Vine American Kitchen Defies The Conlan Circle Curse
I gotta admit. When I saw a new restaurant going into the seemingly cursed space off Conlan Circle near the Gates of Ballantyne, I suspected the new owners were either gluttons for punishment or seasoned restaurateurs. One might wonder if more sinister forces are at work when the same restaurant space sees concept after concept get torpedoed. After all, this was one of the early restaurant locations to open in Ballantyne and for years nothing seemed to survive. Was this place on an ancient Waxhaw burial ground, or had the food and service from the previous occupants merely sucked? I suspect more of the later but you never know.
On my way to and from work, I made note of the structural changes and quick effort to bring a new concept, Vine American Kitchen, to life. I wondered if they could avoid the same fate Adam’s Piano Bar and City Range met at Conlan Circle. There was only one way to find out if Vine seemed built to last.
I’m not sure what it was about the interior of Vine American Kitchen made me think of some art deco dining room scene in a Scorsese movie. Maybe it was the dark wooden booths with deep seats and off-lot, upholstery covering the high seat backs. Maybe it was the low recessed lighting and brick pillars spread across the big open room. Maybe it was the kinda random but strangely-kinda cozy fireside lounge with a gigantic hearth. Maybe it was the stiff-ass Old Fashioned I put back while Lil’ Mama and I checked out the bar. Most likely it was the sum of all parts. I liked the vibe. It made me want to camp out in one of the booths listening to bossa nova with a cocktail in hand.
We were eating out with some friends that night and they announced they were expecting a baby, so the mother-to-be earned the honor of ordering the appetizer and she picked the Southwestern Guacamole. Everyone at the table was a guacamole fan and we attacked that bowl when it came out of the kitchen. As far as flavor goes, I liked the balance of lime juice, salt, tomato, and ripe avocado. However the texture on our particular order was a bit off the mark. While some avocado was mashed up enough to easily scoop up with the warm, house made tortilla chips, a good part of the guacamole consisted of large wedges of avocado that broke up the chips or were bigger than a silver dollar. Although still tasty, it made the dish go way too quickly amongst four people and a touch difficult to eat when the toppings outsize the delivery system. Sure we could have cut the chunks up with a knife but who does that to guacamole.
I asked our server what she recommended and she mentioned the Maryland Crab Cakes are the most popular entree on the menu. Although I took her recommendation, the menu consisted of diverse and original takes on American-style fare (soups, salads, sandwiches, and meat-and-two sides entrees) ranging from a hefty, fresh sliced sirloin French Dip to a blackened shrimp chopped salad with Maytag blue cheese, pico, egg,- the works. They pride themselves on using as many local, seasonal ingredients as possible in the food and fresh-squeezed juices at the bar. The menu seemed well suited to accommodate the bountiful harvest of the temperate Carolina climate.
Now we all know we should eat more vegetables so I try to order a side salad with my meal. Vine offered a Caesar or Vine salad as an accompaniment to the entree and I went with the Vine salad. In theory, the fiber in those extra veggies should help fill me up and help moderate my consumption come the main event. But not me. I plowed through my salad with gusto and found the mix of light, young mixed greens, crisp cucumbers, smooth goat cheese, sweet grape tomatoes, and buttery toasted almonds to be a great warm-up for my crab cakes.
Whereas most of the crab cakes you see on the market resemble a crabby pattie, Vine serves their Maryland Crab Cakes in a style that reminded me of drop biscuits plopped on the lid of a Dutch oven. Assymetric hunks of crab meat, some fatter than my thumb, are cooked until a golden crust forms on the outer most edges. The spicy remoulade sauce seem to glisten and seep between every cranny of that decadent crab. I can see why the are so popular. Vine pairs the crab cakes with a Napa cole slaw tossed in a refreshing cilantro dressing with a hint of sweetness to offset the pungent cabbage. The fries were cut into long, thin spears and served hot and crispy. I thought the salty starchiness of the potato was a nice compliment to the rich crab meat and sweet slaw.
Although I only experienced one of the entrees, I’d be willing to give Vine another shot. The other menu choices looked creative and tasty without being overambitious. And in regards to the Conlan Circle Curse, I don’t really think one exists. You make your own luck and opportunities in this world. It seems more often than not, fortune favors the brave and the risk-taker. Next time you’re looking for a spot to try out in Ballantyne, give Vine a try.