Hearty eatin'

Where to go for happy and healthy dishes in the bitter cold of winter

| December 10, 2012
Six Wide Burger at Whisky River

Six Wide Burger at Whisky River


- Joe Martin

Once all the leftovers are finished and plates licked clean from Thanksgiving, it's hard to top the glory of consuming mass quantities of Mom's mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. And yet we must continue eating through the rest of the holiday season and into the depressing days of winter, when scraping windshields, wearing gloves and leaving work in the dark become routine. While Mom's big Turkey Day dinner may be behind us, there are plenty of restaurants in the Charlotte area to find similar — and similarly delicious — comfort foods that will keep us strong and healthy on those bitter cold days. Here are a few choice spots.

Whisky River
A new restaurant opening — or we should say, add-on — has arrived just in time to whet our appetites and warm our spirits. The EpiCentre's Whisky River, known for being a nightclub with a country twist, now serves barbecue and other Southern dishes. Adding an 1,100-square-foot kitchen, the Whisky team has begun cooking up some hearty dishes. Resident chef and kitchen manager Chad Sciotto, who has worked in eateries from Hooters to Providence Bistro in Ballantyne, says the philosophy behind the menu is simple: Southern cuisine and comfort food.

The menu oozes with comfort food staples, including lots and lots of fried foods, even among its desserts. (Fried candy bars, anyone?) Another draw is the selection of wings in flavors ranging from traditional lemon pepper and garlic parmesan to more experimental items like peach habanero and sweet Thai chili.

Serious about the barbecue, owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. has come up with four sauces — original, smokey, hot and honey gold — that are exclusive to the WR kitchen. To keep the recipes a secret, he had the spices mixed in South Carolina and the vinegar and paste added in North Carolina. (This is serious business, y'all!) (210 E. Trade St.)

Leroy Fox
This Cotswold restaurant has a versatile menu ranging from fried chicken dinners to lighter items such as gourmet salads, including a grilled shrimp Cobb and Southwestern chopped. One of its seasonal specialties is the pork chop. Char-grilled and topped with a maple brown sugar and bourbon glaze, it's a winter staple with an edge. Head Chef Eric Hedrick calls it "Leroy's version of a winter warmer."

"Just like bourbon in a glass that warms you up," he says, "the heartiness of the pork chop paired with the heat of the Kentucky bred whiskey is a quick fix for those cold winter days." Choose two sides, like mashed potatoes with pepper gravy and green bean casserole, and you'll feel like it's Thanksgiving all over again. If you're looking to avoid red meat, opt for the creamy shrimp and grits, that quintessentially Southern dish from the Low Country of South Carolina. (705 South Sharon Amity Road)

Lupie's Café
This oldie but goodie is a Charlotte favorite year-round, but the joint dives into the winter season with a vengeance, giving comfort food lovers more reason than ever to be thankful.

"People like us for winter food because they want comfort and we do dishes like spaghetti and chicken and dumplings ... the kind of stuff that really sticks to your ribs," says owner and chef Lupie Duran.

The quirky Monroe Road stop has a huge selection of hearty meals, including the chili mac (served over thick spaghetti), which has been a popular request for more than 25 years, according to Duran. But there's also good old meat loaf, Southern-style chicken and dumplings, or creamy fettucini alfredo. Heavy on carbs, these are the types of dishes that'll keep you going all day, even if temperatures don't rise above the teens.

If you're meat-free, Lupie's has a number of heavy vegetarian-friendly dishes, like veggie chili, a daily quiche and French onion soup, without the usual beef broth. (2718 Monroe Road)

Viva Raw
For those looking for wintertime comfort nutrition without all the starches and proteins, there's Viva Raw, inside the 7th Street Public Market Uptown. It's added some new items to its winter menu, including high-carb vegetable juices such as the Sweet Tater (a blend of sweet potato, butternut squash, apple, carrot ginger, fennel and lemon), the Beet Boost, the Pearfection and the Pumpkin Patch. Owner Scott Harris cold-presses all the juices using fresh fall vegetables, many of which are locally sourced.

"In the winter months, when it's cold, people don't get as much Vitamin D as they should and that can tend to make people feel a little blue," Harris says. "Sweet potatoes are especially good this time of year when the days are getting shorter and the nights longer, because they're high in Vitamin D, and that can kind of lift your mood a little bit." (224 E. 7th St.)

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