2012 Best of the Best: Dining
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LOCAL BREWERY: NoDa Brewing Company
“No one really tells you that crafting alcohol can be a valid career path,” says Chad Henderson, head brewer at NoDa Brewing Company.
After earning degrees in physiology, biology, and chemistry from Appalachian State University, Henderson landed a job in the medical field—but it was no longer his passion. When he wasn’t at work, he devoted himself to learning everything he could about the craft brewing process, taking on unofficial apprenticeships with friends and contacts he’d made in the industry—all completely unpaid.
“This is an industry that’s unbelievably generous with knowledge,” he says. “It’s more like a brotherhood.”
Last year, after meeting NoDa Brewing Company owners Todd and Suzie Ford, Henderson made the leap to craft brewing full time. He says their approach to brewing perfectly matches his own—innovative, playful, and unafraid to take some risks. “Our beer is literally an embodiment of our team,” he says. “We’re trying to produce art in the fermented form.”
Although NoDa Brewing Company is less than eight months old, it’s already produced an impressive variety of craft brews—and developed quite a following. By the end of 2012, Henderson expects to have seventy varieties in the company’s catalog. New brews are released weekly on Tuesdays—some are experiments, and some are part of the process to refine brews the team would like to produce in large quantities. But every beer is the result of a brewing cycle that runs twenty-four hours a day, and a team that truly loves the work.
In the local craft scene, Henderson is kind of a rock star. He’s only been asked for his autograph once, but it will certainly happen more frequently as he makes a name for himself and his brewery. He thinks it’s a good sign.
“If we’re not excited about what we made, why should you be excited?” he says. –A.A.
LATE NIGHT EATS: Soul Gastrolounge
Satisfy your late-night cravings at Soul Gastrolounge, where you can dunk pita chips into white bean and goat cheese dip, nibble on a curried lamb skewer, or nosh on small plates like sashimi tuna tacos and Southern fried oysters while the DJs spin.
PREPARED FOODS: Beverly’s Gourmet Foods
Beverly McLaughlin of Beverly’s Gourmet Foods is the fourth generation of her family to sell vegetables or food at the Mecklenburg County Market, and many of her signature items, like her pimento cheese and “Granny’s vegetable soup,” are made from her grandmother’s original recipes. Bonus: you can find her fresh quiches, soups, casseroles, entrées, and spreads all over the city, including Healthy Home Market, Reid’s Fine Foods, and the 7th Street Public Market, among others.
USE OF PIMENTO CHEEESE: Brixx Pizza
Pizza purists might say that pimento cheese has no business being on a pizza—and they’d be wrong. Brixx Wood Fired Pizza should slap a patent on this beautiful pie, featuring a base of jalapeño pimento cheese topped with roasted red peppers, crumbled bacon, and fresh spinach leaves on the restaurant’s signature thin crust. It’s sinful and inventive—a delicious fusion of Italy and the South.
DINNER AND A MOVIE: Mez and EpiCentre Theaters
Sure, you can go out to eat before you go to the movies, but at EpiCentre Theaters, you don’t have to. Mez offers a full menu of movie-friendly options that the staff’ll bring straight to your cushy, oversize theater seat, including specialty burgers and sandwiches, pizza, and pasta, along with sweets like a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. There’s also a nice selection of wines by the glass or bottle and a full-service bar. Popcorn and Junior Mints for dinner no more.
REVIVAL OF A CHARLOTTE INSTITUTION: Reid’s Fine Foods
When uptown grocery store Reid’s Fine Foods closed in 2010, it was the end of an era, but now the charming grocer is back—this time in Myers Park. The new, more intimate store on Selwyn offers the personal service and gourmet convenience that made the original such a favorite. And its popular (and usually crowded) cooking classes and luxe wine bar make it a neighborhood hangout, too.
COFFEEHOUSE: Dilworth Coffee
It’s served its own delicious coffee since 1989, but its newly renovated interior, extra seating, and an airier, open feel make Dilworth Coffee’s Dilworth location worth another look. With a reliable Wi-Fi connection, knowledgeable baristas, and a quiet atmosphere, it’s a great place to meet up with a friend, relax, or get a little work done.
ROMANTIC RESTAURANT: Customshop
Celebrating its fifth anniversary, Customshop still feels fresh and imaginative. Owner and Executive Chef Trey Wilson’s meticulously cooked, seasonal menus are as seductive and beautifully plated as ever. With the intimate restaurant’s cozy ambience and ultra-flattering mood lighting, it’s the place for a romantic date night meal.
PRIVATE PARTY ROOM: Georges Brasserie
If your special occasion demands a fancy setting, reserve the private room at Georges Brasserie. Tucked away behind the main dining room to the right, it manages to feel luxurious and cozy at the same time. The full (and excellent) menu is available, and depending on your party’s size, you’ll get your own dedicated server or two—plus the room is equipped to accommodate your audio and video needs.
FISH MARKET: Clean Catch
Simply stated, Clean Catch Fish Market is the fish market Charlotte has been waiting for. It’s pricier than the seafood counter at your typical grocery store, but the quality and freshness is worth the cost. This is the place to go when you’re looking for something beyond shrimp and salmon (although you can find them here, too). Recent offerings include North Carolina swordfish, American red snapper, black grouper, and sushi-grade yellowfin tuna. An added bonus: you can send in your order via text and have it packaged and ready when you arrive.
DINER: The Diamond
Since The Diamond reopened in February, it’s welcomed a growing number of fans, had a cameo in Showtime’s Homeland (that kitschy wallpaper is immediately recognizable), and served up countless orders of fried pickles. With a huge menu that offers your standard diner fare plus specialties such as pig wings, beef tips, and lots of vegetarian options (the black bean veggie burger should not be missed), this place is a diamond in the rough.
KID-FRIENDLY DINING: Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen
Family night out? Head to Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen in SouthPark. Rooster’s might seem like a surprising choice, but consider this: pizzas, pastas, and family-style sides are supremely kid-friendly and easy to share. And there are plenty of more sophisticated options for parents’ palates. This is the dream scenario, moms and dads: a restaurant you actually want to go to that makes the kids happy, too.
SWEET POTATO SIDE DISH: Kickstand's Sweet Potato Tater Tots
Move over, sweet potato fries. Kickstand’s Sweet Potato Tater Tots take fried sweet potatoes to a whole new level. Delicately fried for a little bit of crispiness, these bite-sized tots will go well with your sandwich or burger but are best as an appetizer, dipped in their special brown sugar butter syrup. They’re part vegetable, part dessert—and completely amazing.
SPECIALTY FOODS SHOP: Savory Spice Shop
Savory Spice Shop brought new flavor to the Charlotte area—more than 400 spices, herbs, extracts, and salts, to be exact. Inside you’ll also find 140 hand-blended seasonings that are ground fresh in-house. If you have a taste for the exotic, this is the place to shop (think black garlic, asafetida, and Grains of Paradise), but if you’re just looking for the standards (lavender, basil, sugar), you’ll still have plenty of options.
RESTAURANT IN A STRIP MALL: Bistro La Bon
Two years in, Bistro La Bon still brings style to its resident strip mall—and chef Majid Amoorpour’s cuisine is better than ever. Starters such as a mushroom artichoke crepe and mussels with leeks and saffron cream keep company with lavish mains like duck breast with parsnip puree and English peas. Sunday brunch is popular (and usually crowded), offering housemade pastries and breads, chocolate waffles, and the chef’s specialty, Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce.
SPLURGE: Fig Tree
When you have something to celebrate, make a reservation at Fig Tree. Service is unfailingly top-notch, and the restaurant’s inviting bar is rarely crowded. Then there’s the seasonal cuisine, with decadent offerings like lobster hush puppies, a brie- and mushroom-stuffed tart, and risotto with pulled pork and figs. Haven’t eaten here yet? Find something to celebrate. It’s that good.
BRACKET SMACKDOWN WINNER: Sushi–Yama Asian Fusion
As sushi restaurants continue to pop up across the city, it's easy to be swayed by the latest and trendiest. Then there's Yama Asian Fusion, one of those places that keeps you coming back—for the top-quality fish, beautifully finessed sushi, good service, and intimate setting. Kanpai!