Lex18, a dinner club and moonshine bar whose speakeasy past shines through in its throwback 20s decor, fine dining experience and novel approaches to both dinner and entertainment, invited us to sample their new offerings and publish our food review of the new menu. The new menu features twists on Southern favorites, and I was excited to see what was on offer.
Chef Chris Townsend started us out with a charcuterie platter, featuring organic salami, pate, various cheeses and jams over a stiff but tender bread. I enjoyed all of these offerings, especially the blackberry jam, prosciutto and fig combination.
The next course was a twist on jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese. The jalapenos were red and therefore not spicy, and they were drizzled with balsamic vinegar, but otherwise these were unremarkable. I’m not a big fan of peppers, but I try to overlook that when I am reviewing a dish with ingredients against my personal taste.
The salad course, also simple and fresh salads, felt rather unchanged from its original components, and didn’t blend well nor have any special personality all its own. I wondered how I was going to stab the raw cauliflower chunks with my fork without them skittering across the table, and this mental image came to life immediately when I tried. The kale fell off the fork and defied stabbing much either, so this wasn’t the most user-friendly salad.
The gf porter braised pork belly was a big miss for me. It was a piece of pork belly whose meat was overdry and rubbery encasing a hunk of fat which, for this fat-loving food writer, was nauseatingly large and difficult to imagine eating in full. The root vegetable hash below it did not hold its shape and was overcooked. The texture of the hash was so reminiscent of the blob of fat atop it that it ended up seeming like one big mushy, fatty mess without much flavor. For pork belly, it was pretty bland and lacked enough seasoning for my palate. I’d pass on this dish.
I am not a fan of the fried duck legs. After the last course, I have to admit I was immediately queasy at the thought of adding this one. I could feel my cranky gall bladder gearing up to deal with this new onslaught. Duck is very oily, heavy, greasy meat, and the legs most especially of all. These were fried with thick, soggy breading that outweighed the amount of meat inside. The blackberry drizzle on top made it worse. The end result was a fat saturated bite lacking much real flavor or seasoning and a one-dimensional texture.
Thankfully, NC catfish over grits was a delightful and welcome change from the heavy appetizers. A piece of broiled catfish sits atop a pile of creamy stone ground grits, with a few seasonal vegetables (I think it was the root vegetable hash) and lobster butter, which was barely noticeable. Still, a solid dish. Fresh and comforting at the same time. I’d order this one again, and I tend to shy away from catfish for its heavy fish flavor which was not overly loud in this chorus. Well done, chef.
The smoked trout cakes, likewise, were a delightful light lift. I am having trouble with the lima bean succotash. Lima beans are on my short list of things I cannot force myself to eat. I avoided them, and the rest of the succotash was fresh and tasty, and a nice complement in texture and flavor to the trout cake resting atop them. The cake itself was crispy and brown but tender and fresh tasting in the middle. Another score for me: I’d order this one every time.
By the time we got to the rabbit and waffles, I was pretty full, as this chef was very generous with his portions. I have to say that I don’t really enjoy chicken and waffles, so I was probably a little biased against this. I was glad to see the rabbit had not been fried; however, it had been overcooked so that the surface of the meat was dry and tough. The real winner here was the maple-coffee syrup which married the flavors of the waffle with the rabbit. I was surprised: I did not hate this dish. If the rabbit were more tender and not overdone, I’d have really enjoyed this.
The hng short ribs were good, as far as short ribs go. The blackberry bbq sauce was mild. But again, I felt this lacked seasoning and therefore had a flavor volume that was weak. As short ribs tend to be, they were fatty again and I didn’t eat much of this dish. I probably wouldn’t order them again.
Dessert was fabulous, and made by pastry chef Jennie Townsend. We were offered an Earl Grey and lavender trifle, made with heavy cream infused with the two flavors. It was absolutely divine: creamy and decadent balanced with the light and perfect crumbed cake. You’d think after all that fat I would walk away from this, but it was at once rich and fresh and light. My companion had ordered an Earl Grey and lavender cocktail which went incredibly well with this trifle. I’d go back to this supper club just for the trifle. I hope she adds it permanently to the menu, but Jennie informed us that she makes different trifles all the time. Ask enough for this and perhaps she will oblige us, though.
The other dessert brought out was an apple blossom tart and a moonshine ice cream, which she made in an innovative technique without an ice cream maker. It was lovely and intelligent, and the flavor was old-fashioned apple pie in a reimagined form. Another win for her.
Overall, I am less enthusiastic about the heavy dishes, but I very much enjoyed the lighter ones. This isn’t typical of my tastes as I am a girl who loves and believes in fat in food. There is a limit, however, and I think it was both individually and collectively exceeded in the non-fish entrees.
The ambience, exceptional service and always breathtaking moonshine and cocktails make Lex18 a great experience no matter what your dinner course selection is. I always leave feeling that have been treated to a special place and attentive staff. It’s beautiful and romantic inside, and a perfect date restaurant. Make reservations, because it’s a cozy and small place, to be sure you get into one of their seatings.