Food & Drink

Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood may get two food stars

Chef Paul Verica, left, and his son and assistant chef Alex Verica working together in the small kitchen at Heritage Food and Drink in Waxhaw.
Chef Paul Verica, left, and his son and assistant chef Alex Verica working together in the small kitchen at Heritage Food and Drink in Waxhaw.

A busy corner at 7th Street and Pecan Avenue in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood may be about to become a new food destination.

First, Paul Verica, one of two Charlotte chefs to make the semifinalist list for the James Beard Foundation this year, released long-expected news that he’s closing Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw and reopening in Charlotte. He’s signed a lease on the building that was the former location of the salad restaurant Crisp. He’s actually taking two spots, including the space at the back that used to be a barber shop. However, the owner of the building, Asana Partners, hasn’t finalized the lease, Verica says.

“We have signed a lease, but the landlord has not signed off yet due to some complications.”

In the meantime, there are persistent reports that Gary Crunkleton, the nationally known mixologist of The Crunkleton, a private cocktail club in Chapel Hill, is in negotiations for the space next door that will be vacated by Heroes Aren’t To Find, which is moving to a larger space in NoDa.

Crunkleton grew up on Lake Norman in Denver and has been interested in opening in Charlotte for years. In an interview recently with the online magazine Bitter Southerner, Crunkleton told editor Chuck Reece that he was actively looking for a space.

Asked about reports that he’s looking at the space on 7th Street, Crunkleton replied by email: “We are close to securing a lease in the Historic Elizabeth (n)eighborhood. The building is wonderful and will create a warm and comfortable place for the discerning palates and fun people of Charlotte.”

While noting that no lease has been signed and he couldn’t confirm an exact location, Crunkleton also noted that he’d love to be a culinary neighbor of Verica’s: “Any rumors that we want to be his neighbor are accurate. Learning that Paul Verica is doing his thing in the Elizabeth neighborhood is great.”

That also would put Crunkleton in close proximity to another cocktail star: Bob Peters. Verica also announced that Peters, the popular cocktail master at the Punch Room at the Ritz Carlton in Charlotte, will work with his new restaurant as a consultant, developing new cocktail menus throughout the year.

Verica also will continue to work with pastry chef Ashley Bivens Boyd, who divides her time now between Heritage and 300 East. Verica’s son Alex will remain with him in the kitchen, along with a couple of other staff members who work with him now.

On Thursday, Verica said he may keep the name Heritage or he may change it to a name that would reflect the history of the corner, an area of the city that used to be called Stanleyville.

While he’ll add a patio with outdoor seating and a cocktail lounge, Verica wants to keep the seating small and intimate, with 64 seats in the main dining room, just a little larger than his current restaurant, plus 16 more in the lounge. The kitchen will definitely be bigger than the tiny space he now uses in Waxhaw, which can barely hold three cooks.

“It’ll be so nice to have more space,” he admitted. “There’s a lot of stuff I really want to do.”

Verica also plans to continue his focus on food grown on local farms, he says.

“Our dedication to local is never going to change.”

But he says the menu will add some things he describes as “multiple sensory experiences,” such as tableside preparations with nitrogen. One example: He’s hoping to work with Sammy Koenigsberg of New Town Farms in Waxhaw to roast pasture-raised chickens on the pasture grass they were raised on.

Verica was one of the first chefs in the area to adopt the farm-to-table style. At the Club at Longview, where he was chef for eight years, he had a garden and started growing things he used in the kitchen. He continued working with area farms when he opened Heritage three years ago. He’s been looking for a space that’s closer to central Charlotte for months, with several rumors reported on different possibilities.

Verica expects the new restaurant to open late this year or early in 2018.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis