Saturday, June 16, 2007

Where Everybody Knows Your Name - Part I

Marty & I have always had our spots. Our places we go to. Our places where we are regulars. In Hoboken, that included a standing Thursday night reservation at Augustinos and a regular bar stool at Da Vinci.

The nice thing about being a regular is you don't only just get to know the owners, the bartenders, the servers, and the chef, but you also get to know the other regulars. Sometimes friendships form. Sometimes, it's a simple social acquaintance. But you get to know people and they get to know you and the whole thing is a phenomenon that fascinates me.

Well, just because we moved to Lincolnton, doesn't mean we didn't find our spots. In fact, we found 3 of them. I'll tell you about one now, and in the interest of time, I'll cover the other 2 in my next post.

Tim Schafer's

I found Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman right when we moved down here. It was a Friday night and we wanted to go out for a nice dinner to some place other than Cafe 1859 in Hickory - at that time the only fine dining establishment (other than schlepping into Charlotte) that we knew of. Marty suggested Googling "fine dining" and "Gastonia" which I did but I couldn't find anything other than a few references to a now defunct restaurant called Zacks. I figured Gastonia may have been a bust, but I knew Lake Norman was nearby (well - near enough) and a nice area where lots of NASCAR drivers live so I Googled "fine dining" and "Lake Norman."

Tim's was one of three restaurants that showed up in the results. I quickly checked out his website and called to find out the menu and the atmosphere. It sounded like a place we'd like and we had every intention of going. But we wound up waylaid in Hickory looking at cars and by them time we were done, Marty didn't feel like driving out to the Lake.

But a few weeks later on a Saturday night, we headed out to Tim's. We didn't make a reservation - I don't think Marty wanted to be that committed in case he didn't like it. So when we got there, there were no available tables. The hostess, Michelle, offered us 2 seats to dine at the bar, or at the very least, have a drink while we waited.

Marty & I actually enjoy eating at the bar so it wasn't a problem. We settled in with our drinks and perused the menu, which looked delicious.

Because the restaurant is set up so that the kitchen looks out into the bar, Tim, who is the owner and chef, usually spends most evening overseeing his sous chef Billy and the rest of the kitchen staff from behind the bar. It's effective because it also allows him to interact with his customers and be the face of the restaurant which is a good thing because Tim's personality is as enjoyable as his food.

Marty & I wound up talking to Tim for several hours. It turns out, he is from NJ and ran an eponymous restaurant in Morristown for 16 years. He and his family (wife Becky, 6 kids) had moved down to NC ~ 2 years ago and he started Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman. It's in an old, historical house in a small town called Sherrills Ford (population 1,037) and like Willow Creek Inn, it's an unlikely place to find such a high calibre restaurant. In fact, I actually met somebody down in Atlanta who was from Sherrills Ford and he couldn't believe it when I told him one of my 2 favorite restaurants was in his hometown.

Anyways dinner was fantastic and Marty and I started showing up at Tim's on a fairly regular basis. We eventually got to know him, his family and his wonderful staff. We also began to get to know some of the other regulars who we'd run into while having dinner at the bar.

We even worked there on New Year's Eve - Marty reliving his Brennan's glory days by working the line in the kitchen, me tending bar.

It's one of our favorite spots and a frequent dining destination when we have out of town visitors (so ask when you come down for your visit).

It just goes to show you that sometimes you can find unexpected treasures in small towns.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...