Watching the crowds flow into Stir, a recent entrant into a burgeoning food scene developing on South Tryon Street in South End, one would think there’s nothing going on in the world — certainly not a pandemic. Charlotteans are fleeing their abodes for the great outdoors, meaning patios, and this area is packed with them.
Located in the South End’s RailYard, Stir was my first venture eating out since the pandemic hit. The establishment has cool aesthetics inside, with a long bar on one side and an oyster bar on the other. The hardwood floors were gleaming in the somewhat dimly lit room. There’s an additional space in the back with a TV and a crystal chandelier that looked inviting. The setting gives a feeling of openness when the roll-up garage doors stay up.
Still feeling cautious, however, I deferred to outdoor seating, as it was a perfect early evening in the Queen City. Tables were separated and I felt comfortable in the surroundings. It’s a welcoming and fun atmosphere. They have an outside bar ordering area where you can imbibe in your drink of choice and seat yourself in the grouping of tables set up even if you don’t want to eat, since the indoor bar was off limits when I visited.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cocktail program, as that is a staple they are proud to advertise, mentioning the attention to detail they go to in blending their own bitters and syrups, fresh-pressed juices, as well as artisanal ice that helps keep drinks from feeling watered down. Rare spirits are also on the menu.
I started off with the Hemingway Daiquiri for $13, which includes aged rum, fresh grapefruit and lime juice, maraschino liqueur, and sugar-cane syrup. It came in a small glass filled with crushed ice, but the liquid flowed longer than I expected upon first glance, certainly due to the ice mixture. It was good, but didn’t inspire me to go out and fight any bulls.
Next up were the charbroiled oysters for $16.95. They came with lemon, scampi butter, shallots, red pepper flakes, and parmesan. I had trouble pulling the entire mollusk from its shell, but the best part for me was the topping. While I enjoyed it, I have tasted better, and my wife agreed.
We gave the crab bisque a try and it took six spoonfuls before my wife would even let me get a taste. I immediately realized why. It was creamy, sweet and quite good. The basil oil in the mix gave it a different taste profile I couldn’t quite pin down but interesting nonetheless. A nice added touch was the crostini sitting alongside.
Perusing the rest of the menu, we decided to share the blackened fish tacos from the appetizer menu for $11.95 and the grilled chicken caprese ($17.50) from the entrees.
The fish tacos came with charred salsa, pico, pickled onions, cotija cheese, cilantro slaw, and crema. They had a nice char to them, and the salsa left a little fire in my mouth that I liked.
My first impression of the chicken dish was that there was a lot on the plate for a reasonable cost. It came with tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, balsamic reduction, and farro with roasted vegetables. The yellow and red cherry tomatoes burst with flavor. The farro with balsamic added some sweetness, but I found the chicken breast to be dry. The little balls of mozzarella were just okay to me, though my wife enjoyed the dish thoroughly.
Getting to dessert, I saw something that has been unusual in my dining outings in Charlotte — chocolate on the menu. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I noticed the chocolate espresso flourless cake for $7.95. On the first bite, it was fudgey and had a nice crunch. There were pearls of tiny whipped cream balls on the plate, along with a bourbon citrus caramel swoosh to dance the cake through. I noticed the citrus was lemon, though the caramel was missing in action. It was one of the better desserts I have had here, but the competition has been sparse. Charlotte hasn’t been a dessert mecca for me by any means.
Being the new kid on the block in South End, Stir is worth a visit, even if you don’t feel like eating. I’m sure you can meet some new friends from a 6-foot distance, hanging out over cocktails on a nice fall evening. The food is good; nothing life-changing, but it won’t break the bank, either, and the service was plenty attentive.
Based on first impressions and aren’t they everything, I give Stir 2.5 bites out of four. Read past Newbie Foodie reviews here.