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Seeking Recs for a Weekend in Charlotte

Jeff C. Jul 30, 2012 06:47 PM

Will be staying at Aloft Epicentre downtown this weekend and would be grateful for breakfast, lunch, and dinner recs. in the area. Sunday brunch and cocktail bar recs. also would be sweet. Prefer fresh, fun, innovative, unpretentious, neuvo-southern/American fare served in a relaxed atmosphere. Within walking distance would be awesome but not essential. Thanks in advance!

  1. Jeff C. Aug 12, 2012 07:34 AM

    Busy week, but here's my better-late-than-never report: First, the good news is that Charlotte cooks know what they're doing. We didn't have a bad meal the whole weekend. The bad news is that nothing had the Wow Factor of a Five & Ten (Athens) or FIG in Charleston. We ate dinner at Customshop and Halcyon, and had brunch at 5Church. We also had a good, cheap, no-frills diner breakfast at Showmar's downtown and way overpriced cocktails at Blue. ($12 for an Old Fashioned that was half ice!) Quality ingredients, solid preparation, and excellent service at all places. Some final obervations: The brunch fare at 5Church was innovative enough (those polenta "grits" are a must) that we wished we had gone there for dinner instead--the dining room is also among the most beautifully designed we've seen. The view from the deck at Halcyon is spectacular, but it can get windy toward sunset. We ordered a short rib at Customshop that I would swear was actually prime rib, fatty gristle included. (I had to spit out not one or two but four bites--that is simply unacceptable at this price point,) Anyway, everything else there (including a stellar brioche bread pudding) was excellent, and we had a great time in the Queen City. Thanks again for the recommendations, everyone.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Jeff C.
      lynnlato Aug 13, 2012 08:40 AM

      Ugh, hate that you had a bad dish at Customshop. Funny, I have never ordered beef there. There menu is fish and seafood heavy so I've always eaten those type of dishes. We should have pointed that out to you - apologies. So glad you tried their bread pudding - I LOVE bread pudding and they have always wow'ed me with theirs.

      Glad you all had a good visit and some good food. :)

      1. re: lynnlato
        i
        ickymettle Aug 13, 2012 11:51 AM

        I have had the short rib twice before and it was great each time. I guess it was just a bad night for the short rib there (hopefully it's not a sign of decline).

        I totally agree that Charlotte doesn't have a restaurant with a real WOW factor at the moment. It has a lot of very good restaurants, but I've never been completely blown away by a meal like I have at a place like FIG in Charleston or even The Admiral.

        1. re: ickymettle
          lynnlato Aug 13, 2012 03:27 PM

          I've had great meals at Halcyon, Customshop and Ilios Noche too. I think Halcyon is probably the only one that rises to the level of FIG.

          Hey JeffC, the chef at Halcyon, Marc Jacksina, cooked at The James Beard House back in June. That's kind of a big deal. We don't have any James Beard winners just yet, but we're working on it.

          1. re: lynnlato
            Jeff C. Aug 13, 2012 04:02 PM

            Don't get me wrong. Halcyon was lovely. The watermelon-tomato gazpacho was fantastic--summer in a bowl. On the other hand, the "Crispy Duck" was more soggy than crispy, though again the broth it and the vegetables sat in was good enough to serve alone as a soup. I thought Halcyon was very good, just a bit uneven. Maybe I ordered the wrong thing, but frankly a truly spectacular restaurant should have no "wrong thing."

            1. re: Jeff C.
              lynnlato Aug 13, 2012 06:55 PM

              Thanks a ton for reporting back, Jeff. And you are absolutely right that no great restaurant should have a "wrong thing". If it's on their menu they ought to be able to serve it as it was intended. I didn't mean to suggest that Customshop wasn't good at anything but fish & seafood, but that's just what I've eaten when I've been there. Ickymettle indicated that he has enjoyed the short rib on a few occasions (and he knows good eats). I hate that you didn't have that experience. :-(

              I would point out that Lata and Brock are indeed bad ass chefs, but aren't without an occasional hiccup... but all-in-all the South is arising, that's fo sho. We don't have a Keller or an Achatz here in the south just yet, but we've got a lot of dudes jockeying for the top spot (and the Michelin rating). I wish we had more women cooking great stuff down here.

              I need to get down to Atlanta and eat. I think I'm heading down your way in a few weeks. I'll have to see if I can squeeze in some good eatin' and maybe I can hit up you Atlanta hounds for some recs.

              1. re: lynnlato
                Jeff C. Aug 14, 2012 03:42 PM

                A couple of ATL places that are on my radar are Holeman and FInch (esp. the burger) and Empire State South (Five & Ten's Hugh Acheson is executive chef).

                As for the ladies, I hear Susan Spicer (Bayona, NOLA) and Andrea Reusing (Lantern, Chapel Hill) are doing work that is the equal of any male chef.

    2. i
      ickymettle Jul 31, 2012 08:20 AM

      Obviously Halcyon is on your radar. As far as other places downtown, I had a really good experience at 5Church recently. It's brand new, so I don't know if there's been a lot of feedback on it yet, but I'd recommend it based on my one experience. Rooster's is great and has a location downtown very close to the Epicentre. Enso is in the Epicentre and serves good sushi. Vida is also in the Epicentre and serves some decent "upscale" Mexican. I have heard some good things about Bernadin's, but I have not yet been. Malabar has decent tapas (but not nearly as good as Curate in Asheville).

      Not far from downtown is Customshop, which is possibly my favorite restaurant in town at the moment (my favorites tend to alternate). You could actually walk there from the Epicentre-- it's about a mile away. A little farther away (but a very short drive or cab ride away) is Soul Gastrolounge, which serves some very good small plates. In that same area is Lulu, which serves some food that one could describe as French-inspired southern food or southern-inspired French food. Bistro LaBon is also in that area and serves some good French and Mediterranean-inspired dishes.

      If your'e looking for something cheap, Krazy Fish is a funky little dive that I like to frequent. The menu is all over the place, serving dishes inspired by Mexican/Southwestern, Asian, Indian and Southern cuisine . The tacos are great, and when the ribs are one of their specials, they're also very good.

      As for cocktails, like most native Charlotteans over the age of 25, I hate going for drinks downtown. But since you're staying there, it's certainly convenient. Halcyone serves some amazing cocktails, but they close early (10:00). Rooster's has a decent cocktail menu as well. If you don't want anything too fancy, Alexander Michael's is the one bar downtown I really love. It's off the beaten path, tucked away in Fourth Ward. It can be hard to find, but worth the journey. You certainly have plenty of options for places to drink downtown. Be aware, however, that after 9:00 most of the places that are primarily bars (in other words places that aren't restaurants) charge covers. Your best bets for enjoyable drinking downtown are the restaurant bars (and there a lot of them).

      Since I mentioned restaurants in the Plaza Midwood area, I'll mention that there are also good watering holes there. Soul has good cocktails. Common Market is fun place to grab a beer and people watch (it's a convenience store/bar). twenty-Two has some great beer on tap and is a chill place to hang out. If the weather's nice, Thomas Street has a nice back deck (it can get crowded, though).

      NoDa also has a fun bar scene. It's also a short cab ride from downtown. You can go there and drink some good beer at Growlers Pourhouse or Revolution Pizza, chill out and drink some wine at Dolce Vita, hang out on the back deck of Solstice if the weather's nice, and Jack Beagle's and Sanctuary are all pretty cool bars as well, as is NoDa 101.

      Enjoy!

      8 Replies
      1. re: ickymettle
        Jeff C. Jul 31, 2012 09:07 AM

        You've been very helpful, ickymettle--Archers of Loaf, right? (I'm well over 25 myself.) Anyway, thanks a bunch.

        Alexander Michaels looks like our kind of place to drink. Is it walkable from the Epicentre? Do they ever have live music?

        1. re: Jeff C.
          i
          ickymettle Jul 31, 2012 10:40 AM

          Yep, Archers of Loaf. Sadly, I missed their show Sunday night when they came to Charlotte. I'm getting too old-- I just couldn't motivate to head out to a show at 10:00 on a Sunday night.

          Alexander Michaels is walkable from the Epicentre. It's a bit of a hike, but very doable (it's a little under a mile away). Just take Trade St. to Poplar St. Take a right on Poplar and follow that to Settlers Ln. Walk around Settlers Ln, and it's at the end on 9th and Pine (there may be some quicker cut-throughs). Unless things have changed, I think they close earlier than most bars, I'd recommend getting there no later than 11 on weekends.

          They don't have live music. There are plenty of places downtown that probably do have live music, but my guess is that most of it is really bad. If you're looking for live music in a laid back setting, Common Market usually has decent stuff for free. This Friday night is a gallery crawl up in NoDa, so there will probably be free live music up there (gallery crawls in NoDa can be pretty fun). Of course, there are plenty of small venues near some of the areas that have restaurants and bars, mentioned above, where you can pay a small cover and see some decent live music, such as Snug Harbor in Plaza Midwood, Evening Muse in NoDa, and Chop Shop in NoDa. Saturday at Snug Harbor there is what I think will be a good show (Ava Luna). Unfortunately, I'm out of town that day so I'll have to miss it. But Snug Harbor is right there in the midst of a lot of good restaurants and bars, many of which I mentioned earlier. And The Diamond, which is right near Snug Harbor, is a great place for a greasy late night snack.

          1. re: ickymettle
            Jeff C. Jul 31, 2012 11:01 AM

            You're a mensch. Thanks again.

        2. re: ickymettle
          lynnlato Aug 1, 2012 06:24 AM

          What about that new Spanish tapas restaurant downtown? Anyone been there yet? It looked like they had a pretty sweet bar and the food sounded interesting.

          Eh, nevermind. I just found their website. The bar doesn't look like much of a scene. But I am interested in knowing if anyone has dined there. FYI, here's a link to their website: http://www.conterestaurantgroup.com/m...

          1. re: lynnlato
            carolinadawg Aug 1, 2012 06:29 AM

            Do you mean Malabar, in the old Coco Osteria space? If so, ickymettle mentioned it upthread. I have been once, shortly after it opened, and thought it was very good and have been trying to get back. I didn't mention it, or many other places in my initial response to the OP because it doesn't fit his request for "neuvo-southern/American fare".

            1. re: carolinadawg
              Jeff C. Aug 1, 2012 12:21 PM

              I do like tapas. It's just that we have two pretty good tapas joints (Zambra and Curate) here in Asheville.

              F.Y.I.: Have booked a Saturday reservation at Halcyon. Now to pick a few others...anybody want to help me narrow it down? I need two lunches, another dinner, and a Sunday brunch. (So many great places, so little time.)

              1. re: carolinadawg
                lynnlato Aug 1, 2012 04:23 PM

                Yea, I thought it might fit the bill for their bar. I thought I remembered a piece Helen Schwab did w/ a photo and it looked like a pretty lively bar scene. Turns out it wasn't Malabar (although I want to get there to eat too), but Vida Mexican Kitchen. I've heard good things about this place and the bar scene looks fun. I understand they have quite an extensive list of high-end tequilas and some well-crafted cocktails.

                Jeff, you've gotten some great recs here between c-dawg and icky. Sunday brunch I would suggest 5Church. I haven't been yet, but again, I've heard great things from folks I trust. For dinner, one of my favorites in the area (and I think one of icky's too) is Customshop. Simple food but top quality ingredients and a warm atmosphere. When I'm there I feel like I'm in a restaurant in NYC or Chicago, not little ole Charlotte.

                Enjoy your visit!!!

                1. re: lynnlato
                  Jeff C. Aug 2, 2012 06:52 AM

                  Sounds lovely. Thanks, Lynn.

          2. carolinadawg Jul 30, 2012 06:56 PM

            Halcyon should be a must for you. You might also want to consider Roosters, The Kings Kitchen, Harvest Moon Grille and 5Church. The bar at the Ritz Carlton gets good reviews. Wooden Vine is a great little wine bar...don't think they have mixed drinks if that a must.

            2 Replies
            1. re: carolinadawg
              Jeff C. Jul 30, 2012 07:07 PM

              Thanks for the quick feedback, carolinadawg. Halcyon has been on my foodie radar for over a year now, so this might be the weekend to finally give it a shot. Are any of the others above (besides the Ritz Carlton) within walking distance?

              1. re: Jeff C.
                carolinadawg Jul 30, 2012 07:11 PM

                All are within walking distance...Halcyon is probably the furtherest (sp?) from your hotel, about 3 or 4 blocks. Enjoy!

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