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All Dressler'd Up 

A welcome addition to the neighborhood

It's hard to be a stranger in Dressler's Restaurant since owner Jon Dressler is on hand to greet and converse with customers at each and every table. Dressler does it with an easygoing panache and eyes sparkling like a child who just looked out the window and saw 18 inches of snow in the front yard. We all now know that look.

Dressler has been on the restaurant scene in Charlotte since he moved here as a manager of Morton's of Chicago in 1996 and became their general manager in 1997. Dressler told me he was as surprised as anyone that his personal 10-year plan had come together as he had first envisioned it.

After graduating from Penn State with a degree in Sports Management, he moved to Dallas, where his parents had relocated, and went on to obtain an MBA. His parents again relocated to Chicago where he followed. He was offered a job selling tickets at just above minimum wage for the White Sox, a path that might have led to a career in sports management, but he took a job as a waiter at Morton's of Chicago and was promoted to manager in three months.

"I decided I liked the restaurant business. I didn't mind the hours because I could play golf during the day while everyone else was working. I decided to learn what I needed to know," he said. Dressler subsequently worked for Morton's of Chicago for nearly 10 years.

"People should play to their strengths. Besides, isn't it everyone's dream to own your own business?" he asked. By the late 1990s he was looking for locations for his restaurant: first at Concord Mills, then the Hearst Tower and finally in 1999 to Birkdale Village. He began serious negotiations in February 2002 and the restaurant opened in September 2003.

The 130-seat, 5190-square-foot, Dressler's Restaurant is a people place located in that new urbanism, people-driven shopping outpost of Birkdale Village. The interior is subdued and relaxed, yet polished. Walls are accented with warm stone, earth tones, and water features. Curtains, which only frame the long wall of windows, hang from chic rings on ceiling hooks. Large alabaster lighting fixtures give soft illumination to the tablecloth-laden tables. Kim Dressler, wife and co-owner, did the interior design. The crowd is primarily composed of groups of friends and couples, with about equal numbers sipping glasses of wine as sweet tea.

Jon Dressler designed the menu to fit the neighborhood -- he describes the cuisine as "upscale Continental-American featuring steak and seafood" - and he brought Chef Chris Lopez with him from Morton's.

Many items on the menu are well-crafted classics, such as the crisp Caesar salad with aged parmesan shavings, the beef Carpaccio appetizer, or the side of sauteed spinach made vibrant with garlic.

Other dishes show a whimsical side of the kitchen, such as an appetizer of tender diver scallops with firm texture, accompanied by warm brie and crowned with a luscious fruit compote. Another dish is the fried onion rings, which are hand cut and spiced up.

Every single meat dish arrives looking all-American good. A 20-ounce cowboy rib eye is an enormous hunk of Black Angus knockout while the 16-ounce New York strip steak, while less butch, is more manageable. The yellowfin tuna steak, precisely cooked to order, rides a crispy sesame seed encrusted rice cake and is framed with sliced cabbage brightened with a Thai peanut sauce. For those opting out of the steak and seafood arena, the chicken penne offers slices of chicken mixed with pasta, crisp snow peas and sliced mushrooms in a shade past bland tomato cream sauce.

Desserts are also very American. Among them are Bronx-native Joan Dressler's (Jon's mom) New York-style cheesecake and a sparkling apple crisp. You can have quite a meal, but it will cost you. Entree prices range from $15 to $28.

Service at Dressler's is not always so subtle. When faux pas occurred, however minor, I am reminded of a reader who once asked why table service in Charlotte seems to diminish in direct proportion to the distance from the center city.

Dressler's offers valet parking, which I always find amusing in a shopping center. How pampered are we that we can't walk 25 feet? But I suppose an entrance is important.

My Exit friends have told me repeatedly that they were thankful that this restaurant opened. Dressler's is a warm, welcoming, locally owned neighborhood spot offering well-crafted food. Kudos to the shopping center developers for allowing a local to shine, and kudos to Jon Dressler for designing a restaurant so well-suited to his neighborhood.

Eaters' Digest

In the wake of the national trend and with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Health department's new smoke-free notation system, more area restaurants are becoming smoke-free. The Rheinland Haus, 2418 Park Rd, 704-376-3836, recently announced it is now a smoke-free restaurant.

Chef Geoff Bragg of The Peaceful Dragon, 12610 Steele Creek Road, will explore some options on how to make delicious vegan desserts on Sunday, March 14, from 1pm until 4pm. $30 per person, $25 for students by March 10; add $10 after. Call 704-504-8866.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. To contact Tricia via email: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com

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