Will 2018 go down in history as the biggest restaurant year Charlotte has ever seen? Not if 2019 has anything to say about it.
In the new year, the restaurant growth doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down. A lot of projects are still waiting in the wings. Construction delays are notorious in the restaurant world, so it’s hard to say which ones will open on time. But here the six projects I’m most excited to try:
1. The Crunkleton. Target: Open now. Yes, it opened in the final weeks of 2018. But restaurants need time to get on their feet and work out the kinks. (If Charlotte diners need a New Year’s resolution, it ought to be this: Give places a chance before you rush to Yelp judgment.) Between co-owner Zach Goodyear’s ambitious open-hearth cooking plan and star bartender Gary Crunkleton’s comments on allowing his cocktail program to evolve, I’m looking forward to seeing how it is by February or March. I’m also looking forward to washing down the smoked oysters and the honey toads (crispy, chicken-like pufferfish) with an Old Fashioned as good as the one I had last spring at the original Crunkleton in Chapel Hill. The Crunkleton: 1957 E. 7th St.
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2. NC Red. Target: Early March. Bruce Moffett’s first three restaurants — Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford and Stagioni — set the bar around here. The next, in the old Penguin Drive-In spot that had been Comida, may be his most personal yet. Moffett has said he plans to blend Southern food with his native Rhode Island seafood (expect fried chicken and lobster rolls). Good timing on the opening: His book, “Bruce Moffett Cooks: A New England Cook in a New South Kitchen” (UNC Press) comes out in March too, with the same New England/Southern theme. (And yes, he plans to keep the old Penguin sign.) NC Red: 1205 Thomas Ave.
3. Peppervine. Target: January. Charlotte has been drooling with anticipation over this long-awaited South Park project, going into the old AZN Azian Cuizine spot in Piedmont Town Center. Given the raves about Bill and Anita Greene’s Banner Elk restaurant Artisanal, expect a dramatic interior, a focus on service and wine selection, and high-end seasonal cuisine. The working menu I’ve seen includes Pekin duck, geoduck crudo, boar, short rib pastrami and the dry-aged ribeye cap from their other location. It also shows special touches like baked-to-order pimento cheese scones and butternut beignets. Prices will be high, but if it meets the five-star ratings the Greenes get in the mountains, it may be the grown-up restaurant we’ve been craving around here. Peppervine: 4620 Piedmont Row Drive, Suite 170B.
4. The Jim Noble three-fer. Target: Throughout 2019. Is there an iron that Jim Noble doesn’t have in the fire? Noble Smoke, his Freedom Drive barbecue restaurant, should open in March or April. (We’ll see if a debate that erupted last year over Noble signing a letter against allowing transgender people access to the bathroom of their gender identity plays out in a backlash against it.) At the same time and the same location, he’s adding Bossy Beaut’s Chicken Shack. Anyone who’s eaten at King’s Kitchen knows Noble has a way with fried chicken. (Remember that incredible chicken sandwich he used to sell at the old Kings Bakery uptown? It will be like that “but on steroids,” Noble says.) Finally, Copain, which has treats currently available online, will be more of a refined bakery with takeaway food for entertaining when it opens next to Rooster later in the year. It should be the kind of bread-and-pastry place we don’t have enough of around here. Noble Smoke and Bossy Beaut’s Chicken Shack: 2216 Freedom Drive. Copain: 6601 Morrison Blvd.
5. Ilios Crafted Greek. Target: Late January. Stratos Lambos and Angelo Kalsounis of Ilios Noche and Big View Diner are aiming for Greek taverna food, with house-made spinach pies and lots of rotisserie cooking. The style will be fast-casual with indoor and outdoor seating and plenty of the fresh Mediterranean flavors that have taken over the lunch scene around here. Ilios Crafted Greek: 1514 S. Church St.
6. Optimist Hall. Target: Spring 2019. You wish Charlotte wouldn’t tear down everything old? With Optimist Hall in the old Hopkins Mill, your wish is granted. The 1890s gingham mill will be a mix of offices, retail and food, but let’s face it — the food is the thing. A couple of restaurant spaces are still waiting for tenants, but the food hall vendors so far are an intriguing list. A few small national food makers, like Honeysuckle Gelato from Atlanta and cocktail bar Billy Sunday from Chicago, will join some popular Charlotte names, including the Dumpling Lady and Papi Queso from the food-truck world, Moffett Group’s Bao + Broth, Aix Rotisserie (including pastries from Aix En Provence’s new French pastry chef) and Suarez Bakery teaming with Latino sandwich maker Rodolfo Montero of the sandwich bar in the back of Sav/More on Central Avenue. Yes, home of the chorizo torta with the cult following. Optimist Hall: 340 E. 16th St.