North Davidson Street, known locally as NoDa, is a hip Charlotte ’hood, a slice of Bohemia just minutes from Uptown and the city’s skyscrapers. If a day just to relax, stroll and browse in the Queen City is in order, NoDa is where to spend it.
Get off to a pleasant start at Amelie’s French Bakery, which anchors an older strip shopping center on NoDa's west end. The entryway is reminiscent of a French parlor from Ernest Hemingway's 1920s Paris, what with its colorful draperies and art hanging about. But one look at the center of the room reveals the chief Amelie's attraction: A large chalkboard that details the croissants, danishes, macaroons and other pastries that glow from the large, glass case beneath it. Be prepared for about 10 minutes of mulling the sight of it all, while the smells of maison (house) and other blends of coffee also tease the senses. Eventually, we decide on the touted salted brownie ("salt" proving to be a misnomer because of the brownie's caramel-ly sweetness), a sticky bun and a cup of maison—all designed to fuel our shopping spirit. While pajama-clad college girls hustle out with their laptops and to-go cups and a crowd begins to gather around the pastry-laden case, we plop our cup and pastry selections on a mosaic-topped table and take advantage of the free WiFi connection, our usually swift morning surf tempered, somewhat, by the tasty bites of brownie and bun.
Time to hit the shopping trail.
A large Indian chief head painted in the front window draws us into Ruby's Gift, a shop that features the work of more than 100 local artists and craftspeople. Several large cases at the front of the store display jewelry, including the hand-enameled wares of Pamela Wilson, a Tega Cay, S.C., artist who's manning the shop this day. From her Artful Otter business in Tega Cay, she carefully infuses enamel with copper and silver to create hip and appealing earrings, necklaces and other adornments. They fit right in with the rest of the store's decor. Colorful, newer and vintage clothing clings to the racks that surround the other walls in the large front room of the store, while rooms toward the back feature large oil paintings and other visual-arts works. There also are local products that would make the perfect North Carolina gifts: Glow Green natural soy candles from Kannapolis, Whispering Willow natural hand soap from Lincolnton and Cloister Honey from Charlotte, which is sold throughout the Southeast and Midwest n its natural state, as well as such infused flavors as tupelo and bourbon.
More colorful front-window displays lure us into Pura Vida Worldly Art, which focuses on works of art, clothing and gift items from around the world: Des les Muertos figurines from Mexico, carvings from Kenya, dream catchers from Indonesia, infant tie-dye onesies from Missouri. "We try to have products that will be attractive to all people: Men, women and children," store owner and founder Teresa Hernandez explains. Many of the items are spiritual, with Judea, Catholic, Hindu or Buddhist meanings. "When you introduce culture to people," Hernandez continues, "you want to introduce the religious aspect. That's part of the norm of the country." Originally from Mexico, Hernandez has owned Pura Vida for 10 years after earning a master's degree from the University of Texas and moving to Charlotte as part of the corporate world. Thinking Charlotte needed a place that offered multi-cultural art and other goods, she first located in the Plaza Midwood District and moved to NoDa four years ago. "It's definitely eclectic," she says of NoDa, as she shows us wedding hats from Afghanistan, wraps newspaper bracelets about her wrist and makes metal bowls sing by spinning a baton-like stick about their rims. (See slide show below.)
After lingering longer than planned at such stores as Ruby's and Pura Vida, it's time for a late lunch. Both storekeepers we had met spoke highly of the jambalaya at Boudreaux's Louisiana Kitchen, so we trek the half-block away for a taste. With an airy dining room filled with older wooden tables and chairs and an older bar that perhaps your granddaddy frequented during his Baby Boom heyday, Boudreaux's fits in nicely at its corner of Cajun Heaven at East 36th and Davidson. The drink specials make us wish it were later in the day ("Cajun Mary—Classic Bloody Mary with a kick!", for example, and "Mardi Gras Rita—Boudreaux's Version of the Margarita"), so we decide an appetizer with sweet tea might be more in order. We make a good choice: The crab and corn hush puppies served with an Old Bay and honey aioli sauce, which display fluffy interiors that include whole kernels of corn with each bite into a properly fried crust. They perfectly segue into a properly spiced jambalaya that features healthy bites of Gulf shrimp, crawfish tails, chicken breast and Andouille sausage, all steeped in rice and tomato sauce.
After browsing other NoDa stalwarts—the incense, T-shirts and posters at Sunshine Daydreams, or the worldly coffee varieties, including "Noda Nights" at Smelly Cat Coffee, perhaps—it’s almost 5 o’clock somewhere (yep, in NoDa)—so it’s time to head for NoDA Brewing for a tour and tastings (daily starting times vary).
NoDA Brewing is in an older warehouse, just across from Amelie's Bakery, where our day in NoDa started. Barely four years old, NoDa Brewing has grown from a 1,500-barrel-a-year maker to 10,000 in 2014. Its Hop, Drop 'n' Roll brand is one of its more popular and was the most recent winner of a gold medal in the World Beer Cup for American-style Indian Pale Ale—much of which explains the rapidly filling bar.
Starting times for the daily tours vary, but generally start at 6 with the brewery opening its tap room at 4. Grab a seat at the tall, blonde-colored bar and order a beer while admiring the vats on the other sides of the window behind the bartenders, waiting for the nightly tour to begin. During the tour, groups see the entire brewing cycle, including feeling and smelling the hops, grains and malts that go into the brewery's beers.
Should it be a Tuesday, a visitor is extra lucky—it's "NoDable Tuesday," when the brewery has made an exclusive small batch for the tasting. At the end of the year, patrons vote for their favorite varietal, which come with such names as Bow-Wow Brown Ale, Santa's Milk & Cookies, Coco-Porter and Unconvention-Ale.
By the end of the tour, a visitor most likely will raise a toast with a salute of "Prost!"—not only to the NoDa Brewing experience, but to this hip day in NoDa in general.
Map of Charlotte's NoDa Itinerary
A Day in NoDa Slide Show
(All Photos ©Jay Bemis/MVP unless othwerwise indicated.)