Don’t you hate it when you’re traveling and you’re not sure where to eat? You can rely on local friends, the concierge or just take a chance with online reviews but it often still ends up being hit or miss! But thankfully on a recent visit to Charlotte I definitely nailed a hit: Soul Gastrolounge. With over 600 reviews and 4 stars on Yelp I was pretty hopeful. And given it was about small plates, I figured I could find something to whet my appetite so off I go…
Located on Central Avenue in downtown Charlotte, Soul Gastrolounge is not an easy find. I spy a small sign above for Soul but a peek into the 1st floor shows off a quiet art gallery. I poke my head around the corner and notice some folks headed up a steel set of stairs to the 2nd floor in back. That’s gotta be it, right? At the top of the stair are a handful of outdoor diners, I pull the door open and wham: this must be Soul Gastrolounge! The place is hopping with a bar in front, couches to the left and booths to the right. It’s an odd little set-up with worn woods and a mix of styles and art. Even on a Sunday night it looks like I’ll have to wait a bit but finally a seat opens up at the bar after 15 – 20 minutes.
The bartender is good and spots the new diner immediately. I grab a cider to get my dinner going and peer through the menu. It’s a mix of funky Southern plates along with some Asian influences like sushi and ramen, alright! I love the oddities and twists they have here so I order up three plates which I’m about to learn, is far too much for one diner. The scene at the bar is hopping with people waiting for tables and others noshing casually, Soul Gastrolounge is definitely a popular spot with a cast of regulars. My fried oysters come out first and they look fantastic! Perfectly browned with a nice crust and dense, plump oysters. Dipped into the thousand island type sauce, it’s a great and filling starter.
Next up is Soul Gastrolounge’s popular pork belly tacos with watermelon salsa! But we’re actually talking about braised pork belly cubes with a square of watermelon atop, cool… The pork belly is glazed in a sweet sauce which goes well against the rich pork and the watermelon provides some relief from all the meaty calories here. Tasty stuff but a bit tricky to eat without making a mess, oh well!
And yes, since it’s my first visit at Soul Gastrolounge, I’ve over-ordered and here comes my plate of Dirty South nachos, O-M-G! Four large pieces of chicken fried chicken skin (no joke) lathered in a creamy pimiento cheese sauce and served up with some pickled okra. Are you serious?! I take a bite it’s really well-fried with plenty of fatty mouth-feel from the skin. The cheese sauce is rich and creamy so you just get a mouthful of rich, luscious fat which after the pork belly, is probably too much at the end of my meal. But as a starter and shared, this dish is a lot of fun! I order up a glass of white wine just to cut through all the calories, whoa…
I’m ready to pass out at this point of the meal but Soul Gastrolounge is still hopping. But color me impressed! Great ambiance, great service, reasonably priced creative food, it hits all the points that I look for in a new restaurant. And while the scene may not be exactly for me, most people should enjoy what’s going down at Soul Gastrolounge. Just look for that hoppin’ spot up on the 2nd floor, my friends!
1500 Central Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28205