Postcards from Italy
by Cathy Martin | photographs by Justin Driscoll
Saying goodbye to Crepe Cellar, the NoDa restaurant Jamie Brown and Jeff Tonidandel opened in 2009, was a bittersweet moment.
The couple had nurtured the neighborhood spot through the lowest point of the Great Recession, along with an expansion when the space next door opened up. Crepe Cellar maintained a loyal following as Brown and Tonidandel later opened Growlers Pourhouse, then Haberdish, the upscale Southern comfort-food spot down the street, followed by Reigning Doughnuts and Supperland, arguably the most anticipated Charlotte restaurant opening in 2021.
“This was a different place,” Brown tells me as she surveys the 88-seat restaurant, newly christened Ever Andalo, from a seat at the quartz bar that had been installed the previous day. “But the climate has changed. People’s expectations have changed, and the reasons people are going out have changed. I think people value a lot more sourcing and the craftedness of food, and we just felt like Crepe Cellar as a brand was not allowing our team to expand past crepes.”
So on January 30, Crepe Cellar closed and a mere five weeks later, the Tonidandel-Brown Restaurant Group opened Ever Andalo, a restaurant inspired by an ambling trip across Europe the couple took more than a decade ago.
Before their kids were born, the couple, both with MBAs, left comfortable corporate jobs — Jamie in marketing at Lance (now part of Campbell Soup Co.), Jeff in sponsorship with a NASCAR team — for an eight-month backpacking trip across Europe and Asia.
“We left without a plan,” Brown says. They spent much of their time in Italy: Florence, Milan, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily and Sardinia. Tonidandel knew his ancestors had come from a little town called Andalo in the Dolomites region of northern Italy — an area that had once been part of Austria — but he knew little about them. So the couple spent six weeks there, tracing Jeff’s family history and meeting distant relatives.
The couple had discussed reinventing the cozy neighborhood spot in 2019. After the success of Haberdish, which draws diners from across the area with its Southern-inspired menu (and some of the best fried chicken in town), they realized they could develop concepts with a broader appeal. Covid accelerated their plans. They began renovations in November, tackling small projects on days when Crepe Cellar was closed, and finished the work ahead of Ever Andalo’s March 5 opening.
Gone are the dark ceilings, wood floors and black awnings that made Crepe Cellar feel, well, like a cellar. Black-and-white mosaic tile floors, a vibrant botanical-print wallpaper and a new bank of windows across the front of the restaurant bring light and energy from the sidewalk into the space.
Though Andalo, the city, is in northern Italy, the menu isn’t specific to that region. “The tricky thing about Italian in general, whether it’s food or drinks, is a lot of people have [a set idea] of what it should be,” Brown says. “You also want chefs and mixologists to have creativity with it. In a grander scheme, Italian food still needs to evolve, too.”
In Italy, cooking often relies on using local ingredients, Brown says. Led by Chef Cory Owen, the restaurant works with Freshlist, which provides local chefs with produce from regional farms. Those items complement authentic Italian ingredients, such as olive oils, San Marzano tomatoes and cheeses. While the menu is organized into five courses in typical Italian fashion, sharing is encouraged, and skilled servers will help you navigate the selections.
Starters include housemade focaccia with a flight of olive oils, roasted Italian olives, and plenty of seafood dishes: tuna crudo, raw or roasted oysters, and tender grilled octopus with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Don’t skip the housemade burrata, served over a bright orange marmalade with grilled focaccia for just the right balance of sweet and salty.
You’ll find housemade pastas ranging from a mushroom tortellini to a cavatelli with homemade pork sausage, broccolini, sundried tomato cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The Calabrian chili pappardelle with a spicy beef ragu has a zesty kick, but the homemade ricotta served with it balances the heat.
While the menu is Italian, carbs are optional here, and you’ll find plenty of protein-heavy options such as a whole branzino, short ribs, chicken picatta and lamb chops. The dessert menu offers Ever Andalo’s take on tiramisu, along with cannoli, an orange olive oil cake and more.
The 80-bottle wine list is 100% Italian, developed by Michael Klinger, a Level 3 Sommelier who also runs the wine program at Supperland. Like Tonidandel and Brown’s other concepts, Ever Andalo has a stellar craft cocktail menu created by Colleen Hughes. Here, expect fresh takes on Italian classics, from homemade limoncello to the South of Pisa (Tito’s vodka, Galliano, grapefruit, lime, ginger beer syrup and bitters). There’s even a twist on the classic margarita (!) with pineapple-basil syrup and Calabrian chili.
Charlotte has seen more than a handful of new Italian restaurants in recent years, amid an already punishing period for the industry. Brown credits the staff at Ever Andalo, along with the group’s other concepts, with creating a unique dining experience that keeps customers coming back. And if the couple’s track record is any indication, Ever Andalo will enjoy a run as successful as its predecessor, Crepe Cellar.
“People are going to eat Italian food, but they’re [also] going for the experience,” says Brown, whose next big project with Tonidandel is the reinvention of the former Dilworth restaurant Bonterra, expected to open in 2023. “Let’s make it a beautiful time that I can remember and take with me. And that’s something that nobody can replicate.” SP
Ever Andalo is open for dinner Tues.-Sun. Weekend brunch will be added at a later date. 3116 N. Davidson St. Reservations are available at everandalo.com.