Venue Review: Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse
The Charlotte Observer
215 South Main St., Davidson
The good news: Chef Tim Groody is back.
The maybe-even-better news, if you're to the north of Trade and Tryon: He's in Davidson, at the Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse. That gives the north side a much-longed-for, high-culinary-profile place.
Groody, if you're new around here, worked an executive chef (and eventual part-ownership) gig for years in uptown Charlotte at various of Pierre Bader's restaurants: Sonoma in several incarnations, and Pie Town. He's probably best known for leading the charge to use locally grown foodstuffs. When he and Bader split, he cooked a special event or two at longtime collaborator Sammy Koenigsburg's New Town Farms and pondered options.
Now, he and partners Michael LaVecchia, Chad Hollingsworth and Mike Orlando have things hopping in a handsome space in the massive, and massively cool, wedge of brick called the Stowe's Corner building. Vivid flavors and colors, smart accompaniments, a few surprises: It's Groody all over. The menu is a mash-up of comfort food, fine dining and funky fun stuff, from the signature Wagyu flatiron steak to doughnuts in a sack for dessert. It's an interesting mix, executed well if sometimes slowly, and the staff, in our experience, shares the kitchen's enthusiasm. We got strong recommendations, vivid descriptions, quick answers to questions.
That flatiron Wagyu, made with American beef (the breed Kobe comes from), is killer: juicy, flavorful and decked with a seasonal vegetable selection; on the current menu, it's kale and a hash of sweet and fingerling potatoes. At $24, it's the most expensive thing on the menu. There's also a Wagyu brisket (fattily fab) and burger, plus a non-Wagyu hanging tender, also known as a hanger or bistro steak. Quick primer: Flatiron steaks come from the shoulder, the top blade. Hangers "hang" between the rib and the loin. Both have lots of flavor, if they're prepared properly, as they are here.
Another designer name you'll find at Flatiron is Kurobuta: That's the Japanese name for Berkshire, a heritage breed of pork, and it shows up as tenderloin, and in St. Louis-style ribs with a rub employing ancho chile and coffee. These are cooked to falling-off-bone texture, with a modicum of sweet sauce, and served with a tangy slaw that's terrific.
Most of the meat dishes profit from hickory smoke on the grill, as does rosemary chicken. I've had better luck with these than the seafood; a special of delicate skate and the menu's flounder were oversalted. An appetizer of black mussels proved marvelous, though, with chorizo from a farm near China Grove, a garlicky broth and not quite enough bread to soak it up with. A daily fish dish, wild striped bass over wild rice with roasted onions, fared well, too, with clean flavors and textural contrasts.
Groody saves his more exotic ideas for the seafood specials, he says - a few pearls made with agar-agar (a gelatinous setting agent) with butternut vinaigrette amid a smoked mussel risotto, for instance. Otherwise, he keeps to a simple, seasonal path.
But even that more mainstream menu lets the diner play a bit: Fries come with a choice of sauces for dipping, as do the smallish "NYC Street Cart" soft pretzels. You're encouraged to shake the bag your dessert doughnuts come in, the better to distribute their dusting of sugar, and you get a squeeze bottle of vanilla mascarpone icing to ooze over them.
The taphouse side of the menu has familiar and less-so names. Anytime I can get Stone Ruination by the regular-sized bottle, I'm happy.
"I think we fill the niche for something different here," says Groody. The place, with a big central bar, thick wooden tables and clever artwork that shows construction details of Flatiron dishes, gets family traffic early and is developing its later-night clientele.
Something different, nicely done.