Where to eat and drink in Charlotte during CIAA

15 Black-owned eateries to put on your list during CIAA Tournament Week, from low country soul food to Maryland-style seafood.
Merts-Shrimp-Grits

While celebrating the final Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament in Charlotte for the foreseeable future, here are 15 Black-owned restaurant recommendations to eat and drink your way through tournament week. Some of the eateries are outside of center city, but they’re worth the trip.

Uptown

Famous Toastery – Uptown
330 S. Tryon St.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner at once: This franchise location — owned by former NFL player Justin Griffith and his wife, Kim — is perfect if you’re eating with a group and everyone has a taste for something different. The menu includes pancakes, wraps, burgers and salads, providing options for all the eaters in your party.

My pick: Go for the stuffed french toast with strawberry cream cheese and a side of bacon with breakfast potatoes. This meal is not for the low-carb dieters, but remember, Famous Toastery offers salads as well.

Mert’s Heart & Soul
214 N. College St.

Unlimited mimosas: Mert’s is one of Charlotte’s well-known soul food restaurants. In 2015, the eatery was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” showcasing its popular soul rolls — egg rolls filled with black-eyed peas, seasoned rice, collard greens and diced chicken breast.

Situated in the heart of Uptown, it’s an easy walk for guests to check out the brunch menu to go along with unlimited mimosas. My pick: Try the low country shrimp and grits featuring popcorn shrimp, onion and tomato simmered in brown sauce served over stone-ground organic grits with toasted focaccia bread.

Uptown Yolk
224 E. 7th St.

An elevated twist on brunch: Uptown Yolk is the place for breakfast lovers. Conveniently located inside 7th Street Public Market, it’s one LYNX Blue Line stop away from the Spectrum Center. Their Fugita Boutit — smoked salmon, caper cream cheese, pickled red onions and tomato on a toasted bagel — is a WW (formerly Weight Watchers) favorite. That means it’s Oprah-approved.

My pick: “There’s Fire” because you can never go wrong with biscuits topped with smoked chicken gravy and jalapeño jam. Also, they’re kind to those with special diets; Uptown Yolk offers gluten-free and vegetarian menu options.

10 minutes from Uptown

Cuzzo’s Cuisine
3418 Tuckaseegee Rd.
9601 N. Tryon St., Suite F

Midnight buffet: Cuzzo’s will have extended hours for tournament weekend. That’s an extra opportunity to chomp on all the favorites like their lobster mac and cheese or red velvet waffles.

The original location in west Charlotte will host a midnight buffet on Feb. 28 and 29, from midnight to 4 a.m. The newly opened Cuzzo’s Cuisine in University City will offer a late-night brunch buffet on Feb. 29, from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.

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Opening day of Cuzzo’s Cuisine in University City, Feb. 1, 2020. Photo: QCity Metro

Juice Box
3100 N. Davidson St., Suite 101

Green smoothie stop: Work a fresh and healthy option into your celebratory weekend at this NoDa juice bar. The menu includes fresh-pressed juices, smoothies and avocado toast.

My pick: Sip on a “Doctor’s Order” smoothie with its combo of juiced apples, ginger, mint, spinach, kale, strawberries, blueberries, spirulina and probiotics. A little something to bring you back to life after a week of events.

LuLu’s Maryland Style Chicken & Seafood
2400 Tuckaseegee Rd.

Maryland in the QC: LuLu’s is the new kid on the block, opening late last year at the corner of Berryhill and Tuckaseegee in west Charlotte. Among the menu of wings, shrimp, fish and crab, the most talked-about item is the crab cakes. For northerners who scoff at typical crab cakes served in the South, they’ll appreciate the amount of actual crab in LuLu’s crab cakes. Fair warning: order early because they sell out fast.

Carryout is the best option due to limited seating, but the doors are open until midnight (except on Tuesdays when LuLu’s is closed and Sundays when it closes at 8 p.m.).

My pick: The MD Style Crab Crab Cake Platter.

Popbar
3123 N. Davidson St., Suite B

Customizable gelato: Hop on the light rail from Uptown and get off at the 36th Street station for a taste of handcrafted gelato on a stick at Popbar in NoDa. Customize your serving from a choice of more than 40 flavors of gelato and over 15 dippings and toppings. My pick: Not on a stick, but the vanilla caramel gelato milkshake with the mini cone on top is a must-try.

Popbar is one of the most Instagrammable spots in Charlotte, so make sure to take a photo with the purple brick wall as your backdrop.

Queens Coffee Bar
1720 Pegram St.

Drinks and treats: Here you can enjoy alcohol-infused coffee drinks and donuts. Plus, choose from a mixture of menu items like oatmeal, soup and tater tots. Queens Coffee Bar has become a popular meeting spot, so you’re likely to run into a familiar face.

My pick: The “Down and Dirty” Dirty Chai, a chai latte with a shot of espresso.

20 minutes from Uptown

Anntony’s Carribean Cafe
6434-F West Sugar Creek Rd.

Roasted chicken king: Anntony’s is known for its rotisserie chicken with all the Caribbean flair. The menu includes island specialties like curry goat and oxtails, and there’s a full-service bar.

My pick: Order the island wings combo with rice and black-eyed peas and cabbage.

BW Sweets Bakery
3126 Milton Rd.

Five-star bakery: Frankie White’s east Charlotte bakery is a dessert wonderland with 16 flavors of “everyday” cakes, eight types of cheesecake, several kinds of cookies, brownies and more. Earlier this month, White appeared on Food Network’s “Girl Scout Cookie Championship” showcasing his creativity in transforming Girl Scout Cookies into edible art pieces.

My pick: Grab a slice of the red velvet Oreo cheesecake. This indulgent taste of heaven is a layer of cookies-and-cream cheesecake between two layers of red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and Oreos.

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“Birthday Box” sample platter at BW Sweets Bakery

Island Cuisine
5332 Prosperity Church Rd.

Caribbean flair: Island Cuisine is one of the newest restaurants in town specializing in authentic Jamaican food and highlighting Jamaican culture. The menu includes a mixture of Caribbean cuisines such as stewed filet snapper, brown stew chicken and several roti options.

My pick: Start with a Jamaican beef patty, then feast on jerk chicken with collard greens, rice and peas. I like to finish it with a strawberry lemonade.

Jazzy Cheesecakes
9402 Northlake W Dr., Suite 102

Shopping and sweets: If you’re in the Northlake Mall area, then head across the street to Jazzy Cheesecakes to satisfy your sweet tooth. Jazzy offers more than cheesecakes, the menu also includes fresh baked cookies, banana pudding and sweet potato pie. Special options for sugar-free and gluten-free items are available.

My pick: Turtle cheesecake, enough said.

Jazzy-Cheesecakes

La’Wan’s Soul Food
7520 S. Tryon St.

Southern favorites: Get your fix of traditional soul food items like fried chicken and collard greens. For true Southerners, there’s country fried steak and fried chicken gizzards on the menu for you. Going to La’Wan’s will feel like going to your grandmother’s on Sunday and all your favorite aunties are there.

My picks: La’Wan’s signature sides of macaroni and cheese, collard greens and candied yams. Order a veggie plate from the menu to pick three sides.

Nick & Mike Bar and Grill
11524 N. Tryon St., Suite 7

Wings and cocktails: Nick & Mike is a sports bar with some of the best sports memorabilia decor. Check them out if you’re in the mood for traditional bar food — think wings and burgers. The bar menu includes 13 signature cocktails, but if you don’t see something you like, just ask the bartender.

My pick: Mike’s Smoked BBQ Bacon Burger, a hearty Angus burger topped with thick bacon, cheddar cheese, onion rings and Mike’s special sauce.

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Seafood Connection
630 University Center Blvd.

Crab legs on deck: Seafood Connection has a social media following like no other with 109,000 followers on Instagram. It’s known for the secret sauce that tops its seafood platters served grilled, fried or steamed. Veteran customers know to come hungry (the portions are huge) and expect a wait, but the food is worth it.

My pick: The shrimp and crab combo, which includes about 10 jumbo shrimps and a crab cluster. It’s served with corn, potatoes and sausage.

The CIAA men’s and women’s tournament kicks off at Bojangles’ Coliseum with the opening round on Feb. 25 and quarterfinals on Feb. 26. The action moves to the Spectrum Center on Feb. 27 before crowning the conference champions on Feb. 29. For more information, visit theciaa.com.

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