"Low country" food in Charlotte and local specialities
We are spending 4 days in downtown Charlotte without a car. I saw there were some local bbq places (merts) and when I looked at the menus on-line there was a special section for low country fare. What is that? And is Merts the place to try it, or should we stick with bbq? Finally, what is the local (non-pork) speciality of Charlotte? I saw someone mentioned pimento sandwiches - is that one? I am not looking for fancy - just for down home.
Thanks in advance.
If you want a really good southern meat-and-three (the classic southern dish that pairs a protein with three side veggies - p.s. mashed potatoes and mac&cheese are "veggies" down here too), I recommend King's Kitchen over Mert's. King's passes the authentic taste test more than Mert's does, in my opinion. King's also sources locally more than Mert's does and is a non-profit charity. http://www.kingskitchen.org/
Whenever I have out-of-town non-Southerners down here as guests on business, they ask to eat at King's.
I also underscore the statement that there's no good bbq in Charlotte. NC's bbq tradition is chopped pork, either western-style (vinegar-tomato-based sauce on smoked chopped pork shoulder), or eastern-NC-style (straight vinegar sauce on a chopped whole hog), both smoked over oak, hickory, or a combination of both, with no help from gas or electricity. You'll find neither authentic tradition in Charlotte. The best place to get a more generic-style disneyland tour of BBQ, and BBQ that's actually cooked over wood, is at Midwood Smokehouse, as mentioned previously. I would really try to go there as it's not too far without a car. http://www.midwoodsmokehouse.com. There's no place in downtown that does BBQ (good or bad) within walking distance, unless you're literally talking about roasted meat smothered in BBQ sauce. But as the locals know, that's not bbq, that's meat with bbq sauce. Big difference.
129 W Trade St, Charlotte, NC 28202
"Low country" refers to a regional cuisine found in coastal SC and GA. Its a sub-genre of southern cooking that features a lot of seafood (shrimp and grits being the most famous example of the genre) and a very strong African influence. Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowcount...
Merts probably has the widest selection of low country food in Uptown, although I'm sure it pops up on other menus here and there.
I was unaware Mert's even sold bbq, and I'd advise against trying it there. If you want to try bbq, you can ride the light rail to either Mac's or McKoys, both decent enough, although not great. A short cab ride wil take you to Midwood Smokehouse, which is very good, imo.
Other places to consider in Uptown (as we refer to our downtown) for soul/southern fare are Lola's, Simmons and Kings Kitchen.
The concept of Charlotte's local specialty is much discussed, and the general consensus is that we don't have one. We have lots of good restaurants, but none focused on something readily identifiable as a local specialty. Livermush is probably the closest thing to a local specialty, although its really more a western-NC thing (much like Lexington-style bbq) than a Charlotte thing. Its a sausage like product made from hog liver and cornmeal.
If you want to try shrimp and grits, the version at Savor Cafe on Morehead is very good. This is not a walkable destination, but also a short cab ride. They are also famous for the banana pudding - a Southern staple.
I agree with Notaslavetofashion that if you want BBQ, go straight to Midwood Smokehouse. Another option for pork BBQ (not brisket on the menu) is Sauceman's on West Blvd - another short cab ride from center city.
Mert's is fine for some dishes but the best fried chicken is Price's Chicken Coop - closed Mondays! You can get to Price's via the light rail. Just realize there are no tables inside- carry out only. You will see locals sitting on their cars outside for their lunch fix.
As for pimiento cheese sandwiches - you see them a lot. We do like our 'minter cheese sammiches down here! The aforementioned Savor Cafe makes a very good version of this as well - and you can get it served with the house made potato chips.
One dish I had never seen before moving to Charlotte 20 years ago is fried pickles. I have lived in Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio and I had my first fried pickle at Wad's in 1992. If you want to try them, go to the Diamond in the Plaza-Midwood area - sorry but another cab ride!
Price's Chicken Coop
1614 Camden Rd, Charlotte, NC 28203
228 West Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28202
Those are all great suggestions by Notaslavetofashion and hazardnc. I don't have too much to add, but if you're looking for a pimiento cheese sandwich, you can take the lightrail to Common Market in the Southend (there's another in Plaza Midwood near a couple places mentioned in the other posts), which is right near Price's (mentioned by hazardnc) and order the Pimmy D-luxe, a delicioius pimiento cheese sandwich, grilled with bacon and tomato.
Another place for a pimiento sandwich or shrimp and grits (AND another cab ride) is DISH in Plaza Midwood. John's Country Kitchen (also in Plaza Midwood) is the place to try livermush, if you dare.
Agree with hazardnc about fried pickles!
Edit to add: Just remembered Green's Lunch in uptown. They also serve livermush and you can try a Southern style hot dog - chili, slaw, mustard and onions.
John's Country Kitchen
1518 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205