The hottest new restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina, is at Charlotte Marriott City Center.
Locals flock to Stoke as much as visitors. This is no ordinary “hotel restaurant.”
By Hope S. Philbrick
If you were blindfolded, delivered to Stoke or Stoke Bar and your friend whipped off the bandana with “Surprise! We’re dining here tonight!,” you would not think that you were standing in the lobby of a Marriott. You’d guess that you were in the hottest restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina—and you’d be right. The stylish space wafts with tempting aromas, buzzes with people, emits friendly warmth.
This is by design. “Nothing about what we’ve done on the first floor screams ‘hotel’,” says Chef Chris Coleman. “The original concept is an open market feel.”
Sitting inside the restaurant the feeling of ‘hotel’ is even more remote, but the sense of ‘Southern’ is strong. Inside the open kitchen, chefs busily transform regionally-sourced ingredients into contemporary Southern dishes. Servers weave between tables, delivering heaping portions of these seasonal local treats. Local farms are featured on the menu as well as on the dining room walls. The plates upon which food is served were made in North Carolina. Whether anyone utters the phrase or not, the consistent message is “Welcome to Charlotte.”
When inspired to raise a glass and toast the host, consider a French pressed cocktail. Assembled and delivered in a French press (yes, the sort of contraption typically used for coffee), you can pour out sips from the serves-two portion and discover how the drink’s taste profile develops over time as the ingredients linger. Other options include 24 craft beers on tap, all sourced from local limited-production breweries that produce less than two million barrels a year. There’s also red, white or sparkling wine and an array or spirited libations both classic and creative.
Each dish pleases the eyes and nose before launching taste buds into a happy dance.
The velvety chicken liver pâté arrives drizzled with muscadine jelly and a scattering of crunchy peanuts. The savory and sweet combination satisfies in a way that’s potentially addictive…if immediately hooked it’s good news that the serving size is generous for sharing, though the appetizer could satisfy one as an entrée. Another savory-sweet combination can be found with the beef marrow bone appetizer, which is topped with fruity ginger and quince jelly.
Sea scallops are seared to perfection and nestled into a puddle of pumpkin bisque, a shellfish and squash pairing that proves to be a match made in culinary heaven.
Chicken leg is smoked in the kitchen’s wood fire oven and served with a Cheerwine sauce. If you don’t know, Cheerwine is a North Carolina cherry soda that as a Georgian I reluctantly admit tastes better than Cherry Coca-Cola. As a sauce ingredient it’s even more lip-licking yum.
The sticky pork shank is the restaurant’s signature dish and a personal favorite. Fork the juicy meat and it falls off the bone into a scrumptious chili-sorghum glaze. Tender yet toothsome, meaty yet complex, this is a crave-worthy dish to savor.
Good luck choosing a favorite among sides like the barbecue carrots with carrot top pesto, charred beets with ricotta, Carolina gold rice grits with aged white cheddar, and field peas. Order whatever sounds delicious, you and your dining companions will want to taste as much as possible and won’t mind leftovers.
After one visit to Stoke, you’ll be stoked to return.
– Photo Credits: Stoke interiors courtesy Stoke/Charlotte Marriott City Center; food images © HSP Media LLC
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