I’ll probably never go back to Taco Mama [1.6] again.
The taco chain opened its Dilworth location in October of last year to a decent but somewhat restrained reception. Since then, it’s pretty much fallen off the face of the Earth. You don’t see it appear often in the Instagram feeds of Charlotte’s power influencers, despite holding a 4 star rating on Yelp.
In its first week, I referred to the food as “nearly inedible” and made it the inaugural inductee into Inside 485’s Worst Charlotte Restaurants list. I’ve since wondered if that rating was unfair at best and irresponsible at worst.
Kristen Wile of Unpretentious Palate has an admirable rule about reviewing restaurants: wait three months before reviewing a restaurant, and dine there at least three times. It makes sense. New restaurants often have kinks to work out in the kitchen, the dining room, and in pricing. All the best restauranteurs approach their establishments as a sort of ongoing conversation with the community they serve.
Restaurants are living, breathing entities. Judging them based solely on one meal during their hectic opening week could be as asinine as the debunked myth that prison manufacturers judge a generation’s propensity for crime based on their third grade scores.
But you know what they say about first impressions.
When I review a restaurant, my goal is to mirror the consumer experience as closely as possible. Most consumers don’t visit a restaurant three times before they judge it (in an informal Twitter poll, 79% of respondents said they wouldn’t give a restaurant more than two visits to get things right). Consumers also don’t always have the luxury of waiting three months to try a much-hyped restaurant, their schedules dictated by children, their finances dictated by bonuses and tax returns and Queen’s Feasts. Lastly, consumers don’t order one of everything on the menu, take one bite of each, and finish whatever was their favorite dish.
That isn't to say my method is right and Kristen's method is wrong. They're just two different approaches, and I respect hers a great deal.
If restaurants are meant to constantly evolve into better versions of themselves, there’s space for criticism that takes place as an immediate snapshot, even if that snapshot is baby’s first photo.
All that to say this: The Goodyear House has a long way to go to realize its potential.
Its stunning footprint in Noda is undercut by food that is lacking in flavor, variance, and personality. Your stroll through the dining room will be more interesting than anything that comes to your table. A bizarre altercation between the dining staff served as the tastiest thing that happened during my meal.
If you’re the average consumer who only has the funds and free time for one dinner out a month, I don’t think you should use it on The Goodyear House.
You know, at least not yet.
The Goodyear House is one of the best designed restaurants to open in Charlotte in years.
It does everything Bossy Beulah [2.8] thinks it does.
You’ll enter into a hall way to start. On your left, an open air dining room with plants and wooden chairs with wicker seats. On your right, a bar and another dining room with a fireplace and portraits sitting on a mantle. Out back is a patio with a tree growing in its center below hanging lights, and an outside bar.
The designers have done a great job of rescuing the original structure of the house. As you walk through the space, you can still feel the subtle crests and valleys in the floor. The bar is your dad’s den. The patio is the backyard where your older sister got married. The dining room to the right is your grandmother’s living room. The dining room to your left is her garden. It says a lot about family for a neighborhood who proved after last month’s tragic murder of Scott Brooks that they’re the tightest family in this city.
I ordered the sea salt and vinegar shaken fry bag to start. The server comes to your table and physically shakes the bag of seasonings in front of you. These battered shoestring fries are pretty good, especially dipped in the house made mayo. They’ve got a good crunch and they’re nice and warm. I’d compare them favorably to Ace No. 3’s [8.5] criminally underrated fries.
The most raved about item at The Goodyear House is the bread. In retrospect, I should’ve recognized that this means trouble.
We live in a city of high-fives and back pats. Personal relationships and a genuine attempt to highlight the positives of living in Charlotte cause people to sometimes focus heavily on what’s good and sweep under the rug what’s underwhelming.
No sit down restaurant of significance should have its bread as its most talked about dish. That doesn’t mean the bread is great; it just means everything else underdelivers.
For the record, I don’t see all the hoopla over the bread. It’s served with honey and butter, but it’s not like The Goodyear House invented honey and butter. The bread itself is forgettable in taste and texture. You can dip shoe leather in honey and butter and make it taste reasonably passable. We don’t need to be giving restaurants gold stars for putting a sugar and a fat on a plate.
I got bored of the bread after a few bites and went back to my fries.
The menu is a somewhat confusing division of Bites, Smalls, Biggies, and Snacks.
The Biggies are meant to be shared between 2-3 people, while everything else is, I guess, meant for one person.
The Smalls are noted with a non-committal “Bigger than a traditional app, but small enough to order a few.”
The Bites are noted as “Something to snack on,” despite there being a completely different section of the menu already called Snacks.
I’ve witnessed parrots who speak with more conviction than this menu.
I ordered the spicy cauliflower and grain bowl from the Smalls section. I considered ordering the shrimp, but I always have shrimp. On a whim, I wanted to try something different. Consumers do that sometimes.
The Goodyear House doesn’t have salt or pepper on their tables, a level of confidence that is totally unearned. I’m offended they didn’t allow me to add salt or pepper to my dish, since whoever is working the kitchen is being very stingy with basic seasonings.
There was a little pepper on the egg, and one or two flakes appeared to have accidentally found their way to the otherwise neglected avocado.
Beyond the seasoning, the dish suffered from a lack of balance in its approach to texture. Eating it went like this:
The cauliflower tastes as if someone threw a raw floret into my bowl with the same tact I use when I throw my keys onto my coffee table after a hard day at work.
I got bored again and went back to my fries.
For dessert, I ordered a slice of lemon chess pie. It was fine, exactly what you’d expect from a lemon chess pie. Nothing more, nothing less. You could buy the same thing at any restaurant or grocery store.
It’s disappointing. For a space with so much warm family character, the food tastes anonymous.
I asked for my check. My total was $34.32 before tip, an excellent price considering I also got two Jam Sessions.
As I was waiting, a bizarre argument formed between three servers and a floor manager about eight feet from me. I mostly ignored it, until they all started pointing at me and saying “Let’s not do this right in front of a guest!” several times.
It was awkward, but a fitting end.
When you walk into The Goodyear House, you’re struck by feelings of togetherness, history, and family. But families fight, just like those servers. Families disappoint each other, just like my meal at The Goodyear House disappointed me. Families disagree, just like many people in Charlotte will disagree with me giving a negative review to a restaurant based on one meal on their opening night.
But the families that grow closest are the ones who engage confrontation instead of hiding it, ignoring it, or enabling it.
The Goodyear House at first feels like a grandparent, decked out in wood and plants and maturity. But it’s got a lot of growing up to do. I’ll probably never go back to Taco Mama, but I’m looking forward to giving The Goodyear House another shot 3-6 months from now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to report that the food has caught up to the space it occupies.