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FEAST Food Tours Showcases Local Flavors, Chefs in Charlotte

By Lea LeFebvre Photos by Remy Thurston

May 6, 2015

There is a growing trend in food destination cities across the country. Adventurous foodies seeking an unconventional way to experience the local flavors of an area, look no further. In Charlotte, it’s called FEAST Food Tours. Whether you’re a tourist just passing through, or a veteran to the area; you are sure to gain a unique perspective on Charlotte’s culinary scene.

FEAST Food Tours is owned and managed by Kristi Martin, who also conducts each tour. An Ohio native, Kristi moved to North Carolina when she was 11 years old and to Charlotte for college in 1991. After spending nearly 20 years in advertising, hospitality and tourism, working with great chefs and food and beverage directors, starting FEAST Food Tours seems to be an obvious career choice. She has experienced the evolution of Charlotte’s culinary scene firsthand and her passion for Charlotte and its local flavors is truly contagious.

FEAST offers a range of walking food tours, each anchored by a specific neighborhood in Charlotte. A few tours include Dives to Dining in Plaza Midwood, Bars and Bites in South End and Local Flavors of Historic NoDa.

CLTure had the opportunity to go on the Uptown Chic Behind-the-Scenes tour and debut a brand new itinerary.

Rooster’s Uptown

While deep-fried pigskin, may seem like an unorthodox choice for an upscale restaurant, the dish surely had the crowd squealing with delight. Pork rinds and beer is a true southern classic, one that comes second in comfort food combinations only to peanut butter and chocolate, or perhaps, mashed potatoes and gravy.

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Rooster’s pork rinds take 5 days to prepare from start to finish

The open kitchen on the second floor invites conviviality, and there is something distinctly homey about food prepared in a wood-fired oven, especially pizza. Rooster’s is the perfect first stop on a food tour and the ideal way to ease into an afternoon of indulgence.

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Chef prepares a three-cheese roasted chicken pizza with a chickweed pesto base
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Impromptu butchering demonstration epitomizes the candidness of the Uptown Chic Behind-the-Scenes tour

The Asbury

The Asbury is located in The Dunhill Hotel, the only historic boutique hotel remaining in Uptown. The quaint, 30-seat dining area oozes with charm and modern sophistication, a reflection of the restaurant’s modern southern cuisine.

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The Asbury’s dining area is simple, yet distinctly southern and upscale

You can always trust Executive Chef, Chris Coleman, who also serves as The Dunhill’s Food and Beverage Director, to have something exciting up his sleeves. When it comes to the menu, innovative takes on Carolinian classics, such as Chicken and Dumplings or Carolina Bison Brisket. On a FEAST Food Tour, that might mean an invitation into the kitchen.

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Chef Chris Coleman received his first executive chef position at McNinch House in Charlotte when he was just 21 years old

Like every restaurant on the Uptown Chic Behind-the-Scenes tour, most of the ingredients used in The Asbury’s kitchen are sourced locally from North Carolina farms and purveyors. This includes fried green tomatoes, which are also a key element for Chef’s interactive plating demonstration.

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The group was brought into the kitchen to individually plate the fried green tomato appetizer

Fahrenheit

The upbeat and trendy atmosphere of Fahrenheit, starkly contrasts the undeniably southern feel of both Rooster’s and The Asbury. As Charlotte’s only rooftop restaurant, and one of few “celebrity” chef-driven restaurants, Fahrenheit has surely carved its own niche in Charlotte’s culinary landscape.

Fahrenheit prides itself on a diverse offering of both food and beverage. Cocktails, like the berry sangria, are crafted with ingredients raised on the rooftop terrace, when possible. Dishes are at the helm of each chef’s specialties. A potent Asian influence originates from Chef Rocco Whalen’s stint at one of Wolfgang Puck’s Asian eateries in Phoenix.

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Lamb sliders topped with melted brie, Asian pear marmalade and a buttery brioche bun are a treat, even when served cold

The kitchen, even early afternoon on Sunday, buzzes with activity. Between private parties, food tours and a loyal fan base, Fahrenheit is always a place to be and be seen.

Evoke

A newcomer to the Charlotte scene, Evoke opened in late 2014. The restaurant is situated in the corner of the impressively decorated “Hub” of the Le Merdien, which feels more like a modern art deco museum than the lobby of a hotel.

The menu features a modern twist on international favorites with a focus on dry-aged steaks, house-made pastas and fish crudos. Here, a lavender infused martini was brilliantly paired with escolar crudo.

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Escolar crudo, drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil and served with snap peas was meticulously prepared and presented

Fun fact: Longtitude80, the bar that sits adjacent to Evoke infuses most vodkas in house and the cocktail menu is comprised of an assortment of rotating concoctions, each named by their creators.

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The beverage highlight of the day,the lavender martini, was the perfect complement to the delicate and buttery escolar

Mimosa Grill

Founded in 1995, Mimosa Grill is one of the longest standing restaurants in Uptown Charlotte. With tantalizing southern classics such as organic rotisserie chicken potpie, lobster mac and cheese and low country shrimp and grits, it’s easy to see why. Mimosa Grill has a distinctive upscale vibe, but comes across less pretentious than other stops on the tour such as Evoke or Fahrenheit.

Paired with a subtle white wine, the group was treated to the most adorable chopped lump crab salad, served in individual skillets. As tasty as it looks, this was the perfect light dish to top off an afternoon of impressive cuisine.

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The chopped lump crab salad was sprinkled with fresh avocado, pickled red onion and tomato on a bed of roasted corn

There is something to be said about bringing a group of strangers together, all looking for something different than a traditional dining experience. While the food and beverage showcased throughout the afternoon served as a foundation for the tour, in the end it wasn’t the main focus.

Somewhere between chatting with strangers over the identification of a particular spice, plating a dish at the direction of a renowned chef, and discovering an affinity for a new food, you may find that it’s more about the overall experience rather than the food itself.

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Whether you consider yourself a veteran to the Charlotte culinary scene, or just a tourist passing through, there is something to be learned and relished by everyone. Hats off to Kristi for following her passion with FEAST Food Tours and giving the Charlotte’s culinary artisans the recognition they deserve.

Follow FEAST Food Tours on facebook and twitter.

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