By Carroll Leggett
Greg Carlyle has an entrepreneurial spirit. He proved that when he bought the old Post Office building at the corner of Fifth and Trade that most considered a white elephant and turned into one of the city’s most popular entertainment and event venues. Now he’s at it again.
Carlyle has transformed the former Kernel Kustard space at the corner of Fourth and Cherry – one of the city’s most visible commercial spaces – into a trendy new dining spot dubbed “Artisan.” He promises fresh local ingredients although this claim hardly sets anyone apart these days. It is expected now among upscale diners, and this is Artisan’s demographic.
I like the fact that he has a personable greeter who already knows my name. Some of my favorite dining spots over the years have been restaurants that have a consistent presence on the floor who makes you feel like an old friend. I also like the stylish but understated, minimalist décor. However, Artisan may have to make adjustments to deal with the noise level – draperies, carpets, something to absorb sound when there is a full house to make table conversation easier.
I already had made a reservation for five when I learned that The Journal had a news article about the opening the same day. I knew the place would be slammed, but I decided to take my chances. I am glad I did. The restaurant was packed and it was, as I expected, a baptism in fire for this fledgling eatery. That fact that staff handled it with few glitches speaks well for them and the hiring skills of management. Chef Kevin Reddick, a Millennium Center catering veteran, and his line cooks rose to the occasion. I hope they popped a cork when the onslaught subsided. They deserved it.
I would describe the menu as contemporary American – however one may interpret that. In my mind it means there were few surprises for those on the dining circuit, yet there were sufficient, compelling choices and menu offerings were well prepared and artfully presented.
At our table, we had hanger steak, lamb chops, pork osso bucco and seared scallops. We made a deliberate decision to order the steak and lamb chops rare hoping that they would come medium rare. Neither my friend nor I like well-done steak or lamb but are perfectly willing to eat it rare. Our strategy worked up to a point. Both orders came medium but not offensively overcooked. The entrée serving of scallops had only two scallops which is a bit spare – that’s an appetizer portion. This obviously can and probably will be adjusted after a few raised eyebrows.
For appetizers, the table shared very special deviled eggs stuffed with chorizo, stacked fried dried eggplant (my favorite), tangy hot cheese spread and fried oysters. Only the fried oysters really need work. I am a serious oyster person and these were over battered and fried until the oysters barely were discernible. A light batter or breading and flash frying will remedy this. I liked the cheese spread, but it has a bold flavor that the meek may not revel in. Servings were generous and four were plenty for a table of five. There were three dessert offerings, including lemon tart and crème brulee. Both of these were excellent, but I would recommend getting a bit more adventurous. The wine list was modest, but we were pleased with our choices.
All and all, it was a delightful evening. Good food. Good company. Many friends at nearby tables, And owner Greg Carlyle was working the crowd and making sure the train ran on time.
There are two questions I always ask myself after a first visit to a restaurant. Would I come back again?. In the case of Artisan, absolutely. Would I recommend it to friends? Sure. Winston-Salem diners now have an attractive new choice, and minor tweaking here and there as the restaurant responds to customer recommendations can make Artisan a continuing favorite. Applause.
Artisan. Welcome to Fourth Street and Winston-Salem: The Piedmont’s Premier Dining Destination.