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Live & Dine

By CHELSEA BROWN, SARAH CROSLAND, AND MOLLY DOLINGER | Photography by LISA TURNAGE

Posted: Monday, Apr. 22, 2013

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It’s been a big year for dining in Charlotte. The arrival of swank restaurants and sophisticated supper clubs provided more ways than ever to be thrilled and filled. And with new chefs hitting some of the city’s favorite kitchens and mixologists with moxie taking their places behind craft cocktail bars, there’s no doubt of a thriving culinary future. Here, we highlight some of the top new trends and tables around town.

Click the links below for a few of the standouts:

The Top Toques
The Design Dream Team
The Second to None
The Host with the Most
The Sweet Sensation
The Mix Master

More Cowbell

The guys behind Mortimers and Leroy Fox recently launched their latest venture on a stretch of street in uptown that’s quickly becoming a favorite in the culinary crowd. Located on 5th Street, just up the block from 5 Church and Basil Thai, Cowbell Burger Bar is serving up creative burgers—pork burger with siracha aioli slaw, anyone?—in an elegantly eclectic setting. No time for a burger? Pull a seat up at the rocking and rolling, neon lit bar for a local craft beer or whiskey cocktail alongside creative comfort food like sweet potato croquettes.

Make Mine Mexican

If ever a city loved its tacos, this is it. New salsa-centric spots just keeping popping up with more on the way this spring. The Malibu-inspired Longboards Tap & Taco is setting up shop on East Boulveard in the former Picasso’s space in Dilworth. In addition to plenty of SoCal-style tacos, you’ll find 30 craft brews on tap for washing them down. Further south of town in SouthPark, Austin, Texas based Chuy’s is moving in to the former Zink space. Known for its fresh salsa, hand-rolled tortillas, and “Big As Yo’ Face” Burritos, fans of Tex-Mex are sure to get their fix.

No Starving Artists

Chefs aren’t the only ones getting creative in Charlotte restaurants and bars these days. Ilios Noche and Nolen Kitchen both frequently play host to Tipsy Canvas classes, which offer wine and heavy hors d’oeuvres as you create your masterpiece. At the Mellow Mushroom in Myers Park, aspiring artists can enjoy drink specials and pizza during Drink N’ Draw on the first Wednesday of every month. And for the more adventurous artist, Plaza Midwood’s Twenty-Two offers weekly figure drawing courses, perfect for pairing with one of the bar’s craft brews or wines.

Viva Tequila!

Just in time for Cinco De Mayo, two SouthPark restaurants are stepping up their tequila turn out. At Taco Mac this month you’ll find two premium Herradura Double Barrel Reposado tequilas made exclusively for the restaurant in a 143-year-old Mexican distillery, and perfect for toasting the holiday. And, of course, Paco’s Tacos and Tequila has a full line-up of ways to enjoy the famed spirit. The restaurant’s mixologist, Amanda Swartz, is creating seasonal infusions using fruits and veggies like pineapple and peppers in premium tequilas. Plus, this month Paco’s launches its Tequila Club, which includes invites to events, dinners, and classes as well as the chance to have a cocktail named after you on the special menu after you’ve experience all of their 75 offerings.

Appetizing App

The culinary community has long loved having a Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. Interested in where you can taste the fruits of a JWU grad’s labor? There’s an app for that. Download the JWU Alumni App and you can find restaurants in cities across the country with former students at the helm. A quick Charlotte search comes up with The King’s Kitchen executive chef and The Wooden Vine Wine Bar & Bistro’s owner and sommelier among others. Tracking down talent around town just got easier.

Attention Coffee Addicts

Charlotte’s locally-roasted coffee scene is perking up. Pure Intentions Roasting Company started in 2011 with a simple goal: “Help people discover how much better fresh, custom roasted coffee tastes.” Check out their coffee tasting sessions at Okra Charlotte for killer coffee and fresh baked pastries. CoffeeWorks, one of Charlotte’s oldest roasters, no longer operates its own café, but you can still find their premium coffees in restaurants such as Café Monte, Barrington’s, and Good Food on Montford. Magnolia Coffee Company markets itself as “Coffee with a Cause.” With its newest roast, “CLT Buzzed,” $1 from every bag sold will be donated to the Mint Museum’s Cultural Campus program, an initiative that gives free museum trips to every 7th grader in Mecklenburg County. Or try Summit Coffee in Davidson, which currently serves Counter Culture Coffee, but will begin roasting its own beans this summer.

Film is Served

Studio Movie Grill, which recently replaced Epicentre’s Mez, combines the two quintessential American pastimes of dinner and a movie. This month, check out Brews ‘N Views (5/2), a guys night out series featuring Beverly Hills Cop and half-price domestic drafts and Girls Night Out (5/8), its feminine counterpart, featuring Runaway Bride and a surprise local host.

In With the New

Longtime Charlotte favorite—both for its extensive wine list and famed fried lobster tail—Bonterra Dining and Wine Room has been given an elegant facelift. From a newly designed menu and website to chic modern updates in the décor, the classic Dilworth spot has gotten an urbane upgrade. Myers Park’s Nolen Kitchen also saw some recent interior enhancements. The one most likely to distract you during the bar’s popular happy hour? The black and white, dramatic historical photos of Charlotte lining the walls.

Heavenly Deviled Eggs

While the deviled eggs at Plaza Midwood’s Dish have long been a Charlotte favorite, the traditional Southern serving is getting a contemporary twist at a few spots around town. At Halcyon, Flavors of the Earth, deviled farm eggs are served topped in a tangy mustard caviar on the restaurant’s decadent snack board. Prefer your eggs with bacon? At the recently opened Joe Hooper’s Beverage and Sandwich Exchange on Central Avenue, each egg comes topped with a sliver of fresh bacon. And for the ultimate egg, order up the appetizer at the new Block and Grinder where the yolks are mixed with goat cheese and whole grain mustard before being topped in prosciutto and white truffle oil.

Kitchen Confidential

On March 14, Flex + Fit on S. Tryon Street debuted the first-ever East Coast location of Lyfe (Love Your Food Everyday) Kitchen a California franchise promoting healthy, high-quality food for the active lifestyle. The chain started about a year ago in Palo Alto, and has plans to open hundreds of restaurants around the country within just five years. Which is not surprising given the identity of the company’s chief executive: Mike Roberts, former president of McDonalds. This is the man who spent years researching different apple varietals, cost models, and quality assurance standards before introducing Apple Dippers onto the McDonalds menu. Here in Charlotte, Lyfe is a café-style version of the brand offering an abbreviated menu with choices like orange mango chicken with whole grains, kale & broccoli or whole grain pasta with turkey meatballs.

Toast of the Town

Looking for south Charlotte’s newest spot for stylish sipping? Piedmont Town Center’s latest addition may be in a sleek SouthPark setting, but J. Sam’s wine bar aims for an artsy neighborhood vibe. In addition to extensive selection of wines—both by the glass and bottle—the cozy bar also features craft cocktails and simple small plates including charcuterie and cheese.

Open Season

Meat lovers rejoice. Block and Grinder, the newly opened retail and restaurant concept on Providence Road is a butcher-meets-restaurant where premium meats are the star of the show. Here, you can stop in to pick up organic meats and wild game at the butcher counter or settle in for the evening for dishes like butter poached rabbit, wild game meatloaf, and seared Margret duck. The best way to soak in this scene though may be at the cozy bar where you’ll find classic crafted cocktails like a Blood Water or Parkside Fizz, perfect for pairing with one of the cutting-edge charcuterie plates.

Food Fighter

Considering all she’s done in Charlotte as an advocate for eating locally, it should come as no surprise that Harvest Moon Grille’s Cassie Parsons was one of two American chefs recently chosen for a month-long trip to Slovenia hosted by the U.S. Embassy to promote farm-to-table food. After all, Parsons is both a farmer and a chef, and has worked on numerous urban gardens in local communities. In Slovenia, she’ll be traveling around the country sharing her experiences—and getting a taste of its culture and fare as they meet with farmers and food artisans. The trip, which is being filmed for Slovenian television series “Seasoned by Americans,“ will give Parsons a chance to recreate Slovene dishes—something she plans to repeat for Charlotteans with a themed dinner upon her return.

Show and Tell

Want to take a food tour of a Charlotte neighborhood? Interested in sampling spices during an expert-led workshop? In the mood to sip and savor craft brews and paired bites? The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority recently launched its Experiential Tours dedicated to giving visitors and locals alike the chance for behind-the-scenes looks at top area attractions—including restaurants, vineyards, breweries, and markets. Adventurous diners can now take internationally flavored tours of midtown’s Metropolitan, taste locally-made wines at Treehouse Vineyards in Monroe, and get a close up look at the kitchens of some of uptown’s most upscale restaurants, among many other offerings.

Eco-Idealism

The city’s latest urban farming project is not your typical plot—each of its employees is recruited from one of Charlotte’s homeless shelters. Founder of North End Opportunity Farm Nate Cerbelli’s latest project is all about conscientious agribusiness, and already, local restaurants like The Harvest Moon Grille and the Hilton Charlotte Center City have hopped on board, ready to serve up fresh fare—and social activism—hot and sizzling in the Queen City.

Class Act

Although Johnson & Wales has helped put Charlotte on the culinary map, it is actually the city’s lesser-known culinary school, the International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Charlotte, that boasts its own fully operating, student-run restaurant. Perhaps one of Charlotte’s best-kept secrets, Artisan Restaurant is a must-hit destination for gourmands on a budget. The menu changes every quarter as a new class of students rotates through and this spring’s farm-to-table menu may be the school’s most standout yet. Featuring three courses including a salad of wheat berries, shaved beets, and goat cheese, followed by a seared sea scallop entrée atop a parsnip purée, finished with a dessert of lemon-cured tart with cumquat marmalade and yogurt sorbet, it’s all just $13.95.

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