Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


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.