Food & DrinkFood Features

The Brunch Guide 2019

Let’s be honest: It doesn’t really matter what time of year it is, people love to brunch. But there’s something about the weather warming up that makes us more willing to hop out of bed with a hangover or look for a post-church locale rather than go straight home. In case you’re tired of your same ol’ spot, we wanted to introduce you to 12 eateries and our favorite brunch menu item from each one, all representing different neighborhoods around town.

Take ‘em to Church

5Church, 127 N. Tryon St., Uptown

Happy birthday to you! Renowned Uptown restaurant 5Church turned 7 years old on May 16, and its gained ton of acclaim in that time thanks to longtime executive chef Jamie Lynch. Lynch is now a partner chef, as Whitney Thomas was recently made executive chef, but one of Lynch’s creations has remained a best-seller since the restaurant opened: crab cakes and poached eggs.

The two towers rest on English muffins, but it’s what you can’t see that gives this dish the most kick. Just the right amount of jalapeno buerre blanc waits in the wings while you take down all the flavors of the main ingredients, only to hit you with a kick of an aftertaste just when you thought you were finished. Wash it down with one of four seasonal mimosas, , which rotate between pomegranate, cucumber, grapefruit or lemon merinque.

“It’s our signature brunch item, from before everyone was trying to make these fancy, Instagrammable dishes,” says 5Church marketing director Kristen Shaw.

More: Sat.,11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; 704-919-1322

Crab cakes and poached eggs at 5Church (Photo by Jayme Johnson)

A Work in Progress

NoDa Bodega, 1200 E. 36th St., NoDa

Avocado toast gets a lot of shit from a lot of different people. According to idiot Australian millionaire Tim Gurner, it’s the reason millennials can’t afford to buy their own homes. Nobody who’s thrown shade at this often simple dish could hate on what Bryan Moore and his team at NoDa Bodega have cooked up, though.

The whole thing began as a snack for Moore and his crew in the kitchen. They threw some of their avocado mash on a piece of multigrain toast with some cashew crema — a pureed blend of cashews, lime juice, cilantro, lime zest — then continued to build on it. “It was just the avocado and the crema, and it was basically just us eating it in the kitchen,” Moore recalls. “And we were like, ‘Oh, pickled onions are awesome on it.’ We used Cholula, which is my favorite all-around, go-to hot sauce, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is good, too.’”

That base is just the beginning, and if you want to keep things vegan, it’s a filling meal all on its own. However, those feeling adventurous can pick up where Moore and his crew left off. Gouda cheese, eggs, bacon and/or sausage are all options.

“I like that it’s vegan but it’s infinitely customizable,” Moore says.

Cheers to experimentation.

More: Fri., 8 a.m. – Noon, Sat.-Sun., 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.; 704-375-8704

Avocado toast at NoDa Bodega (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Love in a Container

Cuzzo’s Cuisine, 3418 Tuckaseegee Road, Enderly Park

Cuzzo’s Cuisine may package all their food in to-go containers, but they’re not trying to push you out the door. There are plenty of tables to sit and enjoy your food, and when we dropped by on a recent afternoon, it felt like everyone in the place knew each other.

The atmosphere is one of the reasons Kathy Winbush comes from her home near Uptown down Tuckaseegee Road on the regular. The other reason? The “world famous” lobster mac ‘n’ cheese.

“I’ve had different people’s versions of lobster mac ‘n’ cheese but this is more authentic as far as that true Cajun cuisine, and they’re nice pieces of lobster,” Winbush said. “That’s an extra because it’s usually minced, but theirs is not.”

The lobster mac is the most popular menu item, brunch or not, but if you’re in the mood for something more traditional to brunch, we recommend the peach cobbler waffle. The waffle itself has a taste similar to pumpkin bread, with just the right amount of crunch. Add a slice of peach and cream cheese icing drizzle and that’s bliss for the Southern soul.

More: Tues.-Sat.,11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sun., Noon – 5 p.m.; 980-298-6811

Peach cobbler waffle with a side of lobster mac at Cuzzo’s Cuisine (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Straight Outta Huntersville

Famous Toastery, 2400 Park Road, Dilworth (multiple locations)

Technically, Famous Toastery is a franchised “chain restaurant,” owners Brian Burchill and Robert Maynard opened up their first breakfast spot in Huntersville as a house-turned restaurant, meaning this chain was born-and-raised in the Charlotte area.

While the original Huntersville location is no longer around, there are four locations inside the I-485 loop and one up north in Mooresville. Brunch menu highlights include five different ways to order eggs Benedict, but we always have a special hankering for the one in which avocado is substituted for the biscuit.

Not up for avocado? Try the strawberry and cream cheese stuffed French toast. Fresh-squeezed orange juice for morning mimosas makes Famous Toastery a great hangover stop for those stumbling in at noon after a long night.

More: Every day, 7 a.m.-3 p.m..; 704-215-4166 (Dilworth)

Strawberry and cream cheese stuffed French toast at Famous Toastery (Photo courtesy of Famous Toastery)

Forkin’ Delicious Comfort Food

Knife & Fork, 6416 Albemarle Road, East Charlotte

Knife & Fork is the antithesis of what the Charlotte restaurant landscape is transforming into, and it’s holding its own with diner-style comfort food at delicious prices.

It can be hard to approach a goat cheese puree on top of a deconstructed pancake with capers and other unkown culinary touches but Knife & Fork serves up no-frills, fill-your-stomach-without-emptying-your-wallet dishes like Belgian waffles, country ham and nine different omelets — they even go so far as to serve it for 24 hours, three days out of the week.

One of the best plates you can order at Knife & Fork is a breakfast combo of hot cakes, with a side of protein, but this à la carte-style eatery has enough inexpensive add-ons to make brunch a feast fit for the Queen City. Our hats go off to this true diner in east Charlotte.

More: Sun., 5:30 a.m. – 3 p.m., Mon.-Wed., 5:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., all day; 704-817-7621

Brunch items at Knife & Fork (Photo courtesy of Knife & Fork)

Ask and You Shall Receive

Letty’s, 2121 Shamrock Drive, Plaza-Shamrock

At Letty’s, a homey diner tucked into an unassuming strip mall on Shamrock Drive in east Charlotte, it’s all about knowing what to ask for.

The actual brunch menu lists the possible sides for the honey pecan chicken as regular fare like potato wedges or black-eyed pea salad, but those in the know will tell you that the restaurant always has pearl sugar Belgian waffles ready to accompany the chicken, which is fried in a special seasoned batter then drizzled with a honey butter sauce and topped with roasted pecans. If you want it, all you have to do is ask.

“It combines two things that we have at brunch and shows them off to their best advantage in my way of thinking,” says owner Letty Ketner.

And yet even those who are wise to the best brunch item in the restaurant still find a way to get it wrong sometimes.

“I do have people that will go, ‘I just want regular syrup with it,’ to which I my roll my eyes and go, ‘OK, whatever. You probably have macaroni and cheese and potatoes with it at the same time,’ which is all wrong,” Ketner says. “It’s meant to be savored.”

Contrary to popular belief, there is a wrong way to brunch.

More: Fri.-Sun., 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 704-817-8702

Honey pecan chicken and waffle at Letty’s (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Perfecting the Palate

The Portrait Gallery Restaurant & Bar, 118 East Charles St., Matthews

This small-plate restaurant specializing in fresh and local foods is situated in an historic 100-year old building in the heart of Matthews. In previous incarnations, the quaint structure housed a fish market, a barber shop, a dry cleaners and a photographer’s studio. This last tenant gives the current establishment its picturesque and pictorial name.

Locally sourced ingredients figure prominently in the Portrait Gallery’s brunch menu, which features their house granola, a seasonal quinoa bowl with kale, a braised short rib with fried egg and crispy onions, honey-glazed pork belly with pimento cheese on focaccia, seasonal beignets and more.

“Our best-selling brunch item is our eggs Benedict,” says Portrait Gallery’s managing partner, Alistair Williams. The dish comprises two poached eggs with crispy prosciutto, dressed with a crab hollandaise sauce on a toasted English muffin. “It gets rave reviews from everyone who tries it,” Williams continues.

Several entrees are gluten-free or vegetarian. The restaurant also offers craft cocktails, boutique wines and locally brewed beers from Matthews’ first brewery, Seaboard Brewing Company.

More: Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; 704-369-9982

Eggs Benedict at The Portrait Gallery (Photo courtesy of Portrait Gallery)

Getting to the Root of Brunch

ROOTS Cafe, 2135 Southend Drive, Ste. 109, South End

Fast-casual places can be hit-or-miss, but this South End gem is weeding out its competition with piled-on fresh ingredients and new brunch concoctions every day.

The goat cheese grit bowl is topped with shaved asparagus and charred spring onions, not a bad option, but if you’re looking for the best, go with Huevos Rootscheros; a crispy tortilla topped with spiced black beans, corn quinoa, New Mexico chili verde, over easy egg, poblano crema and cilantro. And we don’t know who needs to hear this, but it’s gluten free.

Second place? The Persistence Bowl, consisting of fresh greens, chopped applewood smoked bacon, a free-range egg, black beans, quinoa, roasted red pepper vinaigrette and crispy tortillas.

“We pride ourselves on using ingredients that represent the season,” says ROOTS owner Craig Barbour. “We try the best we can to use as many local ingredients, products, and vendors as possible. Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. We use combinations of ingredients to create layers of flavor instead of loading dishes up with processed ingredients.”

More: Tues. – Fri., 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., Sat. – Sun., 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 980-260-3111

Huevos ROOTScheros at ROOTS Café. (Photo courtesy of ROOTS)

We Stan

The Stanley, 1961 East 7th St., Elizabeth

The building on the corner of 7th and Pecan streets in Elizabeth has been the site of several eateries, including Schlotzsky’s deli and the salad-centric Crisp Foods, but the latest tenant may be the most eclectic and upscale restaurant at that busy locale. Launched by James Beard-nominated chef Paul Verica and his sous chef and son Alex, the Stanley focuses on foods that are seasonal and locally sourced.

Verica’s pays more than mere lip service to the farm-to-table credo. Ingredients come from farms like Small City Farm, Newtown Farms, The Farm at Flat Creek, Boy & Girl Farm, Burton Farms, The Gardner’s Table, Urban Gourmet Mushrooms, A Way of Life Farm, Heritage Farms and Springer Mountain, and the menu can change daily.

For brunch, starters range from a salad comprised of mixed greens, blueberries, goat cheese and walnuts to homemade donuts and a chicken liver mousse. But that’s just a preliminary to the main foodie event — a brunch menu that boasts homespun dishes like blueberry pancakes and a pork chop plate served with a biscuit, gravy, scrambled eggs and grits; as well as more exotic fare like a chef’s omelet stuffed with foie gras and shaved truffle.

The best seller of the spread is buttermilk fried chicken on a house-made biscuit. A tostada that changes based on what the Vericas source locally comes in a close second.

More: Sunday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; 980-299-2741

Fried chicken biscuit at The Stanley (Photo courtesy of The Stanley)

Red Velvet Goodness

Terrace Cafe, 14815 Ballantyne Village Way, Ste. 150, Ballantyne

If you think you can’t have dessert for brunch, think again. Although some people (like us) might ruin the fun and point out that red velvet batter is just regular batter with some red food coloring and added vinegar for extra smoothness, there’s something special about a fluffy, thick, deep-crimson-colored waffle staring you in the face.

Besides, we all know the real attraction to red velvet anything is the cream cheese frosting, and these waffles have that drizzled up and down, with a strawberry to top things off so you can tell people you at least ate some fruit that morning. Feeling extra Southern? Add a piece of fried chicken to make this the most colorful chicken ‘n’ waffles meal you’ve ever put down your gullet. What used to be a late-night drunk snack is now a rich and indulgent brunch item at Terrace Cafe.

More: All week, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 704-369-5190

Red velvet waffle at Terrace Café (Photo courtesy of Terrace)

On the Up and Up

Upstream Seafood, 6902 Phillips Place, SouthPark

Upstream is awash in accolades. Esquire Magazine called the upscale contemporary SouthPark establishment one of the best new restaurants in the U.S., and Zagat’s guide named Upstream “Charlotte’s most popular restaurant.” Most of the enthusiasm focuses on the restaurant’s freshly caught seafood and sushi, but don’t let those denizens of the briny deep avert your gaze from Upstream’s sumptuous brunch spread.

“We offer an unlimited brunch tasting menu that’s unique to Charlotte,” says Executive Chef Sam Diminich. “For years and years Upstream had this celebrated Sunday buffet, but we found that we could do it better.”

Today brunch is still served like a buffet but it’s vastly upgraded, offering a selection of small plates from the establishment’s raw bar, sushi bar and appetizer and salad selections. Patrons can also sample the roast of the day sliced to their specifications at the carving station.

That’s just the overture to Upstream’s brunch favorites, which include a walnut pumpkin pancake, the Upstream Slider and avocado salmon toast. The place of pride belongs to the pork belly Benedict, Diminich enthuses. Soft poached eggs are served over fresh pork belly and a butternut squash pickled ginger rice cake, and it’s all topped with sambal hollandaise.

Fresh ingredients are paramount, Diminich continues, and every item is made to order. Ample reasons for patrons to set sail for Upstream’s upscale buffet-style brunch.

More: Sat., 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.; 704-556-7730

Walnut pumpkin pancake at Upstream (Photo courtesy of Upstream)

A Bunny Hop Down Central

Zada Jane’s Corner Café, 1601 Central Ave., Plaza Midwood

“We do brunch seven days a week, for all of our operating hours” Courtney Varnum says. “It’s what we do.”

Varnum is general manager of Zada Jane’s Corner Café, the turquoise joint with a shuffleboard court in the heart of Plaza Midwood. Business is steady weeklong but it’s particularly brisk on weekends. Patrons pack the small establishment and its patio, fortifying themselves before heading into the artsy neighborhood.

The brunch crowd is most likely to choose Bunny Rancheros, Zada’s version of huevos rancheros. The “Bunny” comes from the look of the two over-easy eggs, resembling ears, Varnum explains. The eggs are served on a bed of black beans, home-fried potatoes and a meat of your choice, topped with a pepper jack queso and salsa verde with sour cream, guacamole and two warm flour tortillas on the side.

Running a close second in popularity is the Booker T’s East Side Hasher, a frittata-style egg dish served on a bed of sweet potato hash browns. It’s topped with a molten layer of cheese and green onions — a nod to the iconic Booker T and the MGs hit, “Green Onions.”

Zada Jane’s offers a full selection of wine, beer and liquor to wash it all down, and their bloody mary mix is made in-house. Brunch, like every other meal at Zada’s, is first come, first serve. Call first if you have a large party, and the small establishment might be able to accommodate you on their patio.

More: Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; 704-332-3663

Bunny Rancheros at Zada Jane’s (Photo by Jayme Johnson)

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