Dogwood Southern

Dogwood Southern Table's Quail leg on grit cake
Dogwood Southern Table's Quail leg on grit cake

Each bottle has its own character, its own personality, its own life.  Brian Lorusso knows each one personally and talks fondly about most of them as if he did the distilling himself.  One by one he pulls five bottles from the top shelf.  First, Evan Williams single barrel, then Woodford, two Wellers, and finally Angel’s Envy – a broad sampling of the massive collection of fine bourbons carried at Dogwood Southern Table and Bar. Lorusso pours into a glass precisely, considering color, texture, and of course, taste.  He passes each rocks glass around  for a sampling. As we taste, he eagerly shares his encyclopedic knowledge of bourbon.  It becomes apparent quickly that when you sit down at Lorusso’s bar, you aren’t going to just drink drinks. Not at all. You’re going to experience a true revival of one of the great American spirits and, most likely, enjoy one of the best cocktails you’ve had in a long time.

The best drink I’ve had is the drink I’ve not yet had.

Brian Lorusso tends to the bar at Dogwood Southern Table and Bar, a new-look fine dining restaurant in SouthPark receiving rave reviews for its regionally inspired, locally produced fare and cocktails.  The Charlotte native and graduate of UNC-Charlotte, Lorusso is an advocate for his hometown and its growing culinary and cocktail scene, attributing the progress to a renewed precision, focus, and determination within the city’s food and beverage industry. His personal mantra exudes this resolve: “Do not get complacent.  Don’t settle in. Keep setting the bar higher.”  Because of this mentality, Lorusso is always trying out new ideas, tackling new challenges, and vows to “always have a quest for knowledge. I’m going to keep searching, keep learning,” after all to Lorusso, “the best drink I’ve had is the drink I have not yet had.”

Lorusso and friends
Lorusso and friends

This mentality – the continued pursuit of excellence – is ubiquitous at Kim and Jon Dressler’s Dogwood Southern Table and Bar. Led by General Manager Tim Buchanan, the restaurant celebrates the natural bounty and culinary traditions of the South. Dogwood, located in the heart of bustling South Park in Sharon Square, more closely resembles an elegant yet rustic, southern home than the metropolitan environment it is surrounded by. Astoundingly beautiful features and a well planned layout incorporating natural elements  and local references – wood-fire cooking utensils, framed pictures, and engaging quotes – give the restaurant an almost Arcadian appeal. Reclaimed timber  beams, slatestone pillars, and historic brick walls frame the restaurant and set the stage. Flickering flames from the gorgeous statement fireplace greet guests at the entryway, while perfectly placed recessed lights and unique hanging pendants add to the perfect ambiance. To the right of the entrance, the large bar area, a popular destination after 5 o’clock and on the weekends, is often full of chatter, celebration, and impeccable cocktails. To the left, the polished dining area boasts white tablecloths topped with opaque stoneware and small bouquets of locally sourced flowers. At the rear of the restaurant, Dogwood’s Chef’s Table offers a unique dining experience: counter seating where guests get an intimate view of the kitchen and delve into the complex and fast-paced world of a chef.

Dogwood's Mango Shrimp
Dogwood’s Mango Shrimp

It is here where Exec Scott Hollingsworth, Chef Ryan Daugherty, and Chef Eric Litaker make the culinary magic that is Dogwood’s dynamic, revolutionary style. Known for its local sourcing, the menu changes daily and is reflective of seasonal ingredients provided by partnering farms. “It’s what they just grew, then boom its right on the menu,” an encouraged Hollingsworth said. Dogwood proudly sources from Boy and Girl Farms, Rowland Family Farms, Harmony Ridge Farms, Sunburst Trout Farms, Heritage Farms, Looking Glass Creamery, Hickory Nut Gap Farm, Fishing Creek Creamery, and many more. Heck, there is such a devotion to local products in the restaurant, that even the soap used throughout comes from Whispering Willows Soap in Lincolnton. And, there is no doubt that these local ingredients make a world of difference in the taste and aesthetic of Dogwood’s cuisine.  This is evident in entrees like their Heritage Farms pork loin with local peppers and peach bbq, Rowland Family Farm’s chicken duo with kale, butternut squash, confit, and local potatoes, and Anson Mills shrimp and grits. These and so many more of their dishes, from small plates to southern-inspired sides, are helping raise the epicurean bar in the Queen City.

The bar's backdrop at Dogwood Southern Table
The bar’s backdrop at Dogwood Southern Table

“Any [restaurant] that opens up in Charlotte and does a great job, that’s the best thing ever, ” said Hollingsworth. As a veteran of Charlotte’s food scene and a witness to Charlotte’s culinary transformation, Hollingsworth believes the city has proven that it is a premier food destination. “Charlotte was always a meat and potatoes crowd, but I think that’s changed in the last five years or so.” Surely it has, and it appears that the city, with gems like Dogwood, is poised to finally get the recognition it truly deserves.

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