Block & Grinder works it out

What’s surprising about Block & Grinder isn’t the burger.

You’d figure a place named for the biggest tools a housemade burger requires would produce a good version of that thing.

You’d figure locally produced beef (this from Salem Hills, in Marshville) would go from the chopping block into the grinder, and that the result would be what I call steaky: just a little of that rich undertone you get when there’s short rib (and brisket!) added to the chuck. You’d figure the bun would be good (though I wished for a bit more density) and that accompaniments would be upscale, from Gorgonzola to pimento cheese, shiitake to house-cured maple bacon and/or a fried duck egg from Rooster Hill Farms in China Grove. A fine upscale burger.

You also might feel pretty optimistic about foods that may hit the block but miss the grinder: smoked pork cheek, say, with mushroom bread pudding, or a hanger steak with corn cakes, or carpaccio with an arugula pesto. And you’d be right about those as well.

What might surprise you is how things that don’t come near either fare pretty well, too. Like N.C. trout with charred corn and greens; a pretty, simple salad from Lucky Clays; a Negroni from the bar, which offers a short, creative, well-edited cocktail list. (Most interesting recent entry: a Mezcal Mule, a riff on the classic Moscow Mule, this using Del Maguey Vida mezcal and a few surprises: passionfruit and house-candied ginger.)

Chef Ben Philpott works the seasonal focus here, shifting among the complements to his proteins (and there are non-meats, like the “Anti Burger,” made with mushroom and black beans, served with chow chow). HIs charcuterie includes a duck ham and house-smoked salmon, and “in jars” there are a well-modulated chicken liver mousse and pickled vegetables, among other things. He crafts the straightforward (steaks with assorted sauces, sides and toppings) and the less so (a special dinner’s foie gras- and truffle-stuffed apple with Gorgonzola mousse), and you’re likely to spot him doing it, since he’s a tall guy and the kitchen is visible from both bar and dining room.

Though I’ve had the occasional misstep – a steak not perfectly trimmed, a salad overdressed – they’ve been slight, and servers are the sort of warm, chatty bunch that don’t rush and rapidly take care of anything awry.

You can eat at the bar, a warm length of wood with aluminum stools, next to the meat case, where you can pick out a few cuts to go. The rest of the space is mostly large windows, wood and metal furnishings and not much else. Spare and serviceable, with black linens and good glasses.

Owner Jed Kampe is preparing to open a second location this spring, at Lake Norman in the LangTree development, off I-77’s exit 31, with construction starting in January, if all goes according to plan. Kampe began with a butcher shop (the New York Butcher Shoppe, to be specific) in Myers Park, then decided he wanted to do more of a mixed venue. It took awhile to place it, then to evolve the concept.

I’m guessing the second one, if it keeps this warm character, will do well. Quickly.