Two of our favorite foods are pork chops and crab cakes.
My husband and I have become wary of ordering them, though, because too often, we’re disappointed with pig that’s uninspired and tough, with crustacean bland and watery.
Not so at Christoff’s Bistro & Wine Bar, open since May 27 on Market Street. The bistro scored wins on both counts, and more.
My husband is always in search of that divine, crusted chop bursting
with homey flavor, a reminder of his Southern roots. This one at Christoff’s may have lacked crust, but that became insignificant to the beautiful grill marks, the buttery glaze, and a chef who clearly respected this hefty hunk of meat, serving it up just south of pink and almost fork tender. The mashed potatoes that formed a base for the chop were the perfect complement.
And these crab cakes, two of them, topped with a tart fried green tomato, had seasonings aplenty and remoulade on the side, but nothing that overwhelmed the taste of the sweet seafood, served in generous portion. It came just-browned for that perfect combo of crunch and soft.
There’s lots more to impress at Christoff’s. Outside, it appears just a storefront in a strip mall but inside is a different story.
The dining room, which seats about 50, is gussied up with chandeliers and inventive lighting, vintage windows, faux brick, lots of reclaimed wood and a fantastic antique oak bar. There’s a comfy back room with couches that works well for small groups or an overflow crowd on a busy night.
Christoff’s is a cousin to Midtown’s Wine Loft. Both are owned by Jamie Christoff, but each has its own distinct vibe. While the Loft has a clubby urban edge, Christoff’s has a vintage charm and a more chill bar scene. It’s casual with more than a touch of class.
The chef is Christopher Ellis, an experienced cook who had been second in command in the kitchen. The Tallahassee native took over the top spot after original chef C.J. Reilly left about a month ago.
Christoff’s culinary concept is “Southern-influenced regional cuisine.” The menu is limited, with some specials, but we’re OK with that. We’d rather see a kitchen turn out a dozen quality items than a book-size menu of disappointing dishes.
This menu changes every four to six weeks to reflect what’s in season. Christoff’s uses local ingredients when possible, procuring fruits and vegetables from local farmers’ markets and cheeses from Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville.
Those delectable crab cakes, with jumbo lump crab, were among a handful of small plates on the menu, which also featured fried grouper fingers, spinach and artichoke dip, smoked pork sliders and pork skewers, our choice on a second visit. Did I mention my husband likes pork?
We got three mini kebabs with big chunks of grilled, juicy pork tenderloin, skewered with grilled apples, onions and thick-cut bacon, a sweet, salty and smoky sample of good eating.
We added a spinach salad with grilled peaches caramelized to sweet perfection, sprinkled with candied pecans and a vaporously light dressing, mitigating our red-meat and fried-food guilt. It’s nearly a meal unto itself.
We could easily come here just to graze on small plates, but we also shared an entrée of grouper, available blackened, grilled, pecan-crusted (our pick) or stuffed with crab (an extra $2).
When we told our server we were sharing, the kitchen kindly divided our fish and side of spinach onto two plates. The grouper was moist and flaky with a light panko crust, though the pecans were barely discernable. We slurped up the garlic cream sauce treatment with the spinach.
Other entrees available, in addition to our pork chop, included an eight-ounce filet mignon and Southern-brined chicken breast. We regretted not ordering a special of shrimp and grit cake, which looked mighty tempting when it arrived at another table.
Do leave room. Pastry chef Jennifer Williams is a gem. We loved her beignets (labeled doughnuts on the menu), fried to order. These two light puffs of sweetness were filled with dollops of vanilla pastry cream and strawberry coulis. They’re coated with sugar, plated with whipped cream and sliced strawberries. Williams nails it.
We also liked the peach cobbler, warm and cinnamony, the fruit nestled in a flour and butter crumble with toasty oats and served with vanilla ice cream. Yum. We’ll try the Key lime pie our next visit.
The dry but fruity Ned Pinot Rosé I ordered played extremely well with the crab; the sturdy Snake Charmer Shiraz my husband chose to accent his chop hit the marks. Christoff’s offers an extensive international wine list, with 30 by the glass and another 50 choices by the bottle, ranging from $30 to $140. There’s also a good selection of craft beer.
As for that commanding bar, Chief Operating Officer Bob Arbuthnot said they originally traveled to Bainbridge, Ga., to pick up the brass
glasses rail above the bar — and wound up buying the whole bar. There’s oak, maybe some mahogany, milk glass, and lots of history in this beast.
When installing it, Arbuthnot told us during a sneak peek months ago, he discovered he wasn’t the first to modify the bar; the wood just above the brass foot rail was made from cabinets by a woodworker maybe a century ago.
“It’s a great piece,” he said. Must be; we’ve not been there yet when there weren’t folks gathered around it.
Our servers were very good at their jobs, friendly, attentive and spot-on with recommendations.
The bottom line
Christoff’s is a new bright light in our dining scene, a special bonus for diners in the Northeast. It’s a good date-night spot or a laid-back hangout for friends at that awesome bar.
Rating: Worth a Drive
When you go…
Christoff’s Bistro & Wine Bar
1460 Market St.
Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Costs: Small plates $12-$14, salads $7-$12, entrees $18-$33, desserts $7.