The Wheel’s Monthly Pop-Ups Provide Standing Opportunities to Experience Fine Dining with Strangers

A dinner at The Wheel is something really special and not to be missed, as hard as a spot may be to secure

click to enlarge Tagliolini with crab prosecco fondue and a tomato tarragon broth and - a salad with strawberries - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Tagliolini with crab prosecco fondue and a tomato tarragon broth and a salad with strawberries

Everyone should have the opportunity to dine with really exquisite strangers. I’ve had that opportunity just three times in my life and yet it is one of my favorite things to do — to attend an intimate coursed dinner with communal seating and an unknown guest list. It transforms going out to eat into an artful experience. 

Now, one cannot usually decide on a whim to attend one of these dinners as they are typically offered in a pop-up fashion, however Chrissy Antenucci has turned this concept into a mainstay of her business at The Wheel in Oakley. And that means there are now standing opportunities for many to experience a pop-up dinner party — if they can RSVP quickly enough, that is.

When Antenucci first decided to open a restaurant, she ran into issues with zoning restraints and other snags and decided to turn her space into a carry-out spot instead. It was only during construction that she started hosting pop-up dinners to somewhat work against the time it was taking to get The Wheel up and running. The private dinners, spread by word of mouth, email and social media, grew in such popularity that she decided they would be an ongoing part of her business plan, a way to spin a positive outcome from her obstacles. 

What most people were interested in was the unique twist of going out to eat in a seemingly nondescript “restaurant.” The Wheel, which is located in a storefront next to a handful of brick apartment buildings at the end of Brotherton Road, is easy to overlook. By day, it is a sandwich, pasta and pizza carry-out, but by night it transforms into a space where 20 people come together to sit across from one another to be served five courses of Antenucci’s choosing and preparing. And the latter is the most amazing part.

My husband and I secured two highly sought-after spots one wildly rainy night in April. I went in that evening with high expectations. I had been hearing all about these dinners for months. My husband had previously attended a private party and all he said when he came home that night was, “You’re going to love it; out of this world. After that rainy April date night, all I can say is that he was absolutely right. 

Upon arrival, we were seated across from one another near the center of the table. To my left, a married couple from Indian Hill who were waiting on two other couples to complete their party of six. To my right, a recently retired Duke Energy engineer who was in town from North Carolina visiting her daughter. We exchanged pleasantries and personal experiences with both of our flanked parties, all the while pouring each other glasses from our own brought bottles of wine. Then the courses started.

The antipasti was a fresh pea soup with ramp frittata and truffle focaccia. Antenucci acknowledged it was the persistent rain that day that served as the impetus for starting with soup. This bowl was creamy and pungent and promising. A bit of each component individually was good, but a bite heavy with the ramp frittata and the green base of the soup was the most impactful. I would have been down for two frittatas in my bowl because they were very, very good.

click to enlarge Chrissy Antenucci - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Chrissy Antenucci

The second course was a salad made with Antenucci’s own fresh goat cheese, pickled strawberries, fava beans prepared in a pink peppercorn marinade and 80 Acres lettuces, all dressed with a basil-whey vinaigrette. This salad was extremely light, yet sweetly savory. Fruit on salad tends to veer toward sweet, but this salad had a strong herbal presence that made it feel anchored. The warming soup then, dare I say, warming salad, kept us all on the right trajectory. 

Course three was a tagliolini with crab prosecco fondue and a tomato tarragon broth. While I am typically not into watery broth, especially when it comes to a pasta course, I was not at all put off here. The tagliolini, which is handmade — as is everything that Antenucci offers — was sturdy yet silky and proved to be particularly satisfying rolled up around a big bite of crab.  

Course four was definitely my favorite, as I have yet to meet an agnolotti I don’t like. Antenucci prepared a carrot agnolotti with morels, brown butter and sage. While carrots can carry a sharp sweetness, they were perfectly housed in the agnolotti pocket, and with the earthiness of a morel and that sweetly rich dousing of brown butter and sage, this was the pasta equivalent of reading a book by a fire.

For dessert was angel food cake with kumquats and a Meyer lemon sabayon. I always love a creamy, citrus cake-like dessert and this one shone brightly. While I was slightly stuffed heading into this final course, I was able to make room. The tanginess of the kumquats with the piquant sabayon made for one uplifting yet settling final mark. 

In the end, the entire dinner beat on as rhythmically as the rain against the sidewalk out front. Between the bobbing of conversations, the sharing of BYO-wine and the cadence of each course, The Wheel’s pop-up dinner left me impressed and wildly appreciative. 

In fact, it would be my recommendation that you not go with a party of four or six, but just two. Make it a date and go into the night knowing you are there to immerse yourself in both the food and the table. 

Now, these opportunities can be hard to come by and while The Wheel offers them on a monthly basis, it can be difficult to get an RSVP. In order to secure a spot, you must request to join the listserve by emailing [email protected]. Then you have to wait to receive an email that announces that month’s pop-up dates. 

Once you see that in your inbox, you’ll need to reply with your request ASAP — and we are talking within minutes. When I first tried to attend a dinner in January, I emailed them not 40 minutes after getting the email and my request could not be accommodated; they sold out that quickly. However, if and when you do find yourself lucky enough to have a reserved seat, just know you are getting in on something very special and very good.

As I walked back out into the rain after enjoying an evening not only with my husband, but also with those who I happened to be seated next to, I realized that this is exactly the kind of thing I want to encourage everyone to experience. A dinner at The Wheel is something really special and not to be missed, as hard as a spot may be to secure.

The Wheel, 3805 Brotherton Road, Oakley,

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