195 American Fusion
Next generation takes over and creates fresh, new vibe
By RAY LINVILLE » Photos by G. FRANK HART
The next generation at 195 American Fusion is not only here; it has quietly taken over from the restaurant’s founder and long-time owner.
The newest rock star on the Sandhills culinary stage is Anna Pilson, who owns and operates 195, the winner of this magazine’s Best of the Best contest in the fine dining category. Her father Milton opened this American-style global fusion restaurant with a farm-to-table menu in 2000.
She beams as she says, “Three years ago in July, Dad gave me the restaurant, but I’d been the general manager since 2015.”
Taking over the restaurant has been a perfect fit for her. “I worked here as I was growing up. I’ve basically lived here my whole life,” Pilson adds.
As she has taken on the reins of running the restaurant, she is guided by two thoughts: how amazing what her father created is and how well the staff works together.
About her father and the restaurant, she says, “Dad built this whole place up over time and under a lot of pressure. I would not be in such a lucky position if it were not for him. I’d have nothing without him.”
From him, she has learned every important detail. “You need to know how to do everything,” Pilson says.
What’s the most surprising lesson from her father? “Don’t have fingerprints on the front door. If you see a dirty door, it’s the first impression of a restaurant,” she says.
About the staff and the restaurant, Pilson says, “Everyone enjoys coming to work here; that reflects on the food. They are my family. I care about them.”
While other area restaurants were focusing on how the coronavirus pandemic was affecting their business and how to rebound when its effects began to subside, Pilson instead focused on taking the well-established restaurant to a new level.
“I want to create a fresh new vibe. I want people to feel more comfortable,” she says about why she replaced the white tablecloths with custom placemats, added new artwork, and upgraded the
“I don’t want anyone to feel that they have to wear a tuxedo or have to be a millionaire to enjoy a great meal,” she adds.
During the initial stages of the pandemic, 195 was open for only takeout at lunch and dinner, and that break gave Pilson time to make several changes.
“When we opened back up, it was so insane. We were so busy, although it took a little bit to get the lunch business back. Regulars such as book clubs were the first to return,” she says.
“The patio has been huge for people who are cautious. It is open every day, and heaters were installed last year,” Pilson adds.
The patio is popular for private parties, rehearsal dinners, and baby showers. “It’s the perfect size for 30 to 50 people,” she says.
Replacing long-term executive chef Prem Nath when he retired is the duo of Alex Turner and Decker Platt, Pilson’s partner. Turner has the lead role of chef. Platt, who worked next to Nath for about five years, is now the “curry man.”
In addition to the curries, Platt’s specialties include preparing the filets, such as the filet mignon that is served with battered truffle fries, Parmesan cheese, red wine demi, and caramelized onions.
Seafood is another main component of the menu. “We will always have sea bass when we can get it. Fish is delivered every day, so it’s always fresh,” says Pilson.
Preparing the seafood dishes is a specialty of Turner, who previously worked at Wolcott’s. A top menu item is the blackened mahi. It is served with black beans, mashed potatoes, chile relleno, and avocado tomato salsa.
The shareable appetizers are also amazing. Although they change seasonally, typically available are fried oysters and sweet chili shrimp.
According to Pilson, “The goal is to have a little bit of everything on the menu.”
Her father still comes in daily. Otherwise, would Milton’s Ice Cream still be on the dessert menu? (My wife’s favorite is his butter pecan.)
“Dad is here every day. He gets the bread ready, and he makes all the salad dressings and desserts, including the cheesecakes,” she says. His dressings are so popular that they are bottled and sold next door at Nature’s Own.
Other sweets on the menu also demand everyone’s attention. Perfect for the fall season is the warm chocolate brownie served with a scoop of ice cream and the house butterscotch sauce. The pumpkin cheesecake is another fall classic.
Milton’s Ice Cream, a long-time favorite, will likely stay on the menu forever. The daughter has no plans to change what has worked for so many years.
Also staying on the menu are other traditional favorites that helped 195 gain its celebrated reputation and were initially prepared by chef Nath such as Indian butter chicken served with basmati rice, a seasonal vegetable, raita, and garlic naan.
When you visit 195 next time, make sure that you check out the front door before you peruse the menu. It’ll be spotless like it has always been – a tribute to dear ol’ Dad.