Walking into The Eagle Food & Beer Hall, located in South End’s Atherton Mill shopping center, the first thing that caught my eye was the wood-paneled interior, industrial wrought-iron light fixtures and black leather booths surrounding an imposing u-shaped bar that took up most of the space.
I spent the entirety of The Eagle’s media night preview on Tuesday waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. I desperately searched for something, anything that would set them apart from the dozens of other transplant concepts opened by massive restaurant groups. I didn’t find it.
The Eagle Food & Beer Hall is a chain with seven locations across the Rust Belt/Appalachian/Midwest area, with Charlotte and Pittsburgh being the newest additions. This leads to my most important question: Why has Charlotte normalized people from other parts of the country that have no business making Southern food thinking that it’s their calling?
The event began with a round of appetizers and a cocktail, followed by sporadic servings of food throughout the evening.
The Eagle team kicked things off with a maple old fashioned cocktail ($10) and an order of the brown sugar bacon ($8), a pimento cheese plate ($9), and a kale salad ($5/$9). The second round of food included collards ($3), mac & cheese ($7) and hushpuppies ($6) ending with fried chicken as the main course paired with champagne.
What The Eagle Food & Beer Hall knocked out of the park
South End is in dire need of quick, affordable options. Every entrée on The Eagle’s menu falls under $15 and craft cocktails are under $12, which is a pretty friendly price point compared to its neighbors.
Every order of fried chicken comes with a diner-style syrup dispenser of hot honey so you can pour to your heart’s desire. The hot honey is the move when it comes to their fried chicken, hush puppies and even the cornbread. The spice isn’t overbearing and gives the food a delightful kick.
The staff is kind and brings laid-back energy that matches the atmosphere of the space and the casual nature of the menu. The beverage director, who was working behind the bar for Tuesday’s event but will return to the restaurant’s Ohio location soon, put me on to drinking champagne with my fried chicken and I’m never going back.
Where there’s room for improvement
I wanted The Eagle’s food to prove my aforementioned skepticism wrong. I wanted to leave the restaurant, skipping through the streets and singing praises about this restaurant from Cincinnati that, despite all odds, made the perfect fried chicken.
Don’t get me wrong, there were hints of fine flavors, but The Eagle’s food ultimately lacked the seasoning that must be considered mandatory in Southern food, especially fried chicken.
More than the taste of the food, what bothered me the most was the lack of opportunity for the menu to evolve past what it is now. During the event, Thunderdome Restaurant Group co-founder Joe Lanni mentioned the pride he has in The Eagle’s kitchen staff.
They found passionate people that have the talent and creativity to build something amazing, but the creativity can only go so far if they don’t have the opportunity to bring their unique touch to the menu.
Moving forward, they should utilize their amazing team and create dishes that are exclusive to this specific location. Or, they could set themselves apart from local establishments by serving Cincinnati fare (Skyline-style chili is lacking in the area). Charlotte isn’t Ohio and the food menu can and should reflect that.
The Eagle Food & Beer Hall opens for dinner service on Friday, Jan. 22. It is located in the Atherton Mill at 2140 South Blvd. in South End.
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