Good Food is Great
Charlotte's best new restaurant is the highlight of an exciting new dining destination in town
Gnocchi with mushrooms, pancetta, and Brussels sprout leaves in a mushroom cream sauce. Intense, layered flavors that are smoky, acidic, rustic, and beautiful.
Admit it: you're sick and tired of searching for novel ways to save money. Recycling Ziploc bags has lost its charm and, no, the Hamburger Helper really isn't just fine all by itself. Do yourself a favor and live a little. Go out and have a few drinks. Take your neighbors out to dinner. And when you do, pay attention to hip Montford Drive near Park and Woodlawn. With the opening of Andrew Blair's and Brazwell's (the old Press Box) in addition to freak dive Moosehead (maybe the best bar food in town), Luisa's Brick Oven Pizzeria, and The Roasting Company, Montford Drive is becoming a destination for folks seeking eclectic, honest cuisine and a few drinks to wash it all down.
Good Food on Montford is the most recent addition to this bustling scene, and it's much better than the name suggests. With this aggressive attempt at global tapas cuisine, Chef Kerry Moffett continues his laser focus on food, which began under his brother Bruce's tutelage at Barrington's. And, judging by the packed house on several visits, he's off to a good start.
There is a nostalgic look to the space that, due to the asymmetrical pitch of the roof, gives it a cool 1950s diner look—sort of like an old Denny's. Inside, it's more contemporary. Glass and wood are everywhere, as are well-placed mirrors, brushed steel, and clever knife and fork lamps and sculptures that give it a modern culinary motif. Like Barrington's, it is a small restaurant—seventy-five seats, including the bar area, which is small. Luckily, so are most of the patrons, as each of our visits finds the place jammed to the gills with beautiful people.
Fun to look at, yes, but it is freaking loud in this place, which makes it a bit difficult to focus on the wine list. Somehow, we manage. With forty or so choices, there are plenty of red and white varietals, as well as sparkling wine, Ports, even sake. You can go deep on certain wines (Veuve Clicquot, $230; Silver Oak, $190), but there are several for $40 and below. The thick Klinker Brick Zinfandel ($38) from California is a good bet.
Small plates dominate, including "Light," "Cold," and "Hot" selections ($5-$13), followed by noodle dishes ($9-$12) and a "Substantial" section that allows for half ($11-$15) and full-size orders ($18-$22). We begin with hot smoked almonds and smoked sea salt served warm in a ceramic tagine. Marinated seasonal vegetables are fresh and piquant. From the cold-plates section, a torchon of foie gras with roasted grapes and brioche explodes with an earthy sweetness when combined with the little cubes of gelled ice wine. Shrimp over white bean salad is clean and satisfying, but in a rare misstep the venison carpaccio is dry and a bit leathery. A sip of wine tries to help, but can't. (The venison has since been replaced by beef.)
As the hot dishes begin to arrive one night, it appears our server has lost control—they come in an avalanche, from all sides and all at once, even cold plates we forgot we ordered. Up to the challenge, we bear down and begin to eat our way out. Mussels—perfectly cooked and perfumed with green curry and coconut milk—are laid to waste in short order. The pork belly, with plummy, sweet hoisin sauce expertly balancing the smoky pork, doesn't stand a chance—it is gone in three bites.
Jon Luther's Favorite Dishes
When we get to the lamb, it appears we are out of the weeds. Served in a warm white ceramic tagine, the lamb is tender and swimming in a bath of Moroccan spices. My heavens, what an assault! It is, however, precisely at this moment we spot a weakness, which is the head-on collision of some flavors. At Good Food, it is possible to careen from Italian to French to Southern to Chinese to Vietnamese to Moroccan to Thai plates that can, due to the innumerable variations, be less than harmonious. Good Food is an ambitious concept, and the food shows consummate skill, but I almost need a palate cleanser after the first few dishes to reset my salivary enzymes back to normal levels.
Even so, as we continue, more dishes arrive from the noodle section ($9-$12), and we are not disappointed. A wild mushroom ravioli served with sweet English peas and truffle oil provides wonderful flavors and textures. A gnocchi dish is astounding: soft pearls of potato gnocchi with mushrooms, pancetta, Brussels sprout leaves, and chopped tomatoes in a mushroom cream sauce. Intense, layered flavors that are at once smoky, acidic, rustic, and quite beautiful. It may be the best treatment of gnocchi I have ever encountered.
The main section of the menu is equally studded with diamonds (some dishes have changed since my visits, but the spirit of the kitchen remains intact). The signature short rib, resting atop crispy polenta, is beefy and tender—simple and perfect. An organic pork tenderloin is earthy and rich. And a striped bass illuminates the kitchen's skills. It's well composed, served with wilted savoy cabbage, smoked mussels, and saffron cream—and, most importantly, perfectly cooked to a slight opaque in the center. Also not to be overlooked are the sides. A gorgeous gratin of meticulously sliced and layered potatoes is served in a piping-hot saucepan with tangy, creamy Gruyère. And sautéed broccoli rabe has now replaced the Swiss chard and is bracingly bitter, complemented sharply by shaved pecorino.
I found the soul of the restaurant at the "chef's bar," toward the rear. We observe chef/owner Moffett in a Zen-like state, feverishly plating dishes, so focused that he barely notices the customers at the bar. It is good theater. But Good Food on Montford isn't a concept for everyone. Some folks are annoyed by small-plate concepts and don't like to share. Others won't be able to handle the noise or the flavor assault that comes with a night out here. But for those who are driven to experience imaginative and well-crafted food, and the fun and exciting dining experience it provides, Good Food should be a part of your culinary odyssey.
Good Food on Montford
1701 Montford Dr.
$$, D, FSB. Closed Sun.
All of Jon Luther's visits are anonymous. Read past reviews at charlottemagazine.com.