When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: DeSoto Central Market Location: 915 North Central Avenue Open: About two weeks Eats: Burgers, Southern cuisine, Latin-Asian fusion, salads Price: $15/person
When you get your first look inside the DeSoto Central Market, it's hard not to be impressed. The sentiment may result from the building's sheer size (it's 17,138 square feet, to be exact) or the beauty of the original concrete walls and exposed wooden beams. In any case, the space -- with its historical touches and abundance of natural light -- shines.
But getting inside the building may prove more difficult than you'd expect. Though the space is grand, it lacks a grand entrance, just one of a number of small but important oversights that may leave some customers confused.
Before you can even enter, you'll have to find parking. It isn't actually that much of an issue if you know, which many people don't, that you can park in the lot of the Roosevelt Community Church. Located just east of the market and accessible off First Street, it offers free parking for DeSoto customers. Still, it's not hard to imagine that the two-dozen spaces will be far too few once business picks up.
If you do park in the Roosevelt Community Church parking lot, you'll have to enter the building though the back door. It's accessible by walking down an alley (past the dumpsters) and into an unmarked set of double doors. Signage here would be helpful for customers who hesitate to enter through what could be mistaken for a staff-only entrance.
The other two entrances can be found off Central Avenue, on the northwest corner of the building and off the patio. Neither makes much of an impression and both deposit you into the dining area rather than into the back building, where food should be ordered. Wind your way through the tables, past the bar and coffee shop and you'll reach the restaurant counters.
At the moment, DeSoto gives diners five dining options in DCM Burger Bar, Tea & Toast, yard bird + larder, Adobo Dragon, and Radish. (Walrus and the Pearl oyster bar will be the next to open, this weekend.)
From chef Allan Inocencio's Adobo Dragon, we enjoyed a duo of steamed buns ($11) that offered fun and surprising flavor combinations. The pork bao were our favorite of the two, combining juicy carnitas with a green curry, pepitas, and bleu cheese. The fact that the bottoms of both buns were soggy and sticky to the touch made eating only slightly less enjoyable.
At DCM Burger Bar you could do much worse than order the South X Southwest burger ($10), which features a moist and flavorful pork patty topped with a roasted poblano pepper, pepper cheese, and roasted corn. And Radish, a counter with a farm-to-table theme, executes salads and cold-press juices perfectly fine. For your caffeine fix Tea & Toast offers both coffee and tea -- er, "tea-spresso" -- drinks as well as fancy toast featuring Noble Bread.
The most interesting food, however, will be found at Stephen Jones' yard bird + larder. With dishes such as pig ear "Cheetos" and a fava bean and field pea falafel burger, Jones brings Southern cuisine into the modern day without being afraid to take make each dish his own. The chef's version of the classic Southern dish Hoppin' John ($8), bursts with flavor and spice. Carolina Gold Rice and field peas (black-eyed peas) mix with onion, celery leaves, and lavender-colored chive flowers to create a photo-worthy dish.
It's unfortunate that you have to walk from the counters out to the front in order to find a table, particularly with the spacious back room so empty as it is now. Three of six vendor spaces have yet to be filled, and there's no actual market yet. The lack of retail offerings makes DeSoto a fancy food court as opposed to a market for now -- and a rather empty food court at that.
The good news is the seating available in the front room is comfortable; you'll find handsome concrete tables, a bar that looks out on the street, and a standing bar for diners on the go. Putting outlets under the bar and near many of the tables will make DeSoto an appealing place for those who want to hang out and work, though we wish the same could be said for the second floor mezzanine.
Though it's been billed as a "community gathering place," DeSoto's second floor currently offers seats for a relatively small number of patrons. And we'll do future DeSoto patrons a favor by telling you the restrooms can be found in the back corner of the second floor. With no signs either downstairs or up, they're pretty much impossible to find on your own.
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Like a little puppy that hasn't quite grown into its paws (really cute, but kind of awkward), DeSoto Central Market still has some growing up to do. But with some small tweaks and a full roster of restaurant vendors, we're still hopeful this could become the gathering place that downtown has always wanted.