Food and Drink

Charlotte in 10 dishes: These are the ones you have to eat

Photo by Jessica Bentley
Hot dog at JJ's Red Hots
Photo by Jessica Bentley Hot dog at JJ's Red Hots

What are the 10 most-Charlotte dishes? The ones that tell a story about our city and what makes this place special?

If you only look at Instagram, you’d think every dish in Charlotte is something new, from the “pop tarts” at Sunflour Bakery to the Dumpling Lady’s Burning Noodles. Don’t get us wrong: We love the new stuff (especially those Burning Noodles: Please, Dumpling Lady, never stop making those). But so many of those dishes are things you can find in a lot of places. 

The Charlotte list needs to be about Charlotte, about what this place is, what it was and what it’s becoming. If we made a list of the 10 most Charlotte dishes 10 years ago or 10 years from now, most of these would still be on it.

You need a taste of Charlotte in 10 dishes? Here’s my list. Start exploring. 

1. Gizzards: Price’s Chicken Coop. You can get great fried chicken at a lot of places, even at a certain gas station. Good gizzards are harder to find. Yes, “gizzard” sounds weird: Since chickens don’t have teeth, they have a muscle in their digestive tract where they grind up food, with the help of small rocks. (Feel better?) Gizzards can be tough, but when they’re marinated in buttermilk, as they are at Price’s, they’re tender and flavorful little bites. Get a small order and pop them back like popcorn. Price’s Chicken Coop: 1614 Camden Road. 

2. Cheesecake: Dressler’s. How many times have you seen “Mom’s” on a restaurant menu? At Dressler’s (and all their other restaurants, including Fin & Fino, The Porter’s House and Dogwood Southern Table), the extra-fluffy, extra-tangy cheesecake actually is Mom’s: The recipe comes from owner Jon Dressler’s mother, Joan, who started out making them one at a time about 12 years ago. Now 81, Joan Dressler plans to retire from making the cheesecakes in April, but Jon promises they’ll still make them the same way, by hand. They now make 80 to 100 a week, so they’ve had plenty of practice.

T. Ortega Gaines/Charlotte Observer<br/>One of the old-school touches that make Beef & Bottle so classic is the cold-pack cheddar spread and crackers that arrives as soon as you sit down.

3. Cheese spread: Beef & Bottle. Before the assemble-your-own salad, before the pressed garlic toast, before the ribeye with the onion ring, you get a dish of this spread and a basket of crackers. Skip the melba toasts and fight for the Captain’s Wafers. Beef & Bottle: 4538 South Blvd.,

4. She-crab soup: Eddie’s Place. It’s creamy and rich, with plenty of bits of sweet crab. Good to know: It’s been made by scratch by the same cook, Alberto Toussaint, for 19 years. My favorite part: The shaker of sherry to sprinkle on top. Eddie’s Place: 617 S. Sharon Amity Road,

5. Hush puppies with sweet tea butter: Haberdish. The pups are classic – crisp outside, fluffy inside, with bits of green onion. But it’s the rich sweet-tea butter that takes them to a whole new level. Haberdish: 3106 N. Davidson St.,

6. Chili cheeseburger with mustard and onion: Brooks’ Sandwich House. On a perfect afternoon (not too hot, not too cold), make your way through the line and then grab a spot at the wooden table out back. It’s a quintessential Charlotte experience. Brooks’ is the opposite of fancy: No pedigreed beef, no craft beer. It’s perfect, just the way it is. Brooks’ Sandwich House: 2710 N. Brevard St.,

[Related: 5 siblings to know in Charlotte’s restaurant industry]

7. Orangeade: JJ’s Red Hots. Freshly squeezed orangeade has a history in Dilworth: At Wad’s Sundries, Sam Wadsworth’s little drugstore on East Boulevard from 1957 until 1995, the lunch counter was the place for a chili dog and a fresh orangeade. Today, Kid Cashew is in the old Wad’s spot. And the old Drum, also built by Wadsworth, is now the home of JJ’s, where they keep the orangeade tradition alive. It’s a sip of old Charlotte we never pass up. JJ’s Red Hots: 1514 East Blvd.,

8. Salted caramel brownie: Amelie’s. The salted caramel layer is so thick and gooey, it’s easy to forget there’s a sugary/crisp layer of brownie under it. It’s become so iconically Charlotte, even The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, wrote a post about it after she visited Charlotte in 2010, calling it “like no brownie I’ve ever eaten in my life.” Amelie’s: Multiple locations,

9. Milk bread: Kindred. OK, purists: It’s in Davidson, not Charlotte. But what’s a 30-minute drive among friends, when you know a pan of milk bread is waiting at the end? They’ve branched out with it, using it for things like the lobster roll buns at Hello Sailor and (dear lord) the cinnamon rolls at Kindred for brunch, but the original version, in those country-kitchen speckled pans with salt sparkling on the glazed tops, gets us every time. Kindred: 131 N. Main St.,

10. Fried squash: Gus’ Sir Beef. Founder Gus Bacogeorge died in 2010, but his fried-squash slogan lives on: Fresh My Farm. The restaurant is showing its age, but Bacogeorge’s fried squash is still the same. Sliced, battered and fried, it’s soft and sweet inside, lightly crunchy outside and always served piping hot. Gus’ Sir Beef: 4101 Monroe Road.