2014 brought lots of new dining opportunities to town, and with them came glimpses and moments of impressive quality. Several places solved parts of the tricky equation of top-notchedness in Charlotte (something I’ll be asking both restaurateurs and diners more about this year), and look to be evolving.
What is what I hoped for? No. I’d hoped for half a dozen clear, killer, top-notch-right-out-of-the-box, chef-driven wonders. Or places that opened with strong and consistent execution, if not all the details. Ah, well, Santa: Hit me up this year. (Maybe with Kindredin Davidson? I have hopes.)
But we did get those good glimpses. Mine were at:
The Flipside Cafe (which I’m counting among the 2014 spots, since it opened in December 2013; find last year’s list at helendining.blogspot.com/2014/01/charlottes-best-new-restaurants-of-2013.html). Partners/spouses/chefs Amy and Jon Fortes now work together at this little Fort Mill, S.C., spot, since Jon left the exec chef gig at Mimosa Grill in the fall, and things are bubbling, from beer dinners to new plans. Those include taking over the former Erin’s in Rock Hill’s Old Town, where they’ll have a full liquor license and plan to add more small plates and hit a more upscale feel, says Jon. The current menu is homey and sophisticated by turns, and the partnership and growth are intriguing. 3150 U.S. 21 N., Suite 112, Fort Mill; 803-802-1711; www.theflipsidecafesc.com.
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Earl’s Grocery. Closest to fruition, I’d say, with a wide-ranging, varying and interesting menu and a hard-to-beat decor: shelves and cases teeming with wide-ranging, varying and interesting goodies. Its hours for the new year (starting Jan. 2) shift to 8:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. weekdays, to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. When service times and processes glide into place, it’ll be tops. 1609 Elizabeth Ave.; 704-333-2757; www.earlsgrocery.com.
Heirloom. Chef-owner Clark Barlowe’s set himself a lofty goal – well, several of them. Use foodstuffs (and drinkstuffs) from nearby, nearly exclusively. Make the fruits of foraging a significant part of his menu. And do it all in Coulwood, not Plaza Midwood or Elizabeth or uptown. To succeed, it needs not only to be exciting and different but consistently well-executed and offer some fare that’s reliably accessible, too. That’s a lot. It’s a work in progress, which I’m giving a little more room to because of the vision. (But can we at least agree on the wines? Expand the radius, please!) 8470 Bellhaven Blvd.; 704-595-7710; www.heirloomrestaurantnc.com.
Lumiere. A fine-dining French menu in a former Myers Park bagel storefront wouldn’t be enough to make the list, but strong and capable service, a continuing smoothing out on execution and the addition of Classic French Tuesdays (one landmark dish – boeuf Bourguignon, say, or gigot d’agneau, with a glass of wine for $25) push it in. Consistency next. 1039 Providence Road; 704-372-3335; www.lumieremyerspark.com.
littleSpoon promises more, and given its nice touch with the (very) limited menu of breakfast/brunch/lunch fare now, and its cool, spare vibe, I’m hopeful. In a similar vein, the breakfast-centric Yolk, in its new Rock Hill location, plans to do more dinners this year. 2820 Selwyn Ave.; 704-496-9008; www.littlespooneatery.com/; and 1912 Mount Gallant Road at Riverview Commons; 803-792-4449; www.theyolkcafe.com.
Other spots I’ll be watching as they mature: Passion8 (fantastic classics, like the pate; more playful/odd things still show mighty rough edges), The Asbury (strong concept, great guinea hen; flavors and finish have been hit or miss), Stagioni (lovely pastas and pork; fish trouble), Fahrenheit (stunning view; hoping food/service is improving to Cleveland original’s level).