It takes guts to close a restaurant that’s been named the best in town and garnered a James Beard semifinalist nod. But when chef and restaurateur Paul Verica shut down his small but immensely popular Heritage restaurant in Waxhaw last August, it was because he had much bigger plans. His new restaurant, The Stanley, may have been the year’s most anticipated opening.
The Elizabeth neighborhood spot, which opened in late May on the corner of 7th Street and Pecan Avenue, is in a 1947 building that’s been home to a variety of businesses, and in a district once known as Stanleyville. A thoughtful renovation by d3 Studio preserved touches like the building’s original tin ceilings and brick interior walls before adding a sleek modern bar and sophisticated seating in gold and purple hues. Small, local touches are seemingly everywhere, from the staff’s hand-embroidered aprons by Kim Shaw of Small City Farm to modern wooden tables crafted by Brett Caldwell at Union District Design.
The marble-topped bar, though, may be the best seat in the house. It offers an up-close view of mixologist Larry Suggs working his magic on creative cocktails, such as the smooth “Songs of Home” topped with a creamy strawberry cabernet foam—and, perhaps most importantly, the chance to peek into the action of the kitchen from a window at the bar’s end. Because, as gorgeous as the space is, your attention will quickly turn to the kitchen and the inventive dishes coming out of it.
While there are a few larger entree offerings, small plates dominate this menu. “In the kitchen, we have more fun with small plates—we can take more chances with them,” says Verica, who is crafting the dishes alongside his son and sous-chef, Alex, as well as Ben Philpott, formerly of Block & Grinder restaurant. “That’s the way I eat. I rarely order an entrée, and if we do, we’re splitting it with a bunch of small plates.”
You’ll see that playful pushing of the envelope in small plates, such as the fried funnel cake topped with dollops of foie gras and sprinkled with fresh strawberries and mint ($17). Like much of the menu, it could be described as luxurious comfort food. A tangle of housemade pasta is tossed in a buttery ramps and green garlic sauce before being topped with a tender seared scallop ($19). And orbs of arancini are stuffed with fragrant pork belly, leeks, and goat cheese ($12).
For heartier appetites, there are entrees like fresh trout with risotto, beets, and spinach ($28), and even an elegant coq au vin ($53) designed for sharing with “a few folks,” according to the menu. But don’t get too attached to any dish. This menu, which takes it cues from the season, will be ever-changing.
“I want us to be in constant evolution,” says Verica. He even lists the farms that source the dishes at the bottom of his menu with the line: “A special thank you to our farmers… they do all the hard work… so we can play.”
The menu really hits its whimsical sweet spot with dessert. A peanut butter chocolate cup features a rich chocolate ganache topped with a sweet peanut butter that’s deconstructed as a light crumble but is creamy on your tongue. It’s half nostalgic, half sophisticated, and all decadent. Pair it with the After Dinner cocktail ($14), a bourbon coffee concoction with a cream ice cube that starts as a boozy black coffee drink, but melts into something that tastes like tiramisu. Or, for the ultimate after-dinner indulgence, visit on weekend nights when Verica plans to serve a limited number of late-night dishes like truffle oil-fried chicken tenders and fries after 10 p.m.
It’s this attention to detail mixed with lightheartedness that sets The Stanley apart—which is exactly what Verica wants. “There are so many new restaurants in the city—there’s something opening every week,” he says. “We have to make sure we’re beating the expectations.” thestanleyclt.com