Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

CHRONICLING THE JOYS OF FOOD AND WINE IN THE CHARLOTTE METROPOLITAN REGION

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Steakhouse (which, back in the day, held the Belmont Police Department) began the careful steps toward bringing the out-of-date jailhouse building back to life to become its sister concept—one that delivers an upscale spirits and lounge experience for those of the growing community.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’.”

Summer Days at Selwyn Avenue Pub


by Yvonne Ackerman
images courtesy Jason Ackerman-Scallionpancake


A cold beer, Bee Sting wings, and lounging in the sunshine on a sunny Carolina afternoon? That’s just what the doctor ordered—Doc Foster, that is. Regulars of Selwyn Avenue Pub will know Jim Foster as “Doc,” the co-owner of Myers Park’s number-one neighborhood destination for gathering with friends to eat, drink, and cheer on their favorite team.

It’s no happy accident that Selwyn Avenue Pub is the premier destination for those searching for a grown-up gathering spot in Charlotte. Doc and his father, Jim Foster Sr., also known as “Coach,” credit their long-lasting success with listening to their customers since they opened the pub in 1990. As Doc puts it, “We have stayed in business for 27 years because we listen to our customers. What you see here is the result of 27 years of improv with audience participation.”

The results of customer input can be seen everywhere. Take the menu, for instance. Customers asked for an Ahi tuna wrap, and now, it’s one of their best selling items. The enclosed TVs on the patio are a result of a suggestion by a customer for the alcove housing the TVs back in the early 90s, when no other restaurants had outdoor televisions.

The customers are the heart and soul of Selwyn Pub and play a central part in its identity. “We want people to feel welcome here, and to feel comfortable,” Doc says, and he believes it’s impossible to become stale in the restaurant business unless “you become tone deaf” to your customers’ preferences.

Doc has watched many fads in the Charlotte dining scene come and go, but he and Coach maintain a steady focus on a business model that cultivates longevity and customer loyalty. Doc and Coach are particularly gratified when people who met their spouse at the pub come back to share a pizza with their children.

There is a comfortable familiarity about Selwyn Pub that resonates with its customers, but the pub never stops evolving. Case in point? A brand new retractable awning (AKA the “Selwyn Pub-a-dome”) was recently installed to provide shade after the beloved willow oak tree came down in November 2015. After consulting several arborists, it was clear that the giant tree, like many other trees of its age in Myers Park, had to be removed. The new awning is so versatile that it allows for sun, shade, or weather protection at the touch of a button. It was also specifically designed to give pub customers an outdoor feel whether it’s open or closed, and it even provides a unique skylight feature. This addition ensures that the pub remains a comfortable gathering spot for the Myers Park community, and Doc knows his customers will be relieved to not have to cover their beers and race inside when a summer rainstorm pops up.

Additionally, Doc enlisted the aid of Tom Byrnes, Vice President of Merchandising for Springs Creative, to help craft a custom solution to replace the outdoor cushions. Incredibly, Springs Creative was preparing to launch a unique technology capable of digitally “printing” directly onto outdoor fabric, and they were willing to work with Selwyn Pub to showcase their new line. The crowning touch includes throw pillows with the Selwyn Pub logo. The awning, the outdoor heaters, and comfy new seat cushions will ensure that Selwyn Pub remains a year-round destination (yes, all year—even on Christmas and “snow days”).

Once you’re comfortable and climate-controlled no matter the weather, it’s time to focus on food, and diners know Selwyn as a reliable spot for quality pub food. The focus is on “shareable items,” Doc says, “because they support our main purpose, which is being a gathering spot to meet friends.”
The menu philosophy is straightforward: “Buy the best ingredients and keep it simple.” What does this mean in practice? Angus chuck for hamburgers, fresh—not frozen—hand-breaded chicken tenders, sashimi grade Ahi tuna, and Boar’s Head deli products.

Their most popular item is their pizza. With unlimited free toppings and a thin and crispy crust, you really can’t go wrong with a Selwyn Pub pizza.

Customers have recently noticed an expanded slider menu at the pub. The sliders are also designed to fit into the pub’s menu philosophy. Selwyn Pub takes a unique approach to “sliders.” In fact, Doc likes to think of sliders as a form of “Irish tapas.” Selwyn sliders may contain any bread, spread, meat, fish, or filling. Some of the most popular sliders include the Boar’s Head Reuben, Connemara Cod, and Tomato Caprese on grilled rosemary focaccia.

Slider specials are designed with specific types of customers in mind. The “Pick 6” slider special ($16.95) is designed for a larger group of people who want to share.

Often, groups like to settle in and order multiple “waves” of sharable food. A selection of sliders might be followed by a pizza, fried pickles, or wings. The “Pick 2” slider special ($8.95) is perfect for someone who wants to create a designer meal out of multiple slider offerings paired with a side. The “Slider & Side” special ($5.95) is ideal for someone who wants a lighter meal. It functions in much the same way as a half sandwich and soup, small salad, or other side. Doc believes as long as it’s delicious and doesn’t run down the front of your clothes while you lounge on a comfy sofa, it’s a slider.

While Selwyn Pub is widely acclaimed for its pizza and wings, their creative approach to sliders has energized the Pub regulars, who have dependably come forward with many delicious suggestions. Selwyn Pub continues to offer unpretentious quality food at affordable prices.

What to wash it all down with, beyond the beer, of course? “Many people,” Doc says, “are surprised at our wine menu, which includes a wide selection of high quality wines at pub prices.” Some of the most popular wines include La Crema Chardonnay ($10 glass/$38 bottle), Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc ($9 glass/ $34 bottle), and J. Lohr Cabernet ($9 glass/ $34 bottle).

Doc is the first to admit that the pub is a “dinosaur” when it comes to social media. However, one of Doc’s daughters recently convinced Doc to hook up the pub with a Snapchat Geofilter, but that’s as far their social media presence goes. He notes that for all the social media savvy people have today, they often crave an opportunity to talk to one another face to face.

Selwyn Pub harkens back to an earlier time of the village green, where people would gather together to discuss local issues, sports, and politics face to face, and not over Facebook or text. “People come here primarily because they want to socialize with their friends and meet new people,” he says, “and we provide the perfect place in Myers Park for them to do just that.”

So, walk on down, take an Uber or hitch a ride with a friend, and get down to Selwyn Pub ASAP to enjoy a few of those quintessential sunny Southern afternoons this summer. And don’t waste any time, because, as Doc notes, “your friends are already here.”

Selwyn Avenue Pub
2801 Selwyn Avenue | Charlotte
704.333.3443

Raise a Glass to Spring in Hendersonville

by Zenda Douglas
images by Sam Dean Photography

The freshness of spring will soon fall over North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains—and its towns—and will return the landscape, once more, to green. Flowers will begin to blossom and townspeople will respond by tumbling out of doors to welcome the new season. Hendersonville, one of the country’s prettiest mountain towns, welcomes visitors to experience nature at its best and to enjoy their first taste of spring in a place that has much to offer.

An exciting getaway to Hendersonville renders sweet surprises—a vibrant mix of arts and culture, entertainment, agri-tourism, and locally-brewed spirits. Its downtown is welcoming and offers a variety of shops, boutiques, and more than 30 dining establishments—impressive given the town’s size. Also impressive are the thousands of tulips that bloom around mid-April along the wide sidewalks downtown. The town typically celebrates this annual show of color with a month-long Tulip Extravaganza. More color comes to Main Street on Memorial Day weekend during the Garden Jubilee Festival. Garden Jubilee takes up eight blocks with more than 250 vendors, including 40 nurseries selling plants and flowers.

Hendersonville sits just 22 miles south of Asheville and is easily accessed by major highways and area airports.

One of the area’s most important claims to fame is its apple production. Henderson County is the largest apple-producing county in North Carolina and the seventh largest in the nation. The most widely grown apples are Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Honey Crisp, Granny Smith, Stayman, Fuji, and Gala. While the apples won’t be ready for picking and eating for a while (the North Carolina apple harvest season is celebrated from early September through mid-October), there’s one apple product that is enjoyed all the rest of the year—cold, crisp hard cider. Henderson County’s abundance of orchards makes the area a natural home for the emerging hard cider market. Plus, the beauty of budding orchards scattered across mountain vistas is a sight to see and, alone, is worth the trip.

Three cideries have taken up residence in Henderson County: Flat Rock Ciderworks began producing hard cider in 2014. Its flagship ciders are Wicked Peel and Blackberry Gold. Its tasting room is on Main Street in downtown Hendersonville. Bold Rock Hard Cider boasts two production facilities and a state-of-the-art tasting room. There are nine Bold Rock ciders on tap. Live music and food trucks make the tap room a popular spot. Appalachian Ridge Artisan Ciders sits across the road from Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards and is located inside a renovated 1940s-era barn.

The cideries are part of the Cheers! Trail, which also features five breweries and two wineries. Beer lovers will be blown away by the brewery facilities at the East Coast headquarters for Sierra Nevada, complete with an outdoor amphitheatre with a regular schedule of live music. Wine enthusiasts will be happy relaxing on the beautiful grounds and tasting room at Burntshirt Vineyards.

While you’re outdoors, enjoy full access to nature at DuPont State Recreational Forest, which encompasses 10,600 acres in Henderson and Transylvania counties. Its multi-use trails offer a special place for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and fishing. Waterfall seekers won’t be disappointed here. Hooker Falls drops 12 feet into Cascade Lake, which has become a popular swimming hole. Triple Falls has three distinct cascades totaling about 120 feet. Scenes from the movies The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans were filmed here. Bridal Veil is quite unique, dropping eight feet off an overhanging ledge before the water rushes down a long inclined plane of granite. High Falls is the tallest of the falls.

For a moving sunset, head over to Jump Off Rock, a scenic overlook that provides panoramic views of rolling pastures and the Blue Ridge and Pisgah mountain ranges, as well as Indian legend. Three hiking trails can be experienced at Jump Off Rock, varying in length and difficulty.

Join thousands of visitors each year who come to the Flat Rock Playhouse, officially designated the State Theatre of North Carolina, for a professional play or musical. For more than 60 years, Flat Rock Playhouse has been offering Broadway-quality entertainment at a fraction of Broadway prices. Flat Rock Playhouse has now opened a second location on Main Street in Hendersonville, bringing shows and concerts to the center city. Its main, and original theater, is located in the historic neighboring Village of Flat Rock. More than a hundred years ago, Flat Rock gained population by the arrival of affluent Charlestonians who wished to escape the summer heat and associated diseases of the Lowcountry. So many families from the Charleston area came to Flat Rock that it became known as “The Little Charleston of the Mountains.”

Save an entire day to appreciate Hendersonville’s history through its numerous historic sites and museums. Step into the Historic Henderson County Courthouse and the Henderson County Heritage Museum. Roam about the Historic Johnson Farm. Take a reflective stroll through the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site to get a glimpse of how this treasured writer, journalist, folk singer, social activist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet lived his final 22 years. The estate, which houses Sandburg’s furnishings and his collection of 12,000 books, was called Connemara. Visitors may tour the house and barn and see the descendants of Mrs. Sandburg’s champion dairy goatherd.

To assure visitors’ overnight comfort, Hendersonville has a wide array of lodging and accommodations ranging from hotels to bed-and-breakfast inns to cottages. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the Queen Anne Style, 1898 Waverly Inn located in the heart of Hendersonville. With its beckoning wraparound porch, guests will want to take advantage of the rocking chairs as soon as they are settled in. The Historic Charleston Inn, with its newly appointed rooms, sits next door. Formerly known as The Claddagh Inn, it is within easy walking distance to all that downtown has to offer. Each of these establishments has provided rest and relaxation to travelers for over 100 years. At Mountain Inn & Suites, locally-owned and operated, guests enjoy a comfortable bed and all of the amenities they need to refresh themselves from a full day of seeing the sights, all delivered with sincere Southern hospitality.

 

A Tourist Has to Eat!
Don't Despair—Hendersonville Is a Dependable Match for the Hungry Traveler

Those who are hungry for meat won’t go lacking at Hubba Hubba Smokehouse, an authentic wood-fired smokehouse. What you won’t find here are any electric smokers. Honoring the Carolina craft of low-and-slow barbecue, the meats have been slow smoked for hours over a special selection of native hardwoods, including red and white oak, and hickory. Sides and sauces are made from scratch on site. Hubba Hubba’s casual environment and picnic-table outdoors dining make for a great gathering place for friends, families, and groups.

When the mood calls for more sophisticated dining with an Italian flair, there’s no better place than Mezzaluna Brick Oven and Tap House. The cuisine here is prepared in an open kitchen at the foot of a magnificent mural of A Starry Night by Van Gogh. The menu is built upon the simple elegance of the finest Italian cuisine. Make a beverage selection from the
extensive wine list, draft beer list, or hard cider list to accompany your meal. To start, try the stuffed banana peppers with Italian sausage, Parmesan, and marinara. A mezzaluna salad of field greens, gorgonzola, tomato, red onion, and balsamic vinaigrette will inch you closer to your chosen entrée, perhaps the spicy Tuscan stew with seared scallops, shrimp, mussels, chili, tomato, and pancetta. If pasta’s on your mind, go for the delightful housemade fettuccine with asparagus, pine nuts, crisp pancetta, and Parmesan cream.

Check out Sierra Nevada’s Taproom and Restaurant for artful, chef-driven fare. You’ll find an abundance of incredible food and great craft beer—there are 23 beers on tap, many produced just a few feet from the restaurant. Cuisine here is focused on small plate, sharable, whole animal, and farm-to-table dishes sourced mainly from local suppliers.

Tucked into the Charleston Inn and spilling over onto the side porch is The Lantern Restaurant & Bar, with its innovative Lowcountry menu of small and large plates and signature cocktails, it’s fine dining at its best. Guests will find a host of enticing appetizers and entrées as well as thoughtfully-crafted desserts. Start your meal with a handcrafted cocktail or a glass of wine from the restaurant’s impressive wine list.

A great way to inspire your appetite is with the Charleston Cheese Dip, made from Wyke Farms vintage white cheddar cheese, smoked jalapeño, and crispy black pepper bacon, served with housemade grilled focaccia points. Continue with a bowl of Louisiana gumbo, made from a rich dark roux, fresh gulf shrimp, and smoked andouille sausage from Louisiana’s own Cochon Butchery. Expect the housemade crab cakes to be made from South Carolina blue crab and jumbo lump crab meat. Guests rave about the shrimp and grits, prepared from local stone ground Geechie Boy Grits and fresh Gulf shrimp swimming in a roasted red pepper, brown butter, and unoaked Chardonnay reduction.

Finally, a message to those lucky enough to dine at Etowah Valley Golf & Resort or neighboring Old Etowah Smokehouse just outside of Hendersonville: don’t skip dessert. Hendersonville native and culinary guru Robert Hammond, whose work has been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Food Network’s “Best Of,” and “Roker On The Road,” as well as in The New York Times and Bon Appétit, has recently come home to Western North Carolina after working as a chef, pastry chef, and culinary instructor for 47 years in some of the top kitchens across the country. Hammond now heads the pastry program at the Etowah properties. These days, Hammond turns out some of the best desserts in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Food aficionados rave about his decadent cheesecakes in creative flavors such as caramel-apple-bourbon, and they also delight in such Southern specialties as fresh coconut cake.