Will 2018 Be Charlotte's Breakout Year?
A series of food-related developments is bringing buzz to the Southern banking capital
Charlotte has always been something of a puzzle. It is a big city, a city that's going places, a city at the heart of a growing metropolitan area of millions. It feels as if they've done everything right here, everything you're supposed to do in order to attract the right kind of creative talent, from encouraging density at the heart of the city—here, known as Uptown—to creating a modest, but growing rail transportation network.
On the food and drink front, the region's diverse population (Charlotte is currently one of the most diverse cities in the United States) has an increasingly impressive array of options to choose from, too. There's a public market; there are all the things we seem to like these days, really, from obsessive ramen joints, to risk-taking craft breweries; there's a great cocktail lounge tucked away behind a Harris-Teeter supermarket, an ambitious wine bar inside a shuttered pool hall. Respected Asheville chef William Dissen (The Market Place) will soon open a restaurant here. Up in the northern reaches of the metro, you have Joe and Katy Kindred's widely-celebrated destination restaurant, Kindred, as well as their sophomore effort (Hello, Sailor), which made its debut late last year. Master mixologist Gary Crunkleton, well-regarded in Southern cocktail circles, is coming to town to open his own bar. Atlanta restaurateur Ford Fry is bringing his very successful act to town this year, not once, but twice, maybe even more than that. Hell, even Shake Shack is getting ready to open up here—its first foray into North Carolina. In short, things have been happening, are happening, and will continue to happen.
So, then—when, exactly, will everyone get excited for Charlotte? How big a bang does there have to be to rocket the region, climbing ever higher on the list of most populated in the country, into the destination city big time? This year, it looks like, could well be the year we find out. Besides scads of new restaurants, the city in 2018 will welcome a slew of major developments; two of these projects, rather notably, are placemaking at its most textbook.
Following a trend that has been very successful in other southern cities like Atlanta, Charlotte's forthcoming Design District and Tompkins Hall developments will function, if inadvertently, as lively bookends to the Uptown section of the city. Both are well-connected to transit, both will essentially create new neighborhoods, partially through the adaptive reuse of old industrial buildings. In the case of Tompkins Hall, which will include, among many other things, roughly 50,000 square feet of restaurant space and retail, including a 22,000 square-foot food hall, the centerpiece of the development will be a century-old textile mill. It's going to be something to see, that's for sure.
If you're curious to explore the city now, there's already plenty to know about, in case that wasn't already clear. Check out Tim Chun and Lisa Kamura's fun, fusion-y Seoul Food Meat Co., which made a big splash when it opened, not too long ago—the couple is currently working on opening a proper KBBQ spot next door. Also keep Trey Wilson, chef/owner at the popular Customshop, on your radar—he's just now busy upping the ante with the brand-new Flour Shop, a smart, compact spot with a menu centered around Wilson's house made pastas. Elsewhere in town, the casual Yafo Kitchen is winning all kinds of people over to its brand of Middle Eastern fare— the counter-service spot is so popular, it's already expanding. Keep your eyes peeled, too, for the occasional Soul Food Sessions pop-up dinners, organized by a group of local black chefs; also keep a lookout for Comida, Los Angeles expat Alesha Stegemeyer's ambitious Mexican spot, which will soon re-launch in a renovated, shared space with Stegemeyer's other restaurant, the breakfast-centric Little Spoon.