Monday, May 24, 2010

First bite: The King's Kitchen

First Bite is a look at a restaurant that's opened recently, based on one visit -- not a full-fledged review.

The food: Run by chef Jim Noble and staff as a faith-based, not-for-profit venture, this is designed to "employ, train and minister ... to troubled youth, rehab graduates and other members of our community who are in need of employment." Profits go toward feeding the hungry both in Charlotte and other parts of the world. Given that, you may be surprised to find the price points so affordable: sandwiches for $5-$8, veggies for $2.50, meat-and-threes for $8-$11.50. But if you're familiar with Noble's eponymous fine-dining place, or the more casual Rooster's, you won't be surprised by the quality here. Aunt Beaut's Pan-Fried Ashley Farms Chicken is a crowd-pleaser, I'm told, but I couldn't resist chicken livers (moist, though a mite heavily battered), killer grits (yes, they're Anson Mills), collards (you'll be offered vinegar, which you should, of course, take) and perfect sweet potato mash, plus cornbread worth drooling over, and delectably rich biscuits. The meats include pot roast and fried flounder, country-style steak and grilled chicken, but the vegetables are an even more impressive litany of welcome diversities: butter beans, creamed corn, pan-seared cabbage, fried green beans, Sea Island red peas, roasted beets.

The look: Simple but elegant, it's a large dining area with segmented areas, handsome artwork and a lot of bustle.

The service: Buttoned shirts and jeans and gracious smiles are the common denominator, along with enthusiastic menu descriptions and educated answers to food questions.

Details: Lunch (about $5-$11.50) 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays and Sundays; dinner, beginning May 27, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 129 W. Trade St.; 704-375-1990.

June 10 brings a fundraiser at the restaurant with a reception and silent auction, then dinner and live auction. Tickets are $250 per person, $2,000 per table of eight.