21 great locally-owned Carolina restaurants and what to eat when you get there.
By Heidi Billotto
Conjecturing culinary trends year to year is always tricky. This year it’s even harder.
Conversations that spun forecasts a year ago, couldn’t have imagined that phrases such as “Pivot”, “Shuttered”, “Online Ordering” and “Contactless Curbside Pickup” would be a part of the 2020 culinary vernacular.
Now, as we greet 2021, it’s a no brainer to predict we might see more of the same as we all transition to the post-pandemic economy. But chefs adapt, and have curated menus that fit the times while still keeping true to what they do and who they are.
Still Open and Awesome
2020 was a year that shook us all – and the hospitality industry even more. Places we would have sworn would be there forever, won’t. So keep on dining out alfresco or ordering to-go, supporting your favorite places as you are comfortable and as often as you are able. Buy gift certificates and remember to tip well.
And remember even as we dip our toes into 2021, we are still dealing with a pandemic. If you’re not feeling well, stay home. If you go out, wear a mask, keep a safe distance away from those not with you. Also, continue to wash your hands as often as possible.
Buy into DIY chef menu boxes with ingredients and recipes you can make at home. And when you need to shop, support restaurant-owned markets and butcher shops – several are listed here. Every little bit will help a community of chefs and restaurants that will still need your support even as the calendar flips from one year to the other.
Coming Soon to A Menu Near You
As 2021 begins, there are several success stories to share and tasty concepts that have chefs talking. Many chefs have taken the past year to take a deeper dive into history and culture. To that end, begin to look for more chefs of color and ethnic backgrounds going back to their roots to cook the foods of their ancestors with a nod to culture, history and generations past.
Breakfast is going to be big again in 2021. Weekend brunches and all day breakfast menus provide family friendly dining opts, comfort food and a sense of familiarity.
To make service at lunch and dinnertime easier, and to offer dishes and options that successfully travel in to-go and delivery boxes, many chefs are recreating the sandwich. Burgers and chicken sandwiches aside, chefs are serving higher end proteins between two great slices of fresh baked bread and making handheld meals you are going to love.
Better al fresco dining options are also a trending topic. No longer will we wait for the springtime opening of the patios. Instead, we’ll see year round outdoor heated dining options. Expect innovative tented, front door sidewalk cafes, reworked parking lots, and fun individual igloos or tiny outdoor shelters that allow protected seating for everyone in your bubble, popping up at every turn.
Comfort. It’s all we’ve really wanted and all we will continue to want when times are tough. Creamy comfort food and old favorites make trending times more stable. If a restaurant offers great fried chicken, hand-cut chips or fries, great mac and cheese or low and slow cooked barbecue, it’s game on.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t still love to fancy it up over the course of the upcoming year! Dine-in, white table cloth service isn’t gone; it’s just socially distanced itself for a while. Chefs across the Carolinas continue to stack and stage center of the plate proteins, using locally-sourced sustainable products with an homage to things grown, caught or raised in the Carolinas.
Looking for examples of who’s trending? The chefs at these 21 for 2021 locally-owned restaurants are doing great things, supporting local farmers and producers, and serving delicious fare. Here are just a few of my faves, you’ll love them, too.
21 Spots to Try in 2021
1. 34° North at the Beaufort Hotel, Beaufort, NC
Stunning waterfront views with boat access to the deck-side patio dining. When it comes to cocktails, the restaurant has its own Maker’s Mark custom barrel blend, so bourbon is the name of the game. Then, start with the Pan Seared Scallops on roasted corn puree with crispy chorizo and spring onion. If you’re going meatless, the grilled cauliflower steak is a must-try! 34DegreesNorthRestaurant.com
2. Benne on Eagle, Asheville, NC
Located in the historic Foundry Hotel. Chef John Fleer brought together this team. The restaurant features food, space and decor that pays homage to the Black roots of this historic Asheville neighborhood. Pan-seared trout and spoon bread is top notch; and the black rice collard perloo is an excellent choice. BenneonEagle.com
3. Catch, Wilmington, NC
Chef Keith Rhodes is passionate about taking North Carolina seafood to new heights! The Pamlico firecracker shrimp are all that; and the signature North Carolina lump crab cakes are simply divine. CatchWilmington.com
4. Coronato Pizza, Carrboro, NC
Chef and owner Teddy Diggs serving Roman-inspired pizza and more, each item crafted with his own local twist. Wood oven pizzas, tiramisu in a jar and the best roasted eggplant “meatballs” ever! CoronatoPizza.com
5. Courtney’s BBQ and Seafood, Clover, SC
Barbecue is the name of the game here. All the pork is from Courtney’s Farm’s pasture-raised pigs. Go early and get the St. Louis style ribs before they sell out. There’s an on-site farm store. CourtneysBBQ.com
6. The Fig Tree, Charlotte, NC
Located in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood in a restored 1913 craftsman bungalow. Order the Elk chop every time — coffee-crusted grilled New Zealand elk chop over sautéed root vegetables, Brussels sprouts and boursin-dijon sauce. Desserts to die for. CharlotteFigTree.com
7. The Fish Market, Ft. Mill, SC
This spot is located in Baxter Town Center. I recommend ordering the grilled Chilean Seabass served atop mushroom risotto and Asian tomato relish, finished with soy wasabi butter. It’s killer. FishMarketBarandGrill.com
8. The Flipside, Ft. Mill and Rock Hill, SC
Award winning chefs Amy and Jon Fortes are at the helm here. Begin any meal at either location with the avocado pull apart bread with pepperoni sauce on the side. For dinner, don’t miss the 24-hour braised beef short ribs. TheFlipsideRestaurant.com
9. The Goodyear House, Charlotte, NC
This restaurant is located in Charlotte’s historic NODA neighborhood. Shrimp on a saltine may not sound like much, but Chef Chris Coleman’s cold marinated shrimp with mignonette butter and chile oil is the bomb! Don’t miss the “shakin’ fries.” TheGoodyearHouse.com
10. Grinders and Gravy, Southern Pines, NC
Here you’ll find take-out only with picnic table patio dining. You won’t go wrong with the “porcilious grinder” and a side of calamari with Chef Curt Shelvey’s slow cooked Sunday gravy! GrindersAndGravy.com
11. The Grocery, Charleston SC
Order and eat all of chef Kevin Johnson’s locally sourced veggie dishes (and the great seafood selections, too!) Don’t miss the wood roasted Maitake mushroom with sunflower-parsnip purée, chimichurri and crispy shallots; or the Wakefield cabbage gratiné with Lusty Monk mustard cream, gruyère cheese and rye crumbs. TheGroceryCharleston.com
12. Grits & Grocery, Belton, SC
Just look for the big chicken at the intersection and you’re there. They offer brunch, lunch and catering, too. Award winning chefs Heidi and Joe Trull bring you all the baked goods, the melt-in-your-mouth shrimp and grits and more. In addition to that, I have just two words: praline bacon. GritsAndGroceries.com
13. The Hackney Restaurant & Cocktail Bar, Washington, NC
This is the sister restaurant to The Hackney Distillery, makers of 1000 Piers Coastal Carolina Gin. Start with a gin cocktail and the veal sweetbreads. Then dive into any of Chef Jamie Davis’ steak or seafood selections. You have to love the selection of North Carolina cheeses. TheHackneyWashingtonNC.com
14. Jacks Café, Charleston, SC
They serve breakfast, as well as other non-breakfast items. Say “Good morning” to the kitchen sink grits, topped with everything and anything you want. Then, topped again with grated cheddar and a grill-top fried egg. JacksCafeCharleston.com
15. Kickers, Greenwood, SC
Enjoy take-out and patio dining here. Chef Abdel Dimiati has a special karma for soup. There are always four or five options on his eclectic menu. All are excellent, but the Thai chicken noodle is one of my faves. Find daily specials on their Facebook page.
16. Leah & Louise, Charlotte, NC
This spot is situated in Charlotte’s creative Camp North End. Owners Subrina and Chef Greg Collier are inspired by the traditional Southern cuisine of the Mississippi River Valley foodways, as well as their own Memphis roots. The oyster sliders and the river chips (aka crispy chicken skins) are a must! Be sure to save room for dessert. The Arthur Lou, a Tang chess pie with an oat crust, creamy meringue and fresh fruit, takes the cake! LeahAndLouise.com
17. Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop, Charleston, SC
Here cocktails, cheap beer and fine champagne meet outstanding fried chicken and fresh shucked oysters. Get them all. It’s an award-winning concept open all day, every day. Check the website for parking locations. leonsoystershop.com
18. Magnolia 23, Asheboro, NC
Chef and owner Don Simmons makes killer fried chicken, often served smothered in gravy, and all the correct Southern sides! The persimmon pudding, when it’s in season, is not to be missed. It was voted one of “America’s 75 Best Fried Chicken Spots. Find their daily menus on their Facebook page.
19. Mason’s Restaurant & Grocery, Aberdeen, NC
This restaurant is nestled in a beautifully restored 100-year-old building. They serve breakfast, lunch and brunch. Order the train wreck — a large square from-scratch biscuit piled high with fried chicken, sausage gravy, bacon and an egg. Fresh squeezed orange juice or a mimosa on the side rounds it all out. EatAtMasons.com
20. Saltbox Seafood Joint, Durham, NC
There are two locations in Durham. The original joint — takeout and outdoor dining only — is in Old Five Points on Mangum Street. It’s all good and that’s the truth. But, it’s Chef Ricky Moore’s Crab Grits for the win. This melt-in-your-mouth entrée isn’t always on the menu; but when it is, you better get there quick! SaltboxSeafoodJoint.com
21. True Blue Butcher and Market, Wilmington, NC
No bones about it, chef and owner Bobby Zimmerman is doing it right. You’ll find delicious seafood and veggies here. However, first time out, get to the meat of the matter with 11 different a la cart steaks and chops, including Japanese Wagyu. BlueButcherAndTableWilmington.com