Searching for a Groove

Comfortable and fun Andrew Blair's shows promise, but not consistency



 

Andrew Blair's, the newest addition to the Montford Drive scene, is many things. It is a bar, lounge, banquet room, and a restaurant serving self-described "seasonal American comfort food with a twist." The large function room morphs into a lounge on weekend nights, with DJs until 2 a.m. The Four Brothers Hospitality Group, owners of the spot, also operates the next-door Angry Ale's, and is planning a theater and a hotel. And, while the owners may be experienced bar owners and businessmen, operating a fine-dining restaurant requires a different lens. There are bouts of brilliance, showcasing the chef's talents in some areas, but also odd menu choices and an occasional lack of focus.

The space, formerly an Asian buffet, has gone through quite a transformation. It's beautiful, with a large half-moon bar bisecting the restaurant and the circular, curtain-clad banquet room. Sepia tones abound, with curvy wood accents and a colorful custom mural on a curved wall that's purportedly the visual life story of Andrew Blair, co-owner Andy Hudson's grandfather. And, looming economic Armageddon aside, a weekend night and two weekday evening visits are busy, with a full bar and packed private events on all three occasions, including a $30 five-course beer dinner. The wine list is small, but there are respected and affordable selections like the La Crema pinot and a tasty Nistri sangiovese. On one visit, we take advantage of a special offered at dinner—a tasting of three featured wines with a choice of a full glass to follow, for just $15.

The first sips of a light pinot pair well with the first of our starters, the Smoked Salmon Bruschetta—little rounds of good smoked salmon and creamy havarti atop a crisp garlic crostini. The Steak Roulade is beefy and satisfying, if a bit rare, stuffed with spinach, red peppers, and gorgonzola. The Scallop Trio—although the fresh scallops are cooked perfectly—is a clash of flavors and textures. Blackened/lemon/sour cream, basil/olive oil, and orange/vanilla/honey are just too much for these poor mollusks. Choose one and go with it, as scallops are best treated simply. And the Clam Chowder Pot Pie is a bad idea from the start. It makes me wonder if anyone in the kitchen has even tasted real clam chowder, let alone explored the impropriety of serving it en croute. I would suggest an immediate trip to Boston. Fly right into Logan on US Airways, grab a cup of chowder from Legal Sea Foods in terminal B, jump back on a plane to Charlotte, and eat the chowder. Savor the succulent, fresh clams and creamy, comforting texture. Then immediately remove the Clam Chowder Pot Pie from the menu, as it misses by a mile and a half.

As we await entrées, we notice that smokers are inexplicably allowed to parade through the dining room to a covered patio out front, trailing cigarette vapors and letting in drafts each time they open the door. I know it's cold in November, but that's the breaks if you choose to smoke—don't punish the diners. These are the struggles of a place trying to be all things to everyone.

There are four or so seasonal salads on the menu that set up the entrées adequately. A good choice is the Lindsey Salad, with roasted red peppers and tangy chèvre. Among the entrées ($14-$25), the Bone-in Strip Steak is marvelous. It is an impressive cut of beef from a respected purveyor in Atlanta, and Chef William Davis, a Johnson & Wales grad, treats it well here, serving it simply with crisp yet tender potatoes au gratin and Swiss chard. A shellfish special ($24.95) also works (there are several specials offered each night), with perfectly cooked shrimp scallops and lobster atop a well-executed, creamy risotto. These standout dishes show the kitchen's promise, but that's not carried throughout the entire menu. A quail special, for instance, doesn't fly, rendered crisp and dry, with a gummy risotto underneath. And the carnage of two shredded fowls was too much for my plate. I ended up heaping the spent bodies on my bread plate. The Lobster Mac and Cheese also dashes my hopes. Though the flavors work, the presentation is flat and not complementary to the dish. Instead of serving this heaped on a big plate, why not serve the bubbling pasta and lobster en casserole? (Lobster mac and cheese potpie?) Six desserts are available, including a decadent Rocky Road Brownie and a comforting Warm Apple Crisp.

I understand the need to maximize the revenue at a big place like Andrew Blair's, and I'm even respectful of the idea to exist as a restaurant, event destination, and lounge, but there are decisions to be made here on priorities. It's a fun place with a good vibe, friendly people, and good (the enemy of great) food. The burning question remains: which will prevail?

Andrew Blair's
1600 Montford Dr.
704-525-8282
andrewblairs.com
$$-$$$. D (Tue-Sat), FSB, P

Jon Luther's restaurant visits are anonymous, and all expenses are paid by the magazine. Read past Luther reviews at charlottemagazine.com.

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