Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

CHRONICLING THE JOYS OF FOOD AND WINE IN THE CHARLOTTE METROPOLITAN REGION

The Turnhouse Grille: Delightfully dressed up pub fair in country club setting


by Brianna Melanson | images courtesy Turnhouse Grille

The Turnhouse Grille, tucked in Parktowne Village, has been prospering ever since opening at the end of 2016. This restaurant serving classy pub fare has an intimate atmosphere, perfect for a date night. So, my date and I sat down for a late dinner as other couples chatted at the sophisticated bar and a group of ladies celebrated their friend’s birthday in a back booth. I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about the cuisine, and it was finally my chance to form my own opinion and meet the faces behind the restaurant’s success.

Owner Andy Pressley grew up here on Selwyn Avenue and opened The Turnhouse Grille to continue his career in the restaurant industry. The Hef wings are his recipe, and he is especially proud of them. Naturally they were the first thing we ordered, accompanied by the house-made “can’t we just get along” sauce. We loved that the sauce had a little kick without burning our mouths. Crispy and meaty, they’re definitely the best quality wings I’ve had so far in Charlotte.

Our other appetizer, the steamed bao buns, were heavenly. Soft buns enclosed Chinese pork belly, orange sauce glaze, and pickled peppers and scallions. I could have made a meal just out of those. The appetizers were where we began to question the identity of The Turnhouse Grille.

You don’t expect a restaurant with an atmosphere like this to have bar food on the menu. You’re eating messy wings in the dim, romantic candlelight.

Pressley explains that the name ‘Turnhouse’ comes from a country club, so it seems natural that there’s this elegant country club setting combined with laid-back bar and grill. You have the country club tufted leather chairs, a wreath, rustic chandeliers, and canvas wine paintings, but also can find the Hornets playing on their big screen TVs. Sometimes you just want comfort food in a classier setting—somewhere that people aren’t being rowdy and obnoxious.

Pressley mentions that many people traveling into Charlotte who stop by proclaim they’ve never had a better Duck Confit, so it seem they’ve found a balance in their menu.

Chef Aeisha Davis is the shining star of The Turnhouse Grille. Pressley  says, “Once Aeisha became the head chef, she took my menu to another level.” Chef Aeisha kindly went over her exceptional menu and shared the story of how she began cooking.

She explains that her grandmother made the best sweet potatoes, but passed away before she could get the recipe. Now at Turnhouse, Chef Aeisha puts her own take on them, with a bacon apple-ginger reduction in her seared sea scallops dish. I don’t care if it’s not proper manners, I was stealing the sweet potato hash off of my date’s plate. If your meal doesn’t come with the sweet potatoes, I highly recommend getting them as a side. You wouldn’t get the full Turnhouse Grille experience without trying them! Chef Aeisha’s grandmother would have been proud of not only her granddaughter’s amazing sweet potato recipe, but of all her achievements here.

Charlotte locals especially favor the Turnhouse’s burgers. They are easily the most Instagrammed in the city. Featured is a traditional hamburger called  The Turnhouse Burger, with cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, and onion. I’d suggest adding an egg to bring in even more flavor and protein. Additionally, they have two more out-of-the-box burgers that shouldn’t be missed: a crispy battered shrimp burger topped with coleslaw and cocktail sauce, and the salmon BLT.

For me, chicken pot pie is the definition of comfort food. It’s difficult to find one that meets my standards, but Chef Aeisha’s was a game-changer. The puff pastry encloses the thick and creamy soup with fresh herbs and vegetables—an outstanding blend—and is served with a side salad coated in a delicious balsamic vinaigrette. The temperature may have dropped the night we visited, but the pot pie warmed me right up.

Their fun craft cocktails are named after local people and places near and dear to the staff. I tried the ‘Milestone,’ named after a popular Charlotte bar that’s no longer in business. If you like Scotch, this one’s for you. My date tried the ‘Noblitt,’ named after a Turnhouse regular. Then, Chad the bartender hooked me up with a ‘Myers Park Mule,’ a take on a traditional Moscow Mule. It’s so light and refreshing, and I recommend sipping it outside in the nice weather. My date’s favorite drink is an Old Fashioned, so Chad made him a ‘Bloody Old Fashion,’ which is now featured on the spring cocktail menu. They also have an amazing selection of craft beers, as well as red, white, and Rosé wines on the list. Every weekend you can go for a delicious brunch and get the $4 Bloody Mary and Mimosa special.

To conclude the feast, Chef Aeisha surprised us with two different desserts she was trying out for spring. Luckily for us, we somehow still had room for sweets. One was a chocolate cake topped with Bailey’s Irish Cream whipped cream and drizzled with hot fudge. I love when desserts incorporate adult beverages—it was a delectable combination. Lastly, we tried a blueberry crumble over vanilla ice cream. They were a fantastic finale to our visit.

Chef Aeisha’s dishes exceeded our expectations, and our taste buds are utterly grateful. We are already planning our next date night there to cozy up with more of her culinary innovations. The Turnhouse Grille is certainly somewhere you’ll want to frequent.

Culinary Panache Confidently Delivered Uptown at Angeline’s & Merchant and Trade

 

by Michael J. Solender
images courtesy Angeline’s and Merchant and Trade


Uptown’s 10-year evolution into a bona fide entertainment and retail district has been spurred by the steady addition of residential and commercial development, a surge that’s accelerated dramatically since the QC’s hosting of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Two tastier examples of this growth are found at Kimpton’s newly opened Tryon Park Hotel. Angeline’s, a fresh, cozy Italian eatery, and its sexy sister rooftop bar, Merchant and Trade, lend a haute buzzy vibe to Uptown’s dining and lounge scene. Wonderful things are happening between the two, giving visitors to Charlotte and residents plenty of reasons to spend an evening.


Merchant and Trade

Date-night with my wife took us first upstairs to the clubby and classy Merchant and Trade. There’s a VIP feel from the get-go as a dedicated elevator whisks us directly to the top floor, where honeyed amber hues set a relaxed mood with a comfortable let’s-settle-in glow.

Panoramic city skyline views are afforded at every angle from the floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors opening onto a well-appointed wrap-around patio. Cushioned rocking chairs are a classy touch, making it hard to leave when watching the world go by. The overlook of Romare Bearden Park and BB&T Stadium are guest favorites, though several selfies were snapped with Bank of America’s headquarter tower looming in the backdrop.

Feeling playful and at our server’s encouragement, we experimented with new-to-us libations as we watched the sun sink. Merchant and Trade’s signature house cocktails proved to be a fun and surprising introduction for me to Amari—the bitter Italian herbal digestif. Palate openers on their own, these liqueurs are special mixers when combined with cocktail care and expertise.

Cynar, a mélange of more than a dozen infused herbs and plants including artichoke, is the mystery behind the je ne sais quoi of the Bittersweet Reflections, a tall cocktail featuring Cinnamon-Sarsaparilla tea, soda, and a splash of the bitter concoction.

My wife went a bit sweeter with the Oh Clementine, an adult Orange Crush with Sutler’s Small Batch Gin, Clementine, Aperol, and Domaine de Canton.

“We’ll likely change things up every other month or so with our signature cocktails, depending upon our mood and the availability of fresh ingredients,” says Andy Carlson, director of food and beverage. Half a dozen were on their opening menu, alongside an extensive list of craft beers, wine, sparklers, specialty liqueurs, and unique small batch and rare spirits. “We love to help our guests explore new tastes and guide them in discovering unique experiences.”

Sexy doesn’t stop with the libations, as the food at Merchant and Trade embraces guests with tapas-style shared plates both bold in flavor and varied in approach.

Our favorites were the Blue Crab Rolls—buttery grilled rolls stuffed with briny blue crab salad, vegetal avocado mouse, and topped with crispy shoe-string potatoes—and the Red Miso Chicken Wings—sous vide-bathed, tender, and pulled atop the bone like a lollipop. The latter are served with a hot Asian pickle and a knockout Point Reyes Blue Dip. Not your usual bar-snack.


Angeline’s

Chef Robert Hoffman commands the kitchens at both Merchant and Trade and Angeline’s as executive chef. He relishes the opportunity to bring in local diners with an easily approachable contemporary Italian menu, top quality proteins, produce, and dairy, as well as a well-trained staff focused on the highest levels of execution and guest service.

Only months beyond their fall 2017 opening, Angeline’s is hitting a high bar and building a following.

A giant fireplace welcomes guests into a breezy contemporary space flanked by the long, open kitchen on one side of the smart and chicly-designed dining room and comfy booths on the far wall. In between is well-spaced seating and, a rarity in Charlotte, a dining room where you can enjoy your table-mate’s conversation without shouting. Hat tip to Angeline’s designers whose soft architectural touches have extricated the dreaded diner din.

A specialty wood-fired pizza oven delivers a slightly charred crackling crisp Neapolitan-style pizza—perfect for a shared appetizer. The Polpette e Mash Potato—lamb and pork meatballs, creamy potato, tomato, and fresh mozzarella—is a hearty pie that stands out.

“I look to provide one unique ingredient, flavor profile, or technique to each plate,” says Hoffman speaking of his approach. Dishes here let quality ingredients, well prepared, take center stage as opposed to kitchen theatrics.

Case in point is the black mussel appetizer. Hoffman pairs N’duja, a zippy pork spreadable salami, with crusty peasant bread served alongside meaty mollusks in a spicy Arrabiatta sauce—a great starter to share.

A classic Ribbolita is elevated with a kiss of fruity extra virgin olive oil. This rustic Italian bean soup was flecked with kale and offered a warmly satisfying start to our meal.

The signature roasted Bronzino gets extra love from the wood fire, comes whole (deboned in the kitchen) with charred mixed cauliflower and a bright, roasted red pepper coulis. Salmon roe and black olive tapenade add a smoky saltiness that plays nicely off the sweet flesh of the fish.

Fresh pasta enthusiasts find much to love at Angeline’s, with the likes of spicy/cheesy Braised Oxtail Lumaconi and Pumpkin Agnolotti—pillowy squares with ricotta, spiced pepitas, collards, and mushrooms.

Carnivores are not left out as Angeline’s 21-day Dry-aged Ribeye and Pork Shank Oso Buco call to meat-lovers.

Leave room for at least one selection from Angeline’s dessert menu. Hoffman’s Zeppole—tiny Italian fried cakes—are super-light, crusty outside, fluffy inside donuts and paired with a silky sorghum-buttermilk ice cream to dream about.

Angeline’s curious tag line brags “Where Italy meats the South.” As they say below the Mason-Dixon Line, “We hope y’all stay a while.”

Experience the Innovative Art of Wolfgang Puck Dishes at SouthPark’s WP Kitchen + Bar

by Courtney Matinata
images courtesy Courtney Matinata and WP Kitchen + Bar

It’s no secret that the renowned Wolfgang Puck name goes hand in hand with some of the best restaurants in the country, with a brand notorious for top-notch hospitality, the finest ingredients, and unparalleled culinary creativity. In fact, maybe you’ve been fortunate to have dined at any one of the restaurant group’s locations worldwide, whether it be LA, Las Vegas, or Atlantic City, just to name a few.

What you may not know is that one of Wolfgang’s newest dining concepts rests right outside our door, one that doesn’t need a fancy jet setting getaway to justify. At WP Kitchen + Bar, located within SouthPark’s Phillips Place, you can get your hands on the globally-influenced fare for which the namesake is known, but in a much more relaxed setting; it’s the best of both worlds for those seeking to satisfy high end cravings among a practical and sociable outer city scene.

The approachable air of WP’s interior is a welcomed surprise, achieving the balanced blend of elegant design within a casual environment. Grays, browns, and reds span the space, and industrial chic touches contrast with modest rustic woods accents. Walls of windows line the open layout creating a light and airy feel for the restaurant—perfect for meeting a friend for a last minute lunch or providing the ideal intimate glow come nightfall without feeling too over the top.

During my recent lunch visit, I settled in at the bar to a backdrop of soft chatter among family and friends dining over pizzas and sandwiches. Through the open, horseshoe-shaped bar at the restaurant’s entrance is a clear shot toward the exposed kitchen ahead for a view of the culinary artists at work, Chef Stephen Schmitt at the reins. Though Chef Wolfgang Puck’s influence can be seen, felt, and tasted in WP Kitchen + Bar, Chef Stephen’s primary focus is making sure Charlotte’s interests are first and foremost.

It’s a local restaurant at heart, and Chef Stephen has the freedom to bring in homegrown ingredients and seasonal flavors that make it feel like a local establishment. Chef Stephen was born and raised here in the Queen City—something that has become somewhat of a rarity these days. He’s been with the restaurant since its opening in 2012, back when the eatery was known as Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar. Having rebranded in 2016 to more accurately highlight its broader range of offerings, WP Kitchen + Bar’s one-of-a-kind entrées consist of everything from savory chicken dishes to elaborate pasta presentations, in addition of course, to their beloved wood-oven pizzas still readily available.

You’ll come to find that the menu is designed specifically with sharing in mind, particularly when it comes to the salads and appetizers, in hopes that everyone at the table can share in the experience. Kick off your midday meal with the roasted beets—a refreshing and unique harmony of colorful baby beets, rosemary, and petite greens tossed in a vinaigrette and laid to rest upon a tart citrus yogurt harmoniously complemented by contrary textures of creamy feta cheese and crunchy pistachio granola. The taste is undoubtedly as mesmerizing as the vibrant display and proves a salad in no way needs to be boring.

If it’s dinner for which your group has gathered, relish in the tastes of the Poached Pear + Stracciatella, a sweet and subtle starter that will have you feeling like the poshest of diners. The pears, deliciously poached in port, are paired with prosciutto, sourdough crisps, and pomegranate over a thin layer of smashed burrata cheese and finished off with a sweet maple-hazelnut vinaigrette.

Feel like exploring outside the box? This is the place to be if you want to successfully step out of your comfort zone, and Chef Stephen is up to the challenge when it comes to grilled octopus. This delicacy is a definite must-try, cooked perfectly in smoked paprika oil and accompanied by a flavorful black garlic aioli. Marble potatoes extend an essence of familiarity,
and a side of grilled lime adds enhanced flavor appeal to an already interesting dish.

When you’re ready to move to the main course (and after much internal debate, have elected to switch it up from your usual WP mushroom or fennel sausage pizza pie fixation), two chicken dishes certainly stand high on the ranks: the Italian Chicken Sandwich and the famous Brick Chicken Calabrese. The sandwich layers shaved chicken with robiola cheese, pepperocini, lettuce, and nduja tomato jam, all offset by a hit of warm heat from spicy chili aioli spread for the perfect lunchtime pick-me-up. The brick chicken, the restaurant’s most popular dish, is a more substantial meat serving and a prime selection for an evening sit down session. This dish is unique in that the chicken is first seared on the grill and then moved to the wood oven where it is cooked under a brick to maintain equal cooking and create a crispy top skin. The final product is served up with roasted Cipollini onions, shishito peppers, cherry tomatoes, chicken jus, and that same intriguing Calabrian chili atop a bed of Tuscan potatoes. Moist, complex, and bold in flavor, you’ll appreciate chicken in a new way with just one bite.

If you don’t want to leave without channeling your inner Wolfgang Puck, the Trofie Pasta will be your pick. Wolfgang grew up eating this hearty Austrian dish, and it’s the perfect cozy option for any upcoming dinner date. Lamb is braised in red wine, veal stock, and herbs and then tossed in a sauce of tomato, sweet onion, and porcini mushrooms. Cured egg yolk, parsley, and olive oil top it all off for a noodle compilation just waiting to be devoured.

Refresh your palate throughout your meal with a specialty sipper like the Carolina 75 or Blackberry Crush, and make sure to round out the occasion with the sweet conclusion of Red Velvet Cake or Pecan Pie. This SouthPark jewel is surely a foodie’s dream, a destination dining experience right among your neighborhood retail metropolis enriched by an inviting attitude and a pleasant price point that won’t have you breaking the bank. Stop in and savor for yourself the same distinguished care and quality behind Wolfgang’s claim to fame; your taste buds will be so glad you did.

SouthPark’s Baku Is a Cultural Dining Journey to Be Savored

by Michael J. Solender • images courtesy Baku

Less is usually more in the Japanese restaurant kitchen. From tiny yakitorias and roadside ramen shops to tempura palaces or the most intimate kai seki tea houses, the country’s most accomplished chefs know clean, unfettered culinary creations allow the finest ingredients to prominently shine.

This practice is on full display at Charlotte’s Baku, the gleaming SouthPark bagatelle that fully captures the essence of Japanese cuisine in an inspired pairing of Robata-style grill and omakase sushi service.

Serial Charlotte restaurateur Birdie Yang added Baku to his portfolio in September of 2016. Yang is well known in Charlotte for top quality sushi and authentic Japanese fare featured at Yama Asian Fusion at Morrocroft Shopping Center, Plaza Midwood’s noodle-centric Yama Izikaya, and the just opened Yama, in South Charlotte’s Waverly.

“We’re unique in Charlotte,” says Yang, trying to ignore his perpetually buzzing cell phone. “We have a New York City-style and feel, with the highest quality product, service, and experience. The shared small plates, at most a bite or two, and gloriously presented on stunning ceramic-ware, are something regulars have come to appreciate and new guests are intrigued by.”


Bincho-tan Charcoal Robata Grill

Simplicity in approach and menu should not imply lack of sophistication, however, as Baku brings a nuanced and deeply-experienced touch to both. Artful presentation and service elevates the dining experience here among the highest levels in the city.

Honoring tradition, Baku’s signature Robata grill employs organic Bincho-tan charcoal, a super-hot burning white charcoal from special oak trees is found in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture. It’s prized for a long-burn period, high temperatures, and the aromatic smokiness it imparts.

The 800- to 1000-degree heated coals provide instant sear and a wisp of terre noirre to menu stars such as Chilean Sea Bass lightly glazed with sweet soy and dusted with green-tea finishing salt, Diver Scallops kissed with soy plum vin cotto, dabbed with tart/sweet yuzu (Japanese citrus) mayo and served with the Japanese “salt plum” umeboshi, and Tiger Shrimp with sesame ginger and sweet chili.

Beef eaters are sure to rejoice in finding the rare Miyazaki beef on the menu. The Japanese purebred Wagyu is prized for its intense marbling, fork-tenderness, and velvety richness. Three perfectly rare slices served alongside a medley of Erigini (King Oyster) mushrooms were fully satisfying and exemplified Baku’s minimalist approach.

Yang’s culinary prowess has been honed by decades of traditional Japanese-style culinary training and brought to various fine dining establishments in New York City prior to moving to Charlotte. Strong relationships with suppliers place him atop the list of rarified restaurant owners with easy access to the ocean’s best bounty.

“I have a 19-year relationship with New York Fish House, a top broker who only supplies two restaurants outside of New York City ... we are one of them,” says Yang, noting his fish comes in twice weekly via air cargo direct from the source.

Guests enjoy the most-prized tuna—Bluefin from Spanish waters, Yellowtail and Bigeye from Japan— in addition to the freshest Amberjack, octopus, squid, and prized Bafan uni, the smallest and most delicate sea urchin, briny and popping with flavor.

With ever-changing fresh seafood selections, Baku’s sushi menu supplements staples like their house-smoked salmon cured with chili peppers and sugar, Toro, and Maguro with whatever is unique and available.


Omakase

Rather than cause trepidation for Baku guests, however, this “surprise” element to the menu is one that is heartily welcomed and embraced. More than 25 percent of Baku’s diners put themselves in the hands of the chef, choosing omakese, or chef’s choice, for their sushi dining, according to Yang.

A seat at the sushi-bar connects diners with two of Charlotte’s most accomplished sushi chefs. Twin sons of different mothers, Tshering Dorgi and Maik Jiang love nothing more than exercising their handicraft and receiving instant feedback from their patrons.

“Baku exceeds most all sushi restaurants in New York City in terms of quality,” says Dorji, an accomplished master who worked for more than a decade in the Big Apple.

A Tuesday in late-September found Dorji and Jiang creating a too-many-to-count series of small plates for this particular diner. The menu included tuna avocado salad dressed with yuzu mayo and nestled amidst fresh edamame, seared soy mirin and dashi-glazed octopus with pickled asparagus, Yellowtail with spicy yuzu soy dipping sauce, and cucumber spiral, soy-glazed sea bass with crispy rice cakes. A steamed savory egg custard—Chawanmushi with crab, shrimp, and mushroom—and perfect one-bite nigiri Amberjack, Toro, squid, and uni. Sushi rice at Baku is the flavorful Tamanishiki-brand revered for retaining a higher moisture content than Western counterparts.

Dessert was an insanely indulgent combination of house-made Bourbon ice-cream, a luxuriant dark-chocolate mousse, and an ethereal cinnamon beignet.

Yang was on hand with some special Sake pours. An Advanced Sake Professional (ASP) certification by the Sake Education Council makes him one of a handful of U.S.-based Level II Sake Professionals. Guests at Baku can enjoy from more than 70 varieties of sake, each with a story to tell and a special dish with which to pair.

“Experiencing fine Sake is every bit as pleasurable and nuanced as tasting fine wines,” says Yang, whose designation is akin to that of a master wine sommelier. “The sake-making process is more like brewing beer than making wine,” Yang explains. “The primary ingredients for sake are rice and water, yet the flavor profiles and variety you’ll find are infinite.”

Baku is the total package, with one the most beautiful dining rooms in the city. Their upstairs lounge is more relaxed and a great stop after work for a specialty cocktail and a chat with friends old and new.

A visit to Baku is one to be savored. Put your hands in those of the chef and let them work their magic. Loosely translated from Japanese, Baku means “commands esteem.” SouthPark’s Baku does just that.



Baku
4515 Sharon Road • Charlotte
704.817.7173 • baku-restaurant.com