Vine American Kitchen has the easygoing nature and comfortably familiar lineup of a successful chain, which is very much what it feels like.
And for good reason: Founder and CEO Bill Freeman was CEO at McCormick & Schmicks before this, and had co-founded another chain a restaurant/sports bar before that.
Here, the concept is explained, in detail, as twofold: The vine represents freshness and connection to the earth (fresh, local, peak-of-the-season), the kitchen a universal gathering place.
But Charlotte diners have come too far for overcooked broccoli and baby carrots to qualify as the days seasonal vegetables in summer, and an emphasis on fresh and local doesnt merit so many potatoes on the menu.
Nothing we had was bad and nothing we had was exceptional. Our jalapeno corn muffin might illustrate it best: It was perfectly fine but, despite what youd think from the name, had no kick at all.
The lineup is American with notes of the South and Louisiana in particular: gumbo, New Orleans BBQ shrimp, blackened shrimp salad, New Orleans Cajun Jambalaya. The last brings good, tender fat shrimp, half a dozen of them, in a dish dimmed by hunks of dry chicken and little spice.
Crabcakes proved meaty and well-executed; the accompanying slaw was pallid. Grilled salmon was a little overcooked but not as much as the fat and tasteless asparagus spears atop it. A sliced rib-eye with house rub was juicy. Ribs were fall-off-the-bone style, meaty, with an innocuous sauce and fries that were unevenly cut and unevenly fried, but fine.
A strawberry and goat cheese salad in August doesnt speak of the vine, and sides lean heavily to starch (fried, smashed, loaded and baked potatoes, mac n cheese, chilled angel hair): not what youd hope from a seasonal concept, but familiar and comfortable.
Some of our servers were quite friendly and talkative, while we had one nearly sullen who forgot several things, but none expressed excitement about such things as daily specials where those seasonal items can at least be emphasized: Two out of three times, in fact, we had to ask what they were.
Desserts lean to the perennial as well: white chocolate banana cream pie; Key lime pie, a raw-cookie-dough-like butterscotch chocolate chip pie. There is a lemon pound cake with seasonal fruit.
The wine list includes a lovely and welcome cruvinet list of more than 20 meaning you can order by the glass wines you might not usually be able to have by the glass. And the list overall is a nicely varied one of nearly exclusively California selections: Silver Oak and Caymus cabs amid under-$40 ones, for example.
The place is designed efficiently, with a curved lounge area where one can sink into the furniture, and a dining room grid of roomy booths. With their relatively high backs, they create privacy, rather than the sort of sociable space you might anticipate, but thats a welcome relief for diners who appreciate it (though they do prove surprisingly noisy).
As you enter and if you stand up you can gaze into the steely open kitchen at one end of that dining space; otherwise youll need to stroll up to it (and dodge bustling servers) to observe.
In all, Vines fine. Just dont expect anything voluptuously seasonal, or social.
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