A food critic based out of North Carolina, James Phelps frequently shares insightful reviews of local restaurants and eateries with his online readers. Here, he helps explain the origin of Southern cuisine that is well-known in states such as Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
James Phelps has for years helped readers determine which restaurants were worth their investments in major Southern cities like Charlotte and Charleston. He opens his readers’ eyes to the establishments that embody the local cuisine and offer a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
“North Carolina sits on the northernmost edge of what we refer to in America as the quintessential Southern states,” says James Phelps. “But it certainly doesn’t lack in Southern cooking.”
Visitors to these states, Phelps says, are sure to encounter an abundance of fried foods, pork-centered dishes, and the sweetest tea anywhere in the country. But where does this cooking style come from?
“In the south, we have a variety of subsets within Southern cooking based on the cultures that lent these recipes to the people of the traditionally-defined American South,” says James Phelps. “We have Creole food from the French and West African people, Floribbean cuisine from the Spanish and the inhabitants of islands in the Caribbean, and plenty of Tex-Mex from Mexican and Native American cultures.”
Many of the essential elements of Southern cooking come from southeast Native American tribes like the Caddo, Seminole, and Choctaw people who are indigenous to these lands. This includes squash, corn, and gourds, which are all typically featured at Thanksgiving meals. Sugar, eggs, and milk, which often make an appearance in the cuisine, were borrowed from Europe when colonists first arrived in North America.
African cultures also contributed greatly to southern cooking, most notably in okra, rice, black-eyed peas, eggplant, and various melons. The Spanish and other settling cultures introduced the Americas to pork and bacon, which still stand as some of the most iconic southern food to date.
The South’s love of a full breakfast comes from the British full breakfast or fry-up, as does the tendency to fry many of the local foods. Many Southern menus are based on Scottish or Border meals that have been adapted to the subtropical climate of the South. Today, southerners cook frequently with pork, which was once considered taboo in Scotland. However, today it takes the place of lamb and mutton in staple dishes, and grits take the place of chopped oats, though oatmeal is a lot more common in the area today than in generations past.
“It’s a strange melting pot of cuisines, flavors, and cultures that has solidified into an essential American style of cooking,” says James Phelps. “And North Carolina is chock-full of underrated establishments serving up some of the best Southern cuisine anywhere in America.”
James Andrew Phelps is an award-winning chef and food critic who spends his time frequenting the restaurant hotspots around his home state of North Carolina. Below, he names some of his favorite restaurants in Charlotte’s renowned and charming Elizabeth Neighborhood.
A native of North Carolina, James Phelps pursued his passion for the culinary arts after finding inspiration in all of the state’s celebrated food hubs. He graduated from the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina Culinary Program with a Certificate in Culinary Arts, building a strong foundation for a lifelong career in food.
After graduating, James Andrew Phelps took on roles in kitchens across Raleigh and Durham, working in a number of eateries, cafes, bakeries, pastry shops, and high-end restaurants between the cities. After gaining a well-rounded first-hand experience in all things culinary, he relocated to Charlotte where he managed a handful of restaurants in the area and led them to new levels of success.
He’s served in both back of house and front of house positions, learning all aspects of the culinary experience from both sides of the table. This extensive experience helps him succeed in his latest professional venture as a restaurant reviewer and food critic for local establishments in and around Charlotte.
His insightful reviews, which provide keen evaluations of the food in the state, help many residents and visitors understand where their money is best spent and what items are worth a tasting. In addition, he pens thoughtful articles on trending news in the food industry as well as topics on breakthroughs in nutrition and health for his online readers.
Below, he shares two of his favorite places to eat in his hometown and what customers can expect from their experience.
“Charlotte is a hub for foodies from all over the country; we have some of the finest food anywhere, not to mention our own southern cooking roots,” says James Andrew Phelps. “The picturesque Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte alone features delicious bakeries, quaint little ice-cream shops, lively bars, and plenty of sit-down dining options.”
The Fig Tree
Phelps tells that anyone who comes to Charlotte and who asks around for dining ideas will always get the Fig Tree from the locals. The elegant French menu features a variety of decadent dishes from savory entrees to award-winning pastries and desserts. The restaurant sits in a Craftsman-style bungalow built in 1913, known as the Lucas House, which showcases all the charm of the quintessential southern city.
The Stanley restaurant opened a few years ago under James Beard-Nominated Chef Paul Verica and his Sous Chef and son Alex. Together, the father-son duo brings the farm to table movement to Charlotte with a blend of food styles ranging from classic foundations to modern techniques with a creative, whimsical approach.
“Each restaurant can easily boast some of the most fantastic food in the city, but they deliver more than that,” says James Andrew Phelps. “The Fig Tree and the Stanley each exemplify opposite poles of the culinary spectrum in Charlotte while delivering southern charm and the best food available in the whole neighborhood.”