By Torie Robinette
When it comes to impressing locals and visitors, the Queen Cityâs mantra seems to be, âLetâs give them something to talk about.â Exceptional eateries, one-of-a-kind attractions, a diverse and thriving culture and inventive craft beer, itâs all hereâand itâs earning the city much-deserved respect.
With no shortage of game-changing tastemakers elevating the cityâs gastronomic scene each day, the past year has proven the perfect stage for the city to showcase its culinary chops. Zagat noticed, dishing out a No. 9 spot to Charlotte on its list of â26 of the Hottest Food Cities of 2016.â
With camera crews constantly rolling through town, much of the foodie magic has been captured on the small screen. In 2016 and 2017, Food Networkâs Guy Fieri stopped in the Queen City multiple times for his show âDiners, Drive-Ins and Dives.â Viewers drooled over the sâmores waffle sandwich at FĂŒD at Salud, the chili cheese Coney hot dog at JJâs Red Hots, the Asian-fusion pulled pork Chaobao taco at The Improper Pig, the mushroom Gruyere grilled cheese from Papi Queso food truck and the pimento cheeseburger at Bang Bang Burgers.
The city gained a hometown hero in Jamie Lynch, executive chef at 5Church, when his talents led him into fierce competition on Bravoâs âTop Chefâ season 14, filmed in Charleston, South Carolina. Although Lynch didnât win, his altruistic exit saved teammates from elimination and garnered him even more respect. Following the show, Tripping.com recognized Lynch as 2016âs âCharlotte Chef of the Year,â and he cooked at the James Beard House, where notable Charlotte chefs such as Clark Barlowe (Heirloom) and Blake Hartwick (Bonterra Restaurant) have also participated in events.
If the honor of cooking at the James Beard House isnât enough, some local tastemakers have taken the achievement a step further. Bruce Moffett (Moffett Restaurant Group) became the first area chef to be nominated for a James Beard Award in 2009. More recently, Chefs Joe Kindred (Kindred Restaurant) and Paul Verica (Heritage Food & Drink) were each nominated as semifinalists for the 2017 James Beard Awardsâ âBest Chef in the Southeastâ honor.
But when it comes to great food, the city hasnât quite gotten its fill of accolades. With new dining hot spots on deck, there is certainly more recognition to come. Hello, Sailor, set to open in Lake Norman in the coming months, has already heaped praise from Eater.com. The lakeside culinary concept comes from Joe and Katy Kindred, the masterminds behind Kindred Restaurant; it landed on the siteâs list of the â16 Most-anticipated Restaurant Openings of 2016.â
Although some of the cityâs greatest draws are well-known and beloved, many of its gems are hidden. In the past year, these favorites have garnered a much-deserved spotlight.
If youâre a thrill junkie constantly craving a ride on the latest and greatest rollercoaster, chances are youâve heard of Carowinds, home of the mammoth Fury 325 giga coaster. The ride, which climbs higher and rolls faster than any other giga coaster in the world, continues to rack up the accolades. After claiming Amusement Todayâs Golden Ticket Award for âBest New Rideâ upon its debut in 2015, Fury snagged another Golden Ticket title in 2016: âNo. 1 Steel Coaster in the World.â Carolina Harbor water park at Carowinds has caught criticsâ attention, too. In May, it landed on USA Todayâs readers-choice, top-10 list of âBest Outdoor Water Parks.â In 2016, Travelers Today called Carowinds, with its perfect balance of family-friendly fun and adrenaline-filled attractions, one of the âTop Five Amusement Parks in the U.S.,â while The Huffington Post dubbed it one of the nationâs top 10.
On a national level, racingâs long been the name of Charlotteâs game. With exclusive memorabilia and incredible simulated activities, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is one of the cityâs claims to fameâand for good reason. Although it may be a lesser-known spot, its place on Business Insiderâs 2016 list of the â50 Best Tourist Attractions Youâve Never Heard ofâ is sure to change that. In Concord, Charlotte Motor Speedway nabbed the honor of âOutstanding Facility of the Yearâ for 2016. Recognized for mesmerizing attractions that appeal to all ages (zMAX Dragway, The Dirt Track at CMS), CMS became just the fourth venue to receive this award, which is presented by the National Speedway Directory and Track Guide.
Whether youâre more of the lace-up-your-Nikes or root-from-the-bleachers type, youâll find a way to exercise your sports enthusiast muscle here in the Queen City. Although the NBA and the NFL are huge magnets for Charlotte sports fans, the cityâs Minor League Baseball program has gotten its fair share of praise over the past seasons. Local enthusiasm for the Charlotte Knightsâ relocation to Uptownâs BB&T Ballpark in 2014 hasnât faded. SmartAsset.com named the city one of the âBest Minor League Baseball Towns of 2016.â Meanwhile, runners find sanctuary here in Charlotte, whichâthanks to a plethora of parks, trails and greenwaysâwas named one of the â50 Best Running Citiesâ by Runners Today last spring; it beat out 200 other U.S. cities.
Although Charlotte is lauded for its Southern charm and a breathtaking landscape, the city proves time and time again itâs got even more culture than meets the eye.
For one, Charlotteâs been recognized as a city for residents of all ages and in all walks of life. With an eminent banking prowess, plus neighborhoods that have been reinvented by art and nightlife and are at the crossroads of work and play (weâre looking at you, South End, NoDa and Plaza Midwood), the Queen City is a magnet for young professionals. Perhaps thatâs why ApartmentList.com cited Charlotte as a âTop City for Millennialsâ in 2016. At the same time, the cityâs spotlight as an ideal retirement destination in Where to Retire magazine in spring 2017 underscores its diverse appeal.
Crown Townâs even been stamped with ultimate bragging rights: Expedia.comâs blog, Viewfinder, named it one of the â21 Coolest Cities in the U.S.â and one of the â52 Most-fun Cities in the U.S.â With its delicious and diverse food and drink options, combined with adventure and art galore, these superlatives come as no surprise to those who know what makes the city tick.Â
But intimate and dreamy offerings, like taking in the floral stunners at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden (which got love in Southern Livingâs March 2017 issue) and sharing small plates in quiet, candlelit restaurants also make Charlotte a perfect place to find love. Based on search data, OpenTable.com found Charlotte to be one of the â25 Most Romantic Cities in America.â
Like any well-rounded city, Charlotte isnât just a place of leisure. A thriving business culture that extends well beyond its banking stronghold (seven Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here) makes the city an ideal incubator for small business and a leading location for conventions and meetings. In the spring, Business Insider ranked Charlotte among 16 of the âBest Big Cities for Starting a Business.â And SmartAsset.com listed it as among the top 10 âBest Destinations for Conferences.â
For years, Charlotteâs explosive brewery scene and the creative crafts beers itâs inspired have received an outpouring of praise on a local, national and international scale. And the ironâs still hot; more than 40 breweries are in operation in the region, and approximately 20 more are in planning.
Fittingly, MatadorNetwork.com called Charlotte one of the top 10 âBest Craft Beer Towns in Americaâ in 2016, and research collected by Datafiniti, LLC showed that as of 2017, North Carolinaâthanks in big part to the Queen Cityâhas the 10th-most breweries of all the states. The Tar Heel State gets top marks in the South, too; according to the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, the state has the most breweries in the region.
With ingredients, atmospheres and brewers as different as the porters and pale ales they pour, each of Charlotteâs brew havens has cultivated its own personality and style. Thatâs what keeps the beer here competitive, despite its abundance.
The 2016 Great American Beer Festival recognized NoDa Brewing Company (which Southern Living also named one of the âSouthâs Best Breweriesâ in 2016) with a gold medal for its NoDajito, aâyou guessed itâmojito-inspired witbier. The festival also gave props to D9 Brewing Co., awarding it a gold medal for its dry-hopped Systema Naturae-Scuppernong & Lily, which fuses grape and anise flavors.
The 2016 Best of Craft Beer Awards took notice of the one-of-a-kind suds being served up in Charlotte, too. Sugar Creek Brewing Companyâs BiĂšre de Garde, which is brewed with eight different specialty malts imported from France, snagged gold in the competition. Lenny Boy Brewing Co.âs Burn Down for What sour ale, whose brewing process involves aging a house kombucha culture for several months, took home bronze.
Another fan favorite, Heist Breweryâs Brockwell English-style mild ale, whose light body is elevated by notes of toffee, collected a bronze medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup. Meanwhile, Three Spirits Brewery won silver medals for three of its beers at the 2016 U.S. Beer Open Championships: the Agate Have It brown ale (which features roasted and chocolate malts), the Honey Porter (whose popularity turned it from a seasonal offering to an everyday draft) and the Red Moon Rising amber-style beer (cultivated from both German and American malts).
This article ran in theÂ July/August 2017Â issue of Charlotte Happenings.