When Angela Kelly was a baby, her mother had to use two forks to feed her. “Just one after the other, I ate so fast. I never missed a meal.” Her passion for food, particularly for the comfort food of her North Carolina childhood, only deepened as she grew older. She opened Proper in May of 2010, a charming eatery in downtown Boone that serves up the classic, soulful recipes of the American Southeast.
The restaurant is tucked behind shady trees and a neat tulip garden off Water Street, in a historic building from the mid 1800s. Although at one point it served as the town jailhouse, these days its aesthetics are warm and pleasing, with a hardwood floor, exposed brick, and sunlight pouring in through leaded glass windows. Mason jars of Easter lilies and tea candles in pale blue holders create an elegant simplicity; you can imagine the space being host to an intimate, rustic wedding featured inside the pages of Southern Living.
That intimacy is an integral element to Proper’s particular appeal. There are less than a dozen tables in the dining room, with a few more in the courtyard and on the pocket-sized front porch. The small size will make you nostalgic for an earlier time, a time when dining was a cozy and coveted affair, one that you did not mind waiting for on a Saturday evening.
And on a weekend or a Friday night, a twenty-minute wait is more or less inevitable. Proper does not take reservations—with one exception. “If there is an elderly person in the party, they can reserve a table,” explains Kelly, who lives up to the etiquette suggested in her restaurant’s name. “I cannot stand to watch a grandmother or a grandfather have to wait for a meal.”
But as any Boone local will assure you, the food is well worth the wait. Proper offers a fresh take on regional classics such as pulled pork, tomato pie, and fried chicken.
Kelly, who is also one of the chefs, delights in concocting her dishes with as many local ingredients as possible. A chalkboard sign hanging besides the front door displays the many nearby farms and purveyors whose goods appear in her recipes throughout the growing season.
For such gorgeously crafted dishes, the price is perfectly reasonable: twelve dollars will buy you a lunch plate with a main course, biscuit or cornbread, and two sides. Pair the acidic sweetness of cooked collard greens with creamy, rich mac and cheese for a sublime accompaniment to your fried catfish or pintos and rice. The portions are refreshingly sized; you will be satisfied but not stuffed, with not a bite gone to waste and with just enough room for something sweet.
At once familiar and innovative, the daily dessert selection might include a slice of sweet potato pie, peach cobbler served with a dollop of freshly made whipped cream, custardy chess pie—a local favorite—layered with a bright seam of fig preserves, or dark chocolate ricotta pudding with blueberry reduction. Cap it off your with a pint of local beer, an RC-cola, or a glass of wine and there you have it: a proper meal.