I expect two things during the holidays: my wallet to shrink and my belly to grow. The result of both makes me vow never to return to such reckless decisions.
Yet every year, the desire to spoil loved ones combines with the allure of decadent holiday menu offerings to produce both effects — my Sisyphean efforts not enough for such an unstoppable force.
So, in case you’re like me and make excuses to eat whatever you want during the holidays without remorse, here’s a list of menu offerings in kitchens around town during this holiday season.
(all Charlotte locations)
Gingerbread French macarons ($2.99/each)
Peppermint chocolate meringue tart ($2.49/small; $4.89/large) | pâte sucrée shell, baked chocolate ganache with peppermint vanilla bean meringue*
Out on a holiday date? Skip dessert and instead stop by the nearest Amelie’s and try one of their holiday specials. A macaron or small tart makes for a nice, two-to-three-bite cap to a meal while a 4” tart is a romantic indulgence for two.
*available until January 1
1829 Cleveland Ave.
Chocolate Grand Marnier soufflé ($11) | graham cookies, candied orange peel, mint creme anglaise
Bonterra’s chef, Blake Hartwick, is classic. And perfect for a special occasion or holiday dinner, no dessert is more classic than a soufflé.
Pro tip: If you haven’t before, this is the time to try a dessert wine with your soufflé. Bonterra’s staff will pair one that complements your soufflé rather than fights with it, as most dry dinner wines tend to do — especially with chocolate.
3106 N. Davidson St.
French onion smothered pork chop ($23) | sweet potato mash
This is a great option for trying something other than the fried or smoked chicken. And in the holiday spirit of Southern supper dining, the pork chop is massive. Order it the for the table to share as a bonus entree and worry about New Year’s resolutions later.
500 S Tryon St.
Rabbit Saddle Roulade ($36) | carrot & horseradish purée, broccoli, shallot confit
This special dish takes time to prepare — the whole rabbit is deboned and stuffed with a mixture of foie gras, apples and onions. According to chef James Stouffer, “The dish was taught to me in 2004 by Italian Chef Andrea Pace, who traditionally wrapped the saddle using speck ham, aka smoked prosciutto.” Chef Stouffer instead wraps his culinary present with cider-brined bacon “for a little ode to the south.”
8470 Bellhaven Blvd.
Of course, chef Clark Barlowe knows and celebrates exactly where he procured each ingredient in this hearty winter dish. But don’t let the seemingly simplistic preparation fool you. With Barlowe’s constant reexaminations and experimentations, it’s a safe bet this meatloaf served over porridge with glazed carrots surpasses your expectations whether you’ve experienced his food or it’s your first time in his dining room.
20210 Henderson Rd., Cornelius
Crispy half duck ($28.49) | coconut, red curry, cilantro, mint
Formerly of Cypress in Charleston, powerhouse chef Craig Deihl is quietly featuring unique, Southeast Asian-inspired dishes from the land and air in addition to the simply prepared fresh seafood, and it’s making for something truly special up at the lake.
2230 Park Road, Suite 101
10620 Providence Road
Tuscana pizza ($15/small; $22/large) | roasted potatoes, kale, sausage, buffalo mozzarella, vegetable base
Apple pie cannoli ($4.50)
This pizza is more filling than the usual at Inizio. Split it with a friend and try one of their salads you typically ignore while you dominate an entire pizza by yourself. The Caesar is quite tasty. Save room for a uniquely American, Italian pastry in the apple pie cannoli — one that celebrates our strength as a melting pot nation.
214 N. College St.
French onion soup ($3.95/cup; $5.55/bowl) | homemade crouton, white cheddar, cornbread
On these frosty December days, cold deli sandwiches just don’t cut the mustard. Instead, pop into Mert’s Heart & Soul and hover over a hot bowl of French onion soup. Your warm cornbread will appear first but try and limit yourself to just a taste before your soup’s steamy arrival. Chef and owner James Bazelle may call it ‘French,’ but the duo of white cheddar and cornmeal certainly has a distinct Southern accent — perfect for feeling the warmth of the holidays.
3120 N. Davidson St., Ste. 100
Eggnog doughnut; available 12/17($1.20/single; $13/dozen)
Gingerbread doughnut; available 12/24 ($1.20/single; $13/dozen)
Switch up from your usual daily treat or throw a few of each into a dozen. Grab a gallon of milk on your way home, find a holiday movie and a blanket, and go to town.
235 N. Tryon St.
Eggnog ice cream ($6)
After your seasonal Southern meal in the dining room of The Asbury, order a nightcap of Bourbon and enjoy it in the lounge with your eggnog ice cream. If there is a more fitting holiday match, I don’t know if I could contain my joy. Throw in a holiday cookie from chef Miranda Brown and I don’t want to.
1332-B Central Ave.
1521 Montford Dr.
Cornbread dressing ($1.95/side)
Cornbread dressing makes any meal feel like it is taking place somewhere between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Add it to your rotisserie dinner or bowl of chili for a meal that would make Mom smile.
[Related: Dressing vs. stuffing: what’s the deal?]
1820 South Blvd.
Pecan pie French toast $14.50 | pieces of pecan pie, fresh blueberries, whipped cream, brioche bread
Tupelo Honey’s South End location often gets overlooked by other, local spots — but the Asheville-based kitchen serves well-made food with honest ingredients. This dish is exactly that with the flavors of pecan pie married with custardy bread, topped with fresh berries and whipped cream. It is precisely how you picture it in your mind’s eye.
Pro tip: Start with the black bean burger and a side of braised greens with sesame oil. Both will inspire variations by your closest home cook.
224 E. 7th Street (inside 7th Street Public Market)
Italian winter truffles shaved over any pasta ($22.50 supplement/plate)
If you’ve never had fresh truffles shaved over your plate — this is a great opportunity to experience the extraordinary flavor at a reasonable cost and in a casual setting.
Pro tip: Ask Josh, or one of the bartenders at Assorted Table Wine Shop, located directly behind Zia Pia inside 7th Street Public Market, to pair an Italian red with your truffled pasta and plan on being there for a while. You’ll want to savor every bit of both.