CRW Day 2: Headin’ North to Dressler’s

Day 2:  Dressler’s

Time for a road trip!  From our home in way-south Charlotte, we loaded up the SUV and headed north on I-77 for Dressler’s, located at exit 25 in Huntersville’s idyllic Birkdale Village. Dogs and strollers abound among the usual suspects of upscale shops and comely suburbanites looking as clean-cut and neatly dressed as a GAP commercial.

Dressler’s fits the part, a quietly handsome restaurant done in stone and rich earthy tones. We know owners Jon and Kim Dressler from back in their Morton’s steakhouse days, so our faith in their grasp of all things fine dining was solid. We weren’t disappointed.

Although the Dresslers weren’t on hand that evening, their crackerjack staff was smooth as silk and a pleasure to deal with all around. Server Jessica was a doll, host for the evening Willie welcoming, and another young man whose name we didn’t get enthusiastically answered some questions for us while refilling our wine glasses (two thumbs up there).

Sunday nights at Dressler’s bring half-price bottles of wine for those selections normally priced under $75 (and a significant discount on pricier bottles as well). We jumped on that offer and uncorked a terrific Adelsheim Pinot Noir from the Willamette (dammit) Valley for only $28.50.  It arrived with soft ciabatta and an unusual white bean spread in lieu of butter.

The main dining room was full during our visit, while the well-placed patio was also hopping and the private dining room housed a family gathering. The crowd was as pretty inside as out on the sidewalks. You couldn’t ask for a better-looking bunch, appropriately diverse in age and ethnicity, if you were conducting a photo shoot. And apparently this comfortably busy crowd was only a shadow of the previous night’s CRW-inspired bustle.

We took note that several tables around us were ordering from the regular menu, proving that this is also a neighborhood spot where folks crave their favorite dishes no matter how good a deal is being offered. The table of 12 next to us were there to live it up with the CRW special, however, and seemed to relish every round. No wonder, we soon discovered.

We were thrilled to note that the Dresslers “got it” when it came to designing their CRW menu, offering three of the most popular items on their regular menu for each of the three courses.  That’s putting the ol’ good foot forward so that new patrons get a true taste of what to expect on return visits.

We started with the five-spice seared tuna, served over crisp jicama-daikon slaw and wontons and lightly spiked with a wasabi aioli that bit back in a good way, along with chili-rubbed tenderloin medallions bathed in a great house-made steak sauce. A crispy Thai peanut-glazed calamari rounded out the first course options.

We went to sea for our entrees, foregoing the 16 oz. blackened ribeye option, although the accompanying Grand Marnier sauce had us taking a second look. Jumbo lump crab cakes were appropriately chunky and delicious sans filler and topped with a killer remoulade made slightly sweet by roasted pecans. Then there was the tour de force:  a wildly popular (and deservedly so) entrée of plump halibut fillet teetering atop sautéed spinach and a tender chive potato cake. Not only was the fish beautifully done, it was finished with a divine sun-dried tomato beurre blanc and a sprinkling of crabmeat. Whoa. Here’s that decadence we were looking for.

We leaned back to let these rich dishes settle and savor the last of our wine, having noted from deliveries to other tables that we had two well-portioned desserts on the way and determined to finish every bite. We weren’t sweatin’ in our basement gym today for nothing.

Two cups of good dark-roast coffee arrived (included with the CRW menu), followed by Chocolate Volcano Cake and Mom’s New York Cheesecake. That’s really the elder Mrs. Dressler, y’all, who shows up every Friday to replenish supplies of her homemade delicacy. She manages to capture the essence of cheesecake, this one vanilla-y and not overly sweet, while keeping it light as snowflakes rather than the typically dense slab. The Chocolate Volcano looked just that, spewing whipped cream and a mint leaf on top and a heady stream of molten chocolate with the first stab. We accomplished our goal of clean plates. Mrs. Dressler would be proud.

With three courses, complimentary coffee, and the terrific wine deal, our total bill — with a healthy tip for terrific service and attitude — came to $115.  This was an A-plus experience and well worth the easy 40-minute highway jaunt from south Charlotte.  Time to get on the road, people.

Bruce and Jill Hensley are partners in the firm Hensley/Fontana. They launched the first Charlotte Restaurant Week, which runs through July 18. They're dining out each night and will be blogging about their experiences for Charlottemagazine.com. Read past entries here.