Earl’s restaurant and bar has been open just a few weeks, but it is already honing its menu and hours as it gathers steam and customers.
Earl’s, at 121 W. Ninth St. across the street from Wise Man Brewing, is the first business to open in a former E.G. Forrest wholesale-food warehouse — and renovations on parts of the building are still underway.
Earl’s opened its doors the weekend after Thanksgiving. On Saturday, it added lunch to its dinner service. And on Monday, it introduced a revised menu.
A neon cowboy boot sign out front — designed by Gil Shuler, a noted graphic designer in South Carolina — sets the tone for this fast-casual place heavy on sandwiches, whiskey and foot-stomping music. “We call it a country and bluegrass honky-tonk whiskey bar with a Southern kitchen,” manager Bruce Hanks said.
The restaurant is now open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. “Serving nonstop is what we like to say,” Hanks said.
Earl’s is owned by Herbie Gimmel, Joel Ornstein and Wade Robinson. The chef is Matt Pleasants, formerly of the Bahtmobile food truck and The Honey Pot restaurant.
Gimmel, who grew up here, is a former manager of the Katharine Brasserie and Bar. He, Ornstein and Hanks got to know each other while working in restaurants in New York. Robinson is a contractor and designer who recently moved back to the Triad from California.
The 4,000-square-foot space has a 2,500-square-foot dining room with 19-foot ceilings that forms a long rectangle, leading up to a music stage and a pool table at the end. It can seat 106 inside and 60 outside on the patio, which is one level above the street.
It offers counter service for ordering food, but table service for delivery of food and drinks. It’s “group friendly,” Pleasants said, for large groups in which some people may be eating and others may be only having drinks.
“We hired nothing but bartenders, and cross-trained them,” Hanks said.
Robinson’s design features a lot of wood, much of it reclaimed. He found old aged wood in Yadkinville for the floor. The bar and table tops use wood reclaimed during the renovations of the buildings that now house Sweet Potatoes restaurant and Fiddlin’ Fish Brewing Co. nearby on Trade Street. Beadboard from a 200-year-old church in Tennessee runs up the length of one wall as well as on the back of a 44½-foot bench along another wall.
The bar itself is about 26 feet long and 12 feet tall — and it’s topped with 5-foot-tall letters that spell out “Earl’s.”
“We had a lot of wall to cover,” Robinson said with a smile.
The hallway walls near the restrooms are covered with photos of famous country, bluegrass and honky-tonk stars. A trophy case features not only Earl’s merchandise but also personal memorabilia from the owners and staff.
Pleasants initially designed his menu around hot fried chicken, but he tweaked the menu this week. “We’re still doing the fried chicken, but we’re diving into sandwiches,” he said. “It was a matter of space in the kitchen and timing. We could only cook 10 pieces of chicken at a time,” he said, which resulted in long waits when a lot of people ordered baskets of chicken.
Switching to sandwiches, which use just one piece of chicken per order and which cook faster, solves that problem.
The revised menu features four different buttermilk fried-chicken sandwiches. The sandwiches also are available with grilled chicken. The EFC ($10) is fried boneless chicken on a roll with shredded lettuce, pickles and mayonnaise. The Winston Hot Chicken ($10) includes creamy snow-white slaw, pickles, mayo and spicy dry rub. Other chicken sandwiches features fried eggs and Buffalo spice with blue cheese.
The sandwiches feature local chicken from Joyce Farms served on a soft Martin’s potato roll.
Other sandwiches include two burgers ($10-$11), fried bologna ($8) and black-eyed-pea falafel ($9).
The menu has three salads: an iceberg wedge with bacon, tomato and chunk blue cheese dressing ($8); Caesar ($9); and roasted beet ($11).
Snacks or appetizers include Hatch chile pimento cheese with grilled bread ($8), Earl’s frito pie ($8), crispy pork rinds ($6) and tater-tot nachos ($9).
From 5 to 10 p.m., the menu expands to include three dinner entrees and a dessert. The entrees are chicken and dumplings ($12), Patsy’s Primo pork chop ($22) and roasted vegetable pie ($10). A blackberry bread pudding with salted caramel goes for $5. Entrees will change seasonally.
“Chicken and dumplings has been crazy popular, and so have the tater-tot nachos,” Pleasants said.
The well-stocked bar has 98 whiskeys. “And we’ll go to 110 once the ABC Board gets in a few more we’ve asked for,” Hanks said.
The bar has 11 beers on tap and one hard cider. It also includes a fair number of craft beers in cans and bottles.
“All the cocktails are a little tongue-in-cheek,” Hanks said. “We use toy monster trucks for garnishes.” The description for the Coco Beware! cocktail reads, “Pineapple Rum, Coco Lopez, Lime, Campari, Careful Now.” The description for the Junk Yard Dog reads, “Fireball, Kahlua, Salted Cream, Coke, Oh, He Bite.”
Music also is a big part of Earl’s. So far, acts have been a mix of folk, country, bluegrass and Americana.
Earl’s is bringing in a mix of local and regional acts Thursday through Saturday nights. “And we never have a cover,” Ornstein said.
Earl’s hopes to add music for Saturday and Sunday brunch. “If the community supports it, we’ll have music seven days a week,” Ornstein said.
“We all grew up listening to bluegrass and country, and we always loved that type of music,” Gimmel said. “So we wanted a venue that supported it.
“We want to make a fun, happy place. And this kind of music makes us happy.”