Old houses sometimes merit renovations, and that was the case for the property at 1300 Central Ave. It's now home to Joe Hooper's Beverage & Sandwich Exchange, an eatery specializing in burgers and sandwiches. Previously occupied by Stackers Sandwich Shoppe and, before that, a barbecue joint, the Plaza-Midwood restaurant reopened in January after getting a facelift.
Hooper's is owned by Bottle Cap Restaurant Group, the same folks who own Brazwells Premium Pub, Whiskey Warehouse, All American Pub and Jack's Corner Tap. It's small - 1,800 square feet, with only 63 seats - but its down-home, warm vibe makes up for its size.
Though the eatery isn't doing groundbreaking things - a burger bar/sandwich shop isn't exactly a new concept - they are striving to take the dining experience up a notch.
In creating the menu, elements of Southern fare weighed heavily. You'll find appetizers like deviled eggs and the Hillybilly Caprese, with fried mac-n-cheese, and sandwiches like the fried bologna sandwich and Taste of the South - pimento cheese with grilled tomato stuffed between two pieces of grilled Texas Toast.
As far as burgers are concerned, two of the restaurant's most-ordered burgers are the "Central Burger," topped with fried mac-n-cheese and bacon and the "NYC Burger," a cross between a burger and a Reuben Swiss cheese, slaw, and Russian dressing. The "Breakfast Burger," inspired by one of the owners' memories of eating Neese's Country Sausage as a child, contains Neese's sausage, American cheese and a fried egg. The restaurant has plans to roll out a brunch menu with Neese's sausage playing a heavy role in its components. Though the atmosphere doesn't seem fitting for vegetarians, the menu does offer a few meatless options too.
Hooper also serves N.C.-brewed craft beers on draft and other canned beers (no bottles). While you're there, be sure to send a special cheers to the restaurant's namesake, a Vietnam War veteran that you've probably never heard of.
Joe Hooper was one of the most decorated Vietnam War veterans in the country. He declined military work after his time in the war to pursue his passion for horse training. Before using his name for the restaurant, owners contacted Hooper's wife for permission. "She was very supportive and really glad that someone was kind of honoring his name," says Alfonso Giacomucci, who works at Hooper's.