Flour Power

When Trey Wilson, owner and chef of Customshop restaurant in Elizabeth, announced plans last spring to open his next spot on the back side of Park Road Shopping Center, it seemed to be an unlikely choice for the acclaimed chef known for his sophisticated fare. But since his announcement, the back lot area has morphed into one of Charlotte’s hottest destinations.

Diners headed to Wilson’s new Flour Shop can sip a pre-dinner cocktail at nearby swanky speakeasy Dot Dot Dot or share a post-meal dessert inside the area’s cozy branch of Amelie’s French Bakery. These days, it’s easy to be lured into an entire evening among the cluster of eateries tucked behind the bustling shopping center.

Flour Shop, with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls, shines from the very back corner. And its interior may be even more lively than its neighborhood. A wide U-shaped bar fills the room. On one side, convivial diners fill up tables and bar stools, and on the other, Wilson and his team work their magic, roasting tender meats on a crank grill and hand crafting fresh pasta on a long stone countertop.

“It’s dinner theater, in a sense,” says Wilson. “The kitchen is literally in the dining room, so you get to watch us make everything from start to finish—watch us make pasta and cook on an open fire.”

The bread is baked in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven and its inviting fragrance hits you as soon as you step inside. “After 11 years at Customshop, I needed a new outlet,” says Wilson. And after trips to Argentina and Chile last year—where he saw an entirely new style of cooking with fire—he was inspired to try his hand at something new.
If you can, snag a seat at the sleek wooden bar and settle in for the evening’s culinary performance. A curated wine list is designed to pair perfectly with the restaurant’s dishes, and you’ll want a glass to wash down that aforementioned bread, which comes crusty, warm, and drizzled in olive oil.

Wilson is known for his use of locally sourced seasonal fare—some dishes even come from his own garden. They change the menu weekly based on what they can source from farmers, fishermen and butchers, Wilson says. Start with shared plates like the coal-roasted butternut squash ($12). The flavorful vegetable sits on crispy focaccia bread smeared with fresh ricotta, and is soaked in a fresh basil and pumpkin seed pistou.

And while the restaurant is named for its fresh breads and pastas, anyone who has eaten at Customshop knows of Wilson’s skill with seafood. The daily specials are often ultra-fresh fish, sourced from Rock Stone Seafood in Southport, N.C. A tuna crudo ($12) features dark pink, delicate slices topped with dabs of creamy aioli. But it’s the barbecued Spanish octopus ($28) that may be the most notable seafood offering. Served with stewed corona beans and topped with a farm egg, it’s an unexpectedly rustic and incredibly flavorful dish.

Of course, the star of the show here is the pasta. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to watch Wilson at work on the dough as you indulge. Consider the raviolini ($24), plump pouches filled with fresh ricotta and dressed with lemon and crispy kale. And the squid ink linguini ($28) arrives in tangles of the shiny black pasta, tossed with king crab and chili pepper. Served on blue-grey pottery plates, there’s an elegant simplicity in all these dishes that lets their flavors really shine.

Unfortunately for those who crave something sweet at the end of the meal, there are no desserts on the menu at the moment. But plans for authentic Italian gelato and other simple treats are in the works. “Be on the lookout for something subtle,” says Wilson. For now, though, just stroll across the parking lot to Amelie’s. There, you can enjoy a sweet end to your evening in the back lot. www.flourshopfood.com