If director Tim Burton designed a restaurant, it would look something like 5Church. The new Charlotte eatery is a cross between Burton's darkly whimsical style, a la Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare before Christmas, and home furnishings store Restoration Hardware.
5Church is at once fun and quirky. A metal tree provides the backdrop to the entrance, bringing the outside into the glass-framed corner space at ... you guessed it, 5th and Church streets. In the dining areas, concrete table tops resembling flowing tablecloths (set too low to cross your legs) on black Parisian bases separate the comfortable banquette seating with the opposing ghost chairs (clear polycarbonate). The downside of those chairs is that they are so uncomfortable, diners at neighboring tables talk to each other about their mutual discomfort. Suspended above are encased chandeliers that look like gigantic ethereal cocoons. Lit feathers float, too, as well as intricate ornamental fixtures. The imaginative design work — which you only wish had been extended to some modified version of steampunk in the servers' wear — is the work of partner Mills Howell.
On the black ceiling is the hand-written English translation of all 13 chapters of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, the ancient discourse on military strategy. Operating partner Patrick Whalen, a Charlottean who worked in Manhattan before returning to be the GM at Butter (partner Alejandro Torio is also from Butter), says secret quotes appear on the ceiling as well. Expect many necks turned upward to find the words, "All warfare is based on deception."
Food here, though, is not deceiving. I have been a fan of the executive chef and partner Jamie Lynch's creations since he came to town. Lynch, a graduate of New England Culinary Institute, has worked in some of Charlotte's best kitchens: a sous chef for chefs Bruce Moffet at Barrington's, Gene Brigg at Blue and the former Table, and Mark Martin at the former Ethan's in Elizabeth. He's also helped friends start the kitchen at Dish in Plaza Midwood. Before coming to town, Lynch, like most serious-minded chefs, worked in some high-powered Manhattan kitchens as well: Le Cirque, Aureole (Charlie Trotter) and Café Boulud (Daniel Boulud).
Lynch's menu is fanciful. Bison run at you from large format paintings on the walls and then appear on your plate as precisely grilled strip steaks robust with flavor. Wild leek mashed potatoes are sea-foam green beneath a bevy of perfectly seared diver scallops. Bright salads of simplicity and artisanal correctness feature local greens. The Indian-spiced pea and potato pierogies on the starter list, sadly, are unexpectedly ho-hum, lacking in spice to infuse the spunk. But for those from St. Louis, you will find toasted mushroom raviolis here.
5Church has an expectedly deep bar list, a decent beer list with local craft brews on tap and a short wine list. For the price of entrées ($13 for the lamb burger to $40 for the Wagyu flatiron steak), the service should be better.
Desserts are a strong finish if you skip the S'mores. Like the rest of the menu, these dishes are American-inspired with French culinary finesse. The inventive nut tart sided with a cloud of luxurious sweet potato mousse is exceptional. I expected nothing less.
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