Living Here Guide

Embrace restaurant range with these picks

Earl’s Grocery has quite the span, from a clever cafe menu to interesting takeout options to uncommon ingredients.
Earl’s Grocery has quite the span, from a clever cafe menu to interesting takeout options to uncommon ingredients. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte’s dining scene continues to increase its range, and indicators of its quality range from national recognition to niche-y necessities that are newly available. A handful of spots that prove that includes:

1. Kindred. It’s in Davidson, a substantial drive from, say, Trade and Tryon streets, so the Charlotte-centric newbie might ignore it. But don’t: Besides the fact it’s picturesque (and the drive, if not done in rush hour, is pleasant), it won national props this August when Bon Appetit named among the country’s top-10 best new restaurants. Such a press pop hasn’t happened in half a decade, since Esquire put Kalu in its top 20 in 2010. (That didn’t end well; the place is defunct.)

But Kindred has seasoned owners hitting a whole lot of different strides at once: Chef Joe and sommelier/etc. Katy are returning to his hometown (with their children); they’ve done a beautiful renovation of a valued historic building; and there’s a customer base primed for his creative take on the seasonal and the Southern.

2. Corkbuzz. If it could make it there (NYC), will it make it anywhere (SouthPark)? This concept – dubbed a wine studio by sommelier/entrepreneur/co-founder Laura Maniec when she opened the first in Manhattan – landed in Charlotte before anywhere else outside of the Big Apple. It’s got smart, engaging and innovative service and education about wine and a menu that’s bright, fun and keenly suited to the concept. And brunch. It can be deafening (Corkroar?), but with ideas like The Champagne Campaign, you may be willing to overlook that.

3. Aqua e Vino. A tiny Northern Italian place from an Italian chef (from Veneto to Charlotte, by way of the south of France) who’s been in the Queen City for years, Gabriele Grigolon. This is simple, handsome and offers some killer fare, from Yukon Gold gnocchi to oven-roasted branzino.

4. Earl’s Grocery. Here’s a mix-’em-up concept that’s both serious – those cheeses! that gluten-free lineup! – and seriously playful. It’s a grocery, of sorts, with an astonishing range of specialty ingredients and branded foods. But it’s also a cafe (order at a counter, grab a seat; food comes to you) and also offers an array of takeaway entrees, from rotisserie chickens with Peruvian spices (Springer Mountain chicken, by the way) to goat pimento cheese to Moroccan cauliflower and carrot salad. Do not miss the made-in-house desserts.

5. We’ll make Pick No. 5 a compendium: This fall is slated to bring several interesting openings, from the reimagining of a classic Charlotte location, as Comida takes over what was once The Penguin, to Korean barbecue joint Seoul Food Meat Market in South End, to a second location of the creative Block & Grinder in Lake Norman. Keep your eyes peeled.

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