Move over, wine and cheese. Out of the way, beer and pretzels. Charlotte’s latest libation pairings feature creative cocktails with bites that enhance their flavors. From bacon jam-topped burgers and bourbon mixes to a chocolate brownie washed down with a sweet fig elixir, we’ve found 10 perfect – and potent – matches at these local dining destinations.
Sure, you’ve tried barbecue with bourbon. But for a seriously decadent twist on this classic Southern pairing, indulge in Customshop’s Braised Pork Belly appetizer with its Spiced Old Fashioned. The drink and the dish both have notes of sweet and smoky, with the cocktail featuring cinnamon, clove and orange flavors. But it’s actually the bracing Bulleit bourbon that helps cut the fattiness of the pork and intensify its rich flavor.
1601 Elizabeth Ave. 704-333-3396; www.customshopfood.com.
It may be tempting to stick strictly to wine at this Midtown Italian restaurant where racks line the walls. But as the weather warms, cocktails and bites on this patio with its skyline views are impossible to resist. Start your almost-spring evening with the Maraschino Mule, a refreshing mix of Luxardo Maraschino, lemon, citron and ginger beer. The bright flavors of the drink play well with the briny and citrus taste of the crispy Oysters Fritti antipasta, featuring celery and ruby grapefruit.
1100 Metropolitan Ave. 704-370-7755; www.vivacecharlotte.com.
(3) Good Food on Montford
For the chilly evenings left in the season, though, you’ll want to head to this chic small plate restaurant – after dinner. Its Fig Smash, a warming mixture of Bulleit Rye, brown sugar simple syrup, lemon juice, fig and club soda was created with cold nights in mind. The team at Good Food suggests pairing it with something sweet. So cozy up and indulge in the Chocolate Brownie with biscoff ice cream. Campfire (unfortunately) not included.
1701 Montford Drive. 704-525-0881; www.goodfoodmontford.com.
(4) Nan and Byron’s
Snag a stool at the bar or slide into one of the secluded yellow booths in the back to sample the pairing at this South End restaurant. The Sparkling Mojito – a bubbly concoction made with prosecco, St. Germaine, muddled fresh mint and lime – is the perfect complement to the Lump Crab Cakes. The seafood appetizer’s pineapple salsa and red pepper emulsion lend it a mild spiciness that is cut by the effervescent sweetness of the Mojito.
1714 South Blvd. 980-224-7492; www.nanandbyrons.com.
(5) The Asbury
This swanky restaurant in the bottom of uptown’s Dunhill Hotel doesn’t feel like the kind of place you’d order a half-pound cheeseburger – until you’ve tasted the Krenz Ranch Burger. Made with beef from chef de cuisine Matthew Krenz’s family’s local ranch, the juicy burger can be topped with tasty options like pimento cheese or bacon jam. Wash it down with its New Fashioned Cocktail made with bourbon, St. Germain and grapefruit zest. Burgers paired with beer will never sound as good again.
235 N. Tryon St. 704-342-1193; www.theasbury.com.
(6) The Punch Room
If you’ve been to this glam drinking den on the 15th floor of uptown’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, then you know to expect some unexpected twists – like a cocktail that tastes like Mexican mole. Bartender Bob Peters’ Holy Mole features smoky mezcal, cinnamon syrup and NoDa Brewing Co.’s Coco Loco porter, giving it all the flavors of the famed south-of-the-border sauce. And because duck and mole have a long culinary history, pair the smooth drink with the bar’s Duck Sliders, which are topped with the flavorful meat, a dollop of date “ketchup,” pickled shiitakes and shallots.
201 E. Trade St. 704-547-2244; www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/charlotte/dining/punch-room.
(7) Gallery Restaurant
When you’re choosing what to imbibe at this posh restaurant inside the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, consider that its bar features one of the city’s best whiskey selections. For the ultimate taste of the enticing selection, the director of outlets Cameron Brobst suggests pairing the Foie Gras with the Hog Wash cocktail. The dish features a seared torchon of Hudson Valley foie gras with Woodford Reserve sassafras bitters macerated baby pear, while the drink includes bacon-washed Makers 46. Pork and bourbon have never been so sophisticated.
1000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway. 704-248-4100; www.ballantynehotel.com/dining/gallery-restaurant.
The fresh Ceviche from the raw bar at this modern Myers Park restaurant features tender marinated fish and fresno chilies, giving it a mild kick. Find a seat on its greenway-side patio and order the Cool It Down cocktail made with Hendrick’s gin and rosemary lemonade to accompany the chilled dish. The juicy citrus flavors pair well together, but it’s the infusion of rose and cucumber in the Scottish gin that tempers the acidity and soothes the pepper’s spice.
512 Brandywine Road. 704-503-9945; www.rocksaltrestaurants.com.
When executive chef Drew Dodd recently added the Wood Over-Roasted Quail with truffle risotto to the menu at this convivial Myers Park Italian restaurant, he created the perfect match for the bar’s signature cocktail, the Zenzero. The full-bodied and boozy drink features Bulleit Rye, St. Germain, Domaine Canton, ginger puree and ginger beer. Its spiciness balances the decadent dish without the strong flavors of either overpowering the other.
715 Providence Road. 704-372-8110; www.stagioniclt.com.
(10) Kanvas Gallery
Launched by a team with a strong background in spirits, this modern uptown spot is focused on creating inventive dishes to pair with cocktails. The menu is ever-changing, but look for creative dishes like the Potato and Feta Pancake with Pan Seared Lime Basil Shrimp. Its complexity works well with aromatic drinks like the Once Upon a Time, a mix of gin, vermouth, Cointreau, grapefruit and orange syrup featuring a mix of matching and contrasting flavors.
525 E. Sixth St. 704-910-1123; www.kanvasgallery.com.
Photos: Stefanie Haviv Photography; Moffett Restaurant Group