The happy hour scene at The Katharine is made lively by the crowd, but the atmosphere is courtesy of the drinks. Bar supervisor Randy Spence likens the spirits at The Katharine to his philosophy that bartending and cocktails are like jazz.
“Once you know the scales, you’re free to modify it to suit whatever tune the customer would like to hear,” he says. “The point of our cocktail program is to honor the region and the distinctive history of the building here in Winston-Salem. This is a French brasserie, and while that philosophy leans towards French aperitif cocktails, it’s not strictly in the lens of French because we are, after all, in the South.”
The drink menu is tinged with a celebratory nod to the very American side of cocktails. The War of the Roses, Spence says, is at its base a gin cocktail. Prepared with Cardinal Gin, Pimms, lime juice, bitters, and mint, the cocktail might seem like a lot of flavor for one glass, yet it’s surprisingly light and refreshing.
“The War of the Roses has a wonderful brightness to it,” Spence says, “…and the combination of Pimms and Cardinal plays very well together.”
No Southern lounge would be complete without a Mint Julep. The Katharine makes its own version of the julep that hails from the humble New Orleans Bittered Sling, which predates the cocktail.
“It’s a classic we make with brown sugar simple syrup,” he says. “It’s a drink so entrenched in Southern lore and Southern gothic that it really links our bar into the history of this town and this building.”
He’s talking, of course, about the 1929 Reynolds Building, which reopened as the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel earlier this spring. The Katharine sits on the ground floor of the 22-story building, taking its name from Katharine Smith Reynolds, wife of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds. Guests at the restaurant are welcomed to peruse the hotel’s free-to-use amenities in the basement, which include a two-lane bowling alley, foosball table, and adult-sized slide. (Just proceed with caution if you’ve been drinking.)
In addition to the cocktails, Spence expects diners will be pleased with the wine program and a healthy local craft beer selection. The Katharine team has enjoyed orchestrating those notes to be in tune with the dishes created by Executive Chef Ed Witt, who crafted a menu that lends itself to a cocktail crowd.
“For this first iteration, we are doing Southern touches to French food, and because it is a brasserie, patrons can come for a drink or try a glass of wine from an extensive wine list and enjoy seasonally driven dishes,” he says. “We have different specials every day, and I’m looking forward as the weather changes to doing some cassoulet and getting settled with our brunch and lunch from there.”
The Katherine’s raw bar has become popular with local seafood lovers for freshly shucked oysters, a daily selection to choose from, and little neck clams, while smoked P.E.I. mussels and citrus and fennel cobia have also garnered interest. Big spenders can give the Le Grand Plat a try for $75.
A favorite of gourmands, the Trio de Pâtés is prepared with rabbit rillettes, a foie gras torchon, and wild boar and fig terrine. The plum purée and brioche toast points add a little sweetness to the hearty fare.
Daily specials, known as plats du jours, currently include truffle and porcini macaroni au gratin on Monday, lobster pot pie on Tuesday and coq au vin on Thursday.
Notable veggie dishes round out the menu, including legumes such as the green beans side dish with sorghum and benne seeds and a hen of the woods mushrooms entrée with lemongrass, English peas, and pickled ramp with fingerling potatoes. Traditional steak frites is always a given at a brasserie, where French culinary traditions die hard—thank goodness.
The Katharine Brasserie is at 401 N. Main St. inside the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel. You can view the hours, menus, drink list, or make a reservation at katharinebrasserie.com.
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