Our most valuable possessions are memories, though they cost you nothing. When I heard that SouthPark restaurant Dogwood Southern Table would be closing on Saturday, Aug. 26, it brought back bittersweet memories for me.
I discovered Dogwood on my second day living in Charlotte. My wife and I drove from Chicago on a Saturday with a moving truck not far behind. The next day was our wedding anniversary. Looking to have a celebratory dinner, I called several restaurants only to discover that many of them weren’t open on Sunday … a pattern in Charlotte, I later learned.
Fortunately, Dogwood Southern Table was, so I made reservations.
Located in the SouthPark’s Sharon Square, we opted for outdoor patio dining on that lovely late-September evening in 2019. I remember the service being stellar, but it was the food that blew my mind. We started with grilled oysters that were some of the best I ever had, but it was my entrée that had me wondering to my wife, “Is all of the food in Charlotte this good?”
They had a special called Lane Red Snapper. I grew up hating seafood, but if my mom made seafood this good, I would have been swimming upstream with my mouth agape hoping to catch a dish like this.
The skin was so crisp and so well-seasoned that each bite was a melancholy experience, because even though I couldn’t get enough, it was disappearing right before my eyes as I savored every last morsel.
That was my first remembrance of Dogwood, but it wasn’t my last. In 2020, I put together a “burger challenge” for Queen City Nerve in which I compared the burger specials at different upscale restaurants around Charlotte. Not only did Dogwood’s come out on top, it was the cheapest special at the paltry sum of $5 for a quality burger with fresh cut fries to boot.
The special is available Monday-Friday in the bar from 5-6:30 p.m. (that leaves two more chances to grab one), and I spent many a moment there enjoying the burger and the company — be they friends or the couple of guys behind the bar whom I met early on and never failed to make me feel right at home even if I was alone.
Of all of the restaurants I have eaten at in Charlotte in my four years of exploring the food scene, I probably recommended Dogwood to more people than any other. Before monthly Charlotte Writers Club meetings, I would often meet with my fellow members to share a burger and good times before heading to the club.
I remember one time, a guy was sitting at the bar to my left and he said, “Remember me?” We had met at Boardwalk Billy’s Raw Bar and Ribs while watching a Chicago Bears game and I had told him about Dogwood. Now sitting in the space itself, he said those three words that any helpful gastronome wants to hear: “You were right.” (He had the burger.)
On the restaurant’s last Monday in business, I visited one last time for a go at the burger special with friends who had joined me a few times previously. They were fans of Dogwood before I moved here and had been going to the restaurant for nearly 10 years.
Axel Dahlberg remembered his initial visit: “The first time was gorgeous. It was during Christmas, there was snow, the fountain outside was frozen and we walked in here and it was warm and welcoming. The fireplace was going and it was just a great feeling.”
His wife Janis Love added, “The service here is very good and the staff is super friendly. They go above and beyond compared to a lot of other restaurants. It just feels very welcoming.”
Dogwood was one of four Rare Roots Hospitality restaurants, a group founded by local restaurateur Jon Dressler. And while one venture is closing, new windows are opening for those of us who love Dressler’s work.
Joan’s Bakery and Deli, opening near his namesake Dressler’s Restaurant at 1100 Metropolitan Avenue in Midtown, will feature Jon’s mother Joan Dressler’s famous cheesecake recipe as well as carrot and apple cake recipes from her bakery days in New Jersey.
She got back into baking when Dressler’s opened its Birkdale location in 2003, eventually handling all the baking at all Rare Roots Hospitality locations. That lasted up until recently, and Joan’s Bakery & Deli will be Jon’s chance to honor his mother’s many decades of work in the food service industry.
On my first visit to Dogwood, I didn’t get Mom’s Cheesecake for dessert, but I soon learned the error of my ways and never passed on the opportunity again. Coming from Chicago where Eli’s Cheesecake was king — with a national reputation — I declared a new champion after just a few bites of the lightest and tastiest cheesecake to ever pass my lips.
Chef Rob Clement, who was the executive chef at The Porter House, another RRH restaurant, will oversee the bakery, bringing some deli treats such as pastrami and corned beef from his hugely popular pop-up concept Meshugganah. Joan’s is looking at a mid-October launch.
Also announced in June was Dressler’s Improv Kitchen, which now serves as the food and beverage program at Middle C Jazz Club in Uptown.
And then there’s Chapter 6, another future entry into the group that will open in The Line luxury apartment complex in South End along the rail trail, 2151 Hawkins St., on Sept. 16. Dressler’s goal with that restaurant is to capture the spirit of a coastal getaway with a menu that’s described as Spanish with a Moroccan flair and French with an Italian accent.
Dressler told Queen City Nerve the Rare Roots Hospitality team is always “mulling ideas and concepts,” which is something that’s evident enough from the paragraphs above, and that he had “been eyeing South End since well before the pandemic.” He said Chapter 6 will “put those test dollars spent in the Western Mediterranean to work while allowing Chef Scott [Hollingsworth] and Chef Jonnie [Cox] the opportunity to showcase their palate and skill set.”
Earlier this week, Dressler announced he will be closing Dressler’s Birkdale location in late September and renovating the space to reopen as a new Fin & Fino location in early 2024, giving those by the lake an opportunity to enjoy the Uptown favorite. He also told Queen City Nerve the team is discussing a couple different fast-casual options.
When asked why he made the decision to close Dogwood completely, Dressler corrected me. “We did not close Dogwood; we sold the lease and the contents. We did not sell the name.”
He said with the pending Chapter 6 opening, the timing was right, allowing the group to retain all but two of Dogwood’s employees, “which was a HUGE part of the decision.”
His last line brought a smile to my face, maybe as big as the first time I tasted his food.
“I will not rule out seeing Dogwood revived somewhere down the line. It would be a crime to see Duck and Dumplings go away,” he said, referencing one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.
It seems that all endings at Rare Roots Hospitality are simply opportunities for new beginnings.
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