A standard two-day food order for South End’s new restaurant The Dunavant consists of this: 500 pounds of Halperns’ Black Angus beef and about 1,000 pounds of potatoes. Given that the French-influenced newcomer is only championing one signature prix-fixe entree—steak and bottomless truffle fries for $25—the numbers make sense, even the seemingly high spud count.
“We went through about 20 cases of potatoes in the first weekend,” said chef and owner Travis Hearne, adding that each case makes about two-and-a-half batches of shoestring fries.
Because the restaurant opened at 2322 Dunavant Street on Feb. 13, that first weekend happened to include Valentine’s Day and the NBA All-Star Game’s tourism onslaught, but Hearne said he expects The Dunavant to to continue to rise in popularity because the concept is so new and needed in the Charlotte market. “It’s an inexpensive, good date night,” Hearne said.
A Charlotte native, Hearne worked for Passion Food Hospitality in Washington, D.C., before returning to the Queen City. While dishing out entrees for the restaurant group’s mixed bag of restaurant concepts, he came across D.C.’s Medium Rare, one of the prix-fixe steak-frites restaurants that would eventually inspire The Dunavant’s creation.
“When I went there, I liked that it was a great concept and also a great atmosphere,” he said, adding that he wants people in Charlotte to be able to go on a date — or even just eat a good steak — without spending $50 a head.
The $25 deal at The Dunavant includes two courses: a starter house-made soup or locally sourced salad and a 12-ounce, culotte-cut steak served alongside bottomless fries.
There are three sauce options: cafe de Paris, which will always be on the menu, and two seasonal selections. Right now, the seasonals are either gorgonzola crema or mushroom and veal demi. Hearne said the staff taste-tested four different iterations of the sauces before they debuted — and that since they opened, the gorgonzola has been the clear winner. “Everyone seems to love it because it doesn’t smack you in the face,” he said.
That the meal be simple and delicious without overpowering is high on Hearne’s priority list. For that same reason, the steaks are cooked in only thyme, rosemary, oil, garlic, and clarified butter. “We like to let the steak shine through,” he said. The truffle fries, too, are a basic recipe of white Italian truffle oil, white truffle salt, parmesan, and light dusting of parsley. “Just for color,” Hearne said. Servers refill your fry basket throughout the meal.
Outside the prix-fixe order, The Dunavant also offers a selection of nine small plates and not-so-small plates such as cheeses and roasted mushrooms. Hearne said this is where vegetarians can make the menu their own because many of these items, like the bacon mac and cheese, can be made without meat. They can also trade the steak in the $25 prix-fixe meal for bottomless small plates, an off-the-menu order available upon request.
Hearne said the aforementioned bacon mac and cheese is his favorite of the small plates, and he plans to doctor it a bit every season — perhaps with truffle in the spring, lobster in the summer, and an additional fifth cheese in the winter. (It’s currently a four-cheese dish.) The carpaccio plate is the only one Hearne plans to take off the menu, and that’s because he wants to serve another favorite recipe: beef tartare.
Moving forward, in addition to creating a weekend brunch menu, The Dunavant aims to amp up its dessert course by adding seasonal fruit tarts and palet d’or, a rich French chocolate cake, to the dinner menu. In warmer weather, patrons will enjoy dîner en plein air thanks to the glass garage doors that make up the restaurant’s facade. Think the heat wave will be too hot to handle? Don’t worry. The Dunavant plans to be making its own sorbet by then. “We just need to find a place to put the machine,” said the pastry chef, chiming in.
Machine or not, palet d’or or not, there will always be something sweet to choose from on The Dunavant’s menu — not that you’ll get there. Let’s just say after a starter, steak, and bottomless truffle fries, the restaurant isn’t the only one with a space issue.