The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 5, 2012

Off the Square wins state prize for local food menu

By Justin Jones, Staff Writer

Monday, November 5, 2012 — A downtown restaurant has gathered another award from the Got to Be NC Agriculture Best Dish Contest.

Off the Square, located at     114 South 2nd Street in Albemarle, took the third place award for best overall dish in their 2012 contest for the West Piedmont region.

For Off the Square, third place was a step backwards, as they took first place in 2011 for best overall dish.

Off the Square’s Executive Chef James Edwards believes their five course meal that took third place was even better than their winning dish from a year ago.

“This menu was better than the year before,” he said.

“We put a lot more thought into it, but you can’t win them all. Just to place is an honor,” said Jared Lynch, the restaurant’s Sous-Chef.

Their entry followed their own mission statement which is “support our community by crafting local cuisine with innovation and love.”

As described by Off the Square’s menu, their dish began with an appetizer of a Calico bay scallop gratin with poached garlic and sauteed spinach cream sauce. The soup was a chilled strawberry soup finished with balsamic and toasted pecans. The salad was topped with hand made mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes finished with a hand made local mint pesto. The main course was a Berkshire bone in pork chop finished with caramelized onions and a balsamic red wine reduction. As if that wasn’t enough food, the meal concluded with a butterscotch creme brulee.

As seen in their winning dish, their menu goes beyond most of the typical dishes found in the area, but both men vow that each dish is prepared as if they were paying for it themselves.

“Anything that hits the table is made with passion and love,” Edwards said.

Per contest rules, it was a requirement that the dish be available for a total of a month. They wouldn’t find out who the guest judge was until the meal was finished and a judges card would then be presented.

Knowing a judge could stop by at any moment didn’t alter the way they prepared, according to Lynch.

“Everyone’s like a judge here,” he said.

“We ask is that something we would pay for and enjoy?” Edwards said of their standards.

Their upscale yet casual dining restaurant is located in what was formerly a coffee shop called Firehouse Cafe.

Edwards took over the location in 2008 and spent the next few months completely renovating the facility to make it what it is today, expanding the open seating area while making decorative improvements.

Off the Square offers catering for any event including weddings and holiday parties, while promising to offer affordable gourmet foods.

The pride that they take in their food is obvious and, according to Edwards, comes from farmers across North Carolina. Among the places they promise their food won’t come from — a can.

“Only three things not made in house — the ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard. Everything else, we make it,” Lynch said.

A full review of Off the Square and pictures from it’s winning meal can be found at