“You’ve got to try the calamari,” Jon Dressler said on a Tuesday sitting in his eponymous restaurant. “You won’t believe it.”
And it is hard to believe – hard to believe what other restaurants have been passing off as calamari. This appetizer at Dressler’s restaurant is cut from an actual filet of squid, not the rubbery tubes and tentacles. The result is a melt-in-the-mouth, cut-with-a-fork, can’t-miss dish that sings with Thai-inspired flavors and a wasabi aioli. At Dressler’s, the menu is concise, but the food is full of big tastes.
Dressler has been in the restaurant business off and on since he was 16 years old. This included being a bus boy, waiter and a training manager. He also received his MBA in finance. In 1993, he began working at Morton’s Steakhouse in Chicago and they transferred him to Charlotte in 1996.
“My first day in Charlotte I had two revelations,” Dressler said. “The first is that I met my wife on that very day and the second was that I could make Charlotte my home.”
He made both these disclosures come true.
Dressler began looking for space to start his own restaurant in 1998, but the timing was not right until 2002. By this time, Birkdale Village was under construction and it was clear it would be an amazing place to own a business.
“I looked at the four corners and chose the one that was the furtherest behind in construction,” Dressler said with a laugh. “I had no money, so I needed the time!”
The restaurant opened in 2003.
Dressler’s is a dinner-only restaurant with a formal, yet not stuffy atmosphere. The menu is small but complex, catering to people who really love food. There are 12 appetizers, four salads, 20 entrées, six sides and six desserts. It is refreshing as an antidote to the huge menus that are standard in many chain restaurants.
“The funny thing is that we probably have more items in our kitchens than those places,” Dressler said. “I mean, we might have cilantro for just one dish, whereas they would never do that.”
The food itself tells the tale of using fresh, amazing ingredients, produce, meat and fish.
Take the signature dish “Just for the Halibut.” Each layer of the dish could stand alone but together it creates the ultimate meal. It starts with a chive potato cake as the base, then sautéed spinach, then a center-cut block of halibut and topped with jumbo lump crab meat. Then it is drizzled with a sun-dried tomato beurre blanc. The fish itself is flakey perfection and the other toppings complement it perfectly.
“It’s American fare done extremely well,” Dressler said.
Dressler runs the restaurant like an extension of his family. Every day at 4:30 p.m. the restaurant serves a free dinner for all staff members, even on their days off. His daughter loves to eat there and his son helps with the valet service. There is very low turnover of his staff due to this brand of management where everyone feels at home and gets fed.
“My mantra is family-first,” Dressler said.
Even Dressler’s mother, Joan Dressler, is part of the business, she makes four of the six desserts on the menu. “Everyday her driver, that is my father, brings her to the restaurant so she can make the cheesecakes,” Dressler said. “She is such a personality and the desserts are amazing.”
The cheesecake is perfection on a plate with a light texture and sublime graham cracker crust.
A second Dressler’s opened in 2010 in the Metropolitan area of Charlotte.
“We were doing so well with the first one, we thought we’d try again,” Dressler said.
And he does not rule out a third or even a fourth Dressler’s in the area.
“It’s all about surrounding yourself with phenomenal people,” he said. “That’s what I try to do so I can watch people eat and drink for a living. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Where to go? Dressler’s Restaurant, 8630 Lindholm Drive Birkdale Village Huntersville, NC, 704-987-1779.