A line began to form right as I sat down to begin writing at Resident Culture South End on a recent Saturday morning.
That’s not news in itself, but this was unlike any line that had formed in South End in recent memory.
First and foremost, there were no dogs. Pups, perhaps, but not the naturally four-legged kind. There were also bears in ball caps and otters fresh from their barbers, as well as every twink in town who dared to expose his midriff (which is all of them — you go, boys!).
Joining them in the queue, their enthusiasm far more unchecked (the twinks, it seems, are at that age when they can let it all hang out, while still keeping it all in): their hangers-on. This is where I confess to you, readers, that for better or for worse, after two years in Charlotte, I have come to refer to this group collectively as “Ashleighs.” They are generally blonde and own more than one pair of Uggs. On days like this specific Saturday, they love to say things like, “Yassss,” “Fabulous,” or, “You go, gurrrrl.” They love Jesus, who is the one gay male friend they all have in common.
And then a drag queen saunters in.
She would strut if not for the crowd blocking her arrival. (Really, the bears should know better.) She is fierce (“Yassss! You go, gurrrrl!”), and she uses her paper hand fan like a weapon, shaking it open and closed at the Ashleighs so that the noise alone makes them disperse, allowing her an entrance worthy of her elegance. In a black and silver sequined party dress, she looks like Cecily Strong by way of Penelope Cruz, but with perkier fake breasts.
And then another one. I think this one’s in charge. She’s large and wearing a Lucille Ball wig, and her garish aquamarine frock makes her look as though she’s Ursula dressing up as the Little Mermaid for strip-show night at a seedy dive bar. Notice how she barks orders into her microphone as though it’s all testimony of a hard-knock life — or as though the glitter coursing through her veins cuts and burns. This, my dear Ashleighs, is what “fabulous” is.
Finally, the hostesses notice me lurking in the back. I’ve now been to Resident Culture South End so many times that I’ve lost count, and yes, I have a favorite place to sit — off to the side, in the back, in a brown leather booth. Sun pouring in from the overhead skylight right as my Adderall kicks in means I am also wearing sunglasses. It does look like I am lurking.
The hostesses — one wrapped in an electric chartreuse robe and the other in iridescent purple pleather, both with cheekbones only a makeup artist with divine inspiration could sketch — motion for me to come out from hiding and join the fun. Right as I move to gather my things, though, Shania Twain begins playing on the speakers: “Man, I feel like a woman.” The crowd loses its shit. (The Ashleighs, in particular, came specifically for this moment.) I appreciate, alone in the back, that I am fine right where I am.
I didn’t need yet another reason, it turns out, to call Resident Culture South End my favorite place in Charlotte.
A place for everyone
Back when I decided that I would eventually come to write about this place — on my second visit, when I realized the pink triple-breasted monkey goddess painted on the wall of the main dining area wasn’t going to fight me for my tacos — I knew that vignettes like a drag brunch during Charlotte’s Pride Weekend would be essential to the narrative.
Owners Amanda McLamb and Phillip and Chris Tropeano wanted to create a community space, so any sort of review I could envision writing would hinge on the community that would eventually show up.
It was soccer fans one night.
My friend and I, more than a few cocktails in, thought we might be hallucinating. Charlotte FC fans of all ages, but not a single number or name on the backs of any of their jerseys. “How come?” my drunk friend asked the young boy sitting behind us with his family.
That his dad didn’t flinch and his mom encouraged him to answer my friend speaks to just how quickly Resident Culture South End has become a community safe space, where inclusion and quirks are accepted by default. This precocious soccer stan had his speech already prepared – “sports fan protocols for when the team is brand new” – and he told us to wait until next year.
On another visit, it was Influencers.
As a group that in general cares less about details than it does adding to their selfie collections, the Influencers that day (unlike most, granted, in that I called this lot friends) were transfixed by the vibe. When was the last time you saw an Influencer put their phone down long enough to say, “Wow”? Perhaps it was because of Bronson Summers-Torres, the facilities manager (or until I actually learned his title, “Resident Fine-Ass Man Toy”), who came with his tan and toothy grin to charm the pants off of us with tales of California summers and brewery mission statements.
Or perhaps it was just the space itself: a former garage ingeniously transformed into an all-purpose space that could be called “industrial-chic” if it weren’t also so thoroughly unironic. Those exposed pipes and rafters are eclectic badges of honor, and the work-with-what-you-have vibe in the rest of the interior design choices — the murals, the banquettes that appear to be sprouting straight from the ground, that kitchen — allow for those rare moments when even Influencers can express awe.
That Influencers (this lot, my crew, of pharmacists, tricep models, and a retired school administrator to boot), a drunk single woman with no social inhibitions, a young soccer fan, and an acerbic old food critic who in recent months has fallen hard in love with Lexapro, could all share the same space and all have their own versions of a wonderful time says something.
It says that, on this little plot of South End on West Bland Street between South Church and South Mint streets, the community, at last, has a home.
A different type of brew
How wonderful, then, that at Resident Culture South End, as with the grandest of drag queens, the carpet matches the drapes.
What I mean by that is, top on the list of the countless smart choices McLamb and the Tropeanos have made while infusing every corner of this space with the endless ideas on how to live a good life is their collective decision to add Charlie Sullivan and Hector González-Mora to the payroll — both of whom offer everyone something to dive into face first.
Charlie Sullivan — whom the Charlotte food cognoscenti know by his online sobriquet, SpicyWhiteBoyCLT — runs Killer Coffee here, Resident Culture’s resident coffee shop. Those in town who have been lucky enough to have partaken in his Thai food pop-ups are already familiar with the results that come from his singular focus boring holes deep into traditions that predate us all by millennia.
That he knows even more about coffee has, on more than one occasion, frightened me.
This man, for example, can get coffee to taste like Captain Crunch. Something about brew methods. He’ll brew a coffee over and over again until he finds precisely the correct way to unleash tasting notes that were heretofore known only by the best marketing geniuses. “Cereal,” embossed on the label in pretty font, may be the reason you buy the coffee, but Charlie will make sure it’s the reason you keep drinking it.
Or how he knows these beans so well that, should you want to have him grind you a bag to take home with you, he’ll know exactly the right way to grind them, regardless of your preferred brewing method. A coarse grind for an AeroPress? Surely he jests. Genius begets anarchy, it seems, but how else to respond to those beans?
Those special beans. They are exclusively from Mostra Coffee, a first generation Filipino-American-owned roaster in San Diego, California. These folks source their beans from the Philippines, give them the star treatment they so rightfully deserve, then give back to the local farmers who grew them. It’s coffee with a mission, these beans, and you will never have coffee quite the way Charlie makes it, using them. If I didn’t know any better, I might think that those special beans whisper gentle secrets into his ears.
The wonderful wizard of Resident Culture South End
And if we are telling secrets, then there’s one I’ve withheld from you all this time. I have saved the dimples for last. I had to protect them from the Ashleighs.
It’s not just the dimples, mind you. It’s that everything about Chef Hector González-Mora, up to and including his food, has that certain je ne sais quoi that practically guarantees he will be the next Charlotte chef to take his place on the national food stage.
Am I biased? You betcha. I’ve been viscerally reacting to Chef Hector’s food since I arrived in Charlotte, so much so that I’ve come to lose all sense of purpose and decorum with my vocabulary. My notes, as I outlined this narrative, said simply, “Hector’s food — rave rave rave rave.”
If you’ve had one of his tacos, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
He’s the man who made livermush sexy during his pandemic-conquering El Toro Bruto taco pop-ups. At Resident Culture South End, El Toro Bruto — formerly Chilito Tacos — has found a permanent home, and while the livermush is gone, the tacos have in no way become complacent.
Tacos are available all day (there’s a particularly ravishing lengua version on the menu at night), but for a true RC experience (that’s “Resident Culture” for Instagrammers in the know), go in the morning for a breakfast taco. Charlie will even recommend the right coffee to go with it.
Have bacon and potatoes ever come together with such conviction? Have steak and eggs ever been mightier than they are here? When I call the tacos “floppy little warriors ensconced tightly in aluminum foil,” I mean that in the best possible way. They will fend off evil forces (and the worst of hangovers), and that’s with or without Chef Hector’s special chili sauces that are all the colors of the rainbow.
Most importantly, Chef Hector has created what should become Charlotte’s signature breakfast sandwich. His chorizo kolette is so particular, in fact, and so well-conceived, and so well-edited that it stands as a definitive response to NYC’s bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel. It’s a fierce beast of a breakfast: a hearty, spicy sausage patty with cheese and scrambled eggs, stuffed inside a brioche bun. It’s a sandwich that’s also a statement: “Touché, New York, but Chef Hector is all ours.”
And lest the Ashleighs feel left out, for we all know how they handle spice.
Chef Hector also offers an avocado toast with poached egg served atop toasted Verdant bread. It’s become a truth universally acknowledged in this town that any avocado toast worth its weight in millennial mortgage payments is served on bread from Verdant Bakery, and this one — as aesthetically pleasing as it is a joy to eat, with textures at once crisp and velvety and flavor notes that sparkle with citrus — will get the Ashleighs their dream home in Dilworth.
Such a sweet gesture, right? Chef Hector, taking the owners’ lead to make everyone feel at home, is a man whose own mission doesn’t lead him astray from the grander one at RC.
It kind of makes you want to eat’m up. Which I have, of course. Four or five times now.
The avocado toast, I mean. What were you thinking?
Could it be that I’m the Ashleigh? I would have thought that, too, and what a drag brunch that would be. “You go, gurrrrl,” or better yet, me in a wig (at long last reunited with hair!), standing tall and proud in pink Uggs and using my paper hand fan like a weapon, shaking it open and closed at everyone while I ask: is Resident Culture South End — from top to bottom; for tops and for bottoms, and everyone else in between — just and simply put, fabulous?
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