Have they gotten comfortable? Relaxed a bit? Are they not working as hard to keep “that creative edge”? Simple answer – “No”.
This time, Chef James was in house, but wife and co-owner, Ashlee, was off at a catering gig. It was fascinating watching him though the windowed kitchen door. There was no question he was in charge and on top of everything.
At one point, I could tell Chef James had finished cooking an order and expected the server to pick it up quickly. The server happened to be outside taking orders, answering questions. He paced, looking out through the small window on each pass. Impatient, he poked his head and shoulders out the door. His expression said it all, “Where ARE you? This is fresh, hot and ready to go. Get it delivered now at its peak!” Happily for the server, Chef saw he was working, not slacking, so he calmed down a bit.
They’ve built their following among Albermarle-ites. About half the customers this night knew each other, including three or four guys that hung at the bar for an hour or so. One gentleman – you know the type I’m talking about – khakis, pink button-down dress shirt, loafers w/o socks – held court at a corner table, greeting locals as they came in.
It was just as comfortable for us out-of-towners.
PIC and I decided to share an appetizer, soup and salad before ordering entrees.
North Carolina Bay Scallop Gratin (9.95) arrived first. I was really curious as to how they were going to pull off a scallop gratin. Beautifully. These small gems (looking like mini marshmallows) were a perfect fit for this gratin baked with locally-grown spinach and poached garlic. As usual, we asked for additional crostinis to soak up every last drop, and were accommodated at no additional charge.
Chilled Strawberry Soup ($6.95) and Fresh Mozzeralla & Local Heirloom Tomatoes ($7.95) arrived at the same time. We each had half, then switched.
Chilled Strawberry Soup made with local strawberries sounded so refreshing, but I wondered if it was going to be too sweet. Chef thought about that, too. He heavily drizzled the soup with Stilton cream to cut the sweetness and added a few candied pecans for crunch. I liked it – colorful, different – but it was too sweet for PIC’s taste. Give it a try and see what you think.
This salad hints of the classic Caprese. “Perfection”. Is that going too far when describing Square’s house-made Mozzarella and heirloom tomato salad topped with fresh mint pesto, then drizzled with balsamic? Man, that cheese was fantastic!
For my entree: Roast Pork Loin ($25.95) finished with a red wine and plum demi-glace. The pork was cooked perfectly. Tender and moist, balanced over spinach and potatoes gratin. Lovely.
PIC went with the 8oz Peppercorn Filet of Beef ($25.95) finished in a Sherry Peppercorn sauce and served with potato gratin and “Chef’s vegetable”. This night it was asparagus. We both had the same thought as soon as PIC’s plate was set in front of him: “Those spears are awfully big. Hope they’re not woody or under-cooked”. Happily, I can report they were scrumptious.
Partnered with Chef James’ delectable sauce, the filet was tender, flavorful and cooked as ordered – medium-rare.
And now for the finish. We each ordered a Creme Brulee with coffee: standard for PIC, butterscotch for me. Of course we shared.
In this writer’s humble opinion, that Butterscotch Creme Brulee was probably the best Creme Brulee of any flavor I’ve ever had. Creamy-custardy (is that a word?) and with sublime butterscotch flavor, it was made wit local eggs, cream and butter. Chef James, please keep this on your menu!
P.S. It’s true, there’s no freezer, there’s no microwave, in Off the Square’s kitchen.
Off the Square
114 South 2nd Street
Albemarle, NC 28001