It’s a balmy Friday evening downtown in the Warehouse District. Patio lights surround about a dozen tables, mostly full, but spaced apart. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles play in the background, while relaxed and jovial patrons enjoy a reprieve from the world’s unsettling current events. One might, for a moment, forget there is a pandemic happening.
One couple, Pam and Steve Mayberry, reminisces about spending their Wednesday evenings with friends just a few feet away: inside, dancing on a black-and-white checkered floor. Local speakeasy jazz band Sidecar Social or Peter Lamb and the Wolves provided the soundtrack. “So many of our friends are from jazz nights. We have friends who got engaged here, there was this flash mob that I will never forget…” says Pam Mayberry. “If you knew all the friendships and relationships created through this place… it’s really special.”
This is Humble Pie, one of the longest-standing restaurants in Raleigh. It’s known for its family-style food, camaraderie, artsy spirit and—pre-pandemic, and hopefully again, soon— Wednesday Night Jazz.
The restaurant was originally opened in 1990 by Grover Williamson, a lover of music and a fan of the English rock band Humble Pie, hence the name. Now run by pals Joe Farmer (owner), Jim Beriau (general manager) and Josh Young (chef ), it has remained a hotspot over the years for both Raleigh natives and the growing number of transplants. “We wanted to keep that tradition of providing our guests and our community with a spirit of humility,” says Farmer.
“It’s the Raleigh Cheers—there’s a lot of people that feel that way,” says Pam Mayberry. The Mayberrys met at Humble Pie when Steve Mayberry was a bartender. They tied the knot seven years ago, and Humble Pie continues to be a place of comfort for them. “It’s another home, and one of the main reasons I worked here so long,” Steve Mayberry says.
Wednesday Night Jazz, originally an idea of Farmer’s to drum up business on weeknights, morphed into something more—and became one of the best-kept secrets in Raleigh. Farmer says it’s this insider-y, supper club-style experience that made the restaurant special to so many. “It’s such a cool vibe that you don’t see at too many places in Raleigh. People come dressed in their best and it’s this wonderful underground community of friends,” says Farmer.
Before becoming one of the owners, Farmer, a Raleigh native (fun fact: his first job was delivering papers for The Raleigh Times), was the frontman for Johnny Quest, a local rock band in the 1980s and 1990s that toured along the east coast. He later moved to Los Angeles to work on film and music video production, only to return to his hometown of Raleigh just a few years later with his wife, Traci Lorraine, to start a family. It was only natural that he’d find a way to integrate music into the restaurant.
FOOD FOR COMFORT
At press time, the Wednesday Jazz Nights were on pause, but thanks to the spacious covered patio, limited indoor seating and a stellar playlist, guests can still experience the Humble Pie vibe. “We’ve had a lot of customers tell us that coming here has been their first time eating out,” says Farmer. “That makes us feel good.” The food feels good, too: while Humble Pie is often considered a tapas-style restaurant, the intention is to serve food family-style more than anything. Large plates—with large serving spoons—hold everything from sliders to tuna tartare with housemade pork rinds to tandoori-seasoned lamb chops, all ready to be passed and shared.
“We liked the idea of people being able to try everything on the menu,” says Chef Josh Young. He’s constantly changing its offerings based on the season and customer preferences. The intention is for a truly communal dining experience. Appropriately, the current menu is inspired by summer at home. “Right now it’s based on what I would eat at home if I were outside at a picnic table—nothing too fussy or fancy,” Young says. “Lately, I’m much more minimal and trying to make it easy-going. The longer I cook, the more important that becomes.”
And being in the South, their crowd-pleasing fried chicken and extra-crispy Brussels sprouts never leave the menu. “We want to be accessible to people in their early twenties or late sixties, to couples or to someone who just wants to relax at the bar solo,” says Young. “We want the menu to make sense to all of them.”
While the menu is meant to please all palates, at its core, it’s about simple dishes, done right. “Now what makes sense is that I’m working with my closest friends and providing for our families,” says Young. “And if people are showing up and eating and leaving happy, that is what matters most at this point.” How humble.