You’ve got to love a fancy wine place with a bottle of Thunderbird behind the bar.
Jaffer Kovic, the owner of the new Dilworth Tasting Room, which opens at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the old Dilworth Billiards space at 300 E. Tremont Ave. near South Boulevard, says it’s symbolic. He’s had one in every place he’s opened, even though he never opens it.
“That’s the feel of the place,” he says. “I don’t want it to be stuffy.”
I dropped in for a quick visit Tuesday while they were sweeping and getting everything ready to go. Or, ready to go a second time: Kovic had a drop-in on Saturday. He was expecting 30 people to brave the icy roads, but he got 120. So yes, there’s a lot of interest in the place.
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Eric Sprouse, who owns the building, was on hand when I stopped by, as excited as a dad with a new baby and marveling at what Kovic has done with his comfy old private club, known for its neighborhood feel and its Wednesday night billiard tournaments (which Sprouse usually won).
A few highlights:
▪ The menu is still being finished, so I couldn’t get a picture of it. But expect a wide selection of cheeses, salumi, panninis (including a truffle version with five cheeses and shaved truffle), bruschettas and a few desserts, like hazelnut panna cotta. The cheeses will change “daily, weekly, monthly,” said Kovic, depending on what he gets in. Look for a wide range, from Iowa’s Prairie Breeze to Garrotxa from Spain. Prices range from $9 to $18, depending on how many you get, and they come on hand-cut boards with arugula, nuts, grapes and breads.
▪ The wine list isn’t huge, but it’s thoughtful, with sparkling, whites, reds and dessert wines. A few standouts: Sidekick from Lodi, Tobin James, Honig, Penner-Ash and Four Vines “Naked.” You can get flights of whites and reds, and single pours range from $10 to $39 (yes, for a glass, but it’s Revana.)
Kovic wants the wine list to be something you explore, from serious to beginner. “Just something cool to taste -- that’s what I want to be. Train your palate. If you’re a server, come in here and we’ll train you. If you’re a beginner, come here.”
▪ The beer list isn’t local, on purpose. “If you want a beer from Charlotte, you should go to a Charlotte brewery,” Kovic says. He’s got a lot of good imports (Chimay, Delirium Tremens, Fullers London Price, Traquair, Unibroue), and a smattering of N.C. beers (Duck Rabbit, Wicked Weed, Highland). Oh, and Bud Light: “I’m a fan of Bud Light, so it’s on there.”
▪ The wine retail area is back where one of the pool tables used to be. There’s no corkage fee if you want to buy a bottle to drink there, or you can shop for something to take home. Prices range from $15 to $300.
▪ The look keeps the turn-of-the-century feel of the original room, with ornate mirrors, “gas light” fixtures, and lots of long couches. Two red ones face each other in the middle of the room, a long black one lines one wall and a yellow one is still on the way.
▪ The outside garden and koi pond still look almost the same, although the bar has been replaced and fixed up to be a real outdoor bar where you’ll be able to get service when it warms up.
Kovic is hoping it will become a neighborhood spot, with the same relaxed feel it’s always had.
“I want it to be about the place, the building. Such a legendary spot.”