Category Archives: North Carolina

Foodie Travel: What to Eat in Charlotte versus Raleigh



Photo: Charlotte’s got a lot Facebook page


Your Pick: Charlotte or Raleigh?



Photo: visitRaleigh Facebook page


While Durham has been getting buzz as a foodie destination, two other North Carolina cities also have much on their plates to offer – Charlotte and Raleigh. These Southern metropolises are spooning out different tastes and dining perspectives that will leave visitors satisfying. Perhaps even stuffed. From food to drink, here is a culinary comparison of the best of what Charlotte and Raleigh are serving up.

First, let’s start with Charlotte.

Charlotte’s Eateries


King's Kitchen & Bakery

Photo: The King’s Kitchen & Bakery / The Plaid Penguin


Nicknamed “The Queen City,” Charlotte has traditional Southern specialties but also cuisines representative of cultures from around the globe plus some fun infusions.

With an adjoining bakery and breakfast café, The King’s Kitchen & Bakery is a non-profit eatery that not only provides lunch and supper picks like gumbo, catfish and baked or fried chicken, and healthy fare, but also gives their workers a fresh start and helps to feed those within the local community. With locations in Charlotte’s Uptown and Southpark districts, Rooster’s Wood Fired-Kitchen puts a European twist on scratch cooking this cuisine.

In also what’s described as “Southern-leaning American fare,” 204 North Kitchen and Cocktails in Uptown gets a little spiffy but also has a drinks list featuring fun and unique pairings and classic mixed drinks. Or go for Lowcountry cooking at Mert’s Heart and Soul, a couple-owned, colorful and soul food eatery in Uptown Charlotte. Zada Jane’s in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood gives vegetarians some love, with choices that could include their non-meaty “Kool Kips” nachos and a selection of salads and sandwiches (plus some options for carnivores).



Photo: McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon Facebook page


Of course, Charlotte’s barbecue joints hold their own within North Carolina, tenderly. South Charlotte’s McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon offers smoked meats like their pecan-smoked wings and perfected seasoned pork. Since 1963, the no-frills Bill Spoon’s Barbecue in Starmount focuses on its food with cooking up Eastern North Carolina style barbecue (with the whole pig being prepared and served with a mustary and vinegary slaw). Then, there’s Midwood Smokehouse, with three locations throughout Charlotte, whose brisket got high rankings in The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America.

Other interesting dining opportunities in Charlotte range from The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, an infusion minded eatery in South Park, to Aria Tuscan Grill bringing refined Italian fare to Center City, to Crepe Cellar Kitchen and Pub, a Euro gastropub noted for its savory crepes.



Photo: The Old Mecklenburg Brewery Facebook page


Charlotte’s Breweries

As for the beer scene, Charlotte is also has raising the glass on breweries with some new or recent additions or long-time spots. Described as a Belgian brew pub, Heist Brewery in NoDa neighborhood is placed within an industrial setting with craft beers and pub fare.

There are German beer halls too. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery has an eight-acre beer garden and pub, and VBGB Beer Hall and Garden puts a contemporary take on this tradition with 30 craft and import beers on top. Other noteworthy places include Birdsong Brewing Co., with lively scene serving flights, pints, and growlers; Sycamore Brewing, which also offers international eats, and the Growlers Pourhouse, with a curated beer program that rotates taps and prime bar food such as their award-winning Rueben sandwich.

Other noteworthy places include Birdsong Brewing Co., with lively scene serving flights, pints, and growlers, and Sycamore Brewing, which also offers international eats. Growlers Pourhouse has a curated beer program that rotates taps and prime bar food such as their award-winning Rueben sandwich. Free Range Brewing lets their ingredidents determine what type of beer will be produced, in brewing small batch beers in various styles.

Now, let’s see what Raleigh has to offer food-minded travelers.


Photo: Little City Brewing and Provisions Co. Facebook page

Raleigh’s Breweries and Distilleries

Raleigh’s more than 25 breweries are as diverse as their sudsy creations. In the Warehouse District of Downtown Raleigh, Crank Arm Brewing Company produces three flagship brews and rotates seasonal beer styles and works with local vendors and farmers in obtaining specialty ingredients for unique flavors. With a focus on creating a place for community, Oak & Dagger Public House serves up its draft beers and an “elevated pub” lunch and dinner menu. Another neat feature: a research library where experimental, small batch brews are being concocted. Then there’s Little City Brewing and  Provisions Co., described as an industry chic bar that not only serves beers but also unique cocktails and wines.

As for distilleries, Oak City Amaretto locally handcrafts this sweet Italian liqueur, and Raleigh Rum Company produces small batches of this distilled beverage. Plus, Pinetop Distillery – with its title coming from an old nickname for moonshine – offers tours of, and tastings at, their facility on Saturdays.


Photo credit: Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant Facebook page

Raleigh’s Shops and Eateries

From Southern cooking to in North Carolina is essential. One popular place to go for breakfast or lunch in downtown Raleigh’s Moore Square District is Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant, noted for its funky ceiling fixtures and southern classics on the menu (there’s also a sister site called Big Ed’s North, located in North Raleigh). Big Ed’s also holds a Hot Cake challenge, consisting of eating a total of three large servings, and provides all-day breakfast offerings. Explore its location include the Historic City Market, with other tenants such as restaurants, cafes and bars. Best picks include Treat, an ice cream shop, and Woody’s At City Market, a long-time watering hole.

Trying BBQ is a must head to The Pit, a Warehouse District eatery serving a whole hog, pit-cooked barbecue, or Clyde Cooper’s BBQ, a Carolina-style barbecue fixture in downtown Raleigh since 1938, or fellow long-timer Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which opened three years later!



Photo: Escazu Artisan Chocolates Facebook page


Raleigh’s Chocolate Shops

Got a sweet tooth? In Raleigh, chocolate has quite a decadent place with a good amount of shops and factories. Azurelise Chocolate Truffles creates orders of this decadent treat and other sinfully good sweets, while Escazu Artisan Chocolates additionally prepares bars and other confections, and Videri Chocolate Factory holds tours of its facility.

So which city’s culinary scene has your mouth watering, or making you thirsty for more? To get your food-centered trip started, check out these suggested hotels in Charlotte and in Raleigh, respectively.

This post is part of’s Underdog Cities program.

From Sites to Spirits: A Night with North Carolina Tourism

On Tuesday night, I got a fresh taste of what North Carolina has to offer. And it was good.

Inside the New York Public Library, more than 20 North Carolina Division of Tourism representatives from across the state shared the latest on what was happening in their respective cities, counties and regions. With a roundtable format, officials gladly talked about what made their locales worth a visit.

photo(96)photo(92)Their reasons were as varied as what’s found in their locales: culinary, culture, history, the outdoors and other long-time or new attractions that appeal to any visitor. From Ashville through Winston-Salem, here is a roundup that reflects signature finds in and around NC.

photo(97)photo(95)North Carolina’s culinary scene has been getting a boost with local food finds and growing chef reputations. 2013 was a good year for the city of Durham, in getting accolades for its restaurant scene in various publications. On hand at the New York Public Library, Matt Kelly of Durham’s Mateo Bar de Tapas served up Camarones con Arroz, featuring North Carolina shrimp with sofrito and Anson Mill “Carolina Gold” Rice Grits.

Fellow city Asheville also carries its Southern culinary weight. Chef John Fleer of Rhubarb, a new restaurant, dished out Lime-Ginger Cured Sunburst Trout, featuring this local catch. French Broad Chocolates presented its caramels made with locally grown Sorghum Molasses, and housemade truffles with Nicaraguan Dark Chocolate. North Carolina is also recognized for barbecue, and, so in rounding out the evening’s Destination Dining corner, Samuel Jones of Skylight Inn served up pork sliders with cored cabbage and mayonnaise slaw.


April is North Carolina Beer Month, and last’s year launch of this theme had more than 30 breweries all over the map participating. A state wine trail is also holding ground and spirits such as vodka and hard cider are emerging as well.

On Tuesday night, cocktails featured Covington Vodka, a gourmet vodka distilled from sweet potatoes in rural eastern Snow Hill, to Defiant Whisky, Blue Ridge Distilling’s single-malt American whisky from Golden Valley. Beers from a decadent cocoa-infused Imperial Stout from Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewing to a ginger pale ale brewed by Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery.

photo(98)Also with food, argitourism has become a key player. Homegrown is the tagword for Haywood County, in North Carolina’s western region, which is promoting farm to fork experiences, aquaculture, agricultural communities, and even craft breweries. For example, county officials is anticipating a new pale ale to be released early this year in honor of the region’s hops and brewing.

From mountains to shorelines, North Carolina has plenty of outdoor attractions. The hit film The Hunger Games brought more attention to DuPont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest, which are known for waterfalls and hiking trails.

The well-recognized Outer Banks continues to be a popular destination, due to the Wright Brothers’ early experiments with flight, and the majestic Corolla Wild Horses. The entire OBX can now be explored through a drive along the NC 12, a newly designated two-line National Scenic Byway that threads this string of islands together.

Another new feature focuses on the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina initiative, a partnership between the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and the North Carolina Arts Council, promotes the unique music that was born and bred in this region of the state by aiming to support musicians and music related businesses.

There is a lot more to find in North Carolina, definitely more than I could list in this post. Learn more about North Carolina by logging onto