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Food Highlights From Charlotte Black Restaurant Week

Highlights from the Queen City Nerve staff's adventure to support Black-owned restaurants

Each year, Black Business Owners of Charlotte hosts the week-long Charlotte Black Restaurant Week to help boost local Black-owned restaurants in Charlotte. This year, we sent the staff and some contributors out to participating businesses to share their thoughts on some of the best dishes from CBRW that you should try.

Due to constraints on time and manpower, we did not make it to all of the restaurants participating in Charlotte Black Restaurant Week, but we do suggest you also check out those who aren’t on our list: Renaldo’s Culinary Experience, The Nappy Chef, Ruthie’s, Koffee Kup University, Lake Lounge, Sweet Creations of Charlotte, Candy’s Sweets N’ Treats and Hip Hop Smoothies.

We enlisted the help of Dion Beary, Allison Frazier, Brianna Monroe, Caitlin Mroz, Ryan Pitkin and Justin LaFrancois.

*This content is NSFW as it contains massive amounts of food porn.


LuLu’s Maryland Style Chicken & Seafood

2400 Tuckaseegee Road, 980-498-0838

LuLu's Maryland-Style Chicken for Charlotte Black Restaurant Week
Spiced Chicken Platter with yams and mac and cheese from LuLu’s Maryland Style Chicken & Seafood (Photo by Justin LaFrancois)

Justin LaFrancois is the loud-mouth publisher of this newspaper.

I had never been to LuLu’s Maryland Style Chicken & Seafood before my recent visit. Honestly I had never even heard of it. It was Monday during Charlotte Black Restaurant Week and I was looking through all the listed options on their website. The only one open at 9 p.m. on a Monday was LuLu’s, so I hopped in the car after a quick smoke and made my way toward satisfaction.

I’ve got a shellfish allergy and the menu is small, so my choices were limited but hopeful. I ordered the spiced chicken platter with yams and mac and cheese. I tried to get some banana pudding, to no avail since they only offer it on certain days. Pound cake it was. I spent just over $17 for this food ensemble.

I gave the woman at the counter my name and a description of my car and headed back out to the parking lot. On the way back to my car I overheard a disclaimer the food runner was giving out — a fair warning of how indulging in this food before you get home could cause you to fall asleep at the wheel. LuLu’s Maryland Style Chicken & Seafood plans to make some residents’ drives shorter by opening a second location in Plaza Midwood.

I waited my turn, received the disclaimer, then headed home. When I finally sat down and opened the box, my mouth began to water from the smell alone. I snapped some pictures and took a bite. Delicious.

The chicken is placed over rice and covered in a savory sauce with just a hint of spice — possible blackening seasoning. I’m not too sure, but it’s delectable either way. I was told the yams would be firm like baked sweet potatoes, not mushy, and that I should mix them in with the crispy-crusted, gooey-centered mac and cheese. I did it. I loved it. I finished the whole thing in under five minutes.

I appreciate the disclaimer because I food coma-ed so hard that I don’t remember eating the pound cake and I was late to work the next morning.


STATS Charlotte

3425 David Cox Road, 980-474-1325

STATS Charlotte fish and grits CBRW
Fish and grits from STATS Charlotte (Photo by Dion Beary)

Dion Beary is a local hot-take food critic who runs the Inside 485 blog, featuring high-quality coverage of Charlotte food and culture.

STATS is not a sit-down restaurant. It’s not a mid-century modern gastropub with sensible tapas and vintage furniture. STATS is a down-to-earth neighborhood hybrid of a sports bar and nightclub. It reminds me of the kinds of places I had my first drinks in my hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina. 

During my Charlotte Black Restaurant Week visit, I ordered the fish and grits and was shocked at the substantial portion. These South End restaurateurs got me so used to small plates, I was intimidated by the thicccc slab of cod in front of me. But good food rises above all, and whoever is in that kitchen can sling. The fish had a healthy mix of seasoning. The grits were buttery and creamy, and for an extra bit of fun, were topped with mac and cheese.

It made me realize that so much of what I look for in food is this: familiar, flavorful, and thoughtful. I’m running all around gentrified neighborhoods looking for it while it’s been sitting in Black-owned restaurants the whole time.


Mr. Seafood

5430 N. Tryon St., 980-939-1820

Mr. Seafood Queen's Special local Charlotte restaurant
Queen’s Special with peel-and-eat shrimp from Mr. Seafood (Photo by Caitlin Mroz)

Caitlin Mroz is a newcomer to Charlotte and the author of a guide we published about how to get involved in the community as a transplant.

Mr. Seafood is a takeout spot in the Eastway neighborhood of Charlotte. The spot built their name serving up plates of boiled seafood in their signature garlic sauce and baskets of fried seafood. Two bites into my Queen City Special — a generous plate of snow crab legs, jumbo shrimp, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and a hard-boiled egg to boot, all doused in a buttery garlic sauce — I only had one thing to say: “Hell yeah.” The moment I looked down at the golden saucy glory that was my meal, appetizing even in a takeout container, I knew I was in for something delicious. 

I should not have been surprised about how well Mr. Seafood knows his seafood, but I’ve been burned too many times before by creepy little shrimp and forgetful fish. This dish was fresh, full of flavor, and fun to eat. I have paid much more for much less in both quantity and satisfaction, which this go-round cost me around $28.

This is finger food, nay… finger-licking food, truly got better the more of a mess I was making. I abandoned a fork altogether, grabbing bites of potato in between cracking shells and dunking pieces of sweet crab meat in the garlic sauce. You would be well advised to keep a large stack of napkins nearby. I went with the regular garlic sauce this time but look forward to trying their spicy option next time. Is there already a Mr. or Mrs. Seafood? Inquiring stomachs may want to know.


Cuzzo’s Cuisine

3418 Tuckaseegee Road, 980-298-6811

Cuzzos Cuisine Lobster Mac Black-owned restaurant
(6) shrimp, (4) wings & half lobster mac & cheese combo platter from Cuzzo’s Cuisine (Photo by Brianna Monroe)

Brianna Monroe is a contributor to Queen City Nerve, and recent graduate of NC A&T  with a B.S. in journalism and mass communication who has written about the Black is Beautiful national campaign and a storytelling initiative by Black philanthropists.

Cuzzo’s Cuisine is currently offering pick-up and Grubhub delivery. When I arrived there was a long line of people waiting outside for their orders. This is a picturesque testament to their food. The combination plate of chicken wings, fried shrimp and famous lobster mac and cheese was well worth the $18.50.

I was slightly disappointed that the lobster mac and cheese did not look like traditional baked mac and cheese however, the taste did not disappoint. The lobster mac and cheese was very cheesy and packed with lobster. It was the star of the meal.

The plate came with four juicy chicken wings and were paired with a side of ranch that really hit the spot. The shrimp was well seasoned and, although it was fried, the breading was very light. The overall meal was filling and worth the hype. I would definitely recommend this spot to anyone looking for a heavy bite and be sure to check out brunch offerings at Cuzzo’s Cuisine as well.


La’Wan’s Soul Food

7520 S. Tryon St., Ste. 19, 704-665-7225

La 'Wan's Soul Food Country Fried Steak for Charlotte Black Restaurant Week
Country Fried Steak from La ‘Wan’s Soul Food (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Ryan Pitkin is the editor-in-chief of Queen City Nerve and apparently confused about food.

Tucked away in the corner of The Markets at Cedar Ridge on South Tryon Street near the intersection of West Arrowood Road, La’Wan’s Soul Food has been serving Charlotte residents home-style cooking since 2001. In those two decades, La’Wan and Kenny Adams have been serving more than just Queen City residents, with pics of famous customers ranging from Juvenile to Will Ferrell to Kelly Rowland. Not to mention it’s a favorite for pro athletes who call Charlotte home. 

My first trip to this Black-owned restaurant brought up about my own culinary history lesson, as I learned that one of my favorite all-time dishes is not what I always thought it was. I’m talking about country fried steak, which I always took to be interchangeable with chicken fried steak. Apparently not. What I’ve always taken to be country fried steak — with crispy skin around a cube steak under white gravy — is apparently chicken fried steak, which makes sense because it’s fried like… chicken. What La’Wan’s serves is real deal country fried steak: lightly battered cube steak soaked in brown gravy before it’s cooked, making for a much different experience, and a damn good one.

The process makes for the perfect mix of crunch and tenderness. The savory brown gravy permeated the steak perfectly, and wasn’t so heavy as to cause a food coma — at least not instantly. As for sides, it’s important to note that the country fried steak also comes over a bed of rice. There’s no need to order the rice and gravy as one of your two sides like I tried to do before being helpfully informed. The rice makes for a great addition to the dish, as it’s the perfect vessel for soaking up any gravy that remains.

As for my two choices, I went with mac and cheese because, of course, and found a tasty blend of cheeses baked in for the perfect consistency. My second side was cabbage, mainly because I had never ordered cabbage at a soul food spot before and wanted to see if it was prepared any differently from the dish my Yankee Irish mother has been preparing for me my whole life. I know some Southern-style cabbage includes bacon and other bits, but La’Wan’s serves it steamed and straight, just like home. It’s good, but it’s cabbage, so there’s not much to write about there. If you like cabbage, you like cabbage. The roll was a tiny bit tough for my taste, but the remaining gravy took care of that. All in all, a trip to remember, not just for the country fried education, but the impressive flavors as well.

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Freshwaters

516 N Graham St., 704-503-9629

Freshwaters Fried Catfish with crab cake for Charlotte Black Restaurant Week
Fried Catfish with two sides and a crab cake from Freshwaters (Photo by Ally Frazier)

Allison Frazier is the communications director at Sodoma Law. She is also a friend and contributor to Queen City Nerve.

If you’re not looking for Freshwaters, you might miss it. Nestled off North Graham Street in Fourth Ward, it’s unassuming. But don’t let that fool you.  Founded in the ’80’s in New Jersey, five years ago the owners of Freshwater brought their brand of Southern and New Orleans cuisine to Charlotte. Due to COVID-19 they’re primarily serving their community via takeout. From the moment you walk through the door you can’t help but notice how at home you feel, even if you can’t stick around to eat.

I’m going to make a couple of bold statements here: First, this is the best crab cake I’ve had in Charlotte – and I consider myself a Carolina crab cake connoisseur. I hadn’t even ordered one originally, but I spotted it on the menu while waiting on my entrée during Charlotte Black Restaurant Week. When I asked about them, I was told, “They’re all crab, none of the fluff.” I couldn’t resist putting it to the test, so I added a fried crab cake to my lunch order (they offer them grilled, as well).

Again, I don’t mean to get ahead of myself, especially since I ordered the crab cake as an extra, but I feel the need to highlight how good this crab cake is. It was the perfect amount of crunchy on the outside, and filled to the brim with crab on the inside. No breadcrumbs here. The inside was all crab, a couple peppers, and the special sauce they use to keep the crab together. The whole cake is fried in some heavenly, fatty substance. You’ll have to refer to the photos, because even as a lifelong writer I am unable to properly articulate the delectable delight that are these crab cakes.

crab cake from Freshwaters Charlotte
The “all crab, none of the fluff” of the crab cakes at Freshwaters. (Photo by Ally Frazier)

Freshwaters offers both a lunch and a dinner menu that I consider both relatively affordable and especially delicious. I ordered the fried catfish, which came with two sides. Generally speaking, the lunch menu features options consisting of a meat and two sides for around $10. Their dinner menu comes with increased prices, but twice the amount of food, so it’s well worth it. The fried catfish had the breading that most Southern restaurants in Charlotte wish their chicken had, with sides that tasted like they were straight from grandma’s kitchen. I went with the potato salad, mac and cheese, and cabbage. While the cabbage was my least favorite, it was delicious and I am biased solely because I love carbs. I’m not sure why the food pyramid requires vegetables (besides to keep us alive) but if I have to eat them, they may as well be from Freshwater.

Not only was the food delicious, it is local and affordable. I’m one of those assholes that puts lemon on basically anything fish-related, and I requested lemon when I ordered lunch. They looked at me confused but obliged. It wasn’t until I sat down to eat that I realized why they gave me that look — to have added lemon (or anything else) would have been a crime. Also, if you know where else you can get catfish that’s as crunchy, seasoned, and flavorful as this, please let me know.

Overall, this is easily the best seafood I’ve had in Charlotte and that’s a hill I’m ready to die on. The sides were phenomenal, but you can find good sides easier than good seafood. Additionally, the price and proportions are unrivaled. Lastly, they told me they will be starting up live jazz nights in 2021, once these pesky COVID precautions get straightened out, so that just gives us one more reason to leave 2020 behind and not look back.


The Gathering Grounds

4456 The Plaza Road, 980-225-7751

The Gathering Grounds donuts and cake
Walnut doughnut, pumpkin doughnut and vanilla cake from The Gathering Grounds for Charlotte Black Restaurant Week (Photo by Justin LaFrancois)

Charlotte Black Restaurant Week has cleaned out The Gathering Grounds. Not really, but when I visited on Friday, their ongoing CBRW special — two specialty cake slices and a drink for $6 — was slim pickin’s due to its popularity over the last 10 days. That being said, they were expecting a delivery of the Strawberry Crunch cake I came for to arrive on Friday afternoon. It should be in by now if you’re looking for a last-minute run at the special, which expires at 6 p.m. on Saturday. I called an audible and got a couple of small doughnuts — the pumpkin and the walnut, for seasonal effect — that run just $1.50 each. These aren’t doughnuts like you find at other popular shops around Charlotte. They’re less sweet, with subtle flavors that don’t overwhelm the palette and won’t send you into a sugar buzz-and-crash cycle.

I also did grab a slice of vanilla cake just to make sure I at least got a taste of the cakes I had heard so much about, and was blown away. I dig the refrigerated vibe, and for the fact that it was just vanilla, the amount of flavor was something I didn’t expect. The most important part of any cake is the moisture, and this slice was everything in that department. This is luckily near my house, so I’ll be back for more slices in the very near future. -Ryan


BW Sweets Bakery

5821 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., 704-464-0767

BW Sweets Bakery red velvet cheesecake and lemon cucake
Red velvet cheesecake and a lemon cupcake from BW Sweets Bakery for Charlotte Black Restaurant Week (Photo by Justin LaFrancois)

I damn near had a panic attack when I rounded the corner at East Town Market early in October and found the longtime home of BW Sweets Bakery completely empty. In the age of COVID-19, it’s all too normal to hear of old favorites having to shut down. Not to worry, however. BW just shuffled over to the other side of Parkway House; it now sits between that restaurant and Freddy’s Pizza, facing East W.T. Harris Boulevard. 

That being said, once you do get your bearings and find your way inside, BW still has that same amazing selection of cupcakes, brownies and a bevy of other baked goods that will have you standing at the display case for a good hour if you’re not careful. I recently picked out a lemon cupcake, which featured not only a lemon topping mixed in with the vanilla frosting, but a lemon filling hidden inside the vanilla cake. I’ve yet to have a bad cupcake at BW, and this didn’t break that streak. 

I also picked up a red velvet cheesecake brownie, which is a mouthful, figuratively and literally. It’s called a brownie, but it has the consistency of cheesecake, and the thickness of cake. This thing was a beast, and while it might not be what you’re looking for if a traditional brownie is what you crave, for cheesecake lovers like myself, it’s right on point. – Ryan


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