AS I WALK into the former home of Dilworth Billiards and spot bright red chesterfield sofas, I know I am in for a clever twist on a classic wine bar. Dilworth Tasting Room’s owner, advanced sommelier Jaffer Kovic, worked hard to maintain the character of the 1947, brick dry goods building it now inhabits. The iconic koi pond still exists in the enchanting patio area, sure to be popular as the weather warms. Additions such as the elegant Honduran mahogany, copper, and steel bar built by Hess Kovic, Jaffer’s father, infuse tasting room style.
The bar’s tagline, “In every empty wine bottle is a story,” is apropos. I scan the filled room, wondering about the conversations happening around me. There are several couples; a large group of women on a girls-night-out; post-work colleagues. The only downside of those conversations is the noise that permeates the open layout.
The cheese-centric menu, crafted by Croatian chef Ivana Bekavac, is limited, although there are some memorable items. The combination boards are highlights that can be customized to individual preferences. Choose from a variety of cheeses that are categorized by texture and span the globe. The selection changes monthly, but today, I have a flavorful, aged cow’s-milk cheddar called Prairie Breeze from Milton Creamery in Iowa alongside a mild, earthy Italian Sottocenere studded with truffles. The salumi list includes everyone’s favorite pork products: prosciutto di Parma, speck, chorizo, and soppressata. There is an air-dried beef bresaola, as well.
Four combinations are available, ranging from the small board with one cheese and one salumi ($15), through the Grande, including four of each ($49). The boards may seem a bit pricey, but portions are generous and come plated with sliced fresh fruit, pickled veggies, and assorted nuts on a beautiful, hand-hewn wooden slab.
Add a couple of starters, and you have yourself a meal. Try the warm rolls and spreads ($9) with tomato jam, an nduja/prosciutto spreadable sausage, and labneh, all made in-house and delicious. Or step it up with a couple of items from the “A Bit More Serious Stuff” column. The zucchini and goat cheese skillet ($10) was fresh and cooked until just tender, with thinly sliced roast zucchini over a bed of tomato salsa and sprinkled with goat cheese. There is that cheese again. The lactose intolerant might want to dine before they arrive. Transplants from America’s Dairyland will be thrilled.
There are a few simple flatbreads, including one with Spanish chorizo, manchego cheese, and roasted red peppers on a smear of bright green, nutty Romesco ($11). The menu also lists paninis. The truffled cheese melt is rich and decadent, and the sprinkling of truffle oil gives it an earthiness ($12).
The wine list is the hero here; it’s well thought-out, with accessible options for beginners through those with a well-trained palate. It could use more selections by the glass, however, as several varietals carry only a single label. You can create your own flight (pick three for $18-$22), or grab a bottle from the retail side to drink on premise (no corkage fees). There is also a lengthy beer menu. Just don’t expect to see any Charlotte craft brews. This is intentional, as Kovic wants you to enjoy local beers at the prolific breweries throughout the city.
End on a sweet note, with a dish of whisper-thin chocolate bark sprinkled with puffed rice, nuts, and spices and served with a side of freshly dipped chocolate-covered strawberries ($9).
I look around and imagine the regulars from the 35-year-old Dilworth Billiards returning to the still familiar space and sharing their memories. Alongside them are fledgling neighbors stopping in to create their own. By the end of the night, the welcoming nature of Dilworth Tasting Room will have everyone feeling as though they’ve been part of the story for years. I, for one, am looking forward to the next chapter.