Veggie Heaven

Plaza Midwood’s vegetarian restaurant, Fern, has been replanted in Dilworth.

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A beloved corridor on Central Avenue, in the heart of Plaza Midwood, saw a mass exodus of businesses this past summer to make way, via new residential developments, for Charlotte’s metastatic growth. This left Fern, Flavors from the Garden looking for a new home. It didn’t take long, however, for the upscale veg-friendly eatery, which opened in 2011, to replant itself in Dilworth along a newly vibrant stretch of East Boulevard, where restaurants are popping up like seedlings in a garden.

Moving is never ideal for a restaurant, but there are perks, says Executive Chef Matt Martin. The former location shared space with Something Classic Catering, one of the many businesses owned by Fern’s parent company, the Mother Earth Group. Maneuvering between restaurant service and catering gigs within a shared kitchen space was often a logistical feat. Now Fern, the earthy, intimate restaurant can stand alone in its new space, which formerly housed Something Classic Cafe, another one of the Mother Earth Group’s properties.

Where the previous location felt like a fertile greenhouse, Fern’s new location (1419 East Blvd.) feels like you are dining in someone’s comfortable home. The decor is similar to the old location, reinterpreted to fit the space that showcases a peninsula of windows overlooking the new (and bigger) patio space adjacent to the pleasant bustle of the pedestrian friendly East Boulevard. Vintage shutters decorate the ceiling, and a familiar display of glass bottles suspended with twine hangs above the open kitchen, where Chef Martin resides. Bellied up to his work station is a row of bar seating for voyeuristic vegetarians.

The food is a reflection of Martin’s inclinations, cuisine that has become a personal journey for him. “When I took over, I figured I couldn’t be a vegetarian chef without being vegetarian myself,” says Martin, who is now a vegan and 50 pounds lighter than he was in August 2014, when he took the position.

The food at Fern will surprise you. Hefty cauliflower florets, lightly fried and tossed in buffalo sauce, with crunchy celery and carrot confetti, are arguably the best starter on the menu. A compact list of satisfying salads, made with local greens, along with sandwiches and a pesto panini are popular with the lunch crowd, which has nearly doubled since the move. For dinner, the seitan steak is an impressive demonstration of Martin’s aplomb for coaxing flavor and meat-free flair from humble ingredients. Here, he mixes beets, herbs, tamari (a wheat-free soy sauce) and seitan (a vital wheat gluten famous for taking on the flavors of its companions) for the “steak.” He forms it into a torchon, which is baked, then bathed in a fortified stock before being sliced and seared for the plate, served alongside greens and confit potatoes. Opt for the carrot cake with chai frosting for dessert, and come back for Sunday brunch.

Photos by Michael C. Hernandez