Just because a restaurant is "chef-driven" doesn't mean a chef can't drive it straight into the ground. Such mishaps are becoming increasingly common, but, in the case of chef Matt Wall, the North Quarter Tavern appears to be in no such danger. Wall honed his skills down the road at sister resto Citrus, and at NQT, he seems to have found his comfort zone.
Indeed, comfort is the key ingredient in many of the dishes sent forth from the kitchen. Judging from the ticker-testing pub grub on the menu, you'd think the American Heart Association was Wall's sworn enemy. I couldn't help but think of Barney Clark as I progressed through a starter of poutine ($10) fashioned from thick-cut chips ladled with duck gravy, house-made curds and smoked morsels of beef and pork. It's practically a meal in itself, and a valiant effort, no doubt. If there was any fault, it was that the curds lacked that necessary squeak.
Having been informed of Wall's in-house charcuterie program, we had no choice but to sample a board ($14) of spicy coppa, mortadella and duck ham. Vermont cheddar and bleu cheese were strategically placed on the board along with two different mustards, house pickles and a tapenade. With that tapenade, the olive oil drizzle on the coppa and mortadella wasn't necessary; the duck ham was spared, and it was the unquestionable star of the lot.
We quite enjoyed the wagyu steak tartare ($13), which also came served on a cutting board. (In fact, every dish we ordered, apart from the poutine, was served on a wood cutting board, reflecting a trend that's getting a little tired. America! Can we get back to serving food on plates instead of planks?) Anyway, the tartare, crowned with an egg yolk, was quite nice and came served with duck-fat crostini. The smear of tarragon mayo seemed to serve more of an artistic, rather than a complementary, function.
Mains, like fried chicken ($15) over bacony potato salad, are surefire gutbusters. A thick buttermilk dredge gave the beer-brined thighs a thick, crunchy, not light-and-crispy, texture, and the fact that the crunch tasted like doughnut batter made them all the more comforting. Just know that this is not your typical fried chicken. We also enjoyed a smoked kielbasa ($16) over pumpkin-potato hash, accompanied with a cranberry mostarda, pickles, and a not-so-sour kraut.
NQT is somewhat light in the dessert department, offering a hot fudge sundae, house-made ice cream and a root beer float. We tried the flight of ice cream ($7) – and yes, it was served on a wood plank – in perfectly serviceable peanut butter, pumpkin, and apple butter forms. They serve a brioche French toast for brunch – how about making that a dessert option? Ice cream only goes so far in satisfying one's sweet tooth.
As far as the service goes, it couldn't have been better. Sure, it took 10 minutes to get our ice cream because of a large party putting in their order, but it was cool – the vibe here was laidback, and so were we. In many ways, this chef-driven joint makes the ideal neighborhood restaurant – good service, a modest selection of drinks, and a food-focused ethic.
All we did was sit back and enjoy the ride.