Kindred – Davidson, NC
I must admit that I have been pretty bad about exploring my new city and environs and seeing what's on offer. When I had dinner with a friend in Chicago a couple weeks ago and she asked me what restaurants I like in Charlotte, I found myself unable to come up with more than four or five––these places are the ones I love, yes, but visit all the time at the expense of the opportunity to try new spots. And in a city like Charlotte, where the culinary scene is just starting to find legs, that's a real shame.
I drive past Kindred every workday on my way to campus. In an old storefront on Davidson's quaint Main Street, it's been at the very top of my list in the area since I moved here. COVID, of course, played a role in not getting here earlier, but it's also a bit of a schlep up to Davidson if I'm not working, and on days when I am, I rarely want to settle in for a dinner after an exhausting slate of rehearsals. This Friday evening, however, was the first of my weekend, and the Davidson College Symphony Orchestra was playing a season opener concert. Add to that a truly beautiful early fall day which invited a long, breezy walk in nearby Abersham Park, and I had the perfect opportunity to finally dine at Kindred, called by some the best restaurant in the Charlotte metro area.
Kindred is exactly what a neighborhood restaurant should be these days––it's family-owned by a husband-and-wife team who live just minutes away, it is committed to its locale and is a pillar of the Davidson community, and it takes sourcing and ingredients very seriously, drawing on local and regional ingredients whenever possible. What's more, it's pretty reasonably priced. We need more small-business restaurants like this in this country, and fewer that are run by big corporate restaurant groups.
On a Friday night, even at 5:30pm, it was hopping, and one of the troops in the veritable army of servers took me upstairs to an unfortunately placed table in their rather large dining space on the second floor. I even saw a student of mine with an apron on bringing plates to tables, and got to chat with him. Amazing how tight-knit the Davidson world is. Even at 9:30pm, when I left campus after the concert, the restaurant and patio were both completely full, and I spied some additional folks I knew from campus.
The server was congenial and eager, if chatty, and clearly had a passion for the food. She first recommended an eggplant dish, which I rarely care for, describing it in breathtaking detail, and then got to what she called the "holy trinity" of dishes––the three things that have been on the menu since day one because they're just so good and popular, and their ingredients always in season. Sign me up, with one additional dish to see the more seasonal side.
Their milk bread is a staple, and I was very hungry, having not eaten much besides my morning green smoothie and also having consumed *ahem* something else green before my walk which tends to stoke the fires of the appetite. That is to say, I devoured this bread. It's so good, and served with the amazing house-cultured butter––I was almost embarrassed how quickly I consumed the ENTIRE serving. It even reminded me of my Grandma's rolls from childhood family dinners.
The bartenders here, despite appearing no older than your average Davidson upperclassman, are absolute sorcerers, so I had them whip up a "dealer's choice" cocktail with the instructions "boozy with gin." They delivered, and when I picked up the drink, wondering what precisely it was as the courier of the beverage walked away without a second word, a list of ingredients was on the coaster, which provided me a peculiar joy at the attention to detail. The cocktail, with gin, St. Germain, demerara, Angostura, and Grand Marnier, was precisely what the Doctor ordered (literally).
The first of the "holy trinity" (let's call this one "the father") was duck fat-fried potato wedges with a dipping sauce called "crab fat mayo." Generously seasoned and perfectly crispy, these were a little too good. I finished about half and saved the rest for resurrection in the air fryer while watching football.
The one dish I ordered outside the "holy trinity" was a crudo of Carolina snapper with coconut milk, macadamia nuts, sunsweet tomatoes, sugar cane, and several fresh herbs and other sliced veg. I can rarely resist crudo and really enjoyed this permutation, especially since it was a regional fish, but I will say I would give them a lot more credit if the dish was a shade more aligned with their food philosophy––while the late summer tomatoes and herbs were welcome and flavorful, coconuts and macadamia nuts are hardly Carolina staples.
Before the next dish I took a peek at their lengthy wine list and settled on a glass of unfiltered arneis from the Piedmont in northern Italy. Though I'm late to the party, I am loving natural wines these days, and the cloudy, but featherlight arneis was a perfect food-friendly wine for the next two courses.
The second dish in the "holy trinity," which I'll call "the son," consisted of perfectly fried oysters atop a dill yogurt and Calabrian chili oil. I have never understood the desire to fry an oyster, since a good raw oyster is so pure and wonderful on its own, but these were quite tasty and executed masterfully. The accoutrements were inspired as well––the cool dill yogurt had a tangy, herbaceous creaminess while the chili oil provided a welcome, latent kick-in-the-pants heat. Bravo.
To round out my blasphemy, let's call the next dish, the last in the "trinity," "the holy spirit." It is, for all intents and purposes, the spirit of this restaurant, and has been written up time and time again as the most iconic dish at Kindred. Conchiglie is the fancy Italian name for the type of pasta you get in your shell-shaped macaroni and cheese. This version is made in-house and colored with squid ink and then topped with plump Georgia red shrimp and an impossibly heady sea urchin butter. Famous for a reason, though could use some aesthetic finesse.
Feeling pretty full from the front-loading I did with the milk bread, I opted for a digestif-style cocktail to fill in the cracks and soothe the palate, and this "Soigné West," a name that made me laugh out loud when I read it, was perfect. Bourbon, amaro, and campari. Bitter, but velvety.
Davidson is such a vibrant community with many passionate, creative local vendors. I was thrilled by my meal at Kindred and will certainly be back to try the more seasonal side of the menu. The Kindred family has a real winner here, and it is definitely the best meal I've had in the Charlotte area so far. Can't wait to do more exploring, especially when given the opportunity to see our talented Davidson students perform!
I've got some Fall Break travel planned over the next week and I am so excited to share some new restaurant reviews! Natural wine in Boston, lobster rolls in Maine, a New York City restaurant I've been dying to try, and some old Salt Lake City haunts. Both of you, keep reading!