A 6-year-old boy sits at the sushi bar, legs dangling from the tall bar stool. He plays a game on the touchscreen countertop, pushing his bento box loaded with French fries to one side. It is 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night, and The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar has over an hour wait. From the content look of the number of children sitting at the sushi bar, those non-reserved spaces are not opening anytime soon, either.
Owners Alan Springate and Marcus Hall, who also own eeZ Fusion & Sushi in Huntersville, seem poised to take advantage of what the dining population of Charlotte — and, I would venture to say, most suburban populations across the U.S. — wants now: burgers and sushi and a combination of both.
Sushi has recently morphed into an almost unrecognizable dish with a preponderance of cooked or fried fish and Americanized elements such as avocado, cream cheese and mayonnaise. Pristine components have given way to bigness and now some rolls, even sliced rolls, are impossible to consume in a single bite. Before this dumbing down of flavor, a single bite of rolled sushi contained a balance of different flavors and textures. Evidently, those days are gone.
An entrepreneur's dream is to time the market right, and indeed Springate and Hall have. The interior of the 130-seat Cowfish is vibrant but casual, with large swaths of red tones sweeping through the room. Groupings of pop art, á la Roy Lichtenstein, flank one wall of the main dining room. The menu is user-friendly and lengthy. The bar serves attention-grabbing avant-garde cocktails and spiked shakes, while sake and beers hog the beverage list from wines.
Burgers are offered in various configurations, and the sushi chefs have cultivated a populist repertoire as well as a pizza-styled "build your own section." The starter menu has the usual suspects — fried pickles and chili cheese fries. Some have twists: fried panko and coconut-battered onion rings and blackened tuna nachos.
When the Angus burger arrives, it's a looker: a hot and juicy, well-dressed half-pound burger cooked medium rare with a side of tangy flavored marinated cucumbers. This burger is among the best in town.
But Cowfish is better known as the home of "burgushi," a fusion of burgers and sushi, sort of like a Sci-Fi accident where molecules are inadvertently mixed up. One of these rolls is a deconstructed burger rolled with bacon, jalapenos and panko flakes, then topped with tomatoes and pepper jack cheese and baked. Another is ground beef slathered with cream cheese, rolled with rice, tempura battered and fried. These rolls are a dare, not dinner. In fact, Cowfish sushi rolls are one-note flavor affairs, and thus, not surprisingly, are served with a Sriracha-mayonnaise sauce.
Yet the newest program to be available on the sushi bar's touchscreen is their fish creation program. Customers draw themselves as fish, which then digitally swims on the restaurant's overhead monitors. Order a martini, your fish gets one, too. This is fun and what Cowfish is about. I don't blame any restaurateur for giving the people what they want. But I ask, is this all we want?
The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar
4310 Sharon Road, 704-365-1922. Hours: Lunch daily from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.; dinner Sunday to Thursday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Late night food available until 12 a.m.; drinks until 12:30 a.m. www.thecowfish.com.