Solaris makes last lunch call


by Brian Clarey

Speaking strictly from a service-industry standpoint, lunch is a loser. A bunch of old ladies splitting salads and making their own drinks with water, lemons and Splenda. A horde of cubiculleans trying to wolf down sandwiches in 20 minutes. Quick business meet-and-greets that require coffee, water and maybe a little more bread, please.

It wasn’t always like this. Believe it or not there was a time when lunch was a key piece of the business day. There were salad courses and steaks and martinis – three of them – before we started working harder, spending less and holding off the booze until after 5 p.m. or so.

And with gas and food prices steadily rising, regular working schmucks like us are looking to shave a few dollars off their budgets. Lunch in a sit-down restaurants is a casualty of the times.

Christian Reynolds, owner of Solaris Tapas restaurant in downtown Greensboro, sees the handwriting on the wall.

“It boggles my mind that there are lunch places that only do lunch,” he said. “No, we’re not doing lunch anymore.”

Friday was his last – the last time he’d have to hit the kitchen in the mornings for prep, the last time he’d Z out the registers before dinner, the last time he’d cut checks, order food, concoct specials for a lunch crowd that never showed up.

I was there to mark the moment in time – the people here are my friends and this is one of my favorite places, so much so that I didn’t actually order, just told the bartender to “bring me something awesome.”

The result: an egg-salad BLT – thick bacon, romaine lettuce and red tomato slices – on toasted sourdough with a little cheddar, and a side of potato salad.

It’s a messy one, and I totally destroyed a cloth napkin while I ate it and listened to Reynolds outline the next phase of his business plan.

After five years in the space, he’s just re-upped his lease. He’s got a new menu coming out next week, though he’s coy about the details. Dinner will still be a main event, and he’s focusing more energy on the nightlife crowd he’s developed over the years that comes in after prime dining hours: DJs, live bands, drink specials and, of course, the tapas menu, a style of eating tailor-made for late nights in the barroom.

He can scrap the lunch menu and concentrate on the things he does best: small plates, exquisite tastes, adventurous specials for a crowd that has the time and inclination to appreciate the effort.

“Cook-to-order [food] doesn’t generally work well with the twenty-minute lunch crowd,” he said.

The sandwich was going down faster than I expected. And have you tried this potato salad? Nice chunks, cooked just right, and a dressing that’s based on mayonnaise – none of that Miracle Whip crap. And is that bacon? Yes, it’s bacon.

“We’ve opened and closed for lunch a few times,” he said, adding that he will open up the restaurant for private luncheon groups of 20 or more. But opening for lunch every day requires him to get to work in the morning and bust ass until he leaves late at night. Every night.

And he says he doesn’t want to do it anymore.

“You put so much energy into something, and you get very little in return,” he said.

The dining room was fairly empty, with a good bit of action on the patio. Sweat from water glasses dripped and blotched the concrete. Staff took elbows at the bar with Reynolds and me; we talked smack about the business, the market, the prevailing restaurant trends. I had a portion of the house flan – firm and custardy, with the flavors of five liqueurs and a thin caramel sauce puddled around it. And that’s how the last lunch for the foreseeable future went down at Solaris.

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