by Michael J. Solender
images courtesy Angeline’s and Merchant and Trade
Uptown’s 10-year evolution into a bona fide entertainment and retail district has been spurred by the steady addition of residential and commercial development, a surge that’s accelerated dramatically since the QC’s hosting of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Two tastier examples of this growth are found at Kimpton’s newly opened Tryon Park Hotel. Angeline’s, a fresh, cozy Italian eatery, and its sexy sister rooftop bar, Merchant and Trade, lend a haute buzzy vibe to Uptown’s dining and lounge scene. Wonderful things are happening between the two, giving visitors to Charlotte and residents plenty of reasons to spend an evening.
Merchant and Trade
Date-night with my wife took us first upstairs to the clubby and classy Merchant and Trade. There’s a VIP feel from the get-go as a dedicated elevator whisks us directly to the top floor, where honeyed amber hues set a relaxed mood with a comfortable let’s-settle-in glow.
Panoramic city skyline views are afforded at every angle from the floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors opening onto a well-appointed wrap-around patio. Cushioned rocking chairs are a classy touch, making it hard to leave when watching the world go by. The overlook of Romare Bearden Park and BB&T Stadium are guest favorites, though several selfies were snapped with Bank of America’s headquarter tower looming in the backdrop.
Feeling playful and at our server’s encouragement, we experimented with new-to-us libations as we watched the sun sink. Merchant and Trade’s signature house cocktails proved to be a fun and surprising introduction for me to Amari—the bitter Italian herbal digestif. Palate openers on their own, these liqueurs are special mixers when combined with cocktail care and expertise.
Cynar, a mélange of more than a dozen infused herbs and plants including artichoke, is the mystery behind the je ne sais quoi of the Bittersweet Reflections, a tall cocktail featuring Cinnamon-Sarsaparilla tea, soda, and a splash of the bitter concoction.
My wife went a bit sweeter with the Oh Clementine, an adult Orange Crush with Sutler’s Small Batch Gin, Clementine, Aperol, and Domaine de Canton.
“We’ll likely change things up every other month or so with our signature cocktails, depending upon our mood and the availability of fresh ingredients,” says Andy Carlson, director of food and beverage. Half a dozen were on their opening menu, alongside an extensive list of craft beers, wine, sparklers, specialty liqueurs, and unique small batch and rare spirits. “We love to help our guests explore new tastes and guide them in discovering unique experiences.”
Sexy doesn’t stop with the libations, as the food at Merchant and Trade embraces guests with tapas-style shared plates both bold in flavor and varied in approach.
Our favorites were the Blue Crab Rolls—buttery grilled rolls stuffed with briny blue crab salad, vegetal avocado mouse, and topped with crispy shoe-string potatoes—and the Red Miso Chicken Wings—sous vide-bathed, tender, and pulled atop the bone like a lollipop. The latter are served with a hot Asian pickle and a knockout Point Reyes Blue Dip. Not your usual bar-snack.
Chef Robert Hoffman commands the kitchens at both Merchant and Trade and Angeline’s as executive chef. He relishes the opportunity to bring in local diners with an easily approachable contemporary Italian menu, top quality proteins, produce, and dairy, as well as a well-trained staff focused on the highest levels of execution and guest service.
Only months beyond their fall 2017 opening, Angeline’s is hitting a high bar and building a following.
A giant fireplace welcomes guests into a breezy contemporary space flanked by the long, open kitchen on one side of the smart and chicly-designed dining room and comfy booths on the far wall. In between is well-spaced seating and, a rarity in Charlotte, a dining room where you can enjoy your table-mate’s conversation without shouting. Hat tip to Angeline’s designers whose soft architectural touches have extricated the dreaded diner din.
A specialty wood-fired pizza oven delivers a slightly charred crackling crisp Neapolitan-style pizza—perfect for a shared appetizer. The Polpette e Mash Potato—lamb and pork meatballs, creamy potato, tomato, and fresh mozzarella—is a hearty pie that stands out.
“I look to provide one unique ingredient, flavor profile, or technique to each plate,” says Hoffman speaking of his approach. Dishes here let quality ingredients, well prepared, take center stage as opposed to kitchen theatrics.
Case in point is the black mussel appetizer. Hoffman pairs N’duja, a zippy pork spreadable salami, with crusty peasant bread served alongside meaty mollusks in a spicy Arrabiatta sauce—a great starter to share.
A classic Ribbolita is elevated with a kiss of fruity extra virgin olive oil. This rustic Italian bean soup was flecked with kale and offered a warmly satisfying start to our meal.
The signature roasted Bronzino gets extra love from the wood fire, comes whole (deboned in the kitchen) with charred mixed cauliflower and a bright, roasted red pepper coulis. Salmon roe and black olive tapenade add a smoky saltiness that plays nicely off the sweet flesh of the fish.
Fresh pasta enthusiasts find much to love at Angeline’s, with the likes of spicy/cheesy Braised Oxtail Lumaconi and Pumpkin Agnolotti—pillowy squares with ricotta, spiced pepitas, collards, and mushrooms.
Carnivores are not left out as Angeline’s 21-day Dry-aged Ribeye and Pork Shank Oso Buco call to meat-lovers.
Leave room for at least one selection from Angeline’s dessert menu. Hoffman’s Zeppole—tiny Italian fried cakes—are super-light, crusty outside, fluffy inside donuts and paired with a silky sorghum-buttermilk ice cream to dream about.
Angeline’s curious tag line brags “Where Italy meats the South.” As they say below the Mason-Dixon Line, “We hope y’all stay a while.”