Founder’s legacy sustained by resilient family and staff
By RAY LINVILLE » Photos by John Patota
A dedicated staff and the caring mother-son leadership have helped Ironwood write a story of resiliency after the passing in mid-2020 of Vince Continenza, the restaurant’s longstanding mentor.
“It was a great, huge void when Dad left us, but we’ve always had a strong staff and camaraderie. A lot of people stepped up to the plate. My Mom, even though retired, jumped right in. It was second nature for her to fill the void because she had been in the restaurant business on her own in Michigan,” says son Nathan.
Mother Cindy adds, “Taking over Ironwood, we had no blueprints. We had to step in to fill Vince’s shoes. He did prepare us, although we thought we’d have more time.
“I could not have done this without so much support. I’m surrounded by so many strong people, and I feel so blessed
The son, who is the executive chef, expresses his appreciation of the dedicated staff this way, “We really have no turnover. A lot of employees have been here 8, 10, 12 years. It’s still the same, still strong, but we are breathing new life into Ironwood.”
About the staff, the mother adds, “I like to keep our employees happy. They are very important to me. It’s something that I’m good at. Vince was always good at it too. I picked up where Vince left off. If you have happy employees, you have happy customers.”
About her son, she brags, “He’s the best chef in town, and he has an incredible skill with food as an art form.”
After completing culinary school and working for a restaurant group, Nathan got to do something many sons don’t have the opportunity to do. “I worked side by side with my father 50 hours a week. Many people don’t get to do that,” he says as he reflects on how special that time was.
“I worked for my father for over 20 years. He was proud of what I did, but Mom always has the right words. She has always been my biggest cheerleader,” he adds.
Trendsetting American cuisine with local, seasonal ingredients continue to be the hallmarks of Ironwood’s eclectic menu that ranges from casual to gourmet.
Appetizers are a must at Ironwood. The flash-fried calamari and rangoons filled with shrimp and crab are difficult to resist. The baked Danish brie is equally tempting.
Ironwood is the only area restaurant that serves certified prime Angus beef, the star of the menu, that has been aged at least 28 days. To guarantee the consistently superior quality of every cut, each steak is cut inhouse. Served with whipped potatoes and a fresh, seasonal vegetable that can be substituted by grilled asparagus, crispy Brussels sprouts, and creamed or wilted spinach, each steak dinner can also be topped with a wild mushroom blend, caramelized or tobacco onions, grilled shrimp, a lobster tail or two, or other enhancements for an additional charge.
Just as popular as the steak choices are other Ironwood signature dishes, such as pork osso buco, goat cheese chicken, steak and gnocchi alfredo, cabernet-braised short ribs, and korma vegetable curry.
“Our ribeyes are amazing. The pork osso buco is slow-braised seven hours, and it’s a meal and a half in itself,” says the chef. Pairing perfectly with meal orders are selections from a wine list so extensive that you need extra time to peruse the cellar jewels as well as the fun and trendy whites and reds.
Pro dining tip: Take advantage of an early bird discount by arriving between 5 and 5:30 and ordering before 6pm. Call the restaurant for details and reservations.
“When guests are seated by 5:30, they also receive soup or salad at no charge. The early bird discount can save $10-$13 a person,” says Nathan.
It’s not surprising that Ironwood is the favorite of this magazine’s readers in two categories. It won first place in both outdoor dining and Sunday brunch in our Best of the Best contest last year. (Because voting for the contest this year is now underway, make sure your votes are cast online on our website: sandhillsmag.com/best-of-ballot.)
Sunday brunch is an awesome experience at Ironwood with specials that include a champagne-charged mimosa or morning glory. Irish whiskey French toast tops the breakfast choices with the chicken and waffles just as enticing. Both compete with lunch options such as the Ironwood kebab.
Brunch is especially enjoyable on Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day. On both days, Ironwood will feature a three-course limited menu that includes a dessert buffet with up to seven options.
Garden and Patio
The restaurant’s garden is a special place for both mother and son. In fact, they complete each other’s sentences when they describe it.
She says, “We are quite well known for our garden. Customers wander there to see what’s growing. I make the selection of what goes in it and feel really strong about what I put in…”
…such as eight to 10 varieties of heirloom tomatoes,” he adds.
The spring menu unveiled in mid-March features produce from Moore County farms such as Happy Goat Ranch, Priest Family Farm, and Paradox Farm.
“The asparagus from Priest is second to none. The local produce here is top-notch, even though a lot of people take it for granted,” the chef says. The spring menu also brings back guest favorites such as soft shell crab.
The perfect place to enjoy Ironwood’s seasonal menu is outside among towering North Carolina pines. The patio offers a taste of true Southern hospitality with al fresco dining under old southern magnolias coupled with the soothing sound of a stunning fire-enhanced fountain.
Just off the spacious and modern dining room dining room is the cozy, semi-private alcove where parties of all sizes can be hosted. Bar seating includes high-top tables and flatscreen TVs where a full bar menu is served and creative house cocktails are made.
When guests enter through Ironwood’s signature patchwork door, they receive the warmest welcome in the Sandhills. The living legacy of Vince Continenza’s gathering place continues.ironwoodpinehurst.com