Carolina Dine Around - February 11, 2022

Open containers, food halls, and a little tomfoolery

At the Transfer Co. Food Hall in Raleigh guests order from a variety of vendor counters and dine at common tables
At the Transfer Co. Food Hall in Raleigh guests order from a variety of vendor counters and dine at common tables (Dispatch Staff)

By Robert F. Moss

It’s time for another Carolina Dine Around, your digest of the latest food and beverage news from around the Carolinas.

Yes, I know that the Super Bowl is Sunday, but I don’t have any recommendations for you on where to find chicken wings. (Hint: try just about any restaurant or bar.) Nor do I have a round-up of which restaurants are offering Valentine’s Day specials. (Hint: just about all of them, and don’t be flinty on the tip.)

But there is plenty of scoop on the potential to drink on the streets in North Carolina, the evolving nature of food halls, and disturbing trends in nicknames for dining districts. So let’s dig in.

Triangle (and Triad)

Sippin’ and Strollin’

Will there be drinking on the streets in the Triangle any time soon? A bunch of disparate reforms to North Carolina’s alcohol laws were shoehorned into House Bill 890, which Governor Roy Cooper signed into law on September 10th. Among them is a provision allowing cities or counties to establish special outdoor “social districts” in which people can consume beer, wine, or mixed drinks that they purchased from the holder of an on-premise beer, wine, or liquor permit.

If effect, this means cities can now create zones where residents can buy booze from a restaurant or bar and drink it out on the sidewalk or in a nearby park. The city or county can designate the days and hours, so a district could in theory be a very limited thing, like shutting down a city block for a weekly “sip ‘n stroll” evening, or setting up a standing party zone seven days a week.

In either case, personalized “go cups” will have to become a thing. The law requires that any beverages consumed in a social district must be in non-glass containers of no more than 16 ounces, and these must display the the name of the business that sold the beverage as well as “a logo or some other mark that is unique to the social district.” The cups must also bear, in at least 12 point font, the admonition “Drink Responsibly – Be 21," a time-tested method for stamping out underage consumption and general drunkness.

So far, the cities in the Triangle aren’t exactly racing to establish their own Bourbon Streets, but Laura Brummett of the Triangle Business Journal reports that the downtown business associations in both Durham and Raleigh have been holding discussion sessions with their members about the prospects. (Next door in Chapel Hill, the idea was an immediate non-starter, because college kids.)

For now, we’ll all have to flock to North Carolina’s new Sin City, a.k.a. Greensboro. That city’s Downtown Social District, which city council authorized back in December, goes into effect on March 1st. The boundaries are expansive, consisting of a long stretch between Greene and Elm Streets that runs from Gate City Boulevard ten blocks northward to Smith Street, with offshoots to incorporate LeBauer Park and the blocks just to the east of First National Bank Field, home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers minor league baseball team. And it’s going to be wide-ass open, from noon all the way until 9:00 pm.

The Greensboro Downtown Social District stretches from Gate City Boulevard north to Smith Street and Battleground Avenue
The Greensboro Downtown Social District stretches from Gate City Boulevard north to Smith Street and Battleground Avenue

The Future of Food Halls?

The Old North State Food Hall in Selma aims to be the nation's first roadside food hall
The Old North State Food Hall in Selma aims to be the nation's first roadside food hall (Old North State Food Hall)

I, for one, have been a little skeptical about the future prospects of food halls. I certainly see the immediate appeal, having browsed the corridors at Optimist Hall in Charlotte and made laps around the Transfer Co. food halls in both Raleigh and Durham, trying to narrow down what I wanted to eat from far too many tempting options. But I’ve wondered how well the economics will work for the tenant restaurateurs and whether the lure of variety will soon fade against the other realities of the format, like having to navigate crowds, order and pay at multiple stalls, and stake out seats in communal dining areas in what are basically upscale mall food courts without any surrounding stores.

But Carolina developers are clearly more optimistic than me, for they keep launching more food halls. They are, however, starting to tweak the format a little.

Today marked the official opening of Craften, a “food hall for all” just east of Raleigh in Knightdale. On the hall’s website, co-founders Kip Downer and Max Trujillo admit that just offering a lot of food options isn’t enough, and they’ve designed a model that lets guests avoid “splitting up to order food or jumping back in line to get a second round of fries or drinks.”

The two story, 4,500-square-foot facility has plenty of outdoor dining space on a broad patio and second-floor deck. Anchored by beer and craft cocktails from the Craften bar, the hall offers the first brick and mortar locations for three local food truck operators—Poblano Tacos, Fiori Trattoria, and Corner Venzuelan, which is also opening a Venezuela-inflected burger stall called Finca Burger. Each has its own kitchen, but customers can sit down in the common seating area and order from all four menus from servers employed by the food hall.

The partners seem pretty confident in the format, and they are working to open second version in Clayton later this year.

Meanwhile, another Triangle-area food hall is taking aim at a more mobile market. Old North State Food Hall, which has been in the works for several years but got delayed by the pandemic, has announced a target of opening this summer. Billed as “the nation's first roadside food hall,” it’s located in a former JR Cigar outlet at the junction of US 70 and I-95 in Selma and aims to draw a combination of locals and interstate travelers.

The 12,000 square foot facility will offer a range of cuisines from ten vendors, including Barley and Burger, Mac House, Luna Pizza, Curry in a Hurry, and Aroma de Cuba. A full-service bar called the Longleaf Tavern will feature North Carolina-made beer, cider, wine, and spirits. Let’s hope those southbound snowbirds pick a designated driver.


I Kind of Prefer Pottersville Myself

Perhaps it’s due to all those direct Delta and Jet Blue flights from New York to Charleston, but a move seems underway to colonize the Holy City with bar concepts imported from the Big Apple.

In last week’s Carolina Dine Around I reported that Uptown Hospitality, a group of New York F&B vets and owners of Uptown Social on King Street, is adding two more concepts in the old railroad depot off Ann Street. This week Parker Milner of the Post & Courier reports on the arrival of Bedford Falls, which has taken over the former Tu space on Meeting Street. Brothers Brendan and Brian Kirkpatrick operate a bar by the same name on the Upper East Side in New York, and they tell Milner they “hope to replicate the atmosphere” here in Charleston.

In related news, I hear a measure was introduced at the last City Council meeting to rename the Ashley and Cooper Rivers “Hudson” and “East,” respectively.

They Bid $1

I was about to skim right over news that a storefront restaurant named Luke ’n Ollie’s Pizzeria on Isle of Palms just changed hands, but a detail caught my eye. Original owner Jonathan Swartz, Warren Wise reports, is now retiring 12 years after he opened the beachside pizzeria with his winnings from an appearance on “The Price Is Right.” He named the restaurant for his cat and dog and now has sold it to the owners of The Windjammer and Papi’s Taqueria.


Tim’s Having the Wurst Winter

Timothy DePugh of the Queen City Nerve has anger management issues, but he’s treating them with Reuben-style tater tots, schnitzel fries, lots of sausages, and pork schnitzel sandwiches from Good Wurst Company. It’s a good read, and it made me angry that I don’t live in Charlotte.

Man Didn’t Bite Dog

So many of Charlotte’s beloved old school restaurants have closed in recent years that Axios Charlotte has apparently decided it’s more efficient to just report on the ones that are staying in business. The news this week is that Alexander Michael’s, which opened in 1983, will not be closing, though the century-old store building it occupies in Fourth Ward is up for sale


There’ve been bunch of new and announced openings in the Charlotte area, including a couple of new options for locally-distilled spirits.

  • Now open: Sleeping Giant Distillery opened at the end of January just off Oakland Avenue in downtown Rock Hill, and rum will be its flagship product.

  • Now open: Venetian-style wine bar Cicchetti has reopened in the Bank of America Corporate Center.
  • Now open: Benny Ferrovia’s, the home of giant 28-inch pizzas, opened today in the South End.
  • This month: Rocky Mount-based Hopfly Brewing’s announced its new Charlotte taproom will open on February 22nd in the former home of Unknown Brewing on South Mint Street.
  • This spring: Whiskey distillery and tasting room Oaklore Distilling is opening in Matthews.
  • This summer: A second location of Plaza Midwood’s craft beer and burger joint Moo & Brew is coming to downtown Matthews.

Finally, NODICE

Charlotte Five, observing the many Italian restaurants now flocking to Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood, is now trying to make “Little NODALLY” a thing. Let’s please not let this happen.

About the Author

Robert F. Moss

Robert F. Moss is the Contributing Barbecue Editor for Southern Living magazine, Restaurant Critic for the Post & Courier, and the author of numerous books on Southern food and drink, including The Lost Southern Chefs, Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Southern Spirits: 400 Years of Drinking in the American South, and Barbecue Lovers: The Carolinas. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.