Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

A Birthday in The Cellar Leaves a Bad Taste
Feeling salty

By Darrell Horwitz

January 21, 2020

Birthday dinners are very important to me, and mine came up shortly after moving to Charlotte from Chicago. After doing a little research, I chose The Cellar at Duckworth’s. The question was: Would The Cellar at Duckworth’s be up to the challenge?

Located in Uptown, the restaurant resides below Duckworth’s Grill and Taphouse. You walk down 17 steps, turn to the left, and enter a dark, windowless cavern. It was exactly how I envisioned it.

My wife’s parents joined us since they were in town to check out our new digs. We were seated promptly for our reservation and took in the atmosphere. There was a warmth to the room, though the surroundings made it loud and difficult to talk.

Starting the party with a drink, I ordered the Mezcal Thymencello. It had a spicy little kick to it and was served in a unique bottle with a cork. It was a good choice, and The Cellar has an interesting cocktail program.

The in-laws started with the house-made waffle cone that included poke tuna, coconut shrimp and Sriracha chicken each in their own cone for $15. The chicken had a sweet-spicy thing going on and the marinated tuna had a fresh, crisp taste. I opted for the char-grilled oysters for $16. It included five mollusks with creole butter and pecorino. It had a salty cheese flavor when melded with the butter. A grilled baguette was included. It wasn’t a bad dish, but didn’t go snap, crackle and pop with flavor, either.

When I ordered my entrée, I was assured by the young lady serving me that “these were the best steaks in town.” I went with a Kansas City strip for $47 and my wife chose the shrimp and grits that ran us 18 bucks. I ordered the truffle fries to accompany my steak. The parents went with the black grouper with Anson Mills Carolina gold pesto rice, artichokes, candied carrots and leeks for $22. They liked the dish, but since they were already sharing, they didn’t share with me.

Kansas City strip steak. (Photo by Darrell Horwitz)

My fries came before the main course, which was surprising. They were salty good and didn’t need the aioli that came with. Then my steak arrived. Advertised as certified angus beef and cooked at 1800 degrees, I admired the char on the outside, but after taking a bite, I got the feeling that it was marinated in the Great Salt Lake before being thrown on the grill. I had never tasted a steak so salty in my life. My knife could barely cut through. The more I ate, the less I liked. It was very chewy and lacked the mineral tang that resonates with quality meat. I asked my server if the steak was aged, already knowing the answer.

She told me that they don’t age the steaks “because they’re that good.” They’re not — or at least mine wasn’t.
My wife liked her shrimp and grits. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, spicy and came with a 6-minute egg. After a bite, I thought it was a good dish. We finished up with the campfire almond s’more for dessert. It was good but not memorable.

When I have birthday leftovers, I normally look forward to reliving the meal the next day, but my doggy bag sat in the fridge for a week until my wife reminded me about it. I told her to throw it out.

I thought it only fair to give the restaurant a second chance. We sat at the bar this time since the restaurant was packed on a Saturday night. I ordered the cellar burger medium rare for $15, and my wife had the kimchi gnocchi and Heritage Farms pork ragu for $14.

The burger was cooked perfectly and was probably the best burger I have eaten thus far in Charlotte. Since my dish came with fries, my server asked if I wanted truffle fries. They seemed to be missing the truffle flavor this time, and I was missing an additional $2.50 when I received the bill. It would have been nice to let me know there was a surcharge since she asked.

 

Gnochhi. (Photo by Darrell Horwitz)

 

My wife enjoyed her gnocchi, as did I. She mentioned it had a lot of taste. I thought it was bursting with flavor. The kimchi kicked the spice level up a notch. Great dish for the price and a generous portion.

It’s worth a visit for the interesting setting alone. If you make the right menu choices, it can be an enjoyable experience. Just be wary of selecting a steak, and bring your ID if you plan to drink. They card everyone, which seemed strange based on the ages of the people they asked.

My rating is 2 bites out of 4 because the steak and the truffle fries shakedown left a bad taste.

5 thoughts on “A Birthday in The Cellar Leaves a Bad Taste
Feeling salty

  1. This title is very misleading since only two items were bad based on the whole story. Now I understand that the steak was the most expensive was horribly cooked but I was expecting a much worse experience than what I read based on the title. I never trust any restaurant to cook steak the way I like it unless it’s a steak house. Let’s not create click bait titles on qcnerve.

  2. All Duckworth’s locations card everyone. Most other places around here don’t so long as you look “of a certain age”.

    1. Yes, it’s definitely a policy they have chosen as a company. Also, no matter your age, in the state of NC, you must have a valid/legal form of ID on you in order to consume alcohol. They are simply covering their bases by ensuring all patrons, regardless of age, are abiding by the law. If you plan to consume alcohol at any age, you should always be prepared to abide by the laws associated with consumption.

  3. Hi Darrell, thanks for the article and providing detailed feedback of your visit. I see some notes around your food that concern us, especially the flavor of the steak. While we do not age our steaks, we do season them and cook them under intense heat to provide a Pittsburgh style char to exterior. Based on your experience, it does seem like the seasoning was not executed to our regular standards. The way we season our product should have only enhanced the flavor of our Certified Angus Beef steaks and not killed your pallet. We were heavy handed on your dish and this will be addressed quickly.
    We would like the opportunity to connect with you and discuss more about your visit. If you have time, would you mind sending us your contact info so a member of our team can reach out soon? If you could reach out to info@thecellaratduckworths.com we will be in touch.
    Thanks again for the feedback, we take this very seriously.

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