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.
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.
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.