First Look: 5Church

Familiar food is served in artful Midtown digs

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Walking through the door at Midtown’s 5Church is nothing like entering that of the former tenant, Shout. Back in the day, Shout served a scattered menu ranging from low country shrimp and grits to prosciutto pizza to all-you-can-eat sushi, with a side of DJ-spun tunes. 5Church keeps its food a bit simpler and its décor more on the attention-grabbing side.

I cannot think of another restaurant where the ceiling is the first thing guests notice. Black with exposed beams, it bares the words — all 40,000 words — of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, meticulously hand-painted by Charlotte-based artist Jon Norris. The white scrawled words are not the only distraction; diverse pieces of art are everywhere. Most of the artwork further emphasizes the restaurant team’s motto, painted on the wall: “There is only we.” A $5 bill mock-up shares wall space with a buffalo nickel, the buffalo being a sort of spirit animal for the 5Church team, who have locations in Charlotte and Charleston.

The restaurant's interior is chic and sexy, not the sexy that was Shout — all beaded curtains and lush red banquettes — but with classic wood floors, dark wooden tables, and black leather chairs. Servers match, wearing black pants, white shirts, and black sneakers as playful as the art. Feathery light fixtures soften things up over a striking concrete bar that resembles flowing fabric.

James Beard award-winning chef RJ Cooper helms the kitchen with a menu designed by chef/partner Jamie Lynch. The menu, like that of 5Church’s Charlotte and Charleston locations, is sectioned into first courses, mains, steaks, snacks, and family-style servings of sides. At lunch it includes sandwiches and soups.

Lynch’s 60-second NY strip ($38) is a signature dish for 5Church. Brushed with beef fat, the 10-ounce cut is seared only on one side until the meat reaches the desired temperature. It resembles an inside-out steak with a crisp crust on one side and red meat on the other. Steaks come with a choice of potatoes or forbidden rice along with five sauces. We ordered the Filipino adobo bavette ($25), a thin cut of flap meat. With a quick sear and medium-rare temp, it had a slightly gamey flavor and chewy tenderness. Salsa verde complements alongside crisp, hand-cut fries.

Mains are familiar choices: an excellent burger (if you like lamb), a whole fish, pasta, and a roasted chicken. One standout is the seared diver scallops ($31) with four large and beautifully browned bivalves, roasted carrots, sweet pea puree, and bacon vinaigrette that ties everything together with a salty acidity.

No value assignedThe best bet at 5Church is choosing from the first course section. A couple selections make for a meal. Ahi tuna tartare ($12) is artfully plated in a swoosh of minced fish, baby greens, globs of avocado, bits of Fresno peppers, and lemon vinaigrette. Puffed rice adds crunch. Jumbo lump crab ($15) comes in a smallish serving for the price but the chunks of crab are large, tossed with diced tomatoes and a soy-ginger dressing over a bed of briny seaweed. Peach and Lord’s country ham flatbread ($12) has a smallish amount of peach and tomato coulis, a creamy fresh ricotta, and a mess of arugula. It’s more like a salad. A twist of charred octopus ($13) over a rich and creamy red pea hummus with tiny herbs, tangy lemon, and a kick of pea tendrils was our table’s favorite. Little, but mighty in flavor.

The wine list features over 200 bottles, grouped by each wine’s characteristics. Want an elegant and silky glass or one that is crisp and bright? It’s easy to select from the even mix of old and new world bottles that range from $30 to a $512 Joseph Phelps ’12 Insignia. The latter may be a bit of a big hitter for this menu. The beer selection is concise but ranges from Bud Light to Tropicalia.

From the cocktail menu, Big Bad Chef ($12) is a boozy mixture of rye, orange bitters, and a scant amount of smoked vanilla syrup. It paired well with a bowl of three scoops of luscious pineapple-jalapeno sorbet ($7) with just the right amount of heat from the dessert menu.

Right now, 5Church feels a bit like a tourist spot, where the art-filled space is more magical than the menu. With a James Beard award-winning chef, however, more abracadabras are sure to come as the restaurant group finds its Atlanta flavor.

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