In 2016, the ocean washed inland with the opening of Sea Level NC, an upscale Uptown seafood dining destination that made a splash in the Queen City. Paul Manley is the founder of Sea Level NC and a partner at Damian Dining, the group behind Growlers Pourhouse and the Crepe Cellar. Since then, he turned his focus to South End, where earlier this year he introduced Sea Level NC’s “kid cousin,” The Waterman.
Like Sea Level NC, The Waterman will prioritize sustainable seafood sourcing. In order to succeed, the restaurant’s team will rely heavily on Manley’s extensive network of ethical sea farmers, not just for ingredients, but also for mission and ambience.
“In all my visits to oyster farms, hatcheries, fishing ports, and shrimping vessels, there are two common denominators. They all have a shared hardiness and tenacity that it takes to survive and provide. And they also have an amazing respect for their natural work environment and an understanding that the ocean is ultimately in charge. So, The Waterman celebrates the hard-working men and women that work the difficult coastline jobs,” says Manley.
“The Waterman celebrates the hard-working men and women that work the difficult coastline jobs.”
The Waterman’s Food
The menu is pure comfort-food-meets-low-country. Coastal comfort classics like po’ boys, fish camp platters, steamed mussels, and crawdaddy dippers share space on the menu with raw bar offerings, specialty fish plates, and burgers and tacos (for the landlubbers).
“We’ve not created anything fancy,” explains co-owner Andrew Chapman. “We simply made what we feel a ‘waterman’ would want to eat at his neighborhood joint.”
It’s the delicious, satisfying, and salty tavern food that you’d find at your favorite weathered beachside haunt—just 200 miles inland.
The Waterman’s Team
To help find the right flavors, Manley and Chapman hired Charles Landry as Executive Chef. So far, Landry id thrilled with The Waterman’s seafood-centric menu challenges. He finds that, as a native of New Orleans, he is uniquely equipped to address them. “The Crescent City is so close to the Gulf, so eating seafood is an everyday thing. I sometimes think the craving for crawfish is genetic. It’s built right into my DNA.”
To bring the restaurant to life, Manley and Chapman also worked with Carrie Frye Interior to fashion a nautical aesthetic that, Manley hoped, would feel both “warm and a little lived-in.” Certainly they succeeded on both counts.
The Waterman’s Ambience
The ceiling is covered by an inverted deck that—alongside oyster basket lamp shades, distressed wood accent tables and backsplashes, dock cleat door handles, and reclaimed oars—evokes the coast, just as the space’s sparseness preserves an industrial, urban vibe consistent with the restaurant’s Queen City location.
Although open year-round, The Waterman is best enjoyed in fair weather. That’s when diners can make ample use of the restaurant’s outdoor dining space, rooftop bar, chilled “boat drinks,” and alcoholic slushies.
All told, The Waterman offers an approachable, neighborhood seafood experience that was ostensibly missing from Charlotte. And the restaurant offers it with flavor, flare, and a generous serving of comfort.