three sets of previous owners, who were all fond of entertaining. “The property might look a bit pompous from the street, but in essence, it’s just a grand ole home, and home is a place where you can be in your shorts and flip flops, or a jacket and tie, and belong there either way,” Amanda said.
The Keiths are also venturing into new dining territory. Overnight guests already receive a gourmet breakfast, which for the first two years, James prepared himself. Recently, however, Greensboro-native George Kovach—a veteran of acclaimed U.S. kitchens including Manhattan’s CRAFT, McCrady’s in Charleston, and Chicago’s Michelin-starred Alinea and Band of Bohemia—joined the team. Kovach started his professional cooking career in his late teens working in Greensboro institutions such as Print Works Bistro and Green Valley Grill, and he is excited to be back in the Gate City.
“When I moved away from Greensboro in 2013, I had every intention of returning a stronger, more dedicated cook,” he said. “With every new kitchen, I retained as much knowledge as I could in hopes of one day coming home and opening a space that was not just a restaurant, but an experience showcasing some of the techniques I’ve picked up.”
Kovach’s approach is driven by Southern agriculture and the food he grew up eating. “Almost everything I cook has some sort of reference to times spent in the kitchen with my family growing up,” he said. “As a cook, it’s a dream to have this plethora of produce and ingredients to choose from all year long—some of the best produce in the country comes from right here in our backyard. All I needed was a group of like-minded people who had the same ideals when it comes to hospitality.”
In the coming months, the trio hopes to offer dinner service on a semi-regular basis. The plan is to offer a conservative a la carte menu (of about 16 items) and a seven-course tasting menu, both often changing with the seasons.
“Think upscale experience at an approachable price point—no white tablecloths, nothing unrecognizable, just classic dishes given a bit of a ‘restoration’ that you may not expect,” Kovach said. James, the resident “beer nerd,” also has a few tricks up his sleeve in the beverage department.
“We intend to create a very intimate dining experience and open our doors to provide excellent food for our neighbors and the community at large,” Amanda said. “This aspect of Double Oaks will be one that evolves over time, based on the desires of the community.” The team also plans to offer breakfast service on a scale that is appropriate for the home and neighbors.
At the moment, the dining aspect is in a transitional phase as the trio renovates the kitchen and hosts a handful of ongoing events. Every other Wednesday is “Wine Wednesday,” which features complimentary tastings with wine professionals and live jazz, while every second Sunday of the month (through September) features live music on the outdoor stage paired with food, beer, and wine selections from the Double Oaks bar. Tickets for the music series are $25, which includes an entree and side. “We also have an upcoming wine seminar in August and an Oktoberfest beer dinner in September,” Amanda said.
For now, the team encourages Greensboro residents to come check out the Double Oaks vibe during Wine Wednesdays, at the Summer Music Series, or whenever they are feeling social. The home itself is stunning: white facade with a bowed, two-story, Ionic portico, a proper Southern porch with several rocking chairs, two massive, 200-year-old oak trees (hence the establishment name), lush gardens, and many nooks and chill-out spots to sit and enjoy the landscape, which includes azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias, rhododendrons, and more. Inside, a center hall with a grand split-run staircase, molded handrails, turned balusters, and eight original fireplaces are just a handful of architectural features that make the home so special. Bring a book to read in the library, or check out the player piano in the music parlor.
“Our goal is to provide great memories and an experience,” Kovach said. “Yes, the food needs to be great, but there are so many other variables that often get overlooked in modern dining establishments. Everyone who is a part of our team treats every guest as if they are in our own home—because when it comes down to it, they are.”
You can find us on the front porch sipping on a (spiked) sweet tea. See you there.
Double Oaks is open for visitors daily and for special events. See their website for current details.
Davina van Buren is an award-winning freelance travel and food writer based in High Point. Follow her on social media at @highpointfoodie.