East Boulevard has always been — well, for the past 25 years, anyway — a restaurateur's dream. If the food-obsessed Dilworth residents like what you have to offer, they will be loyal and visit often. Of course, if they don't, your stay will be brief.
Not surprisingly, Dilworth residents have already cast a favorable vote for neighborly The Summit Room, which opened last April with its sibling breakfast and lunch spot, The Mayobird. Owner Deedee Mills, formerly in media with the Carolina Panthers, opened her first food venture, the Mayobird food truck, in summer 2013 and quickly converted the business into a brick and mortar shop in Dilworth. She will tell you that The Summit Room was inspired while hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, hence the name of the restaurant and the creative twist on the signature cocktails menu that reads like a geography lesson, with drinks named for the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. In addition to the clever cocktail list, Summit offers local brews and a wine list with such old school, daresay steak house, favorites as Silver Oak, Far Niente, Jordan and Caymus (all big, elegant cabs).
The Summit Room has a clean, straightforward seasonal menu featuring old Southern favorites (corn bread and collards, deviled eggs) envisioned by chef Brent Martin (pickled ramp aioli, chicken paté and waffles) with a variety of proteins and sharable plates largely locally sourced. In other words, the food offers adventurousness and assurance in equal measure.
First out are warm cheese scones, which are quickly devoured. It would seem, considering Martin's take on pimento crawdad fritters and a candied multi-colored beet and goat cheese salad, the chef has a healthy appreciation for bar food (foods that work with alcohol). While I could have done without the jalapeño relish, which overpowered the mussels lazing in an Old Meck Copper and lobster broth, the sliders on the starter list do not disappoint. Their inherent play of pork belly richness and chili heat creates depth. However, this trio totes the moniker of banh mi. Since the essence of that renowned Vietnamese sandwich is the crusty French baguette and these sliders are served on pliable bread, the description is misleading. Minor point, though.
The main courses are uniformly generous and sharable, especially if you begin by sharing a spate of starters. The cod entrée has a pea and scallop stuffing wrapped by the filet with a hit of golden raisin agrodolce. There are other pleasures at this satisfying neighborhood spot, but the most unexpected might be the stunning desserts. Typically, pastry chefs labor in the shadows and generally come in and move on without much notice given. This is unfortunate especially in Charlotte, where desserts have become one of the most intriguing sections of the menu. New to The Summit is pastry chef Brigitte Oger. Her dessert roster is at once whimsical and tasty. Her pumpkin cake with sweet corn (that's right, corn) ice cream and caramelized popcorn offers the perfect balance of flavors while being a visual feast. Be warned: You may not want to share this one.
The Summit Room is subject to the rhythms of the neighborhood. During glorious fall weather, I expect the large patio out front to fill first, since people- and dog-watching along East Boulevard proves entertaining.
What I like about The Summit Room is how welcoming it is. Service is relentlessly upbeat, the best of the kitchen is first rate, and Mills' signature brand of crowd-pleasing style, as evidenced by the cocktail list, is fun. When the moon rises over the patio and the last drink is served, all seems just fine. Better than fine. Delicious, in fact.
Correction: Summit Room's pastry chef is Brigitte Oger.