I heard rumbles Zink was on the outs a couple days before I visited the SouthPark eatery during Charlotte Restaurant Week. By now Zink's closing is old news and they join the faithfully-departed ranks of other bygone SouthPark restaurants.
As is the case with most restaurant participating in the Queen's Feast, there were no tables without a reservation. Lil' Mama planned ahead and booked us a table for 8:30. Even with the expected crowds, we were a bit surprised when the hostess said it would be another 20 to 30 minutes before our two-top became available. With the lobby at standing room only, I bolted for two seats I saw open at the bar as the hostess apologized for the delay. I ordered one of the craft beers on draft and Lil' Mama ordered the Cherry Limeade cocktail which tasted as refreshing as the soft drink and just sweet enough to hide a potent dose of booze. As the 20 minute mark approached, we debated whether to eat at the bar because the babysitter meter was ticking. So when a high-top bar table opened and we decided to forget the dining room. The hostesses breathed a sigh of relief when I told her we seated ourselves and they could give up our spot.
Nine times out of ten my wife extensively peruses a restaurant menu before we visit and knows what she wants to order before we sit down. For Restaurant Week, Zink offered a rangy set of options and offerings ranging from a complimentary glass of sparkling wine, snack, hot/cold appetizer, main course, and desert. There had been no sign of acknowledgement from the bar staff after about 15 minutes of waiting, so Lil' Mama shook down a bartender and asked if we could place our order. In hindsight, what ensued next seemed a forewarning of Zink's impending closing. Then again, hindsight just seems to make me paranoid.
"Are you here for the Queen's Feast?"
"Would you like to start with a hot or cold?"
"We'd like to start with the spicy feta for our snack."
"Well we're not really advertising those but I guess that is okay."
I settled back and watched my wife's eyes narrow ever so slightly.
"Not really advertising them? You mean like it says choice of one next to snack here on the Queen's Feast menu?"
"Well we can do that, I mean if you want it."
"We're paying for it right?"
"I guess so."
"Then we'll take the spicy feta."
Our server encouraged us to place the rest of our order with about as much tact as if she were tapping her foot and bugging her eyes out at us. It wasn't really that welcome, hospitable feeling you get that makes you want to tell your friends about a restaurant. Not even the feeling you get from a server having an off night somewhere in the weeds and scrambling from table to table. It was a clear undercurrent of either resentment or hostility. Maybe even both. But we didn't notice because we were doubled over laughing.
"I guess we're not getting our sparkling wine," Lil' Mama said once we caught our breath. We had the night out. Why get pissed, right?
The spicy feta came with a lazily chopped pita and while the cheese was tangy and salty, the undercooked and raw parts of the pita dough ruined what would have probably been a great snack. When we brought the unprepared pita to our servers attention, she could have cared less and didn't bother with an apology or even a fully-cooked pita. We didn't want good feta go to waste. Then again, we weren't really supposed to have the snack so I guess that one worked itself out. For what was an encumbered start to the experience, it was going downhill fast.
Luckily our hot and cold choices arrived about ten seconds into our conversation of whether we should close the tab at the half-eaten, half-cooked snack and fight for a seat at the Cowfish. And they were awesome. We really enjoyed Zink's take on two quintessential elements of Southern American cooking with the deviled eggs and pimento cheese fritters with rocket greens and Tabasco aioli. I was glad to hear the Harper's group who created Zink was including some of their more popular recipes on the menus of their other operations. Some Harper's chicken fingers with a side of pimento cheese fritters and sautéed arugula would taste awesome.
My Carolina Mountain trout arrived hot and flaky. Eating a trout caught in those cold water streams along the Blue Ridge so close to home makes me happy. Coated in a sheen of smoked tomato butter, the tender fish fillets were held together by like more than a thin layer of crispy, crackly skin. The only thing that could have made that trout taste better would be if I caught it myself.
My rock shrimp paella with homemade andouille sausage was great. I thought the mini-paella pan was a nice touch. It was a cool presentation and kept the rice, shrimp, and sausage steaming hot. I would have ordered that meal again.
Lil' Mama indulged with a Waygu flank steak paired with arugula (they really liked arugula at Zink), creamy grits, and a Port wine reduction sauce. It was cooked a perfect medium rare. She raved about the flavor and was kind enough to share a couple bites with me. I liked the grits as an alternative to the mashed potatoes frequently offered with a steak. The grits were buttery and when they mixed with the juices from the meat and reduction sauce this unique and delicious flavor emerged.
Dessert came with our fixed menu and the caramel pecan bread pudding was no joke. Not too much can go wrong when you combine salted caramel, vanilla ice cream, and candied pecans. It tasted sinful and was worth an extra thirty minutes running trails the next day.
Aside from the fact I just love to feed my fat face with fun flavors, I also enjoy eating at and writing about restaurants and bars because they are authentic examples of the free market at work. I like how restaurateurs are unique individuals who put their cash and neck on the line in the hopes of carving out a following behind their concept and vision of cuisine and entertainment. That sounds like a tough task give how fickle the mob is these days around SouthPark. I commend the team behind Zink for taking a risk and following it through, and also knowing when to call it quits.