Destination Dining

Charlotte’s new Stoke Restaurant, tucked inside an Uptown hotel, has been a fast favorite for both visitors and locals.

stoke-restaurant-2-by-michael-tulipan

The rise of restaurant culture dates back to the late 18th century and the marriage of two institutions—the hotel and its restaurant. These grand establishments were some of the first to recognize, by name, the individuals who curated the menu, creating a space for the chef (or caterer, as they were once called) to be revered.

What’s old is new again.

Inside the Charlotte Marriott City Center, Stoke Charlotte makes a strong case that hotel dining is once again de rigueur. Stoke is part of a fledgling hospitality experiment called the Red Domino Project, which the Queen City gets the honor of piloting. The idea is to foster community within its three new concepts: Stoke Charlotte, Stoke Bar, and neighboring coffee shop Coco and the Director (take that, Starbucks).

To guide the project, the Marriott team chose Chef Chris Coleman, former culinary director of the Asbury Dunhill, as its ambassador. Dubbed the director of culinary experience, Coleman has built a seasonal menu centered around simple ingredients and Stoke’s wood-burning oven.

The open kitchen at Stoke is the definitive centerpiece of the restaurant, a clean, modern space with a bustling staff on display. Guests can reserve the marble-topped community table connected to the kitchen—intentionally conceived for a more intimate dining experience.

The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is bathed in neutral tones and offers a pleasant mix of banquette seating, high-topped tables, and space in Stoke’s moody bar, rustic with copper and dark wood. Coleman, known for his affinity for local food, has gone to great lengths to incorporate local and regional producers on the menu which are proudly displayed on artful chalkboard signs.

Start the evening with the Bartender’s Handshake, a cocktail that pairs Sazerac rye with apple cider, housemade bacon jam, and maple. To whet the appetite, begin with the sublime salt-roasted oysters: Rappahannock River oysters roasted on rock salt in the wood-burning oven with brown butter, hot sauce, and finished with a celery remoulade. The embered deviled eggs are another standout, inspired by the Jewish tradition of burying eggs in the dying embers before the Sabbath. The eggs emerge from the wood-fired ashes aromatic and tinged with color, and are filled with smooth horseradish-spiked yolks, and topped with bread-and-butter pickles and crispy chicken skin.

Though the menu will rotate seasonally, a few entrees are quickly becoming Stoke staples, including the sticky pork shank, redolent with warm notes of charred orange and spice, and lacquered with a sweet and savory chili-sorghum glaze. A la carte is the name of the game at Stoke, and the sides are not an afterthought. The fire-roasted fingerlings with smoked paprika aioli conjure up notions of patatas bravas, while the Carolina Gold rice grits topped with a 63-degree egg will be a familiar dish to Coleman’s loyal followers. For a showstopping finale, order the doughnut, a one-pound confection filled with diplomat cream and topped with Heath bar crumbles.

At Stoke, it is simple fare bolstered by the wood-burning fire and community-driven ideals that make for a refreshing new experience, one that taps into a splendored history yet rightfully claims a spot firmly in the present dining landscape.

Photography by Michael Tulipan