The newest kid on the South End block, Nan and Byron’s combines the elements of a well-managed fine dining establishment with the friendly welcome of a neighborhood pub.
Located in the long-time Vinnie’s spot on South Boulevard, the restaurant, which opened the first week of November, boasts a comfort food menu designed by Jamie Lynch, executive chef at 5Church (Nan and Byron’s sister restaurant), and Marc Jacksina, formerly chef at Halcyon in the Mint Museum, where he achieved acclaim for his creative take on locally sourced foods.
With the Nan and Byron menu, the team has taken a more down-home approach, opting for familiar foods that you might eat everyday at home – spaghetti and meatballs, shrimp scampi, meatloaf – then adding a gourmet touch with special spices and trendy flavors such as the house-made sriracha ketchup that jazzes up meatloaf and burgers. The menu even offers a humble tomato soup ($7) that comes with half a grilled cheese sandwich.
The surroundings and atmosphere are comfortable and unpretentious as well. The interior of the former raw bar, which probably started out as a garage, has been upscaled with a copper-toned pressed “tin” ceiling and tables made from reclaimed wood. Named for the couple who posed for the classic picture “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, the restaurant has its own original artwork, including a mural of “Byron” heading off to work in the fields. A bar, where you can order a $5 local draft, occupies the front room, while the former porch area is now a dining room where small tables are spaced fairly close together.
If you are anticipating a similar experience to what you’ll encounter at trendy 5Church in the Center City, think again. As opposed to the high-end and fairly pricey menu found downtown, the South End eatery boasts a menu purposely kept simple – and inexpensive. Entrees have straight-forward names: Chicken, Meatloaf, Meatballs, Fish, Shrimp, Pork, Steak, priced from $14 to $18.50 (for “Steak,” actually an 8 oz. cut of prime rib).
Guests are welcomed with a complimentary basket of seasoned popcorn, a nice and unusual touch. Silverware comes wrapped in a kitchen towel, emphasizing the down-home vibe.
For our first visit, we opted to order “Pie” and “Mushroom,” with mixed results. The “Pie” turned out to be a chafing dish full of lamb stew, thick with ground meat, corn, peas, and mashed potatoes, well worth the $15.50 price, very filling and delicious.
“Mushroom” ($13.50) did not impress quite as much. The large Portobello cap was tasty, marinated and grilled, with a nice quinoa stuffing. We found it a bit lacking, not in flavor, but in presentation. It arrived on our table, stranded and lonely, in the middle of large white dinner plate, which made it look much smaller than it actually was. Apparently, this was the result of the two sides we selected to go-with: sweet potato fries and house-made pickles. From a quick look around the dining room, it soon became obvious that the kitchen prefers to perch whatever entrée is ordered on top of the sides – which would have worked fine if we had ordered mashed potatoes or mac-n-cheese or even sautéed corn, but clearly would not have been appropriate with fries and pickles. So the mushroom went solo into the dining room with not even a spoonful of additional quinoa to pillow it on the plate.
This presentation situation is perhaps something the kitchen will want to rethink, as several other entrees come with a choice of two sides which may – or may not – provide a suitable platform.
The sides themselves are varied and tasty, but mysteriously high priced for the serving size. Everything is fresh, local and made in house, so that of course adds to the cost, but more generous servings would go better with the $5 price tag when ordered a la carte.
The appetizers are a better value. The plate of four deviled eggs ($4) proved quietly tasty. The Peppedew Poppers ($6), a half-dozen of our favorite peppers, stuffed with cheddar, breaded and fried, had just the right amount of bite (but probably wouldn’t impress jalapeno fans).
The dinner menu also includes a variety of salads full of fresh ingredients ($5-$9) and burgers, including a tempting Farmhouse Burger ($12) made with seasoned beef and topped with smoked poblano cheese, bacon and house-made BBQ sauce. Vegetarians (and beet lovers) will want to try the Crispy Beet Burger ($9.50), with fried slices of beet substituting for meat, dressed with boursin cheese and avocado.
The cocktail menu, oddly, displays the most creativity at Nan and Byron’s. The short list of hand-crafted drinks, ranging in price from $9 up, includes several real keepers, including the Nightshade Martini, made with pomegranate vodka, pom juice, and muddled mint, garnished with a slice of cucumber, and the Refashioned, a take-off on the traditional old-fashioned thick with muddled fruit.
It’s clear from the friendly, attentive – and speedy – service that the management puts a high priority on this vital element in restaurant operation, one all too often overlooked. Training was still in progress on the evening of our visit, and the staff includes some real experts in the field to lead the way.
Nan and Byron’s seems poised to find a welcome spot in the hearts of South End residents, especially as it will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, and stay open late with food and dance music some evenings. While various elements of menu and presentation need a bit of tuning, with the kind of talent on board here, we expect that Nan and Byron’s will evolve into a Charlotte classic, with many local residents making this their second home.
Nan and Byron's
1714 South Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28203