By Matt McKenzie
The Queen City is quickly making a name for itself on both the culinary and craft beer fronts. But with so many choices, it can be difficult to decide which local brew brings out the very best in your favorite bite. Our solution? Selflessly sipping and sampling our way around Charlotte’s gastronomical scene to bring you this comprehensive list of some of the city’s top plates and the perfect pours to order alongside them. *
*Most establishments rotate their draft beer selections on a weekly basis, which may impact the availability of suggested pairings.
Regardless of where you stand on the great regional barbecue debate, if you’re in Charlotte, you’ve likely developed a hankering for a hearty helping of it. And we insist that the craft draft you pick to accompany your ‘cue is just as important as the sauce.
With a tantalizing menu that seems to keep giving, it’s a tall order to try just one item at City Smoke. Your best bet is to sample multiple options by ordering the combo, which includes savory brisket, pulled pork and two varieties of ribs: Kansas City and Texas-style. It’s enough to make you drool, and you’ll need a lighter style beer to pair with such a big plate. Go with The Unknown Brewing Co.’s Pre-Game session ale. With an impressive combination of hops and malt coming through on the flavor, it’s not overbearing, allowing it to mellow out a plate that packs such brawn.
The go-to dish at Queen City Q is the most obvious one when it comes to barbecue: the hand-pulled pork platter. The pork is smoked for hours before it lands on your dish. Sweet notes and a tender consistency make the pulled pork platter a no-brainer match for NoDa Brewing Company’s Coco Loco—a porter that, with a harmony of chocolate and coconut flavors, features a sweetness of its own.
Fans of Midwood Smokehouse rave about the burnt ends plate, and their reasoning is sound. Immaculately cubed and crisped brisket is tossed in Midwood’s bold homemade sauce, which makes for a mouthwatering result. To complement the burnt ends’ incredible smoky flavor, wash them down with Triple C Brewing Co.’s Cajun Stout, which is brewed with cayenne peppers and balances a warm taste (thanks to the roasted malt) and smooth texture with unbeatable precision.
Whether your dream burger is sandwiched between a pile of crispy onion strings and Carolina-style chili or holds its own with just a few slices of melted American cheese, you can build it in Charlotte. And we dare you to guess which chilled beverage we suggest with it.
Anchored by hops and bitterness, pale ales and IPAs are two of the best craft beer styles to pair with burgers because they cleanse the palate between bites. Thanks to a well-balanced taste of hop varieties and imported Belgian specialty malts, Sugar Creek Brewing Company serves up a superior pale ale. It’s one that goes down smoothly and stacks up beautifully to Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar’s Carolina burger, which comes loaded with chili and coleslaw and black wax cheddar.
The aptly named Moo & Brew is known for its burgers and beer, and we recommend the Brew-braised Shroom and Swiss burger paired with Wooden Robot Brewery’s What He’s Having. The frothy concoction is best described as a fruity IPA featuring strong hints of orange citrus and grapefruit, allowing it to marry phenomenally with the burger’s succulence and the beer-braised mushrooms’ robust flavor.
Is it an oxymoron to pair something called a Hangover burger with a beer? Not at Bang Bang Burgers, where you’ll get a tender beef patty, potato bacon hash, gooey cheddar cheese and a fried egg teetering beneath the bun. Try it with Triple C Brewing Co.’s Golden Boy. Floral notes and a tangy, hoppy flavor on the front end of this chilled brew meet a slight sweetness on the back end. You’ll be forgetting about that hangover in no time.
Piping hot pizza and ice cold beer aren’t just the makings of a perfect Friday night on the couch; the classic combo deserves daily consideration.
At The Pizza Peel & Tap Room, the Sorry for Partying Supreme pizza brings the thunder with its toppings. The expertly seasoned meat (ground beef, pepperoni and sausage) and vegetables (banana peppers, green peppers, roasted red peppers, onions and mushrooms) pack quite the punch. A good IPA will help fan the flames of all that spice, and that’s where Legion Brewing’s Juicy Jay comes into play. Brewed with four different hop varieties, this tropical delight’s juiciness helps wash down the pizza’s toppings with ease.
Ditching the meat? Have no fear; finding a companion beer is actually a small feat. Pure Pizza at 7th Street Public Market is home of the She-Rex pizza—a pie that’s piled with mozzarella, mushrooms, onions and peppers, and the piece de resistance—a generous sprinkling of greens tossed in homemade lemon vinaigrette dressing. Thanks to a fine blend of sweetness and hops, a wheat beer will take well to the veggies, greens and vinaigrette. Try Three Spirits Brewery’s Dream of Wheat, which is brewed with cinnamon and orange peels.
The pie to try at Libretto’s Pizzeria is light and simple, with crushed tomato sauce, basil and the freshest of mozzarella cheese. Steamy slices of the Margherita pizza are best paired with a blonde ale due to the beer style’s faint bitterness and overall mild body. Wooden Robot Brewery’s Good Morning Vietnam is a great choice, as its light body and sweet tastes of coffee and vanilla beans make this an easy-drinking beer—and as simply delicious as the no-frills, all-flavor Margherita pizza.
Few things go better together than warm pretzels and craft beer, as the pretzel’s saltiness finds relief in a cold one’s refreshing malt and hops.
Given the pretzel’s popularity and European origin, snacking on one with a German-style beer is pretty hard to beat. That’s what you’ll find with The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Hornet’s Nest hefeweizen, which is the perfect answer to VBGB Beer Hall & Garden’s jumbo soft pretzel. Both the pour and the bite feature finely balanced wheat, and we’re guessing that’s why a pretzel paired with a side of beer cheese could seemingly solve all of the world’s problems.
If a little kick is more your forte, try FūD at Salud’s homemade pretzel. Owner Jeff McElwee crafts his pretzels’ signature spicy beer cheese using Birdsong Brewing Co.’s fan-favorite Jalapeño Pale Ale, which is brewed with fresh, hand-cut jalapeños. That means devouring it while drinking the beer that inspired it all is an absolute no-brainer.
Pretzels aren’t the only savory snacks that command a side of craft beer. Despite the unspoken rule that wine, cheese and charcuterie are the trio of choice, there’s a strong argument to be made for beer’s (particularly sours) place in the mashup, too. The acidity of sour beer balances well with the meat’s fattiness and the cheese’s richness. You can discover it for yourself when visiting Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop and ordering one of owner Dan Davis’ famed charcuterie plates (choose meat, cheese or a combination of both). They work beautifully with Lenny Boy Brewing Co.’s citrus-inspired Dat Pale American Ale, a crisp and balanced pale ale featuring Simcoe, Azacca and Citra hops.
In advance of Super Bowl 51 in February, the National Chicken Council estimated that Americans would consume 1.33 billion chicken wings on game day (enough sticky goodness to circle the Earth nearly three times). Just imagine how much of the world’s oceans could be filled with the craft beer guzzled.
Uncle Donnie’s Famous Blackened Wings, which take shape in Moosehead Grill’s kitchen, are among the most timeless menu items the city has to offer. And for as long as they’ve been around, the recipe still eludes everyone. Of course, a classic dish deserves a classic beer, and The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Copper fits the bill. Copper was the first beer to break out in the local craft scene in 2009, and it remains the top-selling packaged beer in Charlotte. What’s more, this amber ale’s crisp flavor blends beautifully with the crispness of the blackened wings.
At Duckworth’s Grill and Taphouse, the Moomoo’s Wings carry fame of their own. Named after owner Rob Duckworth’s grandmother, the wings are fried to a neat crisp and then chargrilled before soaking in an unbelievably yummy vinegar-based sauce. With solid flavor packed in the wings, a robust beer, like The Unknown Brewing Co.’s Venture American stout, is an ideal accompaniment. We like this one for its strong notes of chocolate and dark overall character.
Of course, we’d be remiss to dismiss the original wing flavor: Buffalo. At Mac’s Speed Shop, the Hot Classic Buffalo wings are hickory smoked and grilled in a red-hot sauce that will have your taste receptors firing from all cylinders. Birdsong Brewing Co.’s Higher Ground is one of the smoother IPAs, and its hops and caramel notes do an outstanding job of cutting the heat from the wings, providing your palate with a flawless balance.
This article ran in the April 2017 issue of Charlotte Happenings.