Peruvians know the first thing anyone does when they get to Lima is order a Pisco Sour and a ceviche. Perhaps that’s the first thing one should order when they get to Poplar Tapas Restaurant & Bar as well.
If you visited Poplar when it was a cafe/coffeeshop called Poplar Street Cafe & Wine Bar, then you don’t know what you’re missing: it’s time to go back for an entirely new experience.
Not to worry, the espresso machine still has its prominence at the bar. But over the past year, Poplar has traded a daytime cafe for a dark, cozy and intimate nighttime spot with Peruvian-inspired food meant to be shared.
Co-owner Lucia Zapata Griffith knows how to transform a space; by day, she is an architect with her firm upstairs in the restaurant building, which is a historic landmark named The Morrison House. She merges modern with traditional in a fusion of architectural design with an international feel.
“People tell us they feel like they are somewhere else — Charleston or Europe or London or Lima,” she said.
Co-owner Bruno Macchiavello brings his love of cooking and an international culinary education with him to the Fourth Ward restaurant: He studied in Peru, Italy and Brazil before bringing his skills to Charlotte. He said Peruvian food, and Poplar’s food, is all about fusion.
Come early and stay until bedtime, talking with friends and neighbors, outside if the weather is nice and especially if it’s Friday with live music. It’s so popular that the restaurant is planning to double its patio size in the next few weeks.
At Poplar, wine and cocktails flow with a European fervor and the food is made to order, meaning all meals can be tweaked to accommodate a diner’s personal tastes or allergies. Macchiavello said meals can be made to be pescetarian, vegetarian or vegan.
Once you’ve arrived and after you’ve ordered the Lima tradition of Pisco Sour and ceviche, Macchiavello recommends drinking the ceviche juice for energy — and perhaps help with last night’s hangover.
The ceviche juice is called Leche de Tigre, translating to Milk of the Tiger, which Griffith said isn’t too different from an alcohol-free version of “Hair of the Dog” — although if you ask, they will happily add Pisco or vodka to that as well.
The staff favorite is overwhelmingly ceviche; in fact, they are calling Poplar “Charlotte’s ceviche spot.”
Here’s a list of other can’t-miss items for your journey to Peru via Fourth Ward:
(1) Cucumber “Water” with cucumber vodka, muddled basil, cucumber, simple syrup, club soda and lime
(2) The Poplar Verde, a signature Bloody Mary made with house-infused jalapeño vodka, fresh tomatillos and cilantro, house-made Leche de Tigre, garnished with grilled prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and pickled tomatillos.
(3) Palta Rellena con Shrimp: shrimp-stuffed avocado.
(4) Higos Y Prosciutto: grilled, prosciutto-wrapped figs with manchego.
(5) Charcuteria: a huge charcuterie and cheese board.
(6) Champinones con Quinoa: baked quinoa-stuffed mushrooms.
(7) Bocata de Salmon: smoked salmon, avocado, cream cheese and red onion.
(8) Camarones al Ajillo: garlic shrimp over Peruvian mashed potatoes, with white wine garlic sauce.
(9) Poplar Tres Leches Cake
Also, mark your calendar: Poplar will begin serving brunch in May, starting with a special Mother’s Day brunch and then weekly on Saturdays after that. Brunch items will include casseroles topped with poached eggs, Peruvian benedicts and lighter fare.
When Poplar was a daytime cafe, the walls were light, fresh, and awakening. The new Poplar is all about candlelight and creating special moments.
“We wanted feelings of intimacy and warmth,” Griffith said. “At night, you want to feel cozy.”
Hours: 5 p.m – 10 p.m., Tuesday–Thursday. 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday/Saturday. Closed Sun/Mon. Saturday brunch will begin in May, after a special Sunday Mother’s Day brunch.
Reservations: Not required, but helpful for larger groups. (Poplar also reserves and rents rooms for private events during open hours. During times when Poplar is closed, the entire house can be rented for special events.)
Parking: Free for 2 hours on neighborhood streets, or park in the SkyHouse Uptown garage — there’s a $5 flat fee after 5 p.m. Enter from Church St., between 9th & 10th Streets.
Light Rail: Ride to the now-open 9th Street Station, then walk less than half a mile.
Food Price Range: $6-$16
Drink Price Range: Varies. Beer: $3 for Yuengling – $6 for local craft beer. Craft Cocktails: $9-$12. Glass of Wine: $8-$13. Bottle of Wine: $30-$50
Tuesdays: Buy one, get one half-off tapas
Wednesdays: Half-priced wine bottles
Thursdays: Half-priced sparkling wine bottles
Fridays: Live music; often Spanish flamenco/classical guitar