Helen Schwab

Corkbuzz excels beyond the bottle

You know what the wine looks like. Here’s a Commonwealth: gin and elderflower sparked with Sauvignon Blanc.
You know what the wine looks like. Here’s a Commonwealth: gin and elderflower sparked with Sauvignon Blanc. HELEN SCHWAB

The food: When news circulated last spring that Laura Maniec would open a branch of her New York “wine studio” in Charlotte, the buzz was about the wine: Maniec gained her master sommelier status at 29, after all, and her Union Square location was getting good reviews for refreshingly engaging wine service and education. (She and co-founder Frank Vafier hadn’t opened the Chelsea Market site yet.) So what a delight to find the food on our first visit here so very good: Duck nothing short of stellar, seared hunks of breast served with Swiss chard and a quinoa salad and rich apricot and a little aged balsamic. Chicken-fried rabbit, crunchy and juicy, with a touch of sweetness in its jicama slaw and perfectly seasoned cream gravy on the side. Trout with dill hollandaise, greens and smoked potato wedges.

Corkbuzz’s culinary director is AJ Schaller, who’s worked for Daniel Boulud and staged with Michel Bras, and who aimed to add a bit of Southern influence to some dishes here. (Charlotte’s chef de cuisine is Allen Evans.)

Well-chosen cheeses and charcuterie share space with a short list of snacks (olives, gougeres, oysters) and appetizers (salad with watermelon and fine feta, citrus-cured salmon). Entrees include a couple of pastas and a burger our server swooned over. Lunch changes a few things and adds a few sandwiches, but brunch is next in my plans. Lemon ricotta pancakes! Cornflake-crusted French toast! Avocado toast with Gruyere and macadamia and radish! I’m all in.

The look: Simple, clean and glass-centric: Mirrored storage shows off handsome stemware and bounces light around the woody/neutrals interior, zinged by the occasional brilliant pillow. Seating options are varied (bar, banquette, tables of different sizes) and there’s a long private room tucked behind a glass wall. One note: All those hard surfaces can make the place quite loud.

The service: Servers offer some good background on both wine and food and strike a balance between warmth and efficiency. The desire to make you comfortable with what’s offered is palpable, beyond the class lineup (extensive) and clever notions such as the Champagne Campaign (half-price bottles; Maniec is evangelistic about the stuff) and Sunday clambakes (the concept: Pay in advance and pretend you’re going to somebody’s house for dinner). And of course the wine: 40 or so by the glass on a given day, and 350 on the bottle list, with widely divergent price ranges, finds and surprises. (More to come on that.)

The details: Lunch (noon-3 p.m. weekdays) about $8-$20; dinner (5-10 nightly) $13-$31; brunch (noon-3 Saturday-Sunday) $8-$19. 4905 Ashley Park Lane (in the area where Dogwood Southern Table is, in SouthPark); 704-625-1328; charlotte.corkbuzz.com.