It’s ironic. About a year ago, a friend of ours brought Fernanda Borletti to a lunch we had scheduled at Fogo de Chao. At that lunch, Borletti talked about pursuing her dream of opening a restaurant. She asked us our thoughts on certain neighborhoods, targeting demographics, dining trends, and overall marketing. So a couple weeks ago, we were scheduled for another Fogo meating (haha, get it?) with the friend who introduced us to Borletti. But she texted last minute, saying Borletti’s restaurant finally opened and that we should go there instead.
We were PISSED. “Nothing beats Fogo,” we thought. “Let’s go to her place another time.” Canceling Fogo evokes the same emotional response experienced during childhood when you missed the breakfast window at McDonald’s. F-ed in the drive-thru, you might say. On the way to this new place, we joked about not understanding the restaurant’s name (it’s Wink 24) and we were leery of trying a place that’d been open for three days. “How good can it be?” we wondered. “What the hell’s with all the colors on the patio and that iron sh*t in the planters,” we thought once we arrived. “And again, that name! It’s not catchy.” Well, damn. We certainly feel stupid because now we believe this could be one of the best new restaurants in town.
Borletti’s Wink 24 is located in the old Forge Pizzeria space, at the back of the now defunct Union Shops at Biltmore Fashion Park. From the moment you walk in, the vibe is palpably different than what you might have experienced at Forge. It’s bright, friendly, cheerful, welcoming – a feminine touch was obviously needed to soften up architecturally driven space. Right angles and hard, brutal lines have given way to flowy, flowery wall art, curves, and colors. You’ll notice brightly colored ironwork – Borletti designed all that herself. From the illuminated birdcages that hold wine above the bar, to the brightly colored metal flower petals that poke out of planters on the patio, it’s all her design and it all comes together beautifully. Even those hanging birdcages that double as platter displays for pizzas or charcuterie boards – they’re hers. We told her that if Wink 24 doesn’t work out, she’s got a million-dollar Etsy shop waiting to happen with all this metalwork.
The name is inspired by Ronan Sean Thompson — the local boy who died of cancer but whose mother has become a voice in the battle to cope and the fight for a cure … a voice so loud that Taylor Swift wrote a song about Maya’s experience. Borletti and Ronan’s mother, Maya, are as tight as sisters, right along with our mutual friend who introduced us to this place. So right there, we’re taking back every first impression we had. Fernanda describes a “wink” as a nod that you might give someone when you know what they’re going through. That her husband would often wink at Ronan assure him that he had support and love all around. And the bird on the logo represents a hummingbird that hung around during young Ronan’s funeral.
So in a way, Wink 24 is an homage to Maya, Ronan, and all people who need a wink of reassurance from someone they love. And besides ALL that, this is not necessarily why we think this place could be known as one of the Best New Restaurants in 2016.
For one, Borletti inherited Forge’s beautiful wood-fired oven. She’s baking breads from a yeast strain started by the family of Fabio Ceschetti, who we believe makes some of the best pizza in town from his Fabio on Fire wood-fired catering oven.
On our last three visits, we have yet to experience a bad item in the bunch – honestly. We’ve had:
Barbabietola / $7
Fire-roasted beets served over a bed of arugula, spicy yogurt sauce
Polpette / $8
Italian style meatballs served with a spicy tomato sauce, fresh homemade bread
Bianca Pizza / $13
Schreiner’s sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella
Funghi Pizza / $13
Mushrooms, prosciutto cotto, caramelized onions, mozzarella, tomato sauce
Crostini / $5
All of them – from salmon and dill/lemon to classic caprese
Wink 24 also serves cheese and salumi boards, a full menu of pizzas and paninis, salads, lasagnas, and a ton more. Panini are served on paper that Boreltti designed, illustrating cute Italian well wishes, while other items are served on thick wood planks or more minimalist white dishware. No matter what you order, though, ask for a side of chile morita. Trust us – this spicy oil is reason alone for a visit. Also, there are Italian wines that range from warm weather sippers to big, juicy reds. Check out the full menu here.
The place is located in the back of the mall, though, so park on the east side near Hypoxi, the place that may or may not be doing a damn thing with its weird workout machinery. So head to Wink 24 and eat up! For one, you know this place was built with love, and that’s to be supported. For two, you know that any weight gain can just be Hypoxied off next door, whatever the hell that means.
Biltmore Fashion Park
2502 E. Camelback Rd.
Lunch & Dinner daily