Most everyone would agree that if you want a real challenge, especially one that will most likely result in a financial catastrophe, just open a restaurant. If you want to take one or two steps further out on the ledge, acquire an establishment that first opened as an Italian eatery and failed, and then was transformed into a less-than-mediocre barbecue joint that also was going down the drain.
Brothers Dan Anderson and Jeremy Johnson purchased just such a restaurant last year and, amazingly, turned it around. Elwood’s Barbecue & Burger Bar is living proof that it can be done, if you have a strong passion and the right culinary philosophy.
First and foremost the decision was made to bring in premium raw ingredients to make the best possible in-house dishes and accompaniments. Let’s start with the barbecue sauce itself, which is very important for a BBQ destination. They make three different sauces to satisfy everyone’s taste. That’s the beginning of the brothers’ decision to make everything from scratch, in house, and with as much locally sourced products as possible. The fresh meats are smoked daily and the beef for the burgers is ground in house. Elwood’s doesn’t even have a freezer – they have no use for one. We’re talking fresh scratch-made, resulting in delicious food.
There are several enticing starters, snacks or share-ables – however it suites you. Most scrumptious are the wings. Why so good? These wings are rubbed and smoked, creating an infusion of intense flavor. Now add a great scratch-made sauce and get ready to lick your fingers. The barbalo is yummy, as is the honey chipotle. You also can choose from hot garlic parmesan, South Carolina gold, honey bee and, of course, traditional mild or hot, arriving with celery and ranch or bleu cheese dressing. For a Southern twist on traditional fare, check out the collards and artichoke dip, served with tortilla chips. A basket of chili cheese fries is always made with fresh, hand-cut fries cooked to order, then smothered in homemade chili and topped with melted cheddar cheese. Funny how fresh-cut fries taste so much better.
All the fresh-ground-in-house burgers are Angus chuck and served on a fresh-baked potato bun with the choice of a side. Here is where you can get your burger properly prepared, with either a slightly pink center or cooked through. As burgers go, the Elwood is a scrumptious selection, topped with their slow smoked brisket, bacon, onion rings, tomato and pimento cheese. There are several other built burgers, or you can simply customize your own from the myriad of cheeses and tasty toppings. Have a yen for poultry? The Yard Bird is a deeply marinated chicken breast that can be prepared grilled or fried, topped with Swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle and Elwood’s barbecue sauce.
If you’re a fan of tender, juicy, slow-smoked pulled pork, you will become enamored with Elwood’s as it’s dry rubbed and smoked for 14 hours. Just as delectable, and my personal favorite, is the sliced smoked beef brisket that enjoys the smoky dry sauna for 15 hours. The pulled chicken is wet rubbed and hickory smoked to a deeply infused flavor profile along with the other meats. Like ribs? Who doesn’t! The St. Louis-style ribs are rubbed and smoked for six hours and very tasty indeed. And for an extraordinary treat, you can get a barbecue plate of Kansas City-style burnt ends.
These flavor-packed morsels are taken from the point cut of the brisket, cubed and smoked in its natural juices a little longer, to create this one-of-a-kind brisket experience. So special, there is only a limited quantity available each day. Sandwiches, plates or tacos are offered with the tender pulled chicken, pulled pork or brisket.
Most of the offerings come with your choice of a side or two. Once again, Elwood’s decided to make them all in house, fresh from scratch, never canned or frozen. And of course, you can absolutely taste it. Smoked barbecue beans; pasta salad; white, red or cilantro slaw; handmade hushpuppies with honey butter; hand-cut fries; hand-cut onion rings; homemade parmesan tater tots; house-made applesauce; mac and cheese; Brunswick stew; side salad; slow-cooked collard greens; fresh sautéed green beans; or fresh-cut and breaded fried okra. They are all very good. It really depends on your personal desire. Personally, I think the onion rings are as good as it gets, with a light crunchy coating protecting a tender juicy interior.
I made a point of experiencing the weekend brunch, and I’m so glad I did. The menu items were intriguing and made it imperative for me to make one more field investigation. Brunch is always a great excuse to start with a spirited drink, so my guests and I sampled a couple. Highly refreshing was the Carolina Mojito: freshly muddled lemons and mint, sweet tea vodka and a splash of soda water. You’ll find the traditional breakfast fare on the brunch menu, along with a few wonderfully different offerings. I really enjoyed the BBQ benedict. Picture this: tender smoked sliced brisket, two perfectly poached eggs and grilled tomato slices served on top of a toasted English muffin and drizzled with their signature red sauce. What a creatively delightful combination. Here’s another: the BBQ waffle sandwich – slow-smoked pulled pork is tossed in honey maple glaze, topped with bacon, choice of cheese, stacked between two halves of a waffle and served with a side. It tasted fantastic. Who would have thought? Chicken and waffles, brisket and eggs and peanut butter- and banana-stuffed French toast tempt your taste buds. One guest wanted a burger, and the regular menu is always available. They loved it.
The full bar contains a cornucopia of craft beers, both on draft and by the bottle. Especially North Carolina and American craft brews. If you’re a fan of fine bourbon, you have another tasty reason to make an appearance at Elwood’s. Bulleit, Bakers, Elijah Craig, Basil Hayden’s, Jefferson’s Reserve, Knob Creek, Blanton’s, Bookers, Four Roses Single Barrel and Woodford Reserve – each a connoisseur’s delight.
Elwood’s offers a clean, family friendly and pleasing atmosphere with enough flat screens to watch the game, even on the patio. The servers are pleasant and knowledgeable. It is highly likely that Dan or Jeremy will be stopping by your table to check and make sure you really are enjoying the experience. The brothers are driven to make sure the food is top notch and that you will want to come back, as well as consider their catering services. Additional, Elwood’s recently hosted a charity golf tournament at the Ballantyne Hotel to benefit the Paula Takacs Foundation for Sarcoma Research. They raised more than $11,000 for that event. Elwood’s also is in the beginning stages of hosting another charity golf tournament in October to benefit cystic fibrosis research. They will be donating food to a men’s shelter on a bi-weekly basis, working in conjunction with St. Matthew Catholic and Elevation churches. Evidently, Elwood’s has become a valuable member of the south Charlotte community and feels very strongly about giving back through fundraising and catering events. The brothers feel just as passionate about the food at Elwood’s Barbecue & Burger Bar, and it definitely