Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Old Stone Vino is the Place to Be

Kannapolis has a lot of restaurants, but very few qualify as the “nice” restaurant, or the one you go to for special occasions. A couple of those are only open on the weekends. Where to go when you want a nice lunch or dinner, but don’t feel like going to a chain? Old Stone Vino. Old Stone Vino is in a stonefront house, sitting next to the train tracks. The house was being remodeled when I first came to town, opening a few months later. It would still be a few months after that before I finally decided to check it out.

Old Stone Vino has a beautiful stone stairway leading to the front door, but they have decided not to make use of it. To get to the door requires a long walk up a wooden ramp from the parking lot. I was actually a bit confused when I initially went, since there is another wooden stairway next to the ramp. I haven’t yet figured out where it leads. The beautiful stone stairway is blocked by either a piece of fabric or a patio table. Either way, it’s confusing.

While the stonework on the outside seems to be new, the same thing can only be said for the paint in the interior. In a style typical of older homes, the house is sectioned into many small rooms, each with two doorways. If the doorframes and some other architectural details were not original, the restorer did a fine job. Along with the new paint are some new light fixtures and molding. All the chairs and tables are black wood. Each dining room houses 2 to 3 tables, and all rooms are painted a different color. The effect is not jarring; rather, the colors work well to separate all rooms while providing a unified feel. Patrons are spread out amongst the rooms, which means that you may have a dining room all to yourself. I quite like this. Lunch feels like an intimate affair, and yelling is not required when communicating with your dining companion. Chain restaurants could learn something from Old Stone Vino.

Our first visit was to celebrate LA’s birthday. Old Stone Vino offered an all-you-can-eat lunch menu, with options including salads, soup, and sandwiches. LA and I each started with creamy tomato basil soup, with a spinach salad. The soup tasted like smooth tomato cream sauce, but more subtle. The woman at the table behind us told her friend that she goes there for the soup alone. LA didn’t care for it, but I did, although I wouldn’t go there solely for that soup. Our salad was composed of spinach, red onion, blue cheese, candied pecans, slices of Granny Smith apple, and an apple cider vinaigrette. Never one to enjoy the flavor of a raw onion, I picked all of them out. LA, being smarter than me, asked for his without the onions. While we both enjoyed the salad, the cook was more generous with LA’s than with mine. He got more apples, more pecans, and more blue cheese. In both cases, the cook was a bit heavy-handed with the vinaigrette. Next we both had a steak panini with carmelized onions. The steak was tender, with the sweetness of the onions making for a delicious sandwich. For a side, we both had the macaroni and cheese. When ordering Old Stone Vino’s mac and cheese, you are given the option of the type of cheese you want for it. The macaroni was cooked in a cream sauce, then topped with your selected cheese and baked before being brought out. LA got his with mozzarella, which I felt was too mild. I could feel the cheese but was unable to taste it. He enjoyed it, and that’s what matters. Mine came topped with melted cheddar, for a much more flavorful dish. While both were good, they were also greasier than I would have preferred.

Old Stone Vino recently changed their menu. We gave them a week to work out the kinks, then went for our second visit. Our first visit had been on a busy weekday, but our second visit was quieter. Our server was very friendly, if not a little too forthcoming. Gone was the all-you-can-eat lunch. The waitress explained that it had been very good for the customers, but was not “cost-effective” for the kitchen. Fair enough. We started with the warm artichoke dip, served with flatbread. The dip was a mix of spinach and artichoke hearts, with tangy goat cheese, topped with mozzarella and diced tomatoes. I felt that it needed a bit of pepper to offset the tanginess, but LA disagreed. Although we loaded up each piece of flatbread with dip, we still ran out of bread with a good deal of dip left in the dish. I asked if we could get more bread, and the waitress replied that it was $1, since giving it away wasn’t “cost-effective”. There’s that word again. I let her know that we would make do without additional bread. Old Stone Vino has the creamy tomato basil soup on the menu every day, plus they have a “soup du jour” listed as well. This always reminds me of the truckstop scene in Dumb and Dumber, but I try not to go through that scenario with every service person I encounter. Both times we have been to Old Stone Vino, we’ve been informed that they only have the tomato soup. Maybe this was my lucky day. The server advised me that the chef was making lobster bisque, but she didn’t know how long it would take to be ready. I ordered a club sandwich with a side of soup. Lobster bisque if it was ready, or tomato basil if it wasn’t. It was ready! The club sandwich arrived on three slices of country bread, with thick-sliced roasted ham and turkey, bacon, lettuce, Roma tomato, and pesto mayonnaise. The menu said the sandwich was made with garlic mayonnaise, but I wasn’t going to send the sandwich back to the kitchen because the mayo was wrong. I happen to like pesto mayo. The sandwich was difficult to eat because a) it was huge, and b) the crust was so crisp that I couldn’t bite through it. Not a sandwich to get if you’re there on a first date. If it’s not your first date, go ahead and order it. Just plan on taking part of it home, as I did. The lobster bisque was a light coral color, drizzled with parsley oil. It had a subtle lobster flavor, with a creamy texture interrupted by small pieces of tomato. I offered a taste of the soup to LA, but he opted not to risk impending death by ingesting shellfish.

LA ordered a vegetable flatbread pizza. Before I could even snap a photo, he had a piece of the pizza in his mouth. When I asked for a description, I got “mmmmmm”, which was then amended to “very light, very tasty”. The pizza was fully loaded with spinach, tomatoes, red pepper, onions, and mozzarella cheese. The new lunch menu is considerably larger than its predecessor, with the inclusion of the pizzas and an expanded salad selection. Apparently the chef loves onions—regardless of the type of salad you order, it will have onions on it. The good news is that the menu states that so people like me can order it without the onions. LA also felt it very important that I mention the decorative jar of lemon slices sitting on the windowsill. He was quite obsessed and told me several times to include that. So, for LA: we noticed a decorative jar of lemon slices sitting on the windowsill.

I believe that the restrooms can say a lot about a place. They are easily overlooked, but very important to me. The restrooms at Old Stone Vino were well-maintained and clean, although the men’s was out of paper towels. There was even a choice of hand sanitizer and hand lotion that looked remarkably like mayonnaise. I asked our server if they had recently gotten a new chef, which may have accounted for the menu change. She said that Brandon Turner became chef a few weeks ago and had been working on the menu since. Making it more cost-effective, I’m sure. So far, I’m impressed. My next visit will be for dinner, since they offer free wine-tastings on Tuesdays and live music on the weekends. While Old Stone Vino is out of my current budget on a regular basis, I like knowing that Kannapolis has a good restaurant where I can go when I want to feel like a grown-up.

Old Stone Vino Bistro & Wine Bar is located at 515 S. Main St. in Kannapolis.

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