a couple's adventures in eating
Location: 9886 Rea Rd. Charlotte, NC 28277
WHAT HE ATE: Fish ‘n’ Grits
The Critique: What is more charming than a restaurant named solely based upon it’s address on a small main street? Well…I’m sure there is something, but 131 Main is not it. Keep in mind, I mean that in the most positive of ways. 131 means one idea, three founders, one goal. 131 Main would not be described as “charming” or “small town” by any means. The atmosphere of the restaurant meets the quality and preparation of the food. Best description? Small-town Southern flavors amped up with a gourmet influence.
The exterior looks similar to something like Seasons 52 of Darden Restaurants. “Corporate Gourmet” as I like to call it. It has a Lloyd-Wright-esque architectural influence, with warm browns, coppers, and ambers. The patio is of average size and seating inside of the restaurant provides privacy and a nice energy about it.
Food time. We went with Candace’s family to celebrate our wedding shower. So, as we were a party of eight, we got some appetizers to share. Let’s discuss, shall we? Cast Iron Cornbread 7, Deviled Eggs 3/6, and Smoked Salmon 12. Notice that I didn’t include a dollar sign? The menu doesn’t either. In my experience, restaurants that just put a number next to their food titles tend to be on the pricier side. The good news about higher prices, is that the food tends to be (usually) higher quality and more skillfully prepared. The cornbread was the first to hit the table, and it was delicious. For me, it was more of a dessert than an appetizer, but it was truly yummy. Crunchy and buttery with a caramelized sugar crunch on the outside. The deviled eggs are priced in two different sizes, $3 for the smaller portion and $6 for the larger. The flavors were all there. Classic flavors you would expect from deviled eggs as well as the perfect creamy consistency. I could identify some chopped capers in the mix which added a little extra “zing.” Were they anything to slap ‘yo Momma for? No (please do not slap your Mother for anything). At last, the pinnacle of our appetizer adventure, Smoked Salmon. Smoked in-house, this thick juicy filet of fish is power packed with flavor. Dry rubbed and smoked just enough to impart the smokey flavor and take away the salmon’s natural fishiness. The salmon is served with crunchy toast points and a dill cream sauce that just set this fish over the top. Beautiful flavor, texture, and mouth feel. A+ for the salmon.
For the entree I enjoyed their special du jour of the day. Fish ‘n’ Grits 17. See? I told you they would bring the gourmet food to the southern party! A blackened filet of Kobia nestled atop beautifully flavored and creamy stoneground grits. Underneath the grits is a cream sauce with a bit of a kick to push the flavor pedal to the medal. This incredibly filling entree is worth every penny. Delicious flavors, big portion, and not stuffy. The one critique I have for “fancy” restaurants like this is the food gets too complicated and pretentious. 131 Main has cleared away all of that and lets the food do the talking.
The Verdict: Giantness. I look way up to the sky to this restaurant. I do, however wish I could look up to the prices more often.
WHAT SHE ATE : Wedge Salad ($8.00) and a side of Braised Red Cabbage topped with Goat Cheese ($4.00)
The Critique: I’m not much for restaurants with meals that set catastrophic fire to my wallet for a plate of zig-zag sauce across a thimble-sized pellet of meat accompanied by a sprig of garnish. But, I digress. I’m just a lowly actor/ musician who is bitter about my low income. I will admit that Main 131 is not the stuffy yuppy too-fine-for-me restaurant I assumed it would be.
I did not accompany the bulk of my family in their decision to order the fish and grits (planet-sized) platter. I generally don’t do fish unless it’s tuna from a can OR (and this is the part where you unsubscribe from the blog purely based on my terribly unrefined palate) fish sticks. That’s right, folks. I said it. Fish sticks. I have a sickness, what can I say?
Instead, I went for a lighter approach of a wedge salad and their special side of the day, braised red cabbage topped with goat cheese. I can some both dishes up in a few words: pretty good. The dressing on the salad was whipped up in house and tasted like a sweeter version of your classic caesar. It would have been great were it not drowning my poor little wedge of lettuce in its deadly sea of flavor. Two dressed tomatoes sat to the right of my very simple salad. After one feeble attempt to slice through them with great difficulty, I lost interest and never gave them a go.
Timothy introduced me to red cabbage when we first began dating and it has been a favorite Pappas dish of mine ever since. It probably has something to do with my pickle obsession. Vinegar tanginess mixed with an ever so subtle hint of cidery sweetness: YES. 131 Main’s red cabbage came with a sprinkling of goat cheese on top which was a perfect match for the crunch of the cabbage. They were spot on in flavor but I didn’t love how finely the cabbage was shredded. Every now and then I felt like was raking strands of hair into my mouth. But, I imagine this is just personal preference and says little to the quality of the dish.
The Verdict: Overall, I dug the place but am fine with having visited it just once. The food was grand but lacked the personality I so often crave. I’m looking at 131 Main eye to eye.