Where to be this summer in CLT: The food & Drink

Community in Quarantine
The CLT skyline - thoughts on our Community in Quarantine. Photo: Justin McErlain

Summer is a fickle thing in this region—particularly in Charlotte, where the climate is, honestly, a lot more Lowcountry than Blue Ridge, despite the city’s relative closeness to both. Here, as in most of Carolina, weather patterns seem to play with us. It’s a season of stubborn, sticky humidity and thunderous ambushes. It’s also a time for long, breezy hiking days with cool evenings, for adorably tongue-in-cheek park picnics, and for cookouts with that one relative who’s way too damn good at cornhole. I’ve lived all over this state, and I can say with a contented certainty that not a single summer has been unmemorable.

For me, it’s a time of year that stirs up memory after memory, all of them rose-tinted by fiery sunsets and full of very real lightning-bug magic. That kind of blissful nostalgia is more palpable for summers past than for any other season, and maybe that’s because summers here are just so eventful. In a big Southern city like Charlotte, there’s always so, so much more to do this time of year—a fact that inevitably means the long, office-bound days required to bring you this issue are especially taxing. Translation: I’m actually thinking about the pool right now.

But I think it has paid off. What follows is our guide to your 2018 summer in the city, when it comes to the food and the drink. It’s our most well-researched advice on where to be in Charlotte throughout the next three months—with recommendations for every occasion, for every time of day, and for even the most unpredictable of forecasts.

Stay tuned, because we’ve got way more recommendations for summer in CLT to come, too.

Summer in CLT
Golden Cow Creamery double scoop

Golden Cow
Golden Cow’s small batch ice cream is crafted for Charlotteans who want something a little different in their frozen treats, and the shop’s new SouthPark location is just that: a little different. Grab a waffle cone with a one of those flavors that are decidedly not-your-dad’s neapolitan and just… walk around. Whether you do so in South End or SouthPark is entirely up to you. All we ask is that you take your time with those scoops. Golden Cow ice cream won’t melt as quickly as the store-bought stuff, and it sure as heck didn’t get made quickly, so enjoy it slowly. Good ice cream is better when you give it time to be—and first-hand sources allege that this is also the most efficient way to avoid brain freeze.

For years, Fahrenheit has been the place to be on summer evenings. Rooftop munching and sipping in front of one of the best skyline views anywhere in Charlotte somehow never gets old. And while that hasn’t changed, it’s also earned what is perhaps an even holier place in our weekend routine: Brunch. We’re particularly  obsessed with the fried chicken benedict (served on a cheddar biscuit with shoyu creme and pineapple papaya marmalade) and that infamous build-your-own Bloody Mary cart, but the whole decadent menu is fine-tuned—perfectly tailored, you might say, to correct any mistakes from the night before. Fahrenheit’s brunch is—sorry—on another level.

Summer in CLT
DTR Patio

Dilworth Tasting Room
The inside of Dilworth Tasting Room is nice and all—exposed brick walls and an airy, open seating space—but the courtyard out back is what we wait for all year. There’s something oasis-like about this hidden patio nestled in Dilworth, particularly since it’s got a dose of all the outdoor ambiance you could wish for: soft string lighting, lush greenery, fountains, a koi pond… as you can likely imagine, that after work glass of wine and charcuterie board (mixed and matched by the chef to your liking) just tastes better against this idyllic backdrop.

Kid Cashew
The modern mediterranean at this cozy Dilworth eatery is appealing year-round, but during the months when you can kick it on the expansive front patio, dotted with greenery and strung with flickering lights, it’s all the more appealing. The spot offers a menu of wood-fired meats and seafood plus a surprising amount of veg-friendly options, alongside their inventive cocktail list. Head there for happy hour, or bring a group and order family style.

Hello, Sailor
Tiki drinks taste better when there’s a body of water nearby. It’s a fact. Hello, Sailor has been serving them up, with straws both paper-trendy and bendy, for some time, but never have they seemed so in fashion as now, when the weather grants breezy lake It’days that consistently end in glorious sunsets. What’s more, the hip fish camp now sports a tiki bar on its sprawling deck, the better to serve you those tongue-in-cheek mixtures of citrus and rum.

Merchant & Trade Patio
High up on the 19th floor of the Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel sits Merchant & Trade, a rooftop bar overlooking Romare Bearden and BB&T ballpark. There’s a little bit of everything here: an indoor bar, a covered terrace, and even a “lawn” area and fire table. It’s the perfect spot to grab a craft cocktail and watch the sun set in (swanky) comfort, but there are no reservations so get there early when the weather’s nice to score your front row spot.

Not Just Coffee
Iced Coffee, photo by Jamey Price

Iced Coffee on NJC Dilworth Patio
The latest Not Just Coffee and a string of other recently opened establishments have transformed Dilworth Crossing from “that oversized parking lot for Comet Grill” to a real destination—especially for Dilworth folks fond of patio seating. Not Just Coffee’s roll-up overhead doors and patio space are the immediate indicators of a good spot for summer sipping, but it’s the chef-driven and mixology-heavy menu here that really makes the café a place to linger. This is what summer afternoons are good for: Finish up any lingering work stuff and delve into NJC’s new warm-weather drink menu. Start with an aperitivo, grab a bite, and end with one of those new signature drinks: The House Music, with Hendrick’s gin, Amaro Averna, cucumber, and lemon, is our oh-so-refreshing go-to.

Shake Shack
After much anticipation, Danny Meyer’s beloved gourmet-ish take on fast food opened its first North Carolina location in Park Road Shopping Center this year. What started as a hotdog cart in NYC is now an international foodie favorite—never has Charlotte seen such fanfare for the opening of a fast food joint. Once the lines die down (a little), we recommend grabbing one of the namesake sweet treats as an ode to summertime. It’s nostalgia in a paper cup, with handspun thick swirls of everything from classic vanilla to rich peanut butter. You may have to exercise a bit of patience waiting for your shake while the rest of Charlotte gets their fix too, but it’s so worth it.

Summer in CLT
Unknown brewing flight

Unknown Brewing
One of Charlotte’s oldest beer mainstays has finally gotten a well-deserved facelift, and— fortunately for South End brewery hoppers—and a second-floor deck. Unknown’s new seating area looks up South Mint Street, granting a clear view of Bank of America Stadium and the city’s skyline. The renovation is essentially a complete visual overhaul, with Unknown’s indoor areas feeling a lot less repurposed warehouse and a lot more neighborhood haunt. The updated outdoor options maintain this welcoming vibe, too: Starting from Uptown, Unknown is the perfect start (and end) to your summer brewery crawls.

Resident Culture
Resident Culture Brewing, with its array of full-flavored IPAs, extensive tap options, and sprawling dog-friendly complex, has become one of our favorite spots anywhere on Central Avenue, year-round; it’s only natural that one of the most spacious brewery properties in Charlotte also makes for an ideal summer hangout. Picnic tables and cornhole spots make up the prime real estate here on summer evenings, but the interior and side deck are where the get-togethers really go down. Go for the haziest ale you can order and stay for the woke tunes.

Summer in CLT
Resident Culture

Wooden Robot
The South End mainstay may not be the oldest brewery around, but—with trendsetting brews like the vanilla-y goodness that is Good Morning Vietnam—it’s one that’s become synonymous with the Charlotte beer scene. With Robot’s new fast-casual, in-house eatery Kre8 Gastropub having recently opened, we can see ourselves spending many a summer afternoon on this patio—dogs in tow, of course.

With consistently good folky live music, one of the hippest patios in the Charlotte brew scene, and a beer list that just keeps improving upon itself with every new iteration, Legion Brewing continues to earn its place among our favorite destinations. It’s always bustling on summer evenings, but this place never feels like too much. The gathering nooks here are many and varied: There’s even a quiet balcony area in back, overlooking the brew room, which even the soberest patrons might easily miss completely.