Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- A Quick Trip to the Hornets Nest
As our trip in Asheville came to end we made a last second decision to head over to Charlotte. I'd never been and would like to see the world in it's entirety so I'm always down to check out somewhere that's new to me. She had been but it was years ago. Charlotte is the states largest city and also it's fastest growing so there's plenty to see and do. I went in knowing very little and I left knowing nearly as little as we only stayed for a couple nights. But we did it right in that we tried to visit as many neighborhoods and restaurants within them. I also got the chance to hit up a few local breweries and they were impressive in both beer and atmosphere. I liked Charlotte even if it's not as exciting as some other spots. Food wise it's a part of the South and the city has deep African American roots so there's def some gems to be found. In fact according to an article I read right before we visited Charlotte might be home to the Souths hottest food scene at the moment. Let's check it out.
Sights from Charlotte
Red Bridges Barbecue (Shelby, NC)
Our last minute decision to head to Charlotte meant a stop in Shelby at Red Bridges Barbecue was easily in reach. They do the popular Piedmont style that you usually find north of Charlotte up in Lexington. Piedmont style means finely chopped pit cooked pork shoulder with a tomato vinegar sauce aka ‘dip’ plus red slaw (made with the vinegar dip), and hush puppies. Red Bridges has been smoking over hickory directly since 1946. It's said that Red Bridges was the first woman owned bbq shack in North Carolina. The late owner Lyttle Bridges was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame this past year. The chopped pork here had great smoke flavor and it was super fresh as they only make enough for the day. I read the sauce here is a bit thicker (and more red) than other spots serving this style but it’s by no means overpowering. The hickory smoked pork is the main flavor. I loved the slaw and the hush puppies too. This was a great first impression of NC barbecue.
Chopped Pork Plate at Red Bridges Barbecue
Brooks Sandwich House
Here's another roadfood legend I was happy to finally check out. Brooks Sandwich House sits in an area that was clearly gentrified judging by the big colorful brand new apartment building sitting across the street. The little hut that houses Brooks seems out of place these days. But they've been here since 1973. It's a walkup window with a little yard and some tables over to the side. They're known for their chili which is popular on both burgers and hot dogs. I went with a cheeseburger ordered "all the way" meaning mustard, onion, and chili. Down south chili is more of a topping than a meal and both of the Carolinas can make a case that their states are ground zero for the best chili dogs and burgers.
Burger "All The Way" at Brooks sandwich House
Leah & Louise
As someone that’s always on the prowl for new spots to check out I’m a sucker for best new restaurant lists, especially ones covering the entire country. Leah & Louise was entered in at No. 2 on Esquire’s most recent list. It’s the project of a James Beard nominated chef and his wife who call their place a modern juke joint in restaurant form. The menu pays homage to the Foodways of the south and the Mississippi River Valley in particular (Memphis, Jackson, NOLA). So I was excited to check this spot out even if there aren’t any hot tamales on offer. We had a very enjoyable meal and the signature cabbage dish was as good as advertised (one of my favorites plates of food on this trip).
Rich Boys- Fried Oyster Sliders with Brown Roux Aioli, Dill Pickled Celery
Dirty Grits - Smoked Turkey Neck, Slow Roasted Corn Grits
On My Way Home- Mussels, Lemon, Butter, Smoked wine, Worcestershire Sauce, Cornmeal Brioche
Leah’s Cabbage and Roll Up - Braised Cabbage, pepper honey, smoked sausage, pork neck bisque
Arthur Lou - Tang Custard, Oat Crust, Floral Meringue, Fresh Berries
I always check Eater for any current lists they may have as far as any cities I'm visiting. If they cover the area they'll usually have an updated list of 'where to eat now' type spots. Newer places creating buzz within the restaurant community. So that's how I came across Stable Hand which is a community driven coffee shop, bakery, and daytime wine bar / cafe. We stopped in for breakfast and I zeroed in on their rice porridge offerings opting for the savory version. The recipe gets switched up regularly but on this day I enjoyed a warm bowl of congee dressed with mushrooms, greens, chicken sausage and cheese. She had a strawberry biscuit concoction that was awesome. A nice neighborhood spot.
Rice Porridge at Stable Hand
What The Fries
What The Fries is a Black owned business that's creating buzz around town. My wife found them on social media and insisted we check them out. They started as a food truck and now have a brick & mortar too. We used google maps to figure out which one was closer to us and the food truck won. So we rode over to a business campus type setting for an early lunch one day. What The Fries is a family and friends owned place that started out as the idea of some Johnson & Whales culinary students. They call it an "elevated fries experience" and I know some people don't like to use the word elevated anymore but in this case they are elevated in that they serve fresh cut fries dressed up a variety of ways. More than just ketchup or cheese. They also make their own tater tots so we had to try those too. Truffle fries were tasty but if we're being real I'm more of a minimal guy when it comes to my fries. So no surprise I loved the hand cut tots which were like little pieces of perfectly fried hash browns.
Truffle Fries and Hand Cut Tots at What The Fries
Charlotte has a really nice collection of soul food restaurants making it one of the city's strong points when it comes to food. I happened to find this one while searching through them online and I decided to grab lunch here based off the fact it was around the corner from our AirBNB. I ordered the meatballs with rice and gravy off the daily specials board and got a side of pinto beans too (a popular side in the south). As I type this here today I'd go get this for dinner later today if I could.
Meatballs with Rice and Gravy at Angie's Diner
Here's another Eater type hot spot. Vana is the second project of a local hospitality tag team. The food is rustic American comfort wit an emphasis on wood grilled. I didn't get a pic but they have the cutest little open air grill setup where much of the cooking is done. We stopped in for drinks but also got a small plate to share, one that came highly rec'd by our knowledgeable waiter. He led us right with a really well made dish consisting of wood grilled butternut squash, brown butter, shrimp, capers, and pepitas. Had we had another day we'd have given strong consideration to returning.
Wood Roasted Butternut Squash at Vana
I stopped for some Charlotte style Drive-In Barbecue Fried Chicken as approved by Guy Fieri. Sadly I couldn’t make a trip to Keaton’s in Cleveland work out but I happened to be riding by this DDD featured spot so I decided to pull in for some of their famous bbq fried chicken. Fried chicken is tossed in a vinegar heavy sauce reminiscent of saucy fried chicken from Uncle Remus on Chicago’s West Side. I liked the sauce but the chicken was clearly pre-cooked based on temp. Since 1959.
BBQ Chicken at Bar-B-Q-King
We both decided that the pictures (and reviews) were good enough to give the Cajun Queen a try. It's a local landmark popular for their New Orleans food and feel. It sits in a 100+ year old house so the atmosphere is pretty good. But the food wasn't quite what we had hoped for. An order of barbecue shrimp, crawfish etoufee, and crawfish Diane was decent but definitely not smack your mama good.
NOLA Food at the Cajun Queen
Yosties Bakery (Faith, NC)
My first pepperoni roll! Along with a hot dog all the way (chili, mustard, onion) seen below. Not in West Virginia (never been) but about 40 mins north of Charlotte in Faith, NC (found en route to Lexington). Pepperoni Rolls are found all over WV and their story goes back to the Italians that came to work the mines. Historians trace them to Giuseppe "Joseph" Argiro at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia circa 1927. It’s a simple dish consisting of bread baked with pepperoni strips inside. These were easily brought into the mines and proved to be a popular snack when first introduced. Over time it’s kind of become the signature regional eat of West Virginia where the owners of Yosties come from. I got tried one plain (just pepperoni) and one with cheese (baked to order) and they were both awesome. I was tempted to try one with chili but settled on a hot dog as the delivery vehicle for that. The south and both Carolinas in particular has great chili dog chili but the hot dogs are most always a sad skinless variety. I guess this lets the chili sit front and center? I enjoy them but miss the snap you get from a quality natural casing hot dog. Fun stop, they always are down south.
Chili Dog and Pepperoni Roll at Yosties
Lexington Barbecue (Lexington, NC)
I wont even front. The main reason I said yes to going to Charlotte was bc the legend that is Lexington Barbecue would finally be within reach of me. When it comes to Piedmont style North Carolina bbq this spot is perhaps the pinnacle. Known to locals as “the honeymonk” or just ‘Monk’s’ after it’s founder Wayne Monk who opened the place in 1962. Despite its national fame not much has changed save for the size of the smokehouse. Oak and hickory are used exclusively to smoke pork shoulder which can be ordered a variety of ways. My plate pictured is chopped with some crinkle cut fries and the areas signature side - red slaw which is made with the same red vinegar sauce that comes standard on all smoked meat served in the region. Plus some hush puppies and I can now understand their appeal. They’re so good down there! I was tempted to check out some other spots as there’s lots of options around town but I couldn’t imagine any of them offering a better experience than this. Bomb ass bbq and extra wholesome hospitality. Cross another one off the bucketlist!
Chopped Pork Plate at Lexington Barbecue
See ya next time @chibbqking
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