Saturday, January 26, 2013

FB 2012: Charlotte Food Year in Review and 2013 Outlook


The best and worst of 2012, as dictated by the Food Babies.  Plus what to watch for in 2013!

2012 Best New Additions

Restaurants & Bars 

5Church. Has the curse of the 5th & Church retail space been lifted? Approximately 2.2 trillion bars and restaurants have come and gone in this space in the ten years I have been in Charlotte. Hopefully 5Church, with its chic, modern interior and exciting menu will have more staying power.

Fern: Flavors from the Garden. I think Fern might have opened in late 2011, but because they do mushroom bacon (see Maple-Glazed Pumpkin Filet from the Fall menu) I can overlook the minor technicality. This intimate all-vegetarian spot features a creative menu and earthy-chic décor. I am always smug at my lack of food baby when I leave.

Malabar. Is this the best tapas restaurant I’ve ever been to? No, but the food is solid and it fills a void in the dining scene. While I still miss Coco Osteria, I can now soothe my pain with grilled octopus, manchego and jamon croquetas and other Spanish delicacies.

The Peculiar Rabbit. The jury is still out on this Plaza Midwood gastropub, but I was thrilled to see it finally open. I’ve enjoyed the one dish I tasted (hello pork belly entrée). I truly hope they make it work in this behemoth space…the expansive three stories can feel awkward if there isn’t a crowd there.
Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar. WPPB is the antithesis of e2 in that it is backed by a celebrity chef but doesn’t suck. We are glad they refrained from adding a 20-30% celeb chef price premium. Try the San Daniele Proscuitto with burrata app or one of the delicious pizzas (wild mushroom and lamb sausage are my faves so far).

image: clt magazine
Dean & Deluca Wine Room. The revamped wine room at D+D in Phillip’s Place is sleek and sexy. A state of the art system keeps wines at optimal temperatures. In other wine news, the wine room features over 80 by the glass and 1,000 bottle selections. You can choose from multiple wine flights and there is no corkage fee for bottles. If you want to enhance your wine with food, the tapas style menu is spot on.

Ten at Park Lanes. The prehistoric Pappas’ Park Lanes got a major overhaul in 2012. The new space is retro and cool, and the food is bowling alley-chic. Did you know that moonshine cocktails make you a better bowler?

Bye Bye Butter. Butter was regarded by some weirdos as the “best nightclub” in Charlotte. Sadly, this d-bag haven is no more. I’m sorry, but VIP sections and velvet ropes in Charlotte are senseless – the majority of Charlotteans who can afford to drop mad cash in the VIP have better things to do with their time and money.

image: NoDa brewery
The Craft Beer Incident of 2012. The brewing scene continues to expand with Heist, Triple C and Birdsong joining the ranks of Old Meck, NoDa, Ass Clown and Four Friends (sure I missed someone). There are hits and misses, but more beer can’t be a bad thing.

Wooden Vine. This cozy uptown spot has a cool vibe, great wine list and tasty bites. Over 30 by the glass and 350 bottle selections are available on the thoughtfully composed wine list. The pork meatballs, duck quesadilla and pork belly small plates are superb.

Bernardin’s. Located in the primo uptown space formerly occupied by Ratcliffe on the Green, Bernardin’s has rapidly become a culinary favorite. The menu is a diverse offering from land and sea and never disappoints.

Food Retail

Whole Foods. This is my favorite place in Charlotte, second only to that magical store with free bacon and lipo. The WF-free decade since I moved from Austin, TX (Whole Foods’ HQ and home to the national flagship store) has been pure hell. At last – I can sip wine while I shop in GMO-free bliss. I heart Whole Paycheck…erg, I mean Whole Foods.

Pour Olive. This gourmet olive oil and vinegar store is foodie heaven. I die for the Wild Mushroom and Sage Oil –I drizzle it on grilled steaks with a hit of coarse sea salt to finish. The Blood Orange Vinegar is wonderful in vinaigrettes and on sashimi. Olive oil novice? No fear – the knowledgeable staff will guide you and you can sample all the goods!

image: clt magazine
Savory Spice. This spice shop has something for everyone. The Italian Black Truffle Sea Salt is the crack cocaine of the seasoning world – highly addictive, cheaper than real truffles and it will mess you up. Great gifts for foodies.

Reid’s Fine Foods. Thank goodness this place finally re-opened in the Selwyn location. Where else would I buy sausage casings and fine, dry-aged beef?

Orman’s Cheese Shop. The first real cheesemonger in Charlotte is now open in the 7th Street Market uptown and it feels so good. An excellent selection and crazy cheese knowledge abound. Cheese lovers rejoice!


Guy Fieri Annihilation. Not at all Charlotte related, but too good to overlook... Quick background – I’ve long suspected Food Network “personality” Guy Fieri was the devil incarnate. I appreciate his promotion of small greasy-spoons across the nation, but when I see his spiky trailer park hair and absurd button downs I die a little inside. My hunch was confirmed when a close friend worked an event with the lord of lame and reported that he was a flamingly arrogant a-hole. For context, my friend gets on with everyone and could make cocktail conversation with Stalin in a pinch.

Pete Wells is the chief restaurant critic for the New York Times and became my idol in 2012. Wells created massive controversy with a scathing review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square. His crushing review begins “Guy Fieri, have you eaten at your new restaurant in Times Square?” I worship every word of his review. When I am feeling blue, I read it and am restored. While the acidic zingers are too plentiful to mention, a few frosted tip highlights:

“When you saw the burger described as “Guy’s Pat LaFrieda custom blend, all-natural Creekstone Farm Black Angus beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion + pickle), SMC (super-melty-cheese) and a slathering of Donkey Sauce on garlic-buttered brioche,” did your mind touch the void for a minute?”

“Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?”

“When you hung that sign by the entrance that says, WELCOME TO FLAVOR TOWN!, were you just messing with our heads?”

“Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?”

2012 Flops

Heist Brewery. I love the craft brew phenomenon and want to support the local guys, but Heist is a colossal bust. The striking NoDa space and the intriguing menu lure you in like an oasis mirage in the Sahara desert. Sadly, you leave with a proverbial mouth full of sand – still thirsty for good beer and feeling cheated. The overpriced and overworked menu that looks so good on paper sacrifices flavor in a failed attempt to be creative. The beer falls (and tastes) flat – lacking in flavor, aroma and body. Unfortunately Heist has never lived up to its potential.

e2. Other than the chicken & waffles app, I’ve found nothing at this over-hyped and overpriced celebrity chef-fronted restaurant to get excited about. At least they finally got rid of the bizarro picnic-blanket inspired front of house uniforms.

Sinking Feeling. Thanks to Charlotte Magazine for pointing this one out. Enough said.

"In April, the uptown restaurant Savannah Red and Epic Chophouse in Mooresville both re-created the last dinner served on the Titanic. Sir, let me refill your water to help you commemorate one of the world’s worst maritime disasters."

Side Note. Ironically, Charlotte was more talked about in 2012 for The Bachelorette than for hosting the DNC. Apparently we also became known as a stomping ground for tacky mistresses – the Paula Broadwell scandal prompted a Newsweek story entitled “Dilworth, Charlotte: Mistressville, USA?” I guess our associations with Emily Maynard, Paula Broadwell, Rielle Hunter and that h*-bag Bobcats Cheerleader diddling a married country star haven’t improved the city’s image.

Biscuitgate 2012. Speaking of the DNC, thanks a lot Daily Show for exposing the hidden secret of North Carolina cuisine. Daily Show Correspondent Al Madrigal reported “Do you know that every food in North Carolina is served on a biscuit? Even the biscuits are served on a biscuit.” Now the QC is inundated by creepy biscuit fans from all over the country trying to eat our biscuits. We now face a shortage of the buttery delights, which local press has coined the Great Biscuit Migration of the 21st century. Panic rages.

What to Watch for in 2013

Block & Grinder. This new butcher shop/steak restaurant combo is slated to open in South Charlotte (Providence & Sharon Amity). Executive Chef Kent Graham has the chops (get it?) – he graduated from the CIA and has worked at NYC’s Plaza Hotel and at the French Laundry in California.

Crisp – Latta Arcade. Crisp is opening a long-awaited uptown location, which will fill a void in the desert wasteland of lunch options near the Duke Energy Center uptown (fellow DEC tenants rejoice).

Nan & Byron’s. I’m excited to see what the guys behind 5Church do with the former Vinnie’s South Boulevard location. The menu is slated to be “traditional American” food. Whatever that means, I’m sure the 5Church team will deliver.

Chuy’s to Open? A franchise outpost of this Tex-Mex favorite (homegrown in Austin, TX!) will open in the Southpark area. Another prediction: I will eat half my weight in queso, chicken chuychangas and green chile enchiladas. I will chase it with gallons fresh lime margaritas and Texas Martinis (extra jalapeno-stuffed olives, please).

EpiCentre Expansion. Out with the Mez (closing Jan. 27) in with Studio Movie Grill. At least I will still have a place to watch movies while day drinking in public. The current $15 million renovation of the EpiCentre is underway in an effort to bring in “better” clientele and more retail. The EpiCentre recently signed leases for a new Italian restaurant, a Hibachi Grill and music venue Tin Roof.

New Teeters! The 50,000 square foot signature Harris Teeter is slated to open this spring in Plaza Midwood. All hail the new Taj Ma-Teeter! The enhanced “five points” Teeter will also be back in business early in the year.



  1. so glad to have found one once again..this is fabulous! xox

  2. My experience at Heist has been somewhat different, and I have been there about half a dozen times since they opened. I agree about the beer, overall they are near the bottom of the list of local breweries. But the food has always been spot-on for what it is, gastropub / slightly jazzed-up bar food. The duck flatbread and the jumbo shrimp wrapped in wasabi cotton candy have always been good, as has most of the menu items I have had. You may want to give them a second shot. Skip the beer and have their bartender Stefan make up some cocktails instead.

  3. What a great run down of the beer and food in Charlotte. It's an older list but gave me some new ideas on where to explore next time I'm down in the Charlotte area. I love the roof top city lights view of the Peculiar Rabbit in Plaza Midwood on a nice night. Block and Grinder just expanded to Exit 31 (Langtree) in Mooresville and Chuys was a staple I visted whn living in Arizona. Can't wait to try it out here.