FIRST LOOK: Dilworth tasting room SouthPark
by Cathy Martin
Jaffer Kovic developed a passion for wine while studying hotel administration and finance at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He’d planned to go into casinos, but that all changed while he was in school.
“I took a wine class and fell in love, and that was it.”
The Buffalo, N.Y., native honed his skills working under a couple of master sommeliers in Las Vegas, and later with the Del Frisco’s restaurant group. When he came to Charlotte to assist with Del Frisco’s opening in 2007, the Queen City made quite an impression.
Nearly a decade later, Kovic decided to move to Charlotte with his wife and two children, opening Dilworth Tasting Room on Tremont Avenue in 2017. The 1940s building that was once home to Dilworth Billiards is known for its wine selection, craft cocktails and intimate courtyard that’s appeared on just about every “best patio” list in town.
Now, after a two-and-a-half-year search for the right location, Kovic has brought DTR to SouthPark. Kovic estimates he looked at 100 places before the former Corkbuzz spot opened up at Sharon Square. After a renovation to make the space lighter, brighter and more inviting, DTR SouthPark opened Feb. 1.
“For this location, I wanted it to be more modern,” he says. “I wanted something clean, fresh and bright.” Kovic is bullish on SouthPark — it’s a red-hot part of town, with new upscale apartments, retail and offices popping up all around. He’s also betting that people living in south Charlotte will be slow to return to uptown offices as the city gradually awakens from a Covid-induced coma.
In the bar area, a large, curved leather sectional invites guests to settle in and stay for a while. Light bentwood bistro chairs give the 123-seat dining room a casual vibe, while blue tufted banquettes, hanging plants and moss art add pops of color. Fans of the original DTR might miss the courtyard with its koi pond and string lights, but DTR SouthPark has its own 63-seat patio that’s sure to draw a crowd as the pandemic subsides.
With a larger kitchen than its original Dilworth location, Chef Jonathan Shuler is able to offer a more well-rounded menu for lunch and dinner. Shuler joined DTR in 2019 after a year at ROCKSALT, and Kovic has left most of the menu development to him. An exception is Grandma’s Stuffed Peppers with chipotle aioli and chimichurri: The dish is based on Kovic’s grandmother’s recipe with Shuler’s Latin flair — his mother is from Puerto Rico — and has already become a customer favorite.
Snack on house-roasted nuts, truffle fries or cheese and charcuterie while sipping craft cocktails from bar manager Chad Whittington or a selection from the 400-bottle wine list. The crispy pork belly is slow-braised and served over a simple Brussels sprouts slaw for a lighter than expected appetizer. If you’re hungry for something with a bit more heft, try the grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes.
For a heartier meal, you might try the hanger steak with sweet potato-and-Brussels sprout hash or honey-glazed salmon with vegetable fried rice. Zucchini “scallops” — seared zucchini medallions served over gnocchi with mushrooms and parmesan — is such a flavorful dish you won’t miss the mollusks.
In a high-rent part of town where many of the restaurants are well-financed corporate chains, it’s nice to see another homegrown business putting down roots. With Shuler’s balanced menu of snacks, shareables and heartier entrees, a stellar cocktail program and extensive wine list, we’re pretty sure the neighbors will drink to that. SP
DTR SouthPark is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner seven days a week. The restaurant has a private event space seats 30. For more information and hours, visit dilworthtr.com
photographs by Chad Whittington