MATTHEWS — When the owners of a new downtown restaurant decided to start their venture at 118 E. Charles St., they knew the building that dates back to the late 1890s would need a little renovation work.
But one thing that didn’t need to be changed was the sign out front.
That decision came last spring. Late last month, the Portrait Gallery restaurant opened for business.
The building’s last tenant was an art and photo gallery with the same name. Alistair Williams, who is a professor in the College of Hospitality Management at Johnson and Wales University in Uptown and the restaurant’s managing partner, said they fell in love with the name.
“We kept the name largely because it was just a cool name,” Williams said. “The sign outside is such a cool sign and it is such a well-known sign. We also felt by doing that we could maintain some of the heritage, some of the tradition in here. We were keen when we came into downtown Matthews to retain that heritage, that tradition that the downtown has. The sign was our starting point.”
But the art theme doesn’t stop at the front door of a restaurant that specializes in small plates, signature hand-crafted cocktails, a mix of local craft beer and European beer selections and a large selection of boutique wines.
The main room features art-deco paintings hanging above the large marble-topped bar with red leather seats and the marble-topped dining tables. Other paintings and sculptures also adorn the restaurant that has total seating for about 100.
A second dining area has an open look into the kitchen where patrons can watch the staff “do their magic” and there is also an outdoor patio area that seats around 40.
“The intention would be that we would have this turn of the century art-deco based portrait gallery,” Williams said. “We tried to maintain the building. The ceiling is original. We realized that this is a 130-year-old building and we wanted to maintain that look. The front of the building hasn’t changed. We’ve really just changed the interior.”
Williams calls the patio a “secret garden.”
“It is fully enclosed,” Williams said. “It is shaded, screened and heated.”
The restaurant has a European-inspired style of dining that focuses on fresh, house-made cuisine influenced by seasonal and regionally sourced ingredients. The menu will change four times a year and most plates will be between $8 and $12. The menu is broken down into field and garden plates, meat and fish plates and then desserts.
“The menu is small plates,” Williams said. “In Europe, it is very common to have this communal feel with small plates that people share. This style of dining is starting to get traction in the U.S. We have these eight-seat communal tables. It is a limited menu, but we run with probably 20 items. When we run out, we don’t sell them because everything is fresh to order. The menu will be very seasonal. If we see something very good, we will put it on the menu. The menus are printed in-house every day.”
The restaurant also serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“It kind of follows the same theme,” Williams said.
The chef is Brett Lavan and the sous chef is Shane Miller. Lavan and many of the staff of 15 are graduates of Johnson and Wales and bring years of experience to the new venture.
The restaurant’s hours are Tuesday to Thursday 5 to 11 p.m.; Friday 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. The Portrait Gallery is closed on Mondays.
On the web: https://pgmatthews.com.