Facebook
Food & DrinkGuides & EventsThe Best in Charlotte - Best in the Nest

Food & Drink Critics’ Pick Winners: Best in the Nest 2022

The best of Charlotte's food and drink as chosen by Nerve critics

Get our latest articles in your inbox.

Join over 20,000 Charlotte residents who receive our daily updates



A composite image blending an historical archive photo of Bailey Cafeteria into the dining room of Para in Charlotte
An image of Bailey Cafeteria blended into the dining room of PARA (Bailey Cafeteria: Courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library; Design by Justin LaFrancois)

Pass that plate down the line.

Back to all categories

 

Support our work by becoming a member or making a one-time donation.

 

 


BEST NEW RESTAURANT: PARA

If you’ve tasted the crab Rangoon alone, then it goes without saying that PARA is Charlotte’s Best New Restaurant of 2022. And this despite its South End location, where most new places are about as vacuous as the Ashleighs who vacate them as soon as their attention spans have waned. PARA was an affront to that banality — a restaurant with an actual point of view, with a menu of dishes brimming with wit, and so much style you could shake a sakura martini at it.

Maybe it was a bit of being at the right place at the right time, swooping in post-COVID as it did to remind us all what it was like to have a good time. Maybe it was the story of the prodigal chef son extricating himself from the shadow of his accomplished father to make a name for himself in the “new” Charlotte food scene that won us all over.

But who really needs a narrative to explain why Alex Verica’s thoroughly original restaurant is just so damn good?

PARA’s crab Rangoon. (Photo by Peter Taylor)

BEST FOOD EVENT: BayHaven Food & Wine Festival

Subrina Collier and her husband, three-time James Beard Foundation nominee Chef Gregory Collier, got tired of not having a seat at the table, so they made one for themselves and other Black culinary artists and mixologists.

The couple hosted their second annual BayHaven Food and Wine Festival in the fall for the second year in a row, expanding it to five days instead of three like the previous year. The theme for this year’s event was centered around homecoming collegiate events, as the couple noted they’ve had an exceptional amount of support from nearby universities and colleges.

The festival was originally borne out of a desire to showcase the many ways in which Black people flourish culinarily. Noting that Black people can be shoehorned into one style of cooking, Subrina thought the festival would be a great way to display their talents.

A spoon drizzles a sauce overtop a dish of food
BayHaven Food and Wine Festival aims to highlight Black culinary artists, though the event is for everybody. (Photo by Clay Williams)

“When they think of Black people, sometimes we get boxed into soul food or traditional; macaroni a certain way, collard greens a certain way, chicken a certain way,” she told Queen City Nerve in the lead-up to this year’s event.

“You can have all these ingredients and the technique be done in different ways. These chefs do that.”


BEST WEEKLY FOOD EVENT: UCity Food Truck Friday

It’s hard to describe what sets the UCity Food Truck Friday, held outside Armored Cow Brewing Co. from 5-9 p.m. on Friday nights, from all the other countless food truck events that occur regularly around the city. All we know is that we’ve tried them all, and the vibes are just always right at this one. There are usually about a half-dozen food trucks, including at least one for dessert (and oftentimes one for dogs), along with a small vendor market set up in the middle.

If you want to see if we’re right, you’ve got to act quick; Food Truck Friday season is almost over. This year’s run kicked off in mid-March and ends on Dec. 16, so act fast if you’re willing to brave the chill.


BEST BREWERY: Protagonist Beer

Whether you’re looking for a smaller, intimate space or a large sprawling location, Protagonist has you covered. Their original location, a nano-brewery in NoDa that opened in 2019, is the opposite side of the spectrum from the South End spot, which opened in late 2020 and whose taproom is nearly nine times bigger than the entire space in NoDa.

But a range in feng shui isn’t what makes Protagonist the best brewery. In a record-setting year for Charlotte beer at the Great American Beer Festival — seven medals in all — the Protagonist team was the only one that took home two: a gold medal for its Bizarro in the American-Belgo-Style Ale category and a silver for its Franz in the Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest category. Cheers to that.

Protagonist
The Protagonist’s new location in lower South End. (Photo by Kelsey Kline)

MOST WELCOMING BREWERY: Resident Culture

Recently celebrating its five-year anniversary by turning its Central Avenue parking lot into a skate park, Resident Culture is a welcoming space in which weirdness is fully embraced.

Absurdity is common, and the company encourages authenticity without fear of judgment. With the opening of its South End location, the brewery has transcended all that brewery culture tends to offer.

The locally owned and crafted brewery has a genuine appreciation for assertive, hop-forward styles while striving to accentuate the character and quality of any given harvest.

Resident Culture Brewing Company
Karaoke night at Resident Culture (Photo by Remy Thurston)

BEST NEW BREWERY: Gilde

Opened in lower South End in late February, Charlotte’s Gilde is the first U.S. location for the German brewery, serving as the U.S. headquarters and the distribution center for the country. Gilde has a unique connection to Charlotte, as the city’s namesake Queen Charlotte was also the Electress of Hanover, where the company originated. Gilde hopes to honor her by bringing her hometown beer to the city named after her.

The large space allows 350 seats for people to enjoy their Pilsners and Hefeweizens across the bier haus as well as the outdoor bier garten and patio. The various beers can be enjoyed alongside Gilde’s Obazda & Brezel, a German cheese cream served with a warm pretzel. Other authentic foods Gilde offers include Weisswurst and Schnitzel.


BEST DISTILLERY: Seven Jars Distillery

The story behind Seven Jars Distillery in northwest Charlotte is one of organized crime, romance, nightclub gambling in Prohibition-era Charlotte, bootleg liquor and buried treasure. But above all, it’s a tale of relatively unknown Charlotte history.

The family-run Seven Jars is a nod to their former patriarch, notorious bootlegger Frank Ratcliffe, who brought illegal liquor into Charlotte in the 1920s and 1930s.

As the story goes, after Ratcliffe’s death, his family unearthed seven mason jars stuffed with recipes from old moonshiners he buried on the golf course they owned in University City.

Those recipes eventually became the base for Seven Jars Distillery’s signature products: an Ava Gardner bourbon whiskey, apple pie whiskey, straight bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, rum, vodka and pickleback vodka, which visitors can try in the distillery’s tasting room.

A man stands behind a bar looking at shelves packed with liquor bottles
Head distiller Scott McClure admires the inventory at Seven Jars Distillery in northwest Charlotte. (Photo by Karie Simmons)

BEST BAKERY: Lé Cakes

Throw out your Marie Callender’s and cancel your reservation at The Cheesecake Factory because Charlotte baker Anheleta Chatman is doing it better — bending the possibilities of flavor with her artisan New York-style cheesecake business, Lé Cakes.

Each cake is rooted in the same family recipe that was passed down to Chatman by her uncle years ago when she was a child. She’s since taken that recipe and manipulated it over a dozen times to make flavors such as Fruity Pebble, banana Biscoff, lemon Oreo, dulce de leche, carrot cake and cinnamon roll. She even takes customer requests for new flavors and offers keto- and diabetic-friendly versions.

But there’s no graham cracker crust here. Instead, Chatman uses a smorgasbord of crushed-up cookies and cereals including Fruity Pebbles, Nilla Wafers, Lotus Biscoff Cookies and Oreos (you can guess which one of the aforementioned flavors each crust goes to). Lé Cakes doesn’t have a physical location (yet) but offers local pickup and delivery in Charlotte.

strawberry cheesecake
Classic strawberry cheesecake is one of Charlotte-based Lé Cakes’ most popular flavors. (Photo by Anheleta Chatman)

BEST FOOD TRUCK: Mogogo Eatery

Mogogo Eatery founder Samrawit Berhane was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before moving to the United States at a young age. After graduating from UNC Asheville, she moved to New York City, where she fell in love with street food. That last part worked out to the benefit of all of us.

She managed restaurants in Washington D.C. then back in her home country of Ethiopia before circling back to North Carolina and becoming part of the food truck community.

According to Berhane’s website, mogogo is a griddle made from either a large black clay plate placed over a fire or a specialized electric flat surface stove and used to cook injera, one of the best items on Mogogo Eatery’s menu. We also recommend the Mogogo Tibs, cubes of beef sauteed in a garlic,onion, rosemary and herbal butter.


BEST SNACKS: Bar à Vins

Name a better combo than caviar, Lay’s potato chips and crème fraiche … we’ll wait. Now do we wanna pay $36 for the “Even Fancier Caviar?” No, but if you got to Bar à Vins to flex for a date who loves wine, you better get it.

The point is, the snacks at this wine bar are far better than just charcuterie board options — and that’s why you’re not reading this in the Nightlife section. Still, however, the moody ambiance will have you feeling cozy whether you’re going home alone or with said date. Plus, our “first sip” background song was Black Star’s “Respiration.”. Now that’s a wine vibe. Finally, a NoDa replacement that feels like it will be permanent.


BEST BREAKFAST: Deli St.

Located on the corner of Central Avenue sits the welcoming doors of Deli St.

Deli St.’s concept is to offer busy young professionals and neighborhood residents healthy meal options for those who are always on the go. Their edge to the neighborhood full of diverse restaurants, breweries and coffee shops, Deli St. highlights their house-made baked goods with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. The deli has a full coffee bar to fulfill your caffeine needs.

Their Briar Creek Toast with avocado, spinach, chickpea and vegan mayo on toast is a deli favorite and one of the highlights for their breakfast options, and there are also bagels, which shouldn’t be a big deal but are sorely lacking elsewhere in the city.


BEST BRUNCH: Flying Biscuit Café

As its name suggests, Flying Biscuit Café is famous for its grits and biscuits (they bake almost 5,000 biscuits per week at each location), but that’s not all they do. The restaurant is an institution, serving breakfast all day for almost 30 years and growing to 25 locations throughout Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Texas.

In Charlotte, we have two Flying Biscuit locations: Park Road Shopping Center in the Montford neighborhood; and in the Stonecrest Shopping Center on Rea Road in south Charlotte.

Despite the franchise’s growth, it has always kept that quintessential neighborhood spirit with a Southern-inspired menu of comfort food made with fresh ingredients (plus vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options). And for non-breakfast lovers they also serve lunch and dinner throughout the day.

Brunch highlights include chicken and waffles, “oh my grits” bowls, fried green tomato BLT, chorizo hash, and the peaches and cream waffle breakfast.


BEST LUNCH: Rhino Market

A neighborhood market and deli that fulfills the various needs of urban foragers, Rhino Market strives to give their customers the best service and provide a relaxing, fun environment for everyone. The market and deli support local brewers from Charlotte and throughout NC and provide imported specialty beers.

Along with tasty drinks, Rhino Market has freshly prepared foods, cheese, chocolates, sauces, soft drinks, kombucha, ice cream and a variety of freshly baked goods. It’s a great place to grab a quality meal on your way back to work from your break or if you’re in a rush.

With a killer iced vanilla late that our editor-in-chief gets on the daily, Rhino Market serves Pure Intentions’ Nitro Cold Brew on tap year round.


BEST LUNCH UNDER $10: Sub One

Ask anyone, “Where can I get lunch Uptown for $10.” Then wait. The person you’re asking is scrounging for options for the universal palate, but know they’re on the struggle bus if after a 30-second think they still can’t come up with anything. If you want the most bang for your buck and you work Uptown (or don’t mind a quick drive) on your lunch break, Sub One Hoagie has got you.

This Black-owned, no-frills, mom-and-pop Graham Street staple is a local favorite in Fourth Ward. The Jones family celebrated 30 years in business this year, and if three decades of skin in the game doesn’t tell you somethin’, with the final three years coming in a pandemic, we don’t know what else you would need to hear.

Repeat offenders recommend the #1 (the New Jersey Steak) with a lil’ steak sauce to act as the game changer.


BEST DINNER: Tomahawk Tuesdays at The Crunkleton

The Crunkleton is a private club located in east Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood. The bar, known for its high-end selection of spirits, is accompanied by a full kitchen centered on open hearth, live fire cooking for dinner nightly. The dinner menu is designed to complement the cocktails with appetizers, entrees and shared plates featuring everything from dry-aged meats and hearth-hung chickens to seasonal small plate offerings and a really good burger.

Every time Tomahawk Tuesday rolls around, Thee Crunkleton offers up half-price steaks, including a 42-ounce ribeye that’s usually $150. It serves two to four people and comes a la carte to be paired with any of their sides or appetizers.


BEST LATE-NIGHT MENU: The Degenerate

If you’ve been in Charlotte for a hot minute you may have experienced the collective sigh that happens anytime someone (especially an out-of-towner) asks, “Where’s a good place to eat late night in the city?”

“Define ‘good’” would be the genuine response, but usually someone opts for a bar or Domino’s hoping that there’s enough staff if they’re even still open. Luckily for you, The Degenerate, located on North Davidson Street in Villa Heights, has come through for all of us.

The menu currently features 19 shareable plates, six sandwiches, and three desserts. When asked if they really serve the full menu until an hour before close the answer was an unequivocal, “Yes.” The crowd-favorite are the pierogies with potato, cheddar cheese, bacon, shallots, sour cream and apple gastrique. But why wouldn’t you be an actual degenerate and order THE Degenerate Burger with beef, pulled pork and crispy prosciutto?! And what’s even better? None of this closed-on-Monday mess — they’re open seven days a week.

The Degenerate. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

BEST MENU ITEM: Vegan Charcuterie Board at The Goodyear House

The Goodyear House took the lessons of 2021 to heart and came back with a new resolve in 2022 to be, at the very least, its namesake: good. That drive to bounce back is possibly what inspired Chef Chris Coleman to do things to the traditional charcuterie board that removed the need for meat altogether.

“Cabbage cooked like country ham” let everyone else in on a secret that vegans have known for centuries: that vegetables are exciting in the right hands. And just as ham was replaced by cabbage, so too was cheese replaced by squash in a resplendent pimento spread.

Sadly for us all, Coleman’s charcuterie appeared for one night only during a special dinner showcasing the Piedmont Culinary Guild. Perhaps he’ll take this as a hint to bring the dish back and keep a good thing going into 2023.


BEST SIDE ITEM: Jimmy Pearls’ Joloff-Pickled Mussels

Jimmy Pearls Chefs Oscar Johnson and Daryl Cooper continue to keep the Charlotte food scene exciting. Tucked hidden amongst a table of noshes and nibbles at an outdoor picnic late last spring was an itty bitty jar of mussels pickled in fiery jollof spice. The significance of that first bite cannot be understated, for we hardly remember what our lives were like before.

Instead, what we do remember is biting down into bivalve, letting acid and heat spread out over our tongues, and wincing at how pristine and perfect the flavors were. Turns out that day, way out on a farm west of Charlotte, Oscar and Coop debuted what can only be described as lightning in a jar.


BEST BURGER: Good Wurst Company

The influencer-proof Wurst Burger at The Good Wurst Company in Plaza Midwood is the Best Burger in Charlotte. Perhaps because it’s just so basic. For one thing, that bun — the supermarket-brand stuff of wistful childhood memories. Lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and cheese; impossible for an Influencer to “OMG-you-guys” ruin them.

Let the ingredients speak for themselves is the approach taken at Good Wurst, where the only real choice to make is whether to have a single or a double. Bacon is a must, as is that playful secret sauce.

Good Wurst Company in Plaza Midwood.
Good Wurst Company is located at 3001 Central Ave. in Plaza Midwood. (Photo by Timothy DePeugh)

BEST SOUL FOOD: La’Wan’s Soul Food

Serving the Charlotte community since 2001, La’Wan’s Soul Food is a family-owned business with homestyle family recipes that use a modern twist. You are bound to see Kenny Adams waving from the kitchen, one of the Adams daughters waiting tables, or La’Wan Adams chatting with one of the countless customers she knows on a first-name basis.

The restaurant serves lunch and dinner and provides catering services to local businesses and residential communities on demand.

Known for their incredible mac and cheese, La’Wan’s offers mouth-watering fried or baked chicken, fried salt-and-pepper catfish, smoked pork chops, broiled seafood, country-fried steak and seasoned veggies with smoked turkey and collard greens. No one does soul food like La’Wan’s.

La 'Wan's Soul Food Country Fried Steak
Country Fried Steak from La ‘Wan’s Soul Food (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

BEST PIZZA: Salud Cerveceria

If you don’t want to try a pizza that will have you in a chokehold, then Salud Cerveceria might not be the pizza spot for you.

The Latin Lingo Elote Pizza has all of the elements that a well-rounded palate could love at once: the sweet corn, spicy jalapeño, sour lime, meaty chicken, silky crema, light spicy cream base, citrusy Tajín, crunchy red onion, and salt cotija cheese. Sure, there’s no tomato base, and that sends pizza purists running for the hills, but we promise … just try it! If you’re eating for two (meaning sharing, not spawn) then go ahead and get two of ‘em or you’ll regret it.


BEST ICE CREAM (OR SOMETHING LIKE IT): Cold Hearted Gelato

With all the staples seemingly shutting down and moving out of Plaza Midwood, Elinn Hesse arrived in August ready to get to work with her new gelato shop in the old Rita’s space in Midwood Corners.

The gourmet gelato shop locally sources its ingredients and rotates its flavors on a regular basis. Some notable niche options she’s offered have included horchata chai tea, apple cider ginger sorbet, and Old Bay hot honey. Scoops of frozen dessert are served in a bowl or house-made brown butter waffle cones.

Scoops of gelato in a waffle cone
Creme Fraiche Thyme and Blackbery gelato, created by Cold Hearted Gelato in Plaza Midwood. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Even with some longtime residents decrying the direction of the neighborhood, Hesse is confident that the future is bright for Plaza Midwood.

“Plaza is very community-based and I love that. If anything, it’s going to get stronger because a lot of small businesses want to open up here,” she told Queen City Nerve. “Even with big developments coming in, it still has a very community-based feel to it.”


BEST FOOD FOR A CAUSE: The Underground Truffle

Founders Blanca Lopez Luchaire and Ben Henderson of CocoaEthika and have partnered with Esa Weinreb of The Underground Truffle in the chocolate-making process because all three are dedicated to paying farmers a fair price for growing cacao, then helping them harvest it in an efficient and sustainable manner.

Located in Plaza Midwood, The Underground Truffle is known to be fresh, authentic and rooted in ethically sourced products. Founder Weinreb makes everything to order and has house-made chocolate bars, truffles and other desserts from cacao beans. Weinreb gives classes on the bean-to-bar process and hosts tastings and special events like a recent open house with local Vietnamese coffee company Robusta.

CocoaEthika and The Underground Truffle’s partnership and friendship has remained strong and true, and the homemade practices make for a product that is reliable but never the same.

“It’s our dream to support the farmers and make beautiful chocolate. Every time it’s the same ingredients, but every single time we make a bar it can taste different, and in different beautiful ways,” Henderson said.


BEST EXPANSION: Cuzzo’s Cuisine

Cuzzo’s Cuisine is located on Tuckaseegee Road in west Charlotte’s Enderly Park neighborhood. Known for producing some of the best southern cuisine around, they’ve got everything: wings, shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, pineapple bowls, and their “world famous” lobster mac and cheese.

In addition to their Tuckaseegee Road location, they have a food truck that can often be found at Charlotte Premium Outlets, and after their first attempt at a brick-and-mortar in University in February 2020 failed after 20 days, they were able to try again in December 2021. This one appears to have stuck the landing. More options on where you can pick up some of their fine strawberry banana pudding is never a bad thing.


BEST COFFEE SHOP: Killer Coffee

Residing in the back corner of the main floor of Resident Culture’s South End location, the full-service Killer Coffee shop exclusively serves San-Diego based Mostra Coffee, named Roast Magazine’s 2020 Micro Roaster of the Year, and features espresso, drip coffee, iced coffee, cold brew and lattes.

The coffee-bar also serves tea-based lattes, loose leaf tea, and other specialty drinks. Baked goods like breakfast tacos, sandwiches, and toast perfectly complement your cup of joe. See, the irony here is that it actually keeps you alive.


BEST RESTAURATEUR: Christa Csoka

The Artisan’s Palate is an art gallery restaurant with a femme-forward focus sitting elegantly at the southern end of East 36th Street. The hybrid art gallery and restaurant opened in July 2019.

Csoka has a rich history of different roles in the service industry: bartender, caterer, waitress, coffee shop manager, staging, professional chef … you name it … so she was ready for what came when a video of a baby handing cash to a drag queen at a brunch event at Artisan’s Palate went viral this year, leading to threats against the business and Csoka. She stood behind her staff and patrons proudly, as she should have.

Living in a lot of different areas, Csoka decided to settle in Charlotte in 2003. She spent time in NoDa and grew a love for the art community that the neighborhood was once known for. Her later idea for The Artisan’s Palate came from a desire to provide a comfortable space where guests can enjoy well-crafted food and cocktails while supporting a talented local art community.

The Artisan's Palate
Christa Csoka, founder and owner of The Artisan’s Palate. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

THE GREG COLLIER AWARD FOR BEST CHEF: Hector González-Mora

Chef Hector González-Mora is Charlotte’s best chef and also (or because) he’s the city’s most versatile. With El Toro Bruto at Resident Culture South End, he avoids the temptation to zhuzh up the taco, and instead, with confidence, lets the humble street food shine with almighty light.

At a collaboration dinner earlier this year at Leah & Louise, he turned quail and mole into the most refined example of what Mexican fine dining could look like.

Absolutely everything about him, up to and including his food, has that certain je ne sais quoi that practically guarantees he will be the Charlotte chef to follow in Greg Collier’s footsteps and take his place on the national food stage. You heard it here first.

Hector Gonzalez-More plates food at Resident Culture South End. (Photo by Timothy DePeugh)

BEST VEGAN CHEF: Velvet Kelty-Jacobs

Veltree is a Black-owned vegan restaurant owned and operated by chef Velvet Kelty-Jacobs and her wife, Treona, aka Tree. The couple decided to open VelTree in 2018 after being unsuccessful in finding a good vegan restaurant during a previous trip to Charlotte. They made the name a portmanteau of their own names.

In December 2021, Velvet and Tree moved from their original takeout spot in University to a bigger space in Ballantyne that allows for dine-in service. They’re not done yet; next year Velvet plans to launch a food and music festival called Soulchella in 2023.

“Soulchella is going to be a celebration of everything we love: good vegan food, family fun, and great music,” she told Queen City Nerve. “With that in mind, it was a no-brainer to do an event like Charlotte has never seen in the vegan community. We will be bringing in the best of the best to throw down at Soulchella.”

With everything she’s got on the table, Velvet is careful to enjoy the now and not get ahead of herself.

“We have many things planned but we’re taking it one day at a time. The pandemic really did a number to our industry along with the great resignation. We’re just blessed to still be here!”


BEST PASTRY CHEF: Mary Jayne Wilson

Mary Jayne Wilson was part of the first class at Johnson & Wales’ newly opened Charlotte campus in 2004. After graduating, she went on to work in various Charlotte-area restaurants, including Rí Rá Irish Pub, Zebra, and MEZ. After helping Amelie’s open five new locations, she struck out on her own, opening Thoughtful Baking Co. in 2021 and serving her popular pot pies.

“Chicken pot pies were something that I always made for people; if somebody’s sick or had a new baby, bought a new house, I would always bring them as gifts for people,” she told Queen City Nerve. “And it was like the middle of the pandemic, so I was like, chicken pot pies are the ultimate comfort food.”

Mary Jane Wilson makes pies
Mary Jane Wilson (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Wilson has also collaborated with fellow pastry chefs to make amazing desserts, including a Peace Oatmeal Cream Pie with her neighbors at The Batch Maker and, in August, a full back-to-school dessert box with Jasmine Macon, formerly of Leah & Louise, that included their twists on childhood flavor favorites like the chocolate peanut butter pretzel pie, strawberry Pop Tart, raspberry sprinkle donut and PB&J donut.


BEST MIXOLOGIST: Kayleigh Williams-Brown

Originally from Tacoma, Washington, Williams-Brown got her start in hospitality in 2014 and worked the line, prep and grill, then moved up to kitchen manager and eventually general manager — all before the age of 21. She has been a Charlotte local for the last 15 years, and worked behind the bar at the Royal Tot and El Thrifty Social before joining Leah & Louise as bar manager in early November.

Kayleigh Williams-Brown (Photo by Peter Taylor)

She’ll have big shoes to fill in replacing Justin Hazelton, but L&L co-owner Gregory Collier has confidence she’ll do well.

“Kayleigh was brought on by Justin Hazelton to help out on the bar, and her talent and passion made it clear to us that she needed the space to showcase more of that ability,” he stated upon her hiring.

Williams-Brown is a fan of agave spirits and rum, and her favorite cocktails are gimlets or daiquiris.


BEST POP-UP: Mattie’s Front Porch by Lisa Brooks

Leaving corporate America is a dream shared by many. Chef Lisa Brooks of Charlotte not only saw her vision come to life but reached heights even she probably couldn’t have imagined when she initially made the decision to pursue cooking full-time.

Brooks would go on to launch Heart and Soul Personal Chef Service after enrolling in a culinary arts program, and now leads a team of seven Black women chefs. In February, she starred in an episode of Food Network’s Chopped competition show featuring an all-Black cast.

In June, she launched Mattie’s Front Porch, an intimate monthly multi-course dinner series showcasing Lowcountry and Southern coastal cuisine.

Mattie’s Front Porch was created in honor of the leading women in Brooks’ family, specifically her grandmother Mattie. Each dining experience is carefully curated to share parts of Chef Lisa’s life through new and inventive cuisines in an intimate setting with a maximum of only 24 guests at each dinner.

“I create a menu you wouldn’t receive at our normal dinner parties,” she told Queen City Nerve. “It’s great because it’s not a family or a group that knows each other. These are strangers that come in and have a meal together at my table. It’s like an open chef’s table experience.”


BEST FARM: Nebedaye Farms

From a parking lot in west Charlotte’s Savona Mill to an 11-acre farm in Indian Trail, Bernard Singleton has come a long way in just three years. He credits the spiritual power of his ancestors, and one in particular — his late son, Caesar Singleton, who passed away tragically in 2010 at just 15 years old.

“All of the ancestors are powerful, but he is the most powerful,” Singleton told Queen City Nerve. He was preparing for a Sept. 18 Eh’vivi Ghanian Cuisine dinner at the location, in which Chef Awo with Awo’s Catering would cook dishes using ingredients grown at Singleton’s Nebedaye Farms.

Singleton regularly hosts dinners like this one as he reaches harvesting season; they are how he carries out his mission to educate Americans on the roots of African food and the ancestral culinary arts that were brought here by enslaved Africans hundreds of years ago.

Bernard Singleton stands in a shoulder-high sea of Carolina gold rice at Nebedaye Farms
Bernard Singleton stands in a sea of Carolina gold rice at Nebedaye Farms. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Having originally launched Nebedaye Farms on land owned by the Carolina Farm Trust in Indian Trail with the intention of exclusively growing moringa, Singleton has expanded in recent years, adding more than 30 plants that are native to Africa but are able to grow in our climate.

Those include Carolina gold rice and indigo, two of the largest cash crops grown by enslaved people in Singleton’s hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

“We host dinners around these crops to introduce it to a lot of people who are not familiar with it and not aware that it actually can grow here,” Singleton said. “We are practicing a lot of the arts of our ancestors and paying homage to them in their sacrifice when they went through here. That’s why the rice is important and the indigo is important.

“A lot of those skills were lost or not kept up, but what we’re doing is bringing those skills back to honor the ancestors,” he continued. “And it’s great for economic empowerment for the community because you’re working on a lot of rare niche crops. So things have been going very well.”


BEST TAKEOUT: China Bowl

We came all too close to having to place China Bowl in the Obits section of this paper. On April 6, a car went careening through the wall at the tiny orange takeout spot on The Plaza. Fortunately, no one was harmed but the business was closed for a month or two. They’re back, baby, and so are their wonderfully greasy combo meals — those rare dinners for two that come in under $20. You just don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s almost gone.


BEST PIVOT: Cheat’s Cheesesteak Parlor

After a series of wildly popular pop-ups during the height of the pandemic, Cheat’s Cheesesteak Parlor finally put down roots in July with the opening of a brick-and-mortar restaurant on Pecan Avenue — next to Villani’s Bakery and Rico’s Acai.

Ryan Hart, Greg Balch and Hannah Smith created the concept for Cheat’s while working together at The Crunkleton in Elizabeth during the pandemic.

Cheez Whiz is drizzled on top of a piping hot cheesesteak
Cheat’s Whiz-Wit cheesesteak is made with certified Black Angus top round steak, grilled onions and Cheez Whiz. (Photo by Steven Key)

The trio’s pop-up series, which they agreed to do only on their days off, was meant to drive a little interest in the business and cultivate a taste for Cheez Whiz while they worked on a permanent location. They quickly saw more than a little interest and brought on additional industry professionals to help handle the demand.

Now Cheat’s is churning at full speed in the new spot and has even updated the menu following customer feedback. In addition to classic, chicken and vegan cheesesteaks, Cheat’s also offers breakfast sandwiches, Italian hoagies, fries and floats.


BEST PLACE NOBODY TALKS ABOUT: Forchetta

Formerly Caffe Siena, Forchetta is a storefront connected to The Holiday Inn Charlotte Center City that opened in June 2019. The restaurant’s sleek lines and stone accents create an elegant atmosphere that accompany Chef Luca Annunziata’s award-winning menu.

With over 20 years of experience in the hospitality and food service industry, and a victory in Food Network’s popular show Chopped, Annunziata’s passion for Italian cuisine led him to travel across the world in pursuit of deep love for the art of cooking, and many of his dishes come straight from the streets of Naples.

Forchetta offers light options such as soup and salad to complement shared appetizers and flavorsome entrees. Pair your Squid Ink Pappardelle Pasta with an elegant wine, curated cocktail or gourmet coffee.


BEST COOKBOOK: ‘Tutu’s Table: Memorable Meals and Fun Celebrations with Family and Friends’ by Jill Aker-Ray

Personal chef, local TV personality and now author Jill Aker-Ray shares how recipes can mean more than just food in her debut cookbook memoir, Tutu’s Table, released on April 1. Written as a tribute to her mother, who is the namesake of the book and created all the recipes in it, Aker-Ray connects each meal with a story tying it back to Tutu.

By sharing her own experiences with cooking, Aker-Ray shows how relationships can be fostered through food–whether through its preparation or its consumption. Aker-Ray wants her recipes to “invoke memories and connection to people’s own family recipes and special times together.”


MOST EXCITING DEVELOPMENT: Carolina Farm Trust’s Local Foods Production and Distribution Center

On Feb. 14, Charlotte City Council voted to allocate $1.5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to the Local Foods Production and Distribution Center (LFPDC). The location is the site of an old food production and distribution facility on South Hoskins Road, with 25,000 square feet of existing building space and 60,000 square feet of open space around it.

Upon completion, the facility will include an event space, a butchery, a grocery store, a teaching kitchen and more. CFT will buy and sell local food out of the space, including produce, livestock and dairy, while also providing patio space to gather and eat onsite.

Zack Wyatt and the CFT team plan to make the facility an oasis in west Charlotte’s food desert, and though the organization’s reach spans throughout the Carolinas, they want to keep this effort as close to home as possible.


Become a Nerve Member: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.



Get our latest articles in your inbox.



Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *