Tag Archives: soul food

The Coffee Cup Remix

Restaurant: The Coffee Cup
Locations: 2909 N. Davidson Street
Website: http://www.coffeecupsoul.com/
Dress: Casual
Cuisine: Supposedly “soul food”
Price Range:

  • Breakfast/Lunch: $5.95-7.95
  • Desserts: $3.95

Rating: 3 out of 5 spoons

The Scoop:

There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that the Coffee Cup has, indeed, reopened in NoDa and, after a month of serving lunch only, is now opened for regular business (and even open late for those hanging out at Prevue or gallery crawling). The bad news? Well, the bad news is that the Coffee Cup has not reopened — some odd, trendy version of the Coffee Cup has opened and, unfortunately, fiddled with perfection.

I guess they felt they had to reinvent themselves after closing down two locations — the historic restaurant downtown and the struggling (but delicious) restaurant in the University area. I heard a rumor that they were thinking of adjusting their menu to be more health-conscious, but I thought that surely they knew that no one goes to eat soul food and worries about the fat content. Well, whether to be more health-conscious or simply to change their image, they’ve altered the key component that makes them the Coffee Cup: the FOOD. The food transcended the location, the restaurant building, the serving crew. Whatever reason their previous locations were unsuccessful (try letting the sanitation grade drop precipitously, not advertising much, etc.), it couldn’t have been the food. I feel a little like a very dear, tasty friend has died.

Don’t get me wrong; some things remain the same. The service is sweet and personal (it was our server’s first day, and though the timing of the meal was off, she was very attentive). The manager is very personable, kind, and intent on making your meal enjoyable. The locale is cute, well-decorated, and placed conveniently in the heart of NoDa.

The Coffee Cup's hip new locale
The Coffee Cup’s hip new locale

The only real problem is the food. Where has the soul food gone?! Let’s survey the casualties:

1. Gone are the thick-cut pork chops slathered in opaque, fatty gravy. In their place is served pork scaloppine: thin, a little tough, and peppery. I asked if they could still smother the chops, though it’s not listed on the menu (that’s right — no more “smothered” option!), and they obliged, but with a decidedly thin, watery gravy. While this version of smothered pork chops is good, I wouldn’t go back to the Coffee Cup to get them again. I had dreams about the old version — dreams, I tell you! Just look at the difference:

The University area Coffee Cup's Smothered Pork Chops

NoDa's Smothered Pork Chops

Top: The University area Coffee Cup’s Smothered Pork Chops.
Bottom: NoDa Coffee Cup’s so-called “Smothered Pork Chops.”

2. Gone are the big fluffy waffles. If you get Chicken and Waffles now, the waffle has gone granola. It’s more like something you’d find at Zada Jane’s (where they’d do it better, because it’s their “thing”) than a soul food restaurant: it has a hint of cinnamon/nutmeg, and I think they actually used wheat flour. Don’t get me wrong, wheat flour has a place in this world. But that place is not in the kitchen of a soul food restaurant. This is yet another example of how the Coffee Cup still offers good food, but not great food. Not unique food. Not the kind of soul food that I would crave, feel driven to tell friends about, and seek out every weekend without fail. That’s what the old Coffee Cup offered.

Also, perhaps this was another issue stemming from having a novice waitress, but they brought the chicken and waffle out separately! Slap that chicken on that waffle, man!

The University area Coffee Cup's Chicken and Waffles

NoDa Coffee Cup's Chicken and Waffles

Top: The University area Coffee Cup’s Chicken and Waffles.
Bottom: NoDa Coffee Cup’s “Chicken and Waffles.”

3. Gone are . . . (gasp) the biscuits. Well, in a manner of speaking. They do still have similar biscuits. And these biscuits still beat plenty of biscuits in Charlotte. But something’s missing. I think, in keeping with the idea of making a “healthier” version of soul food, they’ve cut down on the butter or shortening or something. They just weren’t as addictive, and I felt embarrassed when my sister tried them (after I’d been raving about them for a year) and wasn’t impressed. They were more crumbly, more dry, less greasy and fantastic. I’m sure other dishes have changed in addition to those I’ve mentioned here, but I can’t bear to go back to find out. The biscuits are the final straw. The Coffee Cup is dead to me! </melodrama>

Just to add to my sorrows, the Coffee Cup apparently doesn’t really have those little jelly packets for the biscuits anymore (or our waitress didn’t know about them). They brought out a mostly empty jar in response to my request, and I have to admit, sharing a communal jelly jar with who-knows-what-other-customers made me a little squirmy. The waitress also came back promptly to retrieve it because they needed it . . . which was very weird! Is there not jelly dedicated to customer consumption? I know, I know, a whole paragraph on the jelly incident. But I think it’s warranted. It’s sort of a metaphor for the entire Coffee Cup experience at this point: it falls short of your expectations, disappoints you, and is then taken away too soon (as I predict the Coffee Cup will be yet again, given this new menu).

I should really make it clear that the Coffee Cup is not lousy. It’s good. Good food, good service, and if I’d never known about the other Coffee Cup, I might be satisfied with that. The macaroni and cheese was actually phenomenal, perhaps the only thing better than the old version. The restaurant gets 3 stars for being good. I just can’t help but shake my head at the fact that they changed the food. The FOOD! The food was perfect, delicious, fattening, sultry, exceptional! There was nothing in Charlotte to compare, and that’s why people kept coming back. Please, dear Coffee Cup, consider serving some soul food again. Until then, I’ll see y’all at Price’s Chicken Coop! They know, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Have you been to the new “improved” Coffee Cup? Are you also aghast, or do you like it better? Any other good soul food recommendations? Share your thoughts by clicking on the “Comments” link below.


The Coffee Cup

Restaurant: The Coffee Cup
Location: 9311 J.W. Clay Boulevard
Website: http://www.coffeecupsoul.com
Dress: Casual
Cuisine: Soul food
Price Range:

  • Breakfast: $2-12
  • Lunch / Dinner Menu: $7-13
  • Desserts: $3.50-4.50
Rating: 5 out of 5 spoons

The Scoop:

I can sum up this review with ONE PICTURE:

The Coffee Cup meal
The Coffee Cup meal

But, since I love you crazy Spooners, I’m going to go ahead and throw in some delicious description of my visits to The Coffee Cup as well.  If you’re trying to call yourself a Charlottean and haven’t enjoyed some delectable Coffee Cup soul food, I’ve got a smothered-fried-chicken bone to pick with you!

The restaurant began in downtown Charlotte in 1947 and its longevity and success have a lot to do with its simple philosophy; that is, make delicious food and serve it to hungry people.  The restaurant slogan, “The Traditional Hands-on Soul Food Restaurant” rings true:  on one of our visits, the owner himself, Gardine Wilson, was at the restaurant having a family dinner.

Mike and I visited the University location, which, at least for dinner, is usually not crowded at all.  We can sail right into the dim restaurant filled with low jazz music and take a seat on a hard booth.  Articles and pictures chronicling The Coffee Cup’s rich history adorn the walls. The menu is a bit awkward until you figure it out. It displays only breakfast and lunch items, but they serve the lunch items for dinner as well. Your server will let you know which of the “meat specials” and “vegetable specials” they have each night, since it depends on the people cooking and the materials available. I like the homey feel of a menu that varies based on the kitchen’s resources — sounds a little more like grandma’s house than, say, a menu that can cook up identical meals seven nights a week. With so many amazing meals on the menu, it’s going to be hard to choose.  It was in hopes of facilitating your decision (it’s all for you!) that I sat down to, oh, about 80 different meals at The Coffee Cup over the last four weeks.  Here are the delicious results.

On our first trip, Mike selected the golden, crisp and moist Fried Chicken. It was delicious, but the portion size was small in comparison to the other entrées.  Not to worry: as a rule, portions at The Coffee Cup seem very large with prices that are very reasonable.  I went straight for the Country Style Steak.  I was expecting a country fried steak with a crisp coating smothered in gravy, but this dish was actually more like a chopped steak.  It was salty and delectable, with enough gravy to drown the meat twice over (the way I like it!)

The Coffee Cup's Fried Chicken
The Coffee Cup's Country Style Steak

The Coffee Cup’s Fried Chicken and Country Style Steak

With each entrée you select two vegetable options and either cornbread or biscuits.  Mike went for the creamy, delicious macaroni and cheese and the slightly sweet green beans. He liked the latter, but the sweetness was a bit odd in my opinion. I chose collard greens that were rich and seasoned with pork, as they should be! Regarding the biscuits versus cornbread decision, take my advice:  skip the cornbread.  It’s okay, and I can see sopping up gravy with it, but you’ll have dreams about the beautiful biscuits.  They’re not of the Cracker Barrel fluffy variety (which, don’t get me wrong, I love). Rather, they are deeply Southern flat biscuits that taste like a flaky combination of butter and Heaven. I slather them with butter and eat one half plain and one half with the jelly provided.

The Coffee Cup Biscuits
The Coffee Cup Biscuits

On our next trip, Mike chose the BBQ Beef Ribs, a meat special that proved to be his favorite Coffee Cup entrée of all. The ribs are dinosaur-sized and meaty with a sticky, rich sauce. I went for Smothered Pork Chops and I can’t imagine a more perfect meal. The pork chops (that’s right, plural! There were two huge pork chops on my plate!) were tender and juicy and the smotherin’ gravy was so delicious that I’d order it as a beverage if I could! And actually, I might try that next time. While Mike didn’t branch out, I tried two new sides this time around: perfectly seasoned cabbage and sweet candy yams that had a kick of nutmeg. And, okay, I added a mac-and-cheese for good measure, because I can’t pass it up! My server was sure I was going to need a takeout box for all this food; clearly he doesn’t read the blog.

The Coffee Cup's BBQ Beef Ribs
The Coffee Cup's Smothered Pork Chops

The Coffee Cup’s BBQ Beef Ribs and Smothered Pork Chops

The next meal at The Cup (did you think I was kidding about eating there 80 times? Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration) was similarly fantastic (though you can’t beat the Smothered Pork Chops). Mike ordered the Shrimp and Grits special, and while the grits were delicious with gravy, peppers, and sausage, Mike thought the shrimp were a little bland and tough. It didn’t help that they still had tails, though we both agree this is a big improvement over restaurants that leave the entire shell on. No one I know has a burning desire to paw through their entrée with their fingers! I went for Smothered Fried Chicken — smothered and fried, how’s that for good ol’ artery-cloggin’ Southern fare?! — and it was awesome. Crispy fried skin plus salty gravy equals joy! Once again, the portion size of the chicken was smaller than that of the other entrées and cutting the chicken off the bone was a little tedious, but it was great nonetheless.

The Coffee Cup's Shrimp and Grits
The Coffee Cup's Smothered Fried Chicken

The Coffee Cup’s Shrimp and Grits and Smothered Fried Chicken

Mike stuck with the BBQ Beef Ribs for our most recent meal (this is the last one, really! …until next week), but I tried the Fried Catfish. My plate almost brought tears to my eyes: two huge, perfectly seasoned, breaded, flaky filets. They were red hot out of the fryer but surprisingly not too greasy. I could’ve used more tartar sauce; the sweet flavor helped break up the salty flavor of the catfish. For those of you keeping score, I think the catfish was my favorite meal except the Smothered Pork Chops; like I said, those chops can’t be beat.

The Coffee Cup's Fried Catfish
The Coffee Cup’s Fried Catfish

If you think that Mike and I simply ate our veggies, meats, and biscuits and happily wobbled over to pay the check, you haven’t been paying attention to this blog. Of course the meal wouldn’t have been complete without dessert. Though the menu boasts lemon pound cake and sweet potato cobbler, we can’t get past the delicious Peach Cobbler. On our first visit the fluffy crust-to-peach ratio was perfect. Even on subsequent visits where we could’ve used more crust, the dish was the perfect finish to an amazing meal.

The Coffee Cup's Peach Cobbler
The Coffee Cup’s Peach Cobbler

Apart from the wonderful food, service has always been great at The Cup. Each server has a unique style, but the common theme is that you feel like you’re part of The Coffee Cup’s rich history when you sit down to a meal. We never had the same experience twice: on our first visit, a welcoming server named Lawrence outfitted us with biscuits before our meal began and during our meal, taking care of us throughout. We loved Lawrence! On another visit, we joked with our laid back server about our food and got only one set of biscuits. I love the variety, though; once again, that variation between visits is what gives you the authentic, homey feel.

There was no question in my mind about how many spoons The Coffee Cup would receive. It’s 5 outta 5 all the way. The well-loved Charlotte restaurant has proven with its University location that being a landmark isn’t dependent on a particular parcel of land. Rather, a landmark is created by using great food, great business, and a great atmosphere to carve out a niche in Charlotteans’ hearts (and stomachs). And if you need more encouragement to visit, here it is:

The Coffee Cup's BBQ Beef Ribs
The Coffee Cup’s BBQ Beef Ribs

Have you been to The Coffee Cup? Do you have great memories from the historic downtown location? What’s your favorite Coffee Cup meal? Share your thoughts by clicking on the “Comments” link below.