First Bite is a look at a restaurant that's opened recently, based on one visit -- not a full-fledged review. (Want to get notes like this as soon as they're posted? Follow me on Twitter: @helenschwab.)
The food: Lush, wintry and rich -- from small plates like "pot of duck" (think pate) to pork belly sliders to beef short ribs served with Anson Mills farro (a grain cooked to risotto-like texture). Former Harper's group exec chef Tom Condron is roasting and braising and skillet-searing fare designed to go with beer (the place is, after all, subtitled "Gastropub"), but it's got the cold-weather comfort food thing going on, too. About 20 beers are available on tap (about $2.50-$6.50) and nearly 50 by the bottle ($2.50-$9), with new ones rotating in: Flying Dog, multiple Allagashes, Stone Ruination (yum) and more. The wine list is interesting, too, if not as extensive. Lucky Gastro-Pig is a winner of a dish, roasted Black Berkshire pork shoulder served with crepes (though four aren't quite enough), pineapple, jalapeno, lime, peanuts, slaw, lettuce and sauce, so you can roll your own little packages. Short rib is terrific and the burger's a big sloppy thing with herb aioli, bacon and Sweet Grass cheddar. And a great bun. Temps need attention, but it's on the right path.
The look: You won't recognize the space as McIntosh's, let's put it that way. Rough woods, kegs stacked as columns, backlit screens portraying foamy beer on walls and chandeliers, a rogue's gallery of family photos and classic beer ads in the bar: It's witty without going too far. (OK, the foamy beer may be going too far -- but the framed ads are nothing short of amazing. Plan to peruse.)
The service: Educated, conversant and willing to recommend both particular dishes and accompanying drinks, these folk, in jeans and T shirts, keep the vibe comfortable yet smart.
Note: The place will serve a Thanksgiving buffet 11 a.m.-5 p.m. for $18.95, with organic turkey, prime rib, carved ham, cedar plank salmon, salads, shellfish, sides, dessert bar and more.
Details: Lunch ($5-$12) and dinner ($10-$21) daily. 1812 South Blvd.; 704-332-8830; www.thelibertycharlotte.com.