How sweet it is at Tupelo

For those of you who have been to Asheville and enjoyed this intimate little café, you’ve most likely stood in the line out the door when they open for breakfast, especially on the weekends. That’s where I first discovered Tupelo Honey, many years ago. Over the years, if I am in Asheville, I will usually end up at Tupelo. Now that it’s right here in south Charlotte, I am delighted.

Tupelo Honey is now open in SouthEnd, in the former spot of Pewter Rose. The restaurant has a twin in Asheville that Charlotte customers may be familiar with.

Tupelo Honey is now open in SouthEnd, in the former spot of Pewter Rose. The restaurant has a twin in Asheville that Charlotte customers may be familiar with.

The concern I always have is that, when a really good restaurant makes a carbon copy as close as possible, it doesn’t always work out. Even seasoned multi-unit establishments have opened and closed in our neighborhood. Tupelo replaces a long-term, and for many years successful, Pewter Rose in SouthEnd. That made room for Tupelo Honey Cafe. They took over both the space occupied by Pewter Rose as well as the front of the second floor facing South Boulevard – what was the bar Tutto Mundo.

My first experience with Tupelo was for breakfast, and the south Charlotte spot, just as in Asheville, has a wait list for weekend breakfast. And for good reason. They have it down and execute with superb consistency. The saving grace is that our Tupelo is much, much bigger – especially when you add that extended balcony of tables. The interior space has been opened up, with the beautifully exposed original wood beams and brick walls. There are plenty of tables and booths, and the bar is large with several tall tables and an extra-long table. The place holds a good number of guests.

Back to breakfast: you can’t go wrong. Scrumptious omelets with all choices of cheese and veggies like roasted red peppers and caramelized onions can be included. Breakfast pies with eggs and cheese with a flaky crust is offered with variations each day, one for vegetarians and one for omnivore’s, according to the menu. I am very fond of the specialty of the house, a popular favorite: the sweet potato pancakes. A plate-size buttermilk pancake is flavored with cinnamon and sweet potatoes, and topped with, what else, whipped peach butter and spiced pecans. This should help explain why there is a packed house on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

For a snack or a dinner appetizer to share, try the Appalachian egg rolls – slow roasted pulled pork tossed in a smoked jalapeno barbecue sauce rolled with braised greens, pickled onions and shredded carrots. It arrives with a tangy Dijon mustard and jalapeno barbecue sauce for dipping. The rolls have a wonderful harmony of flavors, cooked perfectly with a crunchy skin and steamy interior. The sauce was so good we needed a bit more. Also scrumptious were the fried green tomatoes. I’ve had them elsewhere and they are often over-fried and greasy. These were delightfully fried just right with a nice crisp exterior and a firm but giving texture inside. They are served over goat cheese grits with fresh basil. Keep in mind that you also can order a couple of slices as your side, without the grits. The chicken wings are offered as a pound of honey chipotle wings with blue cheese dressing. Fan of pimento cheese? They serve it hot with house-made tortilla chips.

The offerings for sandwiches have a good variety along with variations on a theme. When shrimp met taco is two soft flour tortillas filled with flash-fried shrimp, julienned Swiss chard, house-made smoked jalapeno aioli and their signature sunshot salsa. The shrimp are lightly breaded and fried just right. All the flavors and the textures work well together. It may mean being a little more nimble to keep it all inside the taco, but it’s worth it. For a real treat, consider the Southern fried chicken BLT, utilizing crispy fried natural and hormone-free chicken breast with maple peppered bacon, dijonnaise, tomato and lettuce on an artisan bun. The char-grilled burger is made with a half-pound of a blend of prime rib and beef short rib, making for a very tasty burger indeed.

Entrées are another bunch of varying selections, some with a deliciously different twist. I’m normally not big on meatloaf at a restaurant because it comes out so good at home. However, I can tell you that Tupelo’s meatloaf is definitely option worthy. They use local hormone-free, grass-fed beef, and add bacon. It arrives topped with rosemary shallot tomato gravy, a side of scratch-made yummy mac and cheese and fresh asparagus as a garnish. When restaurants make a delectable twist on a classic dish and execute it well, it sings. I submit for your consideration the Southern fried chicken saltimbocca with country ham and mushroom Marsala. A crispy fried, natural and hormone-free breast is topped with ham, melted Havarti cheese and basil. The mushroom Marsala sauce is a perfect accompaniment to the flavors of the chicken and ham. To top it off, it’s served with a side of cheesy smashed cauliflower, which is outstanding.

Additional dinners include a nut-encrusted fried chicken; slow-cooked, hand-pulled barbecue, Carolina mountain trout; a certified Angus center cut ribeye; and jumbo lump crab cakes with a lemon cherry pepper aioli – the steak au poivre utilizing a cut of teres major. The teres major is a cut from the shoulder that is considered to be almost as tender as a tenderloin filet. The creamy green peppercorn sauce is classic French. The Cajun skillet catfish is blackened and the zippy-de-do-dah sweet and spicy pork employs a smoked jalapeno glazed ribeye that’s grilled. And of course, it wouldn’t be a taste of the South without offering shrimp and grits. Their version incorporates goat cheese grits and a roasted red pepper sauce. What I really appreciate about the list of entrée’s – and it permeates the entire menu – is a deliciously Southern twist that both tastes great and makes them signature offerings.

You will find vegetarian offerings throughout the menu that have been given as much attention to flavor as everything else you can consider. From the veggie breakfast pie to the veggie melt and the scratch-made Grateful Dead black bean burger. You can build your own veggie plate choosing three of the 16 farm fresh sides; from honey pickled beet salad and Southern popcorn (fried okra) to brown butter Brussels sprouts and marinated grilled tofu.

Tupelo Honey’s food speaks for itself, made from scratch with premium raw ingredients and a high level of consistent execution in the kitchen. I can speak to the front of the house staff. Throughout all of my dining experiences at Tupelo’s, every member of the staff has been very pleasant with my guests and I and anyone else with whom I observed them interact. Sure, you could say that’s the theme of the place – Southern hospitality. I would say every dining establishment should adopt this level of a sense of immediacy and caring combined with a healthy dose of an attitude of gratitude. Always checking on our table, ready to explain anything on the menu and quick to share recommendations.

Here’s an example of what I’m referring to: it was a packed Friday lunch and I needed to give a first name for what I was told would be about a 25-minute wait. I was early, waiting for a guest, so I put my name on the list. About seven minutes passed when I was told it would be ready, a table was available. I told the hostess that my guest was at least 10 minutes away and she said that was OK and proceeded to seat me at a comfortable booth. I told the server it would be several minutes and she told me to not be concerned. We had a great lunch and as I left the restaurant, the hostess who had taken my first name and seated me, told me, by my first name, to have a great day. That she remembered me 200 guests or so later impressed me to no end. That’s service. That’s caring about your guests like they really were your own guests. Oh, and by the way, very reasonably priced. This is a refreshingly new eatery in south Charlotte, and I look forward to returning time and again.

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