A new player on Charlotte's vibrant culinary scene, El Camino greets diners with a menu of fresh, scratch-made Tex-Mex dishes that are as innovative as they are family-friendly. Meals often start with the kitchen's signature guacamole, which contains traditional ingredients—hand-smashed avocados, fresh tomatoes, and cilantro—but with a creative addition of roasted peppers. Warm flour tortillas play triple duty; they envelop spinach and cheese to create quesadillas, hold unusual fixings, such as fried chicken or beef brisket, inside half a dozen taco varieties, and wrap themselves around nine kinds of overstuffed burritos. The El Camino kitchen prepares north-of-the-border specialties as well, including Cowboy Burgers topped with pepper jack cheese and a West Texas chili made with five varieties of peppers.
Deep in the Umstead Industrial Park, something stirs. Amid the clank of modern machinery, a group of workers busy themselves with one of the world's oldest crafts: brewing. At Gizmo Brew Works, this meeting of contemporary technology and ancient know-how produces a tempting slate of small-batch beers. Inside tanks that hold the equivalent of 1,000 pints each, brewers prep favorites including the smooth and sweet Black Stiletto Stout and the complex Palisade Wasp India Pale Ale with the same care that has earned many of their past beers medals at the Carolina Championship of Beer. They also save room for seasonals, carefully adding a sweet caramel flavor and spicy Noble hops to their altbier, which they serve in a traditional stange glass or a large mug in celebration of Oktoberfest. These beers and more make frequent appearances in the brewery's taproom, gracing pint glasses for impromptu toasts or filling up growlers for at-home sips. Never ones to shy away from curious guests, brewers also open up their facility for Saturday tours, walking groups through the beer-making process during 30-minute explorations.
Travels In Wine Tours' co-founders, Kimberlee Young and Derek Schuler, share their love of wine, food, and travel with curious tourists through tours designed and led by certified sommeliers. Epicurean scenic tours of boutique wineries, personalized luxury Napa vacations, and custom weekend getaways marry viticultural education with flavorful indulgence as guests take in picturesque panoramas of vineyards that stretch to the horizon before curving upward and forming bridges to the moon.
Under the tutelage of Merlot & Van Gogh’s talented local artists, students of all skill levels daub canvases and clink glasses in two-hour BYOB painting classes. Between sips of wine, beer, or fizzy lifting drink, painters utilize a provided inventory of brushes and vibrant acrylic hues to re-create an image or fabricate a new one based on the night’s given theme. Step-by-step instructions guide the class through creative discovery, and provided aprons safeguard participants from paint smears incurred while hugging especially well-rendered self-portraits.
Six Plates Wine Bar minimizes customers’ food indecision with a concise menu that pairs six upscale small plates with six wines by the glass. Despite the menu's diminutive size, there's no lack of variety—the foodies in the kitchen constantly swap out dishes to make use of as many local ingredients as possible, while a clipboard bears a list of more than 150 wines, and 30 beers, sold by the bottle. Mentioned in the New York Times for its use of local food, Six Plates Wine Bar puts an upscale take on comfort foods with its plates, which are about half the size of a traditional entree.
Six Plates Wine Bar's resident wine lover, Matthew Beason, curates a wine list that hails from around the globe—from behind the bar, he'll recount the tale of his first wine love, a 1995 JL Chave Hermitage Blanc that broke his heart when it eloped with a bottle of Boone’s Farm. Each glass romances tongues beneath crystal-drenched chandeliers in the warmly lit dining room, where eclectically framed vintage photos and mirrors share space on exposed brick and deep-amber walls. Diners can recline on red-upholstered armchairs, at the bar, or at intimate, candlelit tables flanked by backed barstools.
Judging by his daring attitude toward fusion cuisine, head chef Michael Schiffer probably tried to fry the rule book before throwing it out the window. He founded Maximillian's Grill in 1991 with humble aspirations: it would be a 32-seat pizza restaurant where guests could enjoy quiet meals. In four months, however, he had amassed magazine awards and a clientele that would line up outside the restaurant for an hour before he opened the doors. They were there, waiting patiently, to see what delicious fusion food would sail out of the kitchen that night?Michael hand wrote a new menu every day and often invented new dishes on the spot, fusing Italian flavors with creole and Asian influences.
Unfortunately, in 1998, a fire closed Max?s for good. Though he and his wife Gayle later opened a gourmet deli, it wasn?t until 2001 that they opened Max?s once again, this time in a roomier location with high ceilings, soft light, and tinted windows. The new joint even has a wine bar in the back separated from the dining room by a partition.
In the kitchen, Michael devises fresh takes on fusion cuisine while holding onto many of the dishes that made Max?s famous, classics as the grilled caesar salad?prepped by grilling the actual lettuce?and the peppercorn-encrusted Voodoo tuna. Michael has also archived his old menus on the restaurant's webpage, viewing them as a timeline for his culinary evolution and a way to remember how to spell "bouillabaisse."