If you had your stocking stuffed with unnecessary calories these past few weeks, comfort food and its associated calories may not be on top of your list. But then, spring is still weeks away.
When co-owner Chef Brett McKee of 15 North Roadside Kitchen came to town to establish a presence in Charlotte, the first step in chaining the Roadside Kitchen concept beyond its home in Mount Pleasant, S.C., he asked customers what they wanted to eat and created a menu reflecting these preferences. The menu in Charlotte gives evidence to a litany of Southern comfort food: boneless fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collards, a grilled pork chop with sautéed spinach, and pot roast.
But not all items are from your grandma's Sunday table — unless she was from Europe — since Wiener Schnitzel and Linguine alla Carbonara are also on the menu. The menu, as executed by Executive Chef Steve Jordan, is straightforward, but with some confusion. The fried egg atop the "Austrian" Weiner Schnitzel is idiosyncratically from Berlin, and while Yorkshire may have a pudding, who has heard of Yorkshire steak and eggs? But then, what is in a name? All that matters is taste, right?
One of the best dishes at 15 North is the crispy-skinned roasted chicken, nicely snapped by lemon and showing the ambitious restraint of a kitchen that seems so much more talented than pot roast, meatloaf and burgers. Fans of a well-crafted Caesar will like the one here, with a brace of anchovies striding the romaine. In fact, all the salads are perfectly dressed. The assertive allure of meatballs on both the starter list and as an entrée in baked ziti holds promise, but results in the expected meat trifecta — beef, veal and pork — are in need of a mingling of herbs. The breaded veal cutlet is strong, simple and no-nonsense rustic fare wherever it is from. The tangle of fries spiked with hints of parmesan would make any potato proud, while the mac and cheese is first-rate. In keeping with the rest of the menu, desserts are plainspoken, though not all are made in-house. The nontraditional cheesecake is a McKee family recipe.
Southern comfort food has a tendency to register on one side of the palate wheel: the sweet side. Iconic dishes — like fried chicken and yams — tend to be cloyingly saccharine. I found this sweet note at 15 North as well, especially in the butternut squash puree and crème brûlée.
Parking can be a challenge on Montford. While some have scoffed at the valet parking in 15 North, available only on some days, the reason for this is obvious. Who hasn't seen people parking in one lot and walking over a berm to go to another establishment? Valet parking seems to remedy this.
One of the strengths of 15 North is service. While Charlotte has become immune to that familiar bravado of other restaurateurs who come to town to "show us how it's done," typically the ones without that conceit (like the owners of 15 North) are the ones that bring elements we need. In this case, 15 North has brought the deservedly famous hospitality of the Low Country with them, creating a relaxed dining experience. Work anxieties, recession woes and love angst all seem to fade in this fresh, clean-edge dining room with subdued lighting that can make anyone look good and want to come back.