Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

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

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
hex.coffee

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
www.fabocafe.com

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
cocoandthedirector.com

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
southendgrind.com

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
www.rushespressocafe.com

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
smellycatcoffee.com

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
tinyurl.com/centralcoffee

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’.”

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