Why does it matter that an Asheville chef picked Charlotte for his second fine-dining restaurant?
After all, Charlotte has a lot of chefs who put out locally focused/seasonally driven menus, from Clark Barlowe at Heirloom to Matthew Krenz at The Asbury.
The difference this time may be a sea change in how the world looks at Charlotte as a dining destination.
William Dissen, the chef/owner of The Market Place, a fine-dining, farm-to-fork restaurant on Asheville’s busy Wall Street, could have gone to a lot of up-and-coming Southern cities with food scenes that get more attention than this one: Atlanta, Nashville, Greenville, Charleston, Raleigh. He even came close to signing a lease in Knoxville, which scores food-cool points thanks to nearby Blackberry Farm and as the home of Scripps Networks Interactive, which produces HGTV, the Travel Channel and Food Network.
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Instead, Dissen is planting his flag in uptown Charlotte, in a corner space at The Ascent facing on Romare Bearden Park.
The menu will be similar to Market Place – seasonal, ingredient-driven. Expect it to change often – the pictures here and its menu online are just examples, Dissen says. But where the Asheville restaurant focuses on Appalachian and mountain-grown ingredients, Haymaker will work in more ingredients from this part of the state. The growing season is longer in the Piedmont than the mountains, and it’s closer to the coast.
“We’re in Charlotte, not Asheville,” he says. “We have the bounty of the Piedmont.”
So why do it here, besides the easy drive between Asheville, where he’s still running The Market Place, and Charlotte? Some of the reasons are simple: Dissen’s wife lived here before they were married. Dissen is from West Virginia and has friends in Charlotte’s big West Virginia contingent, including his grade-school best friend, real estate developer Beau McIntosh.
This reason, though, is the key: Dissen thinks Charlotte’s restaurants are due for national attention, and he wants to be a part of it.
“I feel like the food scene here is really about to pop off,” he says. “Asheville is very saturated (with restaurants) now.” So are Charleston, Atlanta, Greenville, Nashville and the Triangle.
He also likes the energy in Charlotte’s close-knit chef community. It’s not like Charleston, he says, where the restaurant world is “hyper-competitive.” Here, other chefs reached out immediately, offering introductions and help. Joe Kindred and Paul Verica have especially become friends. He and Verica share building woes – The Stanley is expected to open just weeks after Haymaker in mid-March.
“In both (Asheville and Charlotte), it’s ‘what can we do to help?’ In Charlotte, that’s evolving. In Asheville, it’s the norm.”
For Haymaker, Dissen has assembled a promising team: Chef de cuisine – the chef who runs the kitchen – Ashley Quick came from J.C. Holdway, the Knoxville restaurant (take that, Knoxville) run by James Beard Award winner Joseph Lenn. Sous chef Chris Boylston came from The Asbury. Pastry chef Ashley Anna Tuttle came from Amelie’s. And general manager Brad Grubb is an advanced sommelier from Charleston (take that, Charleston).
The space, almost finished when we got a look inside, should be eye-catching: Wrapped around a tight space on the corner, there’s a generous marble bar surrounded by ornate blue tile, a blue and gray color scheme, gold-toned pendant lights that emphasize the two-story space and a lot of shiplap and paneling from reclaimed walnut. Upstairs, the mezzanine can be dinner seating or private event space.
“The food is simple, craft-made with attention to detail,” Dissen said. “I want the space to feel the same way.”
Expect a short list of local and regional draft beers, a good wine list and an Italian espresso maker. Instead of a mixologist, Dissen plans a short list of cocktails that focus on house-made tinctures and preserves from local produce, with flourishes like a Benton’s Old Fashioned made with bacon-infused bourbon.
Everything is arranged to take advantage of the windows on the park, where Dissen is working with the city to have some garden space to grow ingredients. He’s also worked with the city to work in outdoor seating among the planters on the sidewalk.
“It would have been a drag to have the park and no outdoor dining. How many restaurants in Charlotte are on a green space?”
Where: 225 S. Poplar St.
When: Expected to open March 24 or 26.
Hours: Breakfast and lunch 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays, dinner 5-11 p.m. daily, brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Seats: 150, including outdoor tables.
Prices: Breakfast $2 to $8; brunch $6-$15; lunch $6 to $16. Dinner: Small plates $6-$14, large plates $18-$32 ($65 for lamb shoulder for two) at dinner, desserts $8.