Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


The Christkindlmarkt: Charlotte's Christmas Village

by Brianna Melanson • images courtesy Carol Hambridge, Nicole Jenkins

The tradition of a Christkindlmarkt, or open winter market, began in 1310 Munich, Germany. Decorated wooden booths would take over the village’s town square to celebrate the Christmas season by selling homemade crafts and glühwein. Glühwein is the mulled red wine of Germany, literally meaning “glow wine,” as the hot irons would be glowing as they mulled. It’s not a Christmas drink without spices such as cinnamon, clove, and star anise. Sometimes vanilla and citrus are also included in the recipe. The community would stroll around the market with their warm glühwein in a commemorative mug while they shopped and watched talented performers. This marvelous tradition is still strong today and has since moved to the United States and now our beloved city.

Thanksgiving day begins the second year of the Charlotte Christmas Village, or Christkindlmarkt. Romare Bearden Park will once again transform into a German Christmas market featuring glühwein, German food favorites, gifts, a Christmas tree lot, and entertainers. Opening day will kick off with Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker dancers.

County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour says, “Last year’s Christmas Village was a wonderful event, and this year is shaping up to be even bigger and better with more vendors, a new village design, and the return of exciting community partners. My family and I can’t wait to go!”

Paul Claus and Dena Bruton-Claus (Claus in a German pronunciation) have been preparing for this magical event all year, and they are rightly proud of it. That’s right, Mr. and Mrs. Claus created Charlotte’s first ever Christmas Village.

Paul and Dena are event planners from Texas and have been in Charlotte for 10 years. They were previously volunteers at the largest free art and music festival in the southwest, and Dena was a member of the festival’s board for 11 years. Some of their fondest memories come from outdoor festivals, which were a big part of their kids’ childhood.

When their daughter went off to school in Philadelphia a few years ago, the Claus’ witnessed the Philadelphia Christmas Market being set up, which is one of the largest in the United States next to Chicago and Baltimore. They were immediately inspired by their thorough and extravagant village and thought that’s exactly what Charlotte needed. With Charlotte’s diversity and rich German heritage, a Charlotte Christkindlmarkt seemed like a natural fit, so they began working to make it official. They succeeded.

The vibrant Christmas Villages are found all over Germany in December. As some of you may recall, some of last year’s customers were disappointed that there were no traditional wooden huts as advertised. Well, Dena and Paul were already in the process of building those huts when they found out that due to the city and county fire regulations, they would not be able to use the huts and had to resort to white tents. Remember that it was their first year. Despite the controversy, the Village brought in more than 7,500 visitors last year, and they expect this year’s numbers to jump to 120,000. The majority of their vendors are returning from last year because they enjoyed it so much. This year’s patrons will see many great changes based on what the Claus’s learned from last year, and they even became a nonprofit. We hear some other excellent plans are in the works, too. Did someone say Christmas brunch?

Dena made another great point. The disappointment meant people were delighted that Charlotte was finally going to have a German Village for which people wouldn’t have to fly across the States or the Atlantic. The Claus’ want to make their visions come to life and have an authentic atmosphere, but it will take some time.

Though this year will not bring wooden huts, the Claus’ won’t give up on finding an alternative material to satisfy the code enforcements. But you better not pout, because I’m telling you why. With the twinkling lights and decorations, and the gorgeous Uptown backdrop, the Village will be unlike any other Christmas celebration in Charlotte.

It’s also conveniently located, especially if you live in an Uptown apartment and want a real Christmas tree. Plus, it’s free thanks to their wonderful sponsors and partners, which include Charlotte Center City Partners and Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation. And you won’t find a more delicious glühwein.

If you don’t get a mug of the glühwein, you won’t get the full Christmas Village experience. Last year, Dena and Paul invited German nationals to taste different recipes of glühwein in order to decide which one was the best and most genuine for the Village. Dover Vineyards of Concord generously recreated their favorite and will be selling a variety of their wines as well as the specially-made glühwein again this year. All glühwein will be served in a souvenir Charlotte Christmas Village mug. Two other familiar vendors will be providing alcoholic beverages to get you feeling holly jolly. Red Clay Ciderworks’ Co-Founder, Deanna Bradish, says they will again serve, “‘Wool Socks,’ a warm or cold winter spiced cider, to add to the festive alcohol choices. Since it helps warm from the insides, our customers call it Christmas in a cup.” Finally, Blue Blaze Brewery will be serving their German-inspired craft beers, such as the Blue Blaze Altbier and the Yellow Blazer Kölsch. Dena and Paul are grateful to work with these local businesses who continue to outdo their holiday spirit.

Carolers, accordion players, dancers, and other musicians will fill the area with holiday music as you shop. If the weather gets chilly, the hospitality tent will be heated and filled with other live music so you can relax with your loved ones and devour some of the scrumptious food. Kids can bundle up there with hot chocolate or other non-alcoholic beverages after meeting Santa Claus on the weekends or participating in arts and crafts.

Get your Christmas sweets, such as roasted nuts, Lebkuchen (gingerbread), almond shortbread, and macaroons from the German bakeries. If you’re in the mood for something savory, popular upscale steakhouse 5Church will be making the bratwurst, or German sausage, sauerkraut, and a mean German potato salad. The village only accepts high quality food choices and products.

“To qualify for the Christmas Market here, you have to be either hand crafted or directly imported from the country of origin,” says Dena. If you need original gift ideas, look no further. Vendors will be selling hand-painted ornaments, nesting dolls from Russia, homemade figurines and toys, and more. Pet Wants will have all natural treats to fill your pet’s stocking and maybe one for your dog being good walking around the Village. A Nepalese woman sells beautiful alpaca wool gloves, scarves, and sweaters—everything is unique and made with love.

Once the sun sets, the Village becomes less busy and more romantic. The evening will feel like a separate event. Go with your friends during the day and then your significant other at night. You’ll be surrounded by dazzling lights, soft music, and a sugary aroma. Your glühwein will warm one hand, and your loved one’s hand will hold the other. It’s a dreamy place to make and capture everlasting memories. The Christmas Village will be open as late as 9 p.m.

Santa’s helpers will close the Charlotte Christmas Village on Christmas Eve. Mr. and Mrs. Claus will then get ready for the 2018 Christmas Village starting as soon as January. This is the beginning of what will someday be as big as Chicago’s Christmas Village. So come out this holiday season to Romare Bearden Park, grab your glühwein, and become a part of the cherished tradition.


Caffeinated Charlotte

by Yvonne Ackerman
images courtesy Yvonne Ackerman-Scallionpancake

Whether it’s the beyond essential Monday morning cup or a leisurely Sunday afternoon iced concoction, there is nothing like good coffee. Charlotte is home to many great coffee houses, many of which are roasting their own beans or procuring beans from North Carolina roasters. We’ve narrowed down the top spots in your neighborhood that are perfect for grabbing a quick cup of coffee on the run, or for enjoying a leisurely afternoon catching up on work over a latté and a pastry.


The Spot: HEX Coffee
Neighborhood: South End

Caffeine Fix: HEX stands out because they roast their own coffee beans and they also employ a unique technique to brew their coffee: the coffee shot. Through this method, which is essentially brewing coffee through an espresso
machine, the coffee experts at HEX can ensure the flavor in each cup is rich and consistent. In addition to their hot coffee, there is cold brew on tap as well as seasonally rotating tap creations like a draft vanilla latté. Grab a bag of their beans to take home, and ask the awesome staff for tips on how to brew flavorful cups in your own kitchen.

Eats: Grab some locally-made Whisk and Wood pastries (often vegan and gluten-free), or a chocolate bar from Videri Chocolate Factory, based out of Raleigh.

Tip: HEX shares a space with Good Bottle Co., which offers loads of local and craft beer. Hit up HEX in the morning and Good Bottle for a nightcap!

The Spot: FABO Coffee Art Bar
Neighborhood: South Charlotte

Caffeine Fix: The name FABO stands for “fabulous art buying opportunity,” and the café features and sells the work of local artists in addition to a wide array of coffee and espresso drinks. FABO is super friendly for those who need to spend a few hours nursing their coffee as they work on their laptops, or to book clubs looking for a place to gather. They even host local musicians and offer evening art and wine classes! FABO is open late and serves wine and beer on tap if you find yourself holed up in this cozy spot long enough that you want to switch from a latté to rosé.

Eats: Grab a muffin or a scone from a local bakery to enjoy along with your coffee.

Tip: Check out FABO on Thursdays, when they have $6 glasses of wine all day long and trivia at 8 p.m.!

The Spot: Coco and the Director
Neighborhood: Uptown

Caffeine Fix: Coco and the Director is located in the recently renovated (and gorgeous) Marriott hotel, and every bit of this local gem feels special, from the stadium seating to the locally-roasted coffee beans. Enjoy your coffee brewed from an aeropress, a pour over, or served up as a cold brew. Their dirty chai tea latté (chai tea mixed with milk and a shot of espresso) is the best iteration of this drink in Charlotte. It’s extra spicy, strong on the espresso, and not too sweet.

Eats: If you’re in the mood for something sweet, their homemade banana bread is to die for. If you’re craving something more substantial, grab a sandwich made with their carved-to-order roasted meat of the day, like brisket or smoked pork shoulder.

Tip: Coco offers fun evening activities like movie viewings and networking events. Check out their Instagram for the lineup!

The Spot: South End Grind
Neighborhood: South End

Caffeine Fix: Seattle native and Queens University graduate Freddie Nordhoff opened South End Grind in June 2017 at Urban MVMNT, a mixed-use space that combines strength and conditioning classes, spin, and now, great coffee. Nordhoff brews beans from local favorite roaster Pure Intentions, and serves up creative seasonal options like the Gym and Tonic, a mix of espresso, tonic water, and honey-lemon syrup poured over ice. If you’re looking for a more traditional cup, you can get yours brewed from an aeropress or traditional drip.

Eats: Grab some doughnuts from Move That Dough Baking Co. But arrive early if you want one with your morning joe—they tend to sell out very quickly.

Tip: SEG sometimes offers pop-up events, like a recent collaboration with Two Scoops Creamery, where you could enjoy a shot of espresso or cold brew over ice cream for a delicious affogato! Follow Southendgrindclt on Instagram for upcoming events.

The Spot: Rush Espresso Coffee Company
Neighborhood: Ballantyne & Uptown

Caffeine Fix: Rush serves Di Bella coffee and espresso, and the flavor of each cup is rich and smooth. The menu offers some unique options, like the rarely-seen iced cappuccino (expertly shaken with lots of foam), or the Café Viennesse, which combines espresso and whipped cream for a truly decadent pick-me-up. While the Uptown location of Rush is designed for morning commuters, the Ballantyne location urges you to stay a while. There is ample seating and a huge selection of breakfast and lunch items (both served all day), along with a dinner menu available after 5 p.m. Rush Ballantyne also has a full bar menu with wine, beer on tap, and cocktails.

Eats: For breakfast, you can’t go wrong with the bacon jam and eggs or the tomato crostini with whipped feta.

Tip: Rush Ballantyne offers live music every Friday and Saturday night and open mic on Wednesday nights!

The Spot: Smelly Cat Coffeehouse
Neighborhood: NoDa

Caffeine Fix: Smelly Cat brews their own beans, and they have been a NoDa institution for nearly 20 years. Enjoy your super fresh cup as a pour over, or in an espresso drink. Particularly high marks go to the dirty chai frappé and the sledgehammer, which is espresso blended with dark chocolate. All iced drinks are made with crushed ice, which immediately ups the deliciousness quotient of any cold beverage. There is plenty of indoor seating, as well as an outdoor seating area with a bowl of water if you want to stop by with your pup.

Eats: Enjoy a slice of quiche, or try one of their breakfast sandwiches on house made biscuits. There’s also a variety of assorted pastries.

Tip: Make sure to get your Instagram-friendly shot of the mural on the outside of the building—“drink coffee, be cool.” Bonus points if you sing Phoebe’s famous song from Friends while you snap and sip away.

The Spot: Central Coffee Co.
Neighborhood: Plaza Midwood & South End

Caffeine Fix: Central Coffee Co. brews each cup with beans from North Carolina-based Joe Van Gogh, and the result is consistently smooth and rich coffee and espresso. Central is perhaps best known for serving up one of the city’s first and best cold brew coffees, and its full-bodied caffeine hit does not disappoint in the warmer months. For specialty drinks, they make several of their syrups in house, and nothing beats their spicy mocha in the winter—Central sources freshly ground local peppers and blends them into the chocolate espresso.

Eats: The food at Central Coffee Co. is so good that you may have a hard time choosing what to order. Standouts include homemade quiche, the best-ever zucchini bread, and a wide assortment of pastries including baklava and Greek biscotti.

Tip: The original location has limited seating, and patrons are encouraged to share a table if they are sitting alone. If you’re willing to share precious laptop real estate with another customer, grab a sign at the counter to place on your table to show that you are open to making new friends.

The Jailhouse: A Speak Easy-inspired Escape in Belmont, NC


Upon passing through the discreet, iron-clad back entrance of historic Belmont’s old jailhouse, you’re immediately transported back to the 1960s, a time when this vintage landmark once held the town’s unruly. Adorned with its original barred windows, prison cell doors, and Edison bulb fixtures, the building’s past as a temporary holding site for the city remains unmistakably evident after its recent renovation.

In 2016, the owners of neighboring Old Stone Steakhouse (which, back in the day, held the Belmont Police Department) began the careful steps toward bringing the out-of-date jailhouse building back to life to become its sister concept—one that delivers an upscale spirits and lounge experience for those of the growing community. Today, the structure is the proud home of Belmont’s very first whiskey and cigar bar, appropriately named none other than ‘The Jailhouse.’

Since its opening just this past April, patrons are free to sip, smoke, and socialize alongside the authentic remnants that pay homage to the site’s former purpose, taking customers on a true journey of what jail felt like back in the day.
“It’s the feeling you get when you walk in the building that makes The Jailhouse truly unique,” shares General Manager Giannis Koutsoupias. “The atmosphere we have here is by design to give you a tailored experience, with a touch of the prohibition era and some modern day flare. It is almost an oxymoron for effects, by giving you all the luxuries you could never have in real jail.”

We recommend exploring each and every aspect, from top to bottom, of this establishment’s creative layout during your visit, starting first by bailing out your thirst on the third floor. Two worn-in leather armchairs and a cell door overlooking downtown Main Street set the tone as you round the bend of the upstairs landing. You’re immediately met with an eye-catching backdrop of jail bars, intact from their original cell composition, hosting glass shelves stocked to the ceiling with The Jailhouse’s extensive liquor collection. An industrial stainless steel bar top lined with classy leather stools puts you face to face with rows upon rows of rare whiskey offerings, as well as access to one-of-a-kind craft cocktails, 20 beer taps, and over 190 bottles of wine. Whiskey flights are also up for grabs starting at $12 for those that want to test out their taste preferences, from Irish options to Tennessee favorites.

Since whiskey is obviously The Jailhouse’s specialty, we suggest giving one of the tasty bourbon concoctions a try when it comes to your initial pick-me-up, and you can find everything from an easy drinking blend like the “Fastest Two Minutes” to a stiff, slow sipper like the “Midnight Express,” the staff’s take on an Old Fashioned that’s smoked with hickory wood chips by way of an impressive tableside display. Prefer gin or vodka? There are some great signature options for you too, or of course, and you’re always more than welcome to ask the bartenders to mix you up one of the classics.

Now that you’re set with a refreshment, post up for the remainder of the evening in one of the custom-created crescent booths in direct view of the beautiful bar, or head to the concealed room around the corner containing (yes, real) wall carvings from former inmates and the original construction blueprints. The aged walls in this room were purposely kept preserved to offer customers further insight into Belmont’s chronicles, and the ultimate appeal of the smaller space makes it the perfect alcove to gather with friends or stretch out in peaceful solitude to watch a round of golf.

When it comes to choices, you’re surely not in for limitation here, and the cigar selection is no exception. To the right side of the bar, you’ll find where old cell blocks have been converted into a walk-in humidor complete with beautiful cedar siding and approximately 90 different facings.

Inside, customers can peruse cigars up for purchase from around the world, including exclusive brands such as Nick Syris’ Lavida Habana Cigars and Scott Weeks’ Recluse Cigars. In all offerings, blends can be found ranging from Connecticut shade mild and medium bodied cigars to Maduro full bodied for varying personal preferences.

Koutsoupias encourages all customers to let him know their wants and likes, as well as ask questions about anything they may have seen or don’t know about. “As a cigar smoker, I have taken a lot of pride in hand selecting what goes into our humidor,” he explains. “I want to be able to know and understand all of my customers’ cigar profiles, and if I don’t have the specific cigar you are asking about, I am confident I can introduce you to something similar.”

Before long, you’ll find yourself stick in hand, seeking sentence downstairs among oversized arm chairs, wine barrel accent tables, and intimate lounge seating. The enclosed, speak-easy inspired cigar lounge is the ideal place to kick back and unwind, whether it be for some solo relaxation or alongside fellow patrons for a cigar lesson from cigar virtuoso Koutsoupias himself.

From tasting events to pairing suggestions and etiquette advice, the cigar experience at The Jailhouse is modified to match each individual, whether you’re a first-time smoker or experienced aficionado. The goal here is to not only have customers enjoying a smoke, but also introduce them to new horizons and offer up a new appreciation for all things related.

If you’re not into cigars or the scent they carry, you’ll be happy to know that there’s no concern for lingering effects. The Jailhouse founders recognize that it’s not for everyone and have specifically designed the space with this in mind. The separate smoking lounge utilizes a high-end filtration system to ensure that no smoke escapes to other levels of the bar, so those who wish to distance themselves have no issue doing so.

With all it has to offer, just don’t be surprised if you lose track of time within these concrete confines. Luckily, when you do, the Old Stone staff has your hunger covered with a special bar bites menu available for delivery from next door. You’ll find made-from-scratch small plates like the braised short rib sliders topped with goat cheese and arugula, or the salmon vegetable spring rolls with lemon dill aioli up for grabs that are perfect for pairing with your craft brews.

Since there is no kitchen actually on site, The Jailhouse is considered a private club by ABC regulations. An annual membership is $12, and after initial entry, future visits are made easy with an entryway iPad that checks you in by phone number. Plus, it’s not just leisure The Jailhouse membership is good for—with multiple wireless networks and the aforementioned relaxed seating, the lounge welcomes visitors to make the space their home away from home any given day of the week. Opening at noon, the inviting atmosphere makes for a quiet, ideal workspace for those work-from-home days, plus an espresso machine offers up all the energy you need to feel productive.

The Jailhouse has already proven a welcomed addition to the greater Charlotte scene, and only further adds to the small-town charm for which Belmont is so fondly known. The tie to the community is detectable from the moment you walk in the door to the time you leave for the night. (In fact, don’t be surprised if the staff knows your name and your favorite drink after just a few visits.) From the extra steps the manager puts in to making sure you’re educated on what you’ll enjoy most, to the advice from bartenders on which whiskey glasses present the most flavor for your palate, you’ll find the answers within these legendary walls. So whiskey drinkers, wine lovers, and everyone in between, the team welcomes you to come on in to “sip, smoke, relax, and enjoy ‘The Good Life’.”