We all have favorite dishes at national franchise restaurants.  We frequent those places with family and friends both for the variety and for the consistent predictability.  There is something for everyone and that one thing you always order whether you are in Seattle, Denver, or Charlotte.  Here, however, are a few local choices when you need to break the chain.*

A disclaimer before we begin:  It has become a cliché that idyllic small towns eventually become bustling commuter suburbs or just sell their souls to the outlet malls.  For you unsweet tea Yankees, think North Conway, NH; Freeport, ME; and Leesburg, VA.  Although Charlotte, like some kind of Godzilla kudzu, keeps creeping south, Waxhaw, NC, for now, still feels like it’s out of town.  When we moved to Sun City Carolina Lakes in the Indian Land Panhandle in 2008, Waxhaw was our little secret, but it isn’t a secret anymore.  So, before Waxhaw becomes South Weddington, enjoy a meal at one of their wonderful not-a-chain restaurants.  And notice that there does seem to be a trend — if an original restaurant is successful in Waxhaw, they also open a location in Matthews.

Although not really a restaurant, the Crossroads Coffee House cannot and must not be ignored.  We are all familiar with the ubiquitous coffee megachains, and we each have our own overpriced addiction there.  Although I’m not into pretentious coffee at all – ever – and although I have never had a pumpkin anything that didn’t also have the word pie or bread in it, there is just something about a robust cup of coffee sitting next to something else fresh from the bakery.  The Crossroads Coffee House is the equivalent of a supercool neighborhood microbrewery but without the liquor license.  The website says Crossroads imports the world’s finest green coffee, then roasts it in small batches “to bring you one fine cup of joe.”  They also serve milkshakes and fruit smoothies along with hot chocolate and a large selection of teas.  To go with your beverage, they offer a variety of “cakes, bagels, biscotti, cookies, muffins, cinnamon rolls, pound cakes, trail mix, chocolate covered espresso beans, and various other things to snack on.”  If you go early enough in the morning, between the pickup trucks rumbling by, you can hear roosters and cows as you enjoy your coffee in a rocking chair on the front deck.  Open M-F 6 am-8:30 pm; Sat 7 am-8:30 pm; and Sun 8 am-8 pm.

As of summer 2016, Provisions is literally the new kid on the block in downtown Waxhaw.  Ken Posko and Lisa Vigil, a local Waxhaw couple, own and operate the combination sandwich shop and provisions store.  Their goal is “to bring local producers and consumers together in one convenient location.”  When you look at the philosophy behind buying local, the easy and accurate comparison is Fort Mill’s Peach Stand.  But imagine the Peach Stand with a much larger dining room.  And with Wi-Fi!!!!  I asked Lisa about that because the Peach Stand closed down their free Wi-Fi when folks would park at a table for hours with a laptop and a cup of coffee.  Lisa’s response was, “We have the room, so we don’t care.”  The dining area is actually the perfect place for a working breakfast/lunch or a business meeting.  The menu is a bit limited only because it’s a “Sandwich Shop” and not a full-blown restaurant, but there is something for everyone from either the breakfast menu or from the salads and sandwiches.  I don’t know how to describe the food without using the word extraordinary.  Not in the hyperbolic, over-the-top sense of the word, but in the it’s not-at-all-ordinary sense.  The food just looks amazing and tastes amazing as well.  The provisions side of the store is stocked with fresh eggs, spices, and coffee to name only a very few of the products and cooking ingredients.  Even if you don’t cook, you know someone who does.  Provisions is a can’t-miss place to eat and to buy culinary gifts for yourself or for a friend.

Maxwell’s Tavern is right on Main St. in downtown Waxhaw.  Waxhaw is still a small town, and parking can be iffy.  For the most part, drivers are ridiculously polite, which makes crossing the street (not at the light) less hazardous, but still not recommended.  Maxwell’s pretty much gets high marks from everyone I’ve talked to for food and service.  However, and this is a big however, the place is small.  If you have the time, the wait is always worth it.  And it ain’t cheap, but if you can afford a $10.00 burger (with fries), you get a burger that tastes like it costs $10.00.  If you want the same burger you have had a thousand times already, a major chain sells much less expensive blandburgers just down the road.  The menu at Maxwell’s is extensive in that there is something for everyone:  An assortment of appetizers from fried pickles to hummus and pita points (Honestly, I have no idea what hummus and pita points are because I never read the menu past the fried pickles.), salads, sandwiches, and entrees from chicken tenders to a 12 oz. ribeye.  Maxwell’s is a small tavern that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be a small tavern.  They are open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner.

The Stacks Kitchen claim to fame is “Good Food & Plenty of It!” which makes it kind of hard to eat there if you are actively managing your diet.  No kidding.  The food is really good and the portions are substantial.  Even the French toast short stack is daunting.  There are two locations:  one in Matthews and the original location in Waxhaw, although even that isn’t the original location.  They moved from a place that had terrible parking to a much better spot.  The Waxhaw location, however, is so tucked away, if you weren’t actually going there, you wouldn’t be there.  You will never just happen by it and say to yourself, “I think I’ll stop in that place for breakfast.”  It’s also not like the familiar chain trying to look like a quaint diner.  There is nothing cookie-cutter, institutional, or “International” about it.  Stacks feels like a real diner because it is one.  So, the next time your grandkids are in town and someone suggests going out for breakfast, rather than, once again, eating at the familiar ubiquitous chain with banana face pancakes, take them to a real local diner.  Stacks Kitchen is open every day from 6:00 am to 3:00 pm, and, somehow, they also find time to cater.

Ming Fu Chinese & Sushi has two locations, the original in Waxhaw and the new location in Matthews.  This is another one of those places where there is something for everyone, including kids.  It can get busy around lunch and dinner with both regular buttoned-up folks and construction workers, which tells you something in itself.  The food is good, the portions are large, and the prices are startlingly reasonable.  Don’t be surprised if you need a go box even with a lunch portion.  I’m not exactly sure why a Chinese restaurant has sushi, which I thought was a Japanese thing, but I guess it’s more of a generic Asian restaurant staple these days.  The Waxhaw location is in the Harris-Teeter parking lot, so the access is simple and the parking is plentiful.  My litmus test for a non-chain Chinese restaurant is the shrimp fried rice.  Is it the equivalent of a chain restaurant blandburger or does it have something special to it?  Enjoy lunch or dinner and have enough left over for another meal.  Be sure to mark your go box, then hide the box behind something in the fridge.  Ming Fu leftovers at our house don’t survive for long.  Hours are 11 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday and Sunday.  Open until 11 pm Friday and Saturday nights.

*Non-chain restaurants can be like favorite fishing holes; you don’t talk about them because you don’t want other people to crowd up the place.  However, if you have a favorite restaurant that we have not mentioned, and you want to share it, contact us at editor@charlotteseniors.com.  Yes, we are grateful for the economy of scale that keeps prices down at the chains, but we also believe that supporting local family businesses, like non-chain restaurants, is crucial to the quality of life in every great community.

by Bob Poliquin, Managing Editor