If you’re looking for Bill and me on a Friday night when we’re not traveling, you’ll most likely find us at the recently renamed Foxcroft Wine Company (formerly The Wine Shop at Foxcroft) in the booming SouthPark area of Charlotte.
Actually, any night when we’re in town and the kitchen is open the odds are high we could be there. It’s often where we go the night before we depart on our trips, and the first place we visit when we return home. Fridays, though, are particularly significant to us.
Early in our marriage, we designated Friday evening as Friday Night Date Night, meaning we go out for dinner. The uppercase letters are deliberate to convey the importance of this event. It’s essentially a law in our household.
We chose Friday for this ritual because it presented a clear break between our work lives during the week and the arrival of the weekend. We skip the cooking and clean up duties, and regroup as a couple without the constraint of having to rise early the next day. When friends join us, the name changes to Friday Night Double Date Night.
The venue can make or break Friday Night Date Night. It must be comfortable, relaxing, and welcoming, while also exuding a sense of energy. The food must be delicious, but fine dining isn’t necessary. Service must be attentive, though not pretentious and lurking, and delivered by an engaging and knowledgeable wait staff. Music, whether live or recorded, is a plus, but not so loud that it impedes conversation. Great wine is critical. Fun is the whole point.
All that and more is why the upscale Foxcroft Wine Company is the definitive choice for Friday Night Date Night. There’s an intangible something about it, and the vibe accelerates and reverberates as the crowd builds and the evening transpires. Bill has emphatically declared it “the perfect place.”
The feeling we get as we enter Foxcroft Wine Company surely is similar to what Norm felt when bartenders Sam, Woody, and Coach, waitresses Diane and Carla, and the assembled patrons bellowed out “Norm!” upon his daily visits to Cheers, the Boston bar that was the primary setting in the 1980s-1990s sitcom of the same name. Everyone is happy to see you, everyone knows your name (or soon will), and your chair is your real estate for as long as you want.
Foxcroft Wine Company is the brainchild of Conrad Hunter, an eighth-generation Charlottean and former music producer and musician who toured with bands in the 1980s. He got a taste for fine wines when he left life on the road and opened a club in a new restaurant in Charlotte. Eager to learn more, he taught himself about wine, and then became a wholesale wine rep. With a partner in 2004, he opened what was then The Wine Shop at Foxcroft, and eventually became the sole owner.
“I called on different places and saw what some did right and not,” Hunter explained. “This is the synthesis of what a retail shop and wine bar should be.”
You bet it is.
Foxcroft Wine Company is a combination retail operation selling a large quantity (9,000 bottles) and extensive variety (3,500 SKUs) of small production, artisanal wines (largely from Western Europe), a wine bar (plus some craft beers on tap), and a kitchen serving mostly small plates meant for sharing. Hunter purposely carries some wines you won’t see everywhere else – from classic Burgundies and Bordeaux to more obscure ones like Juras – and he’s the largest seller of rosés in Charlotte.
One of the best features is that you can select your own bottle from the racks and enjoy it with your meal, paying retail price rather than the high mark-up a regular restaurant would charge. If the bottle sells for $30 or more, corkage is free.
“We’re proactive about finding new and interesting wines,” he said. “The staff tastes everything that comes through the door, and we have an active training program so there’s not a divide between retail and the wine bar.”
“I’m not going to question the power of Elvis,” Hunter smiled. “You know the saying ‘In vino veritas’ (truth in wine)? Here it’s ‘In Elvis veritas.’ ”
Presiding over the kitchen is Chef Justin Solomon. His culinary background is eclectic – schooled at Johnson & Wales, and positions in big kitchens and small, featuring such cuisines as French, Italian, and vegan. He’s also fascinated with Asian foods, especially Vietnamese.
He’s keen on the fundamentals. Fresh, seasonal, and made-to-order factor into his philosophy, as does the challenge of elevating a cheaper cut of meat into something wonderful through finesse and technique.
Although Solomon’s not a big drinker, when he develops a menu he generally pictures if he’d pair a red or white wine or a beer with a particular dish.
“I think about what I’d want to munch on if I were sharing wine with friends,” he said. “It’s easy, comfort food.”
While not a large menu, the offerings range from nuts and olives to cheeseboards, from salads to the chef’s veggies, from heartier entrées to weekend specials. Some items have taken on a life of their own and would prompt a backlash if ever removed from the menu. For Bill and me, the beef sliders, sandwiched between the house-made buns, and truffle fries are sacred. I also love the scallops. For others, it’s the lamb sliders, burger, and flatbreads. The doughnuts, served with variations of Solomon’s chocolate and caramel sauces, are heavenly, as are the chocolate truffles.
Periodically, we see Solomon come through the swinging doors of the kitchen to survey the scene. He’s usually wearing a ball cap emblazoned with a Pittsburgh sports logo, so we feel a particular kinship with this fellow fan (Go Steelers! Go Pens! Go Pirates!)
Regarding the particular alchemy that makes Foxcroft Wine Company tick, Hunter explained, “You can buy wine at Costco or Target, but you won’t find our selection, service, ambiance, or sense of humor, and we don’t sell tires and 6,000 rolls of toilet paper.
“People want to come here,” he continued. “I look at it like we’re doing theatre. I’ve quit trying to understand it. I just know it works. The people who get it get it.”