It should come as no surprise that the inspiration for many of the most popular menu items in Charlotte’s restaurants came from their chefs’ own Sunday dinners and childhood memories. Of course, there’s been a bit of tinkering—one recipe was developed from sheer exhaustion and another from literally just rolling in the dough. But ultimately all of these dishes have become favorites for the crowds that line up at these restaurants. Now, the talented chefs have shared their recipes for these tasty dishes, so you can savor them around your own table.
Haberdish’s Sweet Potato Dumplings
Since the NoDa restaurant opened last December, the sweet potato dumplings have become one of the must-have dishes crowds are lining up for at Haberdish. “It’s a riff on something my Italian grandmother used to make,” says owner and chef Jeff Tonidandel.
The restaurant was considering putting chicken and dumplings on the menu but decided that wasn’t creative enough. Then Tonidandel remembered his grandmother’s pumpkin gnocchi. He swapped out the pumpkin for sweet potatoes, and a favorite was born. “Sweet potatoes are a great Southern ingredient and a little more flavorful than pumpkins,” says Tonidandel. “It’s something that can be on the menu all the time because it’s not seasonal.”
4 sweet potatoes (approx. 1 lb. each)
6 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 tbsp sliced sage
½ cup Parmesan cheese
Peel and quarter the sweet potatoes and place them in a lightly salted pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes for about 25 minutes or until they are soft enough for a knife to be pushed through with no resistance. Drain the potatoes off into a colander and allow to cool until they are cool enough to work with (spreading over a large surface area cools them faster).
Using your hands, mash the potatoes and add the flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Work until a sticky, tacky dough forms. (You may need to add more flour, depending on the moisture content of the sweet potatoes). Taste the dough for seasoning and let it rest about 10 minutes.
While the dough is resting, bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath (a container with a mixture of water and ice, for cooling). Once the water has come to a boil, using two forks, pull dumplings from the dough and scrape into the pot of water. Depending on the size of the pot, Tonidandel would recommend 10 to 15 dumplings at a time. Once the dumplings float to the surface of the water, use a slotted spoon or a small skimmer to remove them and place them in the ice bath. Repeat the process until all of the dough is consumed.
Strain the dumplings from the water and allow the excess water to drain off. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and place brown butter in the pan. Once the butter has melted, add the dumplings and cook them, tossing every few minutes. You are looking for a golden-brown crust to develop around each of the dumplings. Then, add the sage into the pan and toss. Always taste to check for seasoning.
Remove pan from heat and add Parmesan—tossing until it is completely melted over the dumplings. Move dumplings to a large platter to serve family style. Toss with fresh chopped sage and top with remaining Parmesan for garnish.
Good Food on Montford’s Falafel
There are a couple of things this Montford Drive favorite has come to be known for: There will almost always be a wait (they don’t take reservations) and you should order the falafel.
Good Food on Montford Chef Larry Schreiber says the falafel has been on the menu since the restaurant opened eight years ago and describes it as, “basically a chickpea fritter that’s fried.” He says part of the reason the falafel is so popular is because it’s a vegetarian dish that even meat-eaters love.
“I think they’re better than most people’s falafel,” he says. “A lot of them are too dry. We make ours from canned chick peas and they’re lighter and creamier.”
And a tip for home cooks: Good Food adds a creamy hummus on the bottom and a tzatziki Greek yogurt sauce for dipping.
1 bunch cilantro, washed
2 onions, peeled
6 cloves garlic
1 #10 can chickpeas, strained and rinsed
1 tbsp baking powder
2/3 cup flour
1 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. salt
Puree cilantro, onion, and garlic in a food processor. Strain and press out liquid in a fine strainer. In small batches, pulse the chickpeas in the food processor, until crumbled, but not pureed. In a large bowl, put your vegetables and chickpeas together and fluff with hands until evenly distributed.
Mix dry ingredients together and then add to the chickpea mix. Fold together, then press into a flat disk in bowl. Refrigerate for one hour, then form balls or small disks. Fry at 350 degrees in a deep fryer, or pan fry until golden brown. Serve with tzatziki, hummus, and pickles.
The Asbury’s Sticky Biscuits
The idea for the most popular dish at Uptown’s Asbury restaurant came after a really long day at work.
“Sixteen-hour days take a toll on the mind and body, and we were brainstorming new menu ideas,” says Matthew Krenz, the executive chef at the restaurant and the culinary director for the adjacent Dunhill Hotel. The late-night creation challenge? Something that could work in the hotel and restaurant, make use of the leftover biscuit dough, and work at every meal of the day.
“I thought, ‘What if we take the dough, roll it out, and do a cinnamon roll?” says Krenz. They then added salty ham and creamy goat cheese icing to the mini rolls—and ended up with a sweet-meets-savory treat that diners order all day, every day.
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter
1 ½ cups buttermilk
Cinnamon roll filling
1 ¼ cups brown sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup honey
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Goat cheese icing
½ cup goat cheese
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup chopped country ham
Fresh herbs (optional)
Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes. Mix on low speed with a mixer until the flour has a coarse cornmeal-like texture. Add buttermilk until mixture is moistened throughout. Transfer dough onto a floured workspace, and knead until smooth.
Roll dough to a rectangle of ¼- to ½-inch thickness. Spread the cinnamon roll filling evenly over the biscuit dough. Top with country ham. Beginning at one long side, roll up dough tightly, jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam to seal. Cut dough into 2-inch slices. Arrange slices, cut side up, in a greased cupcake/mini-muffin pan. Bake at 325 degrees for six to 10 minutes, or until done. Whisk together goat cheese and heavy cream to make icing. Remove biscuits from pan; drizzle with goat cheese icing. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve warm.
Note: In the restaurant, Chef Krenz uses Benton’s 14-month aged country ham. You can use country ham pieces from the flat packages in the supermarket and chop it.
Yafo Kitchen’s Mac and Cheese
The folks at the new chef-driven, fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant in SouthPark wanted to offer a dish that was appealing to everyone. Macaroni and cheese was an easy answer, but they weren’t interested in the typical Southern version.
“We were looking for something that would be appealing to kids and people who are less adventurous about Mediterranean food, but we still wanted to give it a Mediterranean twist,” says Chef Shai Fargian, who grew up in Israel with an American mother. That’s why the Yafo take on macaroni and cheese is made with Greek yogurt, smoked paprika, and bread crumbs that have been toasted in olive oil before sprinkling on top. The dish is so popular the restaurant is cooking 20 pounds of pasta each day to fill orders. Want to try making it at home? Chef Fargian has a tip: “Undercook the pasta because you have to cook it again when you add the cheese.”
This recipe serves a family of four (from a large casserole dish). You will first need to create the Bechamel (cheese sauce), and breadcrumbs (listed below).
1 qt. béchamel
2/3 cup bread crumb
6 tbsp. Greek yogurt
1/4 cup Romano cheese
1 lb. pasta (Chef Shai enjoys the shells, but any preferred shape will do.)
5 cups milk
3 oz. flour, 3 oz. butter (roux)
1 tbsp. salt
.5 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne
1 lb. grated cheddar cheese
½ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. romano cheese
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
Cook pasta and set aside.
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, make the roux (flour and butter cooked together) until beige. Whisk constantly and cook for three to five minutes—you will know when it is done when the flour loses the raw smell and develops a tasty aroma. In a pot, whisk milk and spices. In another larger pot, cook milk over medium-high heat, add roux to the milk, and continue to stir continuously until sauce starts to thicken. Reduce the heat. Simmer for five minutes or until sauce is thick. Do not let sauce boil. Remove from heat and whisk in cheese, melt thoroughly.
Toss the panko and olive oil in a pan and toast until golden brown. Let the mixture cool. Toss in parsley and cheese.
Mac and Cheese
Heat up one cup of heavy cream in a pan and add 1 tbsp of salt and ½ tbsp of black pepper. Add pasta and cheese sauce. When thoroughly hot, add another ¼ cup Romano cheese. Mix. Place in casserole pan, add globs of Greek yogurt and top with breadcrumbs. Place this in the oven at 350 degrees for five to eight minutes, or until desired temperature.
Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen’s Pan Fried Corn
There is one thing you’ll pretty much always find on the menu at a Jim Noble restaurant: pan-fried corn. That’s because he’s been making it—and eating it—since he was a child growing up in High Point.
Chef Zack Renner says the way the corn is prepared at Rooster’s makes it crunchy, salty, and sweet—and so popular that you’ll find a guy in the kitchen shucking corn every day because there’s often an order on every other table. The trick? Roosters always uses white (not yellow) corn because it’s sweeter and less starchy.
“When we first put it in the pan, it sears the corn and as the juices come out the pan cools, the juices emulsify and you get the enhanced flavor because you’re caramelizing it,” says Renner.
1 heavy cup of fresh cut white corn
3 tsp. butter
2 tsp. oil
Kosher salt to taste
Semi-coarse fresh cracked black pepper
Fresh torn basil (1 to 2 leaves)
Heat a cast iron pan on medium to high heat. You’ll want to use a pan that allows the corn to lay flat at about a ½-inch layer to allow proper browning and quick cooking. When the pan is hot, add the oil. The oil should smoke slightly, but not to where it’s black or grey smoke.
Take the pan off the heat and add the corn, being careful as to not splatter the oil. Return the pan to the heat and place the 3 teaspoons of butter around the pan on the outer rim of the corn so that it heats and melts down the sides of the corn. Add a good pinch of salt and generous amount of pepper. The corn should begin to brown and caramelize. Sauté the corn to achieve even cooking and browning. If the corn pops out of the pan move it around more quickly. It should not take more than three to five minutes to cook one cup. Add fresh torn basil at the end and fold into the cooked corn.
Fran’s Filling Station’s Fabulous Meatballs
The meatballs have been there from the beginning at Fran’s Filling Station. And there’s a good reason why: Owner Fran Scibelli has been eating them since the Sunday dinners of her childhood in New England. “I remember my grandmother making them,” she says. “She would fry them in a skillet and they were so delicious!”
Fran bakes the version in her restaurant so it is a bit healthier—though not much— because she adds piles of gooey melted Romano cheese and a crusty piece of grilled bread. Fran estimates she sells 400 meatballs a week, and she recently added them to the lunch menu after many requests. “It’s a total comfort food,” Fran says. “We still do Sunday dinners, and I think mine are better than my grandmother’s now.”
¾ lb. ground turkey
1-1/4 lbs. ground beef
¾ lb. ground pork
1/8 cup garlic, finely chopped
1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups fresh white bread crumbs
3 cups buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp black pepper)
5 eggs, well beaten
Fran’s Simple Tomato Sauce Ingredients
¼ cup blended canola and olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic
28 ounces canned Italian-style plum tomatoes
Salt to taste
About ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
About ½ cup chopped fresh basil
Tiny sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes
Pinch of sugar as needed to balance acidity
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray baking sheet with pan spray. Place meats in a large bowl along with garlic, grated cheese, and parsley. Place bread crumbs in a medium bowl, then pour buttermilk over crumbs. Let sit for 10-15 minutes. Add bread and buttermilk mixture to the meat mixture, then mix together by hand or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, being careful not to overwork the mixture. Raw mixture should look very loose—this is crucial to a tender texture. Roll meatballs with dampened hands or scoop with cookie scoop to desired size. Place on prepared baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until internal temperature is 160 degrees. Cooking time will vary with size of meatballs.
Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with oil. Peel garlic cloves and crush with back of a knife. Saute garlic in oil until golden. Add tomatoes and salt, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Puree mixture with immersion blender. Add herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
For gooey meatballs, top hot meatballs with simmered sauce, mozzarella, and pecorino Romano. Put under broiler for two to three minutes, or until cheese is golden brown.
Kindred’s Milk Bread Cinnamon Rolls
By now, most people know the milk bread at Davidson’s Kindred restaurant is a must. After all, it has garnered national praise—and the warm loafs delivered to every table set the tone for a tasty meal before you’ve even ordered at the popular restaurant.
But the other can’t-miss dough creations at the family-run spot are the milk bread cinnamon rolls. Restaurant co-owner Katy Kindred says they actually came up with the cinnamon roll recipe by accident. “It came from us playing with dough at family meals for the staff,” she says. “We would take extra dough and make doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and more—and we liked them so much we decided to put them on the menu.” The warm and gooey rolls are now so popular that they sell out every night.
Tanzhong (water roux for dough)
1/3 cup bread flour
1 cup water
5 cups bread flour
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp. +1/2 tsp. milk powder
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup honey
2 packets instant dry yeast
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
Cinnamon sugar filling
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
3 tbsp. honey
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
Cream cheese frosting
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp. heavy cream
In a medium bowl, add heavy cream and set aside. Using a small saucepan, whisk together the bread flour and water over medium heat. Continuously whisk until thick gel-like paste forms. Remove from heat. While whisking, pour tangzhong into heavy cream. Whisk to fully combine and set aside.
Using a standing mixer with dough hook, add heavy cream/tangzhong mixture, eggs, honey, and yeast to the bowl of the mixer. Add the dry ingredients on top of the wet, adding the salt last (keep it from touching the yeast). On low speed, mix for approximately one minute. Turn mixer speed to medium and mix for approximately eight minutes. After eight minutes, keep mixer on medium and slowly add soft butter. Stop the mixer and push any unmixed butter into dough. Turn back to medium until all butter is fully incorporated.
Place dough in a greased medium-sized bowl and cover. Let rise for one hour or until doubled, or let rise overnight in the refrigerator. While waiting for the dough to rise, mix ingredients to make the glaze, cinnamon filling, and cream cheese frosting.
Once doubled, turn dough onto a floured surface. Roll dough out into a rectangle, about a ¼ inch thick. Brush entire surface of dough with melted butter. Spread a generous amount of the cinnamon sugar mixture over the melted butter surface, leaving about a 1-inch edge uncoated with sugar for sealing the dough. Starting with the coated edge, roll dough into a log lengthwise. When completely rolled, pinch the seam together. Cut into nine even pieces, about three fingers width. Separate and, turning swirl side up, slightly flatten to smooth top of each roll.
Using a 9-inch x13-inch baking pan, pour 1½ cups glaze on the bottom of pan. Place each slice, swirl up, on top of glaze in pan. Set aside and let rise until double. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown. The tops do not sink when lightly pressed. Remove from oven and immediately pour remaining glaze on top of rolls. Using a parchment lined sheet tray, invert cinnamon rolls (be careful, the glaze is hot). Using another parchment lined sheet tray, invert one more time so the tops of the rolls are now facing up. All rolls should be well coated with glaze.
Serve immediately with a generous topping of cream cheese frosting.
5Church’s Pretzel Bar
Before it caught the attention of the Southeast for its expansion to Charleston and Atlanta, and before it garnered national fame for its Executive Chef Jamie Lynch’s appearance on “Top Chef,” Charlotte’s 5Church restaurant was already a local favorite for its tasty dishes and hip style.
One of its top menu items—now also in Charleston and Atlanta—stemmed from an unlikely muse for such a swanky restaurant: “The inspiration came from one of my favorite candy bars, Snickers,” says Lynch. “I thought it would be a really great idea to add a salty, crunchy bite with the pretzels.
Ultimately, it was that familar sweet mix that made it a must-order menu item. “I think it’s a favorite because it kind of goes with the theme of being familiar and approachable, and it’s a flavor everyone loves,” says Lynch. “And it’s topped with gold. Who doesn’t love gold?”
½ cup or 1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
1 ¾ cup pretzels, ground fine
Milk Chocolate Toffee Fuilletine
1 cup milk chocolate (high quality)
1 ½ cup feuilletine (found online or specialty food stores)
1 tsp. butter
½ cup pretzels, ground fine
¼ cup toffee butter
Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel Ganache
¼ cup corn syrup
1 ¾ cup cream
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate
¼ cup cream
2 tbsp. butter
Mix butter and powdered sugar in a stand mixer for three to four minutes until light and fluffy and pale in color. Add all-purpose flour and ground pretzels and mix until combined, add heavy cream and mix until dough comes together and is light and fluffy. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for seven to 10 minutes.
Milk Chocolate Toffee Fuilletine
Melt milk chocolate, butter, and toffee butter in a medium-sized bowl over a pot of simmering water. Once melted add feuilletine and pretzels. Spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roll until flat and chill. Once set, put on top of toffee butter/shortbread layer.
Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel Ganache
Place the sugar in a small saucepan. Allow to melt and caramelize, swirling the pan occasionally so it cooks until nutty brown. In a separate pot bring the cream, vanilla, and corn syrup to a boil. Remove the cream from heat. When the sugar has caramelized, whisk in the cream mix and allow to cook back to 230 degrees, checking the temperature with a candy thermometer. Add the milk chocolate, butter, and cream. Pour on top of fuilletine layer and allow to set.
Photos courtesy of vendors.