Covey blends rustic, wooded vibes with a menu of comfort food featuring local ingredients
By Judy Royal » Photos by G. Frank Hart
It’s been six months since Covey opened in midtown Wilmington, and it’s quickly becoming a neighborhood gathering place for those seeking creative yet familiar food in a relaxing setting.
“We just want it to be a very comfortable place where people can come,” General Manager Brandon Wilson says. “We’re already having a lot of regulars coming in, and we love to see that. We want it to be effortless and enjoyable, and we want people to leave with the desire to come back.”
Covey serves Sunday brunch and dinner every evening except Tuesday, and in early 2024 it will close on Sunday evenings until later in the year. In evenings, dinner is served, and there is also a bar menu of small plates available from 4 to 5 p.m., including wings, baked pimento cheese and BBQ sliders.
The dinner menu changes about once per month depending upon the seasonality and availability of ingredients. Wilson and Executive Chef Parker Lewin work together to come up with fixed items as well as nightly features, such as a different catch of the day. Covey is able to accommodate dietary restrictions such as vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free.
“We define the menu as newish American and oldish Southern because we have a lot of Southern spins on some items,” Wilson says. “We want to support the local fishermen and farmers. We wanted the food to be comforting in the sense that people could understand the menu and see something on there they haven’t had in 20 years.”
Popular dinner items include chicken and dumplings, sweet potato gnocchi, biscuits, grilled pork tenderloin and potato pavé, which is a rectangular fried potato with raclette fondue and chives. The brunch menu offers shrimp and grits, a fried chicken biscuit, a smash burger and slow-roasted beef cheek.
Covey has a full bar and a 600-bottle wine cellar with close to 150 bottles on the wine list. The restaurant holds monthly wine events that offer tastings and sometimes food pairings. Wilson said he plans to focus more on the wine program more in 2024, including selling bottles at lower price points for pickup.
By definition, a covey is a small gathering or flock of birds. Both of these concepts blend nicely with Covey’s look and feel. The restaurant offers a contemporary and cozy design with indoor and outdoor space featuring nooks that evoke a sense of intimacy, highlighted by natural wood tones. The avian reference reflects the theme of nature seen in the setting and architecture.
“This has more of a lodge-type, rustic feel to it,” Wilson says. “On the site previously were lots of long leaf pines and several live oak trees that were actually moved elsewhere. We tried to repopulate the site in a way that the building looks like it’s always been here. We wanted to keep that in mind every step of the way.”
Wilson, who has been in the service industry for more than 35 years, spent much of that time in the North Carolina mountains, so it’s no surprise that Covey imparts a wooded, tucked-away vibe. He was working as the assistant general manager of a semi-private golf and country club when the opportunity emerged to create something clear across the state in a city he had never visited.
“The thought of opening something from the ground up, while it was intimidating, I knew it was something I could do,” Wilson says. “The food scene in Wilmington seemed to be burgeoning and really taking flight. It seemed like an exciting time to be involved in something like this here.”
Covey’s proximity to residential communities as well as medical facilities, Live Oak Bank and various other businesses give it a built-in clientele, he adds.
“We thought there was a market for this type of restaurant in this area,” he says.
Wilson has made it a priority to build a consistent team that can deliver excellent customer service to keep people coming back.
“Continuity in this business is everything because it leads to higher levels of performance, and you become more efficient with operations,” he says. “If one person leaves here unhappy, it crushes my soul. When people contact us and give us constructive feedback, we appreciate that. We just want to make people happy. That’s what food and beverage is about.”
1610 Tiburon Drive Wilmington, NC