Bites and Brews
Legion Brewing SouthPark brings a casual vibe that caters to both foodies and craft-beer fans.
By Cathy Martin • Photographs by Justin Driscoll
SouthPark diners have long lamented about the area’s lack of casual, family-friendly spots to grab a savory bite and a beer. While a half-dozen or so upscale steakhouses dot the neighborhood — the ranks will grow when Steak 48 opens next year at the new Apex SouthPark development — there are relatively few informal spots to sip a local brew and enjoy a flavorful meal that won’t break the bank.
Legion Brewing, the popular Plaza Midwood spot best known for its tropical-flavored Juicy Jay IPA, is looking to change that at its Capitol Towers location, which opened last fall. Chef Gene Briggs’ menu of scratch-made entrees (all under $20), sandwiches, pizzas, salads and appetizers is a significant upgrade to the standard brewery fare of pretzels and other small bites.
“We’ve got the whole awesome beer part of it,” Briggs says. “We wanted to get that other niche of people who want really good food, too.”
Briggs joined Legion after 14 years at Blue Restaurant & Bar — the downtown Mediterranean spot owned by Alex Myrick shuttered in 2017 — followed by consulting gigs including Dilworth’s The People’s Market and Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s soon-to-open Cornelius location. When he met Legion owner Phil Buchy, who opened the brewery’s original location in 2015, the two hit it off right away, and Briggs jumped at the opportunity.
“I might not be doing all the same food I was doing at Blue, but a lot of the ingredients are the same,” he says. “We’re still using really high-end ingredients, just doing it in a lot more approachable way.”
While new breweries seem to pop up regularly in millennial-friendly neighborhoods such as NoDa and South End, Legion is SouthPark’s first. “We’re giving people the same experience they can get downtown, but in a very casual atmosphere … right here in their backyard,” Briggs says.
Briggs’ staff, including many of his former employees at Blue, make nearly everything in-house. “We’re making our own vinegars, we’re making our own hot sauces — we’re doing everything in here that we can.” That includes the hop-infused bread and butter pickles — Briggs says the restaurant goes through 80 to 100 gallons a week. An exception is the bread, which comes from locally owned Dukes Bread.
Briggs plans to update Legion’s menu about six times a year, while keeping customer favorites such as the keto-friendly Brazilian steak, a 10-ounce wood-grilled culotte (a tender sirloin cut) that’s sliced, drizzled with chimichurri and served with grilled baby squash, tomatoes and shishito peppers. Another best-seller that won’t disappear anytime soon is Juicy Jay’s grilled chicken sandwich, a spice-rubbed chicken breast topped with Juicy Jay slaw — made with the IPA that’s become almost synonymous with the brewery — plus spicy honey, pickles and tomatoes.
Shareable appetizers include Boo’s duck fat chicken wings, dry-rubbed and oven-baked with a blue cheese ranch dressing; and a dipping trio of artichoke tomato spread, hummus and pimento cheese. Pizzas come with a variety of toppings, from classic pepperoni to the Troop with mushrooms, prosciutto and goat cheese. But if you’re watching your carbs, be warned — the rectangular-shaped pies, wood-baked in cast-iron pans, are thick-crusted and quite filling.
Sunday brunch offers breakfast pizzas (yes, pizzas), sandwiches and bowls, plus traditional options such as French toast and johnnycakes.
“At nighttime if you’re in here, you’re going to see everything from moms and dads with the kids, all the way up to retired people and businessmen in for a quick beer and a sandwich after work,” Briggs says. The 12,000-square-foot brewery also has space for wedding receptions, birthday parties or other groups of up to 50 in an upstairs loft, or for as many as 100 in a private dining room.
“Our biggest issue right now, though, is being able to keep up with beer production,” Briggs says, adding that the Legion SouthPark can go through 10 kegs a day. In June, Legion announced a third location on West Morehead Street that could alleviate some of those production woes. For now, most of the beer is brewed at the Plaza Midwood location, though the three giant foeders — the wooden cylindrical vats behind the bar — hold sour beers. Sours require a longer fermentation cycle than other varieties, but once those are tapped, Legion will be the No. 2 sour producer in North Carolina, according to Briggs. The bar also serves a small selection of wines, and mostly local and regional liquors.
Legion has hosted two beer dinners, with more planned, along with cooking classes similar to the ones Briggs hosted at Blue.
But the real beauty of this spot is its comfortable, come-as-you-are vibe for everyone from foodies to beer aficionados, businesspeople to families. SP
Legion Brewing is open seven days a week and is located at 5610 Carnegie Blvd.