One of the mistakes new restaurateurs make is underestimating the value of a complete makeover. The number of makeover reality programs demonstrates this appeal and popularity. So while enthusiastic new-to-the-game owners may think that a dynamic and compelling menu will do the trick, the truth is, diners want radical changes. The interior must be transformed in concept and design. This is especially true if the cuisine stays within the same realm. In other words, if one Chinese restaurant concept follows another, an interior makeover is expected and required. Not to do this leaves questions of familiarity and association in a diner's mind. Owners need to eliminate that association. If they do not, they risk losing the opportunity to bask in the attention "newness" brings.
Unfortunately, ghosts of past restaurants are haunting owners Eugene Fritzler and Chef Patrick Best at their spacious, 240-seat Table 274, which opened last March. Table 274 is the first restaurant for both Fritzler and Best, a graduate of the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. They met while working at Mimosa Grill and went on to work at Harvest Moon Grille. Their location in Cotswold was once Charley's, nee Mixx. Charley's never could recoup the popularity once enjoyed at SouthPark Mall. Restaurants have lifespans: Charlotte changed and that concept did not.
The space Table 274 occupies has not changed significantly. The bar is a genial space and the patio has been a neighborhood favorite for more than a decade of warm nights. Black is still the dominant interior color, and the dining area has that late 1990s feel of a gussied-up warehouse with a soaring ceiling. The ambiance is more urban than the earthy farm-to-fork concept presented here.
Once dinner begins, though, the atmosphere fades and the culinary concept takes center stage. Table's wedge salad stars a wonderfully tender Tega Hills Farm (the farm featured on the menu) bibb lettuce rather than the traditional crispy iceberg. To spotlight local foods in these times of economic shakiness means a lot of comfort food, and Best has punctuated his roster with a selection of pastas and an excellent cheddar cheese bacon burger with basil and tomato.
But Best flexes to catch the more adventurous eater, too. The pretty-in-pink, giddily indulgent beet pasta ravioli starter is plumped with carrot ricotta. Standard fare Carolina shrimp cakes are elevated with a blistered grape and pine nut salsa. The most satisfying dish is the skin-crackling-like-potato-chips roasted chicken nestled on a bed of Anson Mills farro laced with artichokes and red peppers. Chef Best should take a bow for creating a dish so unfussy, yet spectacular. His version of strawberry shortcake will make your mouth happy, too.
Table's service — more neighborly than professional — needs some fine-tuning. Given time, the owners will methodically refine and adjust to build a loyal clientele, one by one. Would Table 274's food taste better if served family-style on old farm tables by endearing wait staff? No. But would the concept be improved if what you see matches what you taste? Definitely.