Despite being one of the biggest cities in the South, Charlotte, North Carolina remains a plucky upstart in the food scene. And while it might not yet be mentioned in the same breath as the region’s heavy hitters like Nashville, Atlanta, and Charleston, that will be changing. There's more than enough great food and drink to keep your stomach occupied. An interesting wrinkle to Charlotte’s gastronomic explosion though is the unmatched beer culture at its center. The city is now home to ten breweries and counting, most of which opened within the last five years.
The city’s expanding culinary prowess (beer included) was on full display at the latest installment of the Skyline Series—events exploring everything creative in Charlotte. At this month's gathering, panel speaker Linton Hopkins—James Beard Award winning Chef at Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, GA – pointed out that a city can't really be considered a culinary destination "until you can dine [there] in more than one neighborhood. You gotta have the 'food journeys.'" After making my way around the city it seems that, by those terms, Charlotte has certainly arrived.
I've developed the perfect route for hungry visitors to Charlotte below. The best part is that this multi-neighborhood trip through the city won't even require you to set foot in the hectic "Uptown" area. Operating hours may vary, so the following itinerary is best on a Saturday:
9 a.m.: Not Just Coffee (Atherton Mill Market). Start your day off with the city's best coffee, available in the historic Charlotte Trolley station that now houses a contemporary, urban farmers market. (Tip: It may be too early for pitchers of beer, but make a mental note to come back another day to try the stellar Sycamore Brewing next door.)
9:30 a.m.: Luna's Living Kitchen. Stop by Luna's for a delicious vegan breakfast. Try the Living Bagel, a raw bagel made with almonds, flax, zucchini, and rosemary, topped with cashew sour cream and other goodies – it’s the only dish Luna's serves all day long (for good reason).
10:30 a.m.: The Common Market (1515 S Tryon Street). This entirely unique deli/convenience store/bar has the same incredible local and imported beer as its original Plaza Midwood location across town. Buy a few rare bottles to enjoy late night or take back home with you to impress your friends or stop back in on a Thursday for a free tasting.
12 p.m.: VBGB Beer Hall and Garden. Head over to this beer garden to grab lunch, play cornhole or human-sized Jenga, and order up a cold local brew or two from an impeccably curated menu. Be careful, though: once you experience this adult playground, you won't want to leave—and you still have a helluva day ahead of you.
2 p.m.: Birdsong Brewing Company. It's been three months since Birdsong became the southernmost brewery on NoDa (North Davidson Street) by moving to a facility more than three times the size of their original space – but they still seem just as busy. Makes sense, too: their Higher Ground IPA and Jalapeño Pale Ale are always solid go-tos.
3:30 p.m.: NoDa Brewing Company. Try a Hop, Drop 'n Roll IPA or a Coco Loco Porter (my personal favorite, brewed with cocoa nibs and coconut). But good luck getting your hands on a NoDable small-batch brew over the weekend – these one-time-only beers are only available in the taproom each Tuesday, and typically sell out shortly after.
5 p.m.: Salud Beer Shop. If you thought you were overwhelmed at Common Market, you're in for a surprise at Salud. Fans of sour beers will believe they've died and gone to funky heaven. Grab as much as you can stuff your suitcase with, and don't forget to sample a brew or two on tap.
6 p.m.: Midwood Smokehouse. No trip to the South is complete without a stop for BBQ and Midwood Smokehouse is easily the best joint in Charlotte. People swear by the pulled pork and ribs, but I can't get over the brisket and burnt ends. Temper your animalistic cravings, though – this is just a stop for hors d'oeuvres.
7:30 p.m.: Customshop. Here, you’ll find an innovative blend of pan-European and American Southern fare, order from a weekly menu that changes according to availability of local farm produce. Upscale without being stuffy, Customshop perfectly represents Charlotte's trend towards serious food that doesn't have to be taken painfully seriously.
9:30 p.m.: Double Door Inn. End your night at a legendary blues rock venue – the oldest club in the city – that's been rocking for over 40 years. Local and touring acts play incredible shows almost nightly (Eric Clapton once played here!), but the beer, ambiance, and clientele are as much a part of the experience as the entertainment is.
For Next Time: Though it's too far out of the way of the route I've planned for you, next time you'll want to stop at Brawley's Beverage for a beer or two. Afterwards, be sure to dine at Good Food On Montford, arguably the best restaurant in the city.