Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine


ready to support your local farmer?

by brianna melanson

It’s difficult to think of a more colorful, sunny place than a farmers market. Nothing yells summer like plaid tablecloths, cartons of blueberries, baskets of petunias, and freshly-squeezed lemonade. The Charlotte Regional, Kings Drive, NoDa, The Village at Robinson Farm, and Matthews farmers markets offer shopping and social experiences that benefit your health and the community. Only at farmers markets are you able to know exactly how the products were grown, raised, caught, or made.

Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, built in 1985, is the largest farmers market in Mecklenburg County. They allow both North and South Carolina farmers on 22 acres, with room for 200 vendors. Attracting nearly 500,000 visitors per year, only here will you see three banquet-sized tables full of juicy watermelon, necessary to accommodate all of these hungry people. The fruit salads and other specialties at your family BBQs this summer will be on another level! You can spend hours going through all of the diverse vendors here, so start by getting your coffee fix at Dunx coffee. It’s conveniently open the majority of the week if you don’t want to go during busy Saturdays or have a conflicting work schedule.

There are also smaller farmers markets throughout Charlotte that cater to individual neighborhoods like Matthews and NoDa. You’re sure to find one close to your home to do some food shopping without the fluorescent lights or chemical-infused produce. This is especially helpful if you’re on a budget and looking for extra fresh ingredients that taste excellent. You get the best quality for your money and usually pay the same or less than what you would at a chain supermarket. Farmers are knowledgeable on which month certain fruits and vegetables thrive and will sell them when they know the produce is in the best condition.

The Village at Robinson Farm market has been run by farmers Jason and Kristen Stone of Unity Farms since 2010. They’re the same farmers who initiated the pop-up farmers markets in Center City. Jim Houser generously donated the funds to the couple to make a beautiful market in this highly-sought-after location in Ballantyne. Jennifer says, “The frontage on Rea Road could have been a fast food chain, drug store, or bank. Taking parking away from rent-paying retail and restaurants for a farmers market is a gutsy and challenging thing to accomplish, but everyone cooperated and it worked.” Since it’s 100 percent farmer operated, all of the proceeds go directly back to sustain the farm and the family. It became so popular on Saturdays that they decided to open on Wednesdays as well. The Village educates local schools and camps about healthy food, farming, and nutrition.

Locals pick up a picnic basket to fill up with their fruits, veggies, and a variety of herbs from Thai basil to cilantro to mojito mint to golden sage. Jennifer adds, “It is a place where you will see customers exchanging recipes on what to do with rhubarb and rutabagas and offering help carrying baskets to their cars.” Sometimes you’ll see special guest vendors selling fresh goat cheese, empanadas, or kettle corn. The ladies from MA Farms in Pineville have a booth set up selling the most gorgeous flower bouquets.

If you’re specifically looking for flowers, look no further than the Kings Drive Farmers Market. Next to the produce, they have a large, wonderful nursery for your flower garden needs, as well as a table of $10 floral arrangements that have won multiple BoB Awards. The baked goods at Farmhouse Bakery and the fresh eggs and chicken from Salem Hills Farm are not to be missed either. Not to mention, they have an amazing view of the Uptown skyline.

Norman and David Simpson of Simpson’s Produce run the Kings Drive market and have the helping hands of their parents and seven sons. When they aren’t at the market, they’re working hard at their farm in Indian Trail. Their grandfather started selling produce sporadically from this lot in the 1940s. They’ve all become familiar with the customers, many of whom come to restock their fridges every time they’re open. A local customer, Nancy, has been visiting this market for 40 years. When she moved to Charlotte with her late husband, they bought their first Christmas tree here. Now, she frequents the summer market with her three children for fresh fruits and vegetables. The Simpsons grow their own okra, kale, collards, and greens without the use of any chemicals. Norman says they’re most popular items are tomatoes from Edmund Farms in Chadbourn, NC, and South Carolina peaches from Cooley Family Farm.

The more we buy local, the more food is not being transported in gas-guzzling trucks far distances.

Simpson’s Produce provides ingredients for about 30 of all your favorite local restaurants like Kindred, Rooster’s, Mama Ricotta’s, Lupie’s Cafe, Mimosa Grill, The Lodge, WP Kitchen, Dogwood, King’s Kitchen, Peculiar Rabbit, and Hello, Sailor. Norman cannot say enough how fantastic the chefs are at these places.

Matthews Farmers Market won the Mecklenburg County Wipe-Out Waste Ambassador Award for promoting sustainable methods and recycling. To do your part, remember to bring your reusable bags in order to restrict the use of plastic bags. Since being established in 1991, this Matthews market has grown to provide over 50 producer-only vendors within a 50 mile radius of Matthews, besides the North Carolina coastal fishermen. Unlike the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, there is no re-selling allowed here. Market Manager Paulette Wilkes says, “The farmers market has helped the downtown area to, once again, be the functioning heart of Matthews by providing for the basic human need for sustenance.” At the end of the market day, customers and vendors donate fresh produce to the Matthews Help Center as part of the community outreach program called "Share the Harvest.” Mark your calendars for the upcoming baking and tomato tasting competitions in July.

Tucked behind Smelly Cat Coffee in NoDa is the mural- painted NoDa Company Store. On Saturday mornings, local vendors who grow or make the products themselves set up a cozy farmers market. Orrman’s Cheeseshop, who hosts Raclette night every Thursday at 7th Street Public Market, is there to sell specialty gorgonzola dolce, gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, and more. You may recognize Christine’s Konditorei from the Charlotte Christmas Village, with homemade German cake, pies, and tarts. Baker and scientist Monica Nye created A Smart Cookie and provides additional delicious baked goods at the market. Lazy Heron Farms has all your ecological vegetables, and Greenman Farms sells annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Lastly, Two Moons Family Farms will be there with  grass-fed beef, pastured non-GMO pork and chicken, and non-GMO, grain-fed Wagyu beef.

So much love and care is put into a farmers market on a daily basis. Remember to take time to thank the farmers and local business owners for all they do. Farmers markets are an environmentally-friendly place to do all of your healthy food shopping. They’re the perfect summer spot to find fresh ingredients while meeting new people in your area. Paulette Wilkes exclaims, “As market manager, I feel like I’m planning a big party every week!” So, come out and enjoy the farmers market “parties!”

Charlotte’s Best Beer Gardens


by Bryan Richards
images courtesy Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop, NoDa Brewing, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, VBGB Beer Hall and Garden

My wife and I landed in Munich after a flight that was more eventful than it should have been. All we wanted to do was check in to our hotel for a shower and a nap. However, as is the case with most transatlantic flights, our room wasn’t ready. More than a little defeated, we did as most tourists in Munich do: we found the nearest beer garden for a liter of fresh keller lager and a juicy bratwurst to right our wrongs.

The chestnut shaded community spaces became a staple in our daily itineraries. Each day, we’d wake and start exploring the Bavarian capital. Around lunch time, we’d break for an hour or two in the nearest beer garden, sampling their frothy beverages and gorging on wiener schnitzel or currywurst. We came home lamenting the fact that nothing similar existed in Charlotte. Of course, this was 10 years ago, when craft beer was a forethought. Today, beer gardens have popped up throughout the city, and following are some of our favorites.

The Authentic
No article on Charlotte beer gardens is worth its hops without including Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. Not only is OMB the brewery to kick-start Charlotte’s now exploding craft beer scene, they’re also the most authentic in terms of German beer gardens.

Shaded under a canopy of oak, pecan, and hickory trees is over two acres of beer garden heaven ripped out of a travel article on Munich. Shared picnic tables seat around 1,000 thirsty beer patrons, beer huts keep steins full of German-style lagers, and a stationary food truck serves up bratwursts, kielbasas, burgers, and Bavarian pretzels with beer cheese. Beyond the picnic tables, there’s plenty of green space for kids and dogs to play, rounding out the parklike atmosphere that completes the German beer garden experience.

On any given weekend afternoon, you’ll find customers playing friendly matches of cornhole, live music entertaining crowds, and beer fans sipping frosty mugs of refreshing Capt. Jack Pilsner. It’s the perfect spot to waste away an afternoon. If that afternoon happens to bleed into the evening, then cozy up to one of the fire pits.

The Neighborhood Favorite
Whereas as OMB’s beer garden is the largest on this list, Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop is the smallest. Just 12 picnic tables complete the neighborhood beer shop’s quaint, gravel filled space. Don’t let the size scare you away, though. Like most German beer gardens, Craft Tasting Room is a neighborhood watering hole. On sunny afternoons, a wall of hops plants and overhead canopies shade neighborhood residents while they enjoy a pint of their favorite local brew. In the evenings, string lights create that picture-perfect atmosphere.

Craft Tasting Room offers 36 taps pouring craft beer. A good 80 percent of those taps are North Carolina breweries. Non-beer drinkers can enjoy a small selection of ciders or wine by the bottle. Craft Tasting Room pairs their beer menu with Instagram-worthy charcuterie plates and creative yet filling flatbreads.

Check out Craft Tasting Room on Friday nights for movies under the stars. Order a summer seasonal beer, fill up on a prosciutto flatbread with marinara, fresh mozzarella, and pickled chilies, and wax ecstatic about drive-in movie theaters of yesteryear.

The Gamer
Giant sized versions of Jenga, Connect Four, and chess are just a few of the games that make VBGB Beer Hall and Garden the patio for fun-loving gamers in Charlotte. There’s also cornhole and—if you’re feeling adventurous enough—over three million pounds of sand for beach volleyball excitement.

When you need a break from the fun, grab a seat at one of the many shared tables to catch up with friends or make new friends with your neighbors. Stay hydrated with one of 30 craft beers on draft. VBGB’s state-of-the-art tap system guarantees beer pours at that magic number of 32 degrees for the proper refreshment. The popular beer garden also has a full bar for those who prefer a margarita for their day-drinking.

Not only is VBGB’s one of the most thrilling beer gardens in Charlotte, it’s also a great spot to catch a beer and dinner before a show at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre. Insider tip: while the Zweigle Brats always hit the spot, do yourself a favor and try the beer cheese nachos or char-grilled chicken wings with sweet and spicy Wango Tango sauce.

The Playground
If you could roll the best of the above into one, you’d have NoDa Brewing’s beer garden. What NoDa’s original brewery lacked in outdoor space, the brewery more than made up for in their new location off North Tryon Street. Located behind the brewery is a large beer garden neatly divided into areas with shared picnic tables and green space with games for kids of all ages. In the peak of summer, canopies are erected over the tables to ward off the blistering Carolina sunshine. My favorite spot is at night seated on one of the Adirondack chairs that circle the firepits.

The real selling point is the games. Beyond your requisite cornhole boards, NoDa’s beer garden boasts a bocce ball court, disc golf, and both hula hoops and jump ropes to keep the little ones from interfering with adult cornhole games. All that fun can work up a serious appetite, so Tin Kitchen has a permanent food truck onsite cooking a mix of Latin influenced modern pub fare.

Just like the beer garden offers something for everyone in terms of aversions, so does the brewery in terms of beer. While the brewery’s claim to fame is the Great American Beer Festival gold medal winning Hop, Drop ‘N Roll monster of an IPA, NoDa brews plenty of other beers to please everyone’s palate. Their 25 taps run the gamut of style and tastes.

The Epicurean
New to Charlotte’s summer beer scene is Rivermen Brewing in Belmont. The recently reopened location is more than just a brewery, pouring classic America beers like blondes, porters, and IPAs. The brewery also houses a farm-to-table restaurant that can rival anything in Charlotte. The menu changes regularly based on what’s locally available. Think dishes like pork jowl tacos, roasted rabbit tagliatelle, and wild mushroom ramen.

The beer garden is admittedly more of a patio off the back of the refurbished 1940s mill than a beer garden. However, it’s one of the hottest pieces of outdoor seating real estate in Belmont. The space seats 80 and enjoys shade from the hot Carolina sun from the towering building. Gather up the family, order a Foundation Black IPA to sip on and a 3 Little Pigs Flatbread (pork marmalade, pork brisket, and chicharones) to share, and enjoy an evening of al fresco dining.

With so many breweries and beer gardens in Charlotte, it’s a good time to be living in the Buzz City!

Cork & Crate: The Wine Shop Plaza Midwood Has Been Waiting for

by Brianna Melanson
images by Bobby Mack of Mack Photography

Christopher and Lakendra Walker’s mission is to give Charlotte a rare wine experience through their new business Cork & Crate. Located on Central Avenue, this cozy wine shop and tasting room is unlike any other in the area.

Partners in both business and marriage for 12 years, the wine shop is not their first career collaboration. Chris is an attorney and Kendra is a paralegal. When they aren’t at the wine shop, they’re still practicing law, training their new puppy, and parenting in addition to homeschooling their 9-year-old daughter. It’s impressive how they juggle everything so gracefully. Since they spend almost every waking hour together, Kendra would wind down with a glass of wine. That’s why they tell their customers that wine “saved” their marriage.

Kendra started to go to wine tastings, and eventually Chris would go with her for a romantic night out. It was during those magical moments they realized wine’s positive impact on their life. They embraced the wine industry, tasting wines from all over the world. They were especially inspired by the intimate wine shops where the owners would take their time to personally talk with the couple about their selections.

Chris says the two knew that a wine shop would be a great addition to their lifestyle on a trip to Atlanta in April of 2017. It all fell into place fast, and it is precisely what they envisioned. They already had a realtor who knew what they were looking for, and in 30 days, they signed the lease with the landlord of the space.

Cork & Crate opened to the public in September 2017, and they have really assimilated into Plaza Midwood’s unique culture. In less than a year, they’ve gained a hefty following and have been building a newfound relationship with Charlotteans. Chris and Kendra love being able to interact with everyone and teaching them beneficial information about wine. Kendra points out that Cork & Crate is the epitome of the phrase, “Good people, good times, good wine.”

No matter what the price, from $13 to over $200, the Walkers have a wine perfect for you. Even if your budget is small, you’ll wind up bringing home a bottle that tastes expensive. Not every occasion is as special as a 15 year wedding anniversary, for instance.

Those who love to indulge in wine aren’t always wine experts. Even if you do have something specific in mind, Chris and Kendra may have another suggestion that you may have not thought to try before. Going into your typical wine store can be intimidating, and the staff at a grocery store may not be well-versed in wine. Here, you can get away from the fluorescent lights and enjoy a pleasant buying experience.

The friendly folks at Cork & Crate want to take all of the stress of wine purchasing off your shoulders. If you have no idea what to buy, they are confident that you’ll end up with an exceptional bottle that you’ll never second guess. The Rudd Samantha’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Oakville Collection is one of the couple’s favorites for when they decide to have a very elegant date night or are celebrating something nice.

Pamplune is a French grapefruit and peach Rosé that is currently in New York City’s top 10 wines. Kendra recommends it for a sweet date or a girl’s night. All your friends at the table will be able to smell the delicious fragrance as it’s poured.

Chris says, “It makes me happy when someone takes their first sip and confirms it’s good. And I know they’re not just being polite, because they’ll buy a second bottle.” They love hearing your feedback, so be sure to come back and tell them how your friend or significant other enjoyed the wine. The Walkers genuinely want your time there to be positive before you go off to your destination.

Special wine tastings are held on Fridays for $8 to $15 depending on the varietals. Each week’s tasting includes five wines of a similar variety, like red blends or Merlots.

This summer, they’re excited to bring back the Rosé tasting. They also have a tasting called “Oysters & Bubbles,” where they’ll serve oysters (included in the price) paired with Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, or Mimosas.

During each tasting, Chris walks you through the wines, explaining each one and the story behind it. His profound sense of humor makes it an unforgettable experience, and you’re bound to make new friends and even see some familiar faces.

During the tasting, you’re encouraged to offer your feedback by giving each wine a one to five star rating and a review, like if you found a particular wine to be too dry or just the right amount of oak. Chris and Kendra take these reviews into consideration when they go to restock their shelves.

Kendra notes that through these tastings, they’ve been able to discern the distinguishable palate of the Plaza Midwood neighborhood. Currently, the neighborhood’s favorite found from their shelves is The Federalist’s Zinfandel 2014.

Cork & Crate has hosted birthday parties, book clubs, ugly sweater parties, and more in their secluded back room, accommodating up to 40 people. Many people in the neighborhood are able to walk to the shop, but there’s also parking in front as well as at Nick’s Auto. For bigger events, they conveniently offer valet parking. The shop provides the wine in a signature Cork & Crate wine glass based on the number of people to be served. You can add charcuterie or other catering for a more filling menu. The Walkers will set up everything in the room for you from the food to the décor, so you’ll have nothing to worry about when it comes time for your special event. To really get the party started, belt out your favorite songs with their karaoke machine!

The back room is open to the public as long as there aren’t any events booked—it’s where most of the Walkers’ favorite memories in the shop have been made.

While the shop is open late—until 11 p.m.—the Walkers have made such strong connections with people around their elegant wooden table, that they’ve often been invited into their homes after closing to continue conversations. The fact that people feel they can open up to them and feel so comfortable at the wine shop has been extremely rewarding to them.

It’s a comfortable, casual environment, complete with a fireplace and beautiful paintings of Italy. Locals come in with their laptops to work while sipping on a glass of wine, which they offer by the glass. This year, you can look forward to more wines by the glass and a wine machine. Plus, now that they have a space to sell wine, the Walkers plan to travel to Europe to gather and bring back more ideas of premier wines to continue expanding their inventory.

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for their very own food truck coming soon. Since the shop doesn’t have room for a kitchen (and Charlotteans can’t seem to get enough of food trucks), they’re creating their very own, and it’ll be parked in front of the shop. The Walkers don’t mean to brag but, they also excel in culinary arts. They’re thrilled to share their dishes, which will pair well with any of their wines. There’ll be a staple dish in addition to meals that will change from week to week. What can’t the Walkers do? They also plan to feature other local chefs to show off their food.

Cork & Crate supports local as much as possible. All of their fresh flowers come from the beloved Midwood Flower Shop. Scott Reading, a Plaza Midwood resident for 20 years, made the backdrop with their logo as a gift. Now, customers take pictures in front of it for Instagram. Local artist Lee Halliburton designed the logo, and local artist Sarah Dowell painted the countries on the crates on top of their shelves. Plaza Midwood continues to exceed their expectations and is now on their radar for a new place to live because of all the wonderful people they’ve encountered along the way.

Chris and Lakendra Walker are grateful for Charlotte’s prolific support and kindness. They are dedicated to making everyone feel satisfied with both their experience and wine purchase. Let’s raise a glass to the Walkers for being such a wonderful addition to Plaza Midwood.

Charlotte Gets Social

by Yvonne Ackerman
images courtesy Kyo H. Nam

If you ask any Charlotte native just how far our city has come in recent years in terms of dining and recreation, they’ll tell you without hesitation that Uptown has evolved substantially from what it used to be—that is, a ghost town outside of the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Now, we have a rapidly growing dining scene bolstered by the proliferation of high-rise apartment buildings and hotels.

However, anyone who frequents Uptown after dark knows there’s still a need for something more in order to put us in true competition with larger cities. Charlotteans can rejoice in the New Year, though, as we now have the perfect player to capture our city’s enthusiasm and desire for innovation in our city’s nightlife. Enter: QC Social.

QC Social is, at its essence, an “enthusiast’s lounge,” describes General Manager Morgan Leitert. Every moment of a guest’s experience at QC Social is curated and finely tailored, from the drinks to the culinary selections. At once a bar, lounge, and venue, QC Social draws on collaboration from its creative team, staff, patrons, and our city’s local talent to ensure each visit offers a snapshot of the Queen City at its very best.

This ethos is evident everywhere from the innovative cocktail menu to the vision for the lounge’s place in the community. QC Social will feature local artists and artisans everywhere—from their menu and talented bar staff to their walls and stage area, where they will host artists, musicians, and performers.

“We want to highlight people’s talents and what they can bring to the table,” says Bar Director Jade Finn. The feel of the lounge is, above all, intimate (think: cozy lounge seating), but the vibe can change from night to night, depending on whether QC Social is hosting live music or showcasing a local artist.

Charlotte’s storied history will also take center stage, from the design of the building to the cocktail menu. In the building process, QC Social worked to preserve the history of their space rather than tearing it all down and starting fresh. The team sought out local metalworkers and woodworkers to enhance the original exposed brick and wood in the open and airy lounge.

Celebrating Charlotte’s past is central to QC Social, and this philosophy is realized most fully in their graphically-designed libations and elixirs menu. Going far beyond a simple description of their cocktails, Finn crafted a vision for a menu that is at once an illustrated history of Charlotte and an inspired list of libations whose creativity and style goes well beyond what we have seen from any cocktail menu in the Queen City.

Part cocktail menu and part graphic novel, the list of drinks is sorted into sections, each inspired by a piece of our city’s history. The opening part of the innovative menu describes Charlotte’s founding days and is titled after our city’s most famous (and infamous) descriptor by General Cornwallis of our city as a “hornet’s nest of rebellion.” The cocktails in this section draw from a well-curated spirits list and are inspired by Charlotte’s fiery beginnings, like the Yeoman’s Uprising and the Whistle-Belly Vengeance. Finn describes this section of the menu as drinks you would find “in a tavern in colonial North Carolina, but with a modern twist.”

Although just that amount of originality would be enough to impress, the cocktails are even more than their clever names and adherence to the local theme—they take the art of mixology to a new level.

For example, rather than using only egg whites, the Yeoman’s Uprising incorporates a whole egg, and all of its ingredients are shaken with whiskey barrel-aged wood chips, which imparts a woodsy, smoky flavor profile to the finished product. Cocktailers create their own shrubs, cordials, and barrel-aged spirits for all of the 32 cocktails spread across four menus. The themes of the other menus relate to the ascendancy of Charlotte as a banking empire and celebrate our city’s diversity with globally-inspired cocktails.

Each cocktail is made using an advanced ice system—purified water is used to create hand-cut ice cubes for each drink. QC Social’s attention to each detail, right down to the ice, ensures that each cocktail’s flavor profile is well-balanced. Sometimes, the ice even is used to enhance the flavor of the drink, like in the Uptown Cavalier, which uses a hopped grapefruit bitters-flavored ice cube to add both flavor and chill. Another cocktail, the Mecklenburg Farmer #4, uses hand-shaved ice flavored with sage, cucumber, and Aviation gin.

Beyond cocktails, QC Social serves a variety of wines and beers. The tap beer menu is “regional and rotational” says Leitert, and the bottle menu is also regional, unique, and includes Belgian and Trappist beers. The feel of the menu is “curated and not overwhelming,” says Leitert. The wine selection is focused on small Italian producers and unique varietals. QC Social is passionate about highlighting smaller producers on all of their menus, and there are plans to host tastings to introduce the Charlotte community to their selection of wine and beer.

The shareable plates menu will adhere to the finely curated feel of the beverage menus as well. Food options are small plates with a focus on local and seasonal items, many of them plant-based.

Leitert and Current Culinary Olympic Team member Master Chef Jason Hall developed the menu to incorporate items from local growers and producers. Their charcuterie plate will feature cheeses from their neighbors at Orrman’s Cheese Shop, and their produce will come from local farms.

Look for inventive shareable plates like a polenta and white bean tart, or a beet and apple mille feuille. The menu items will surprise even those already familiar with the North Carolina farm scene, like a vegan cheesecake made with (wait for it) North Carolina passion fruit (when in season). Their signature dessert is also plant-based and pure decadence: a chocolate chestnut tart with shortbread crust. QC Social’s small plates menu has an attention to detail and excellence writ large in the experience of the lounge as a whole.

With their grand opening at the end of January, QC Social is breathing new life into Uptown Charlotte, and its creative and management team believes in the Charlotte community. “We feel strongly about promoting our scene and talent here,” says Finn. He recognizes that many people from larger markets are moving to Charlotte, and they arrive and want that same dining scene to which they are accustomed. People are ready for creative food and drink options, and they don’t want to be limited in their choices. “It’s a good time to be in Charlotte,” says Finn, “and we want to be a part of that movement.”

QC Social is ushering in a new era with their social lounge concept by providing a place for patrons to enjoy great drinks, small plates, and music in a relaxed atmosphere. Gone are the days when Charlotteans have to venture out of town for an experience that is a cut above—QC Social provides something for everyone. Each evening at QC Social, the team will go out of their way to ensure guests have an experience that is at once unique and focused on excellence, and that philosophy is ultimately what will put Charlotte on the map as a destination city.