The Avenue on Elm lays out a fine luncheon spread

by Brian Clarey

Just one trip to the Avenue buffet line yielded sweet chili-glazed pork loin, chicken penne, herbed corn and haricot verts with pecans. (photo by Brian Clarey)

It’s been a couple years now since developer Roy Carroll broke the old Wachovia Building down to its bones and spun the wondrous hive of duplexes and penthousery known as CenterPointe.

A restaurant was always part of the plan, but Carroll wanted a certain look and feel to the place, one that would reflect the building and its residents, to be sure, but also one that would be able to survive tough downtown restaurant competition and also add something to the scene.

Avenue, the dining room that has grown on the ground floor, fits the bill nicely — an elegant space with windows on the corner described by Elm Street and Friendly Avenue. Dinner has become a sophisticated urban experience across from Center City Park, a fine prelude to a night on the town.

But to survive downtown you’ve got to bring in a lunch crowd, and to that end Avenue has a strong position. It’s nice enough to attract the expense-account crowd, and the service is fast enough for government work. The food more than holds its own against similar neighborhood restaurants, both in quality and in price. And every day diners have the option of a two-table buffet, normally $12 but which goes on special Mondays and Wednesdays for $8.

Items on the line vary, but there is always a cold table, which on my visit held iced bowls of both Romaine lettuce and mixed greens, fresh fruit, potato salad, penne pasta salad, pimiento cheese and hummus.

The hot table, set at a right angle, generally offers cooked vegetables and two hot entrees, with a house-made dessert.

“No offense to Golden Corral or K&W,” dining room manager Sean Wells said to me from behind the bar. “They do what they do. We’re going for something different.”

There are a lot of great things about any buffet. One is that you get to see the food before you eat it. Another is that you can sample a little bit of everything if you want.

I initially passed on the pimiento cheese, for example. I loved the potato salad, made with halved red potatoes, tasso and a sort of remoulade. And I wasn’t sure about the penne, but it was the best thing on the cold line, with a strong garlic aioli holding it together. The hummus, spread on house-fried tortilla chips and pita points, had on this day a good red pepper flavor. And for a subsequent trip down the line I was rewarded with a sample of the pimiento cheese, which was excellent, as far as pimiento cheese goes.

Hot food came out about 10 minutes later: herbed corn or carrots, and green beans given serious enough treatment — saut’ed in butter with pecans — to have earned the appellation haricot verts.

A pasta dish incorporated diced chicken and a gentle cream sauce with tomato and pepper accents. It was excellent, but the winner of the pageant was the pork loin, roasted in a sweet chili glaze with red peppers and caramelized onions, both white and green. The pork itself was beautiful, marbled in places and falling apart with slow-cooked goodness in others. This was no mere catering tray kept warm by Sterno — this was a genuine dish that could have stood on its own as a part of any menu in town.

Dessert on this day was an assortment of cookies that had been baked off that morning; two make a perfect accompaniment for a walk back to the car or the office.

wanna go?’

The Avenue Restaurant & Bar 201-A N. Elm St. Greensboro