The South Park rebirth of a Dilworth favorite offers a new vibe with some cherished carryovers
September 14, 2022
Dining opportunities and restaurant picks from some of the city’s culinary pros
When it comes to welcoming children into The Artisan’s Palate, chef and owner Christa Csoka does not shudder at the thought. As a child, she was welcomed into sophisticated dining realms. Her father was an Army officer and West Point professor, so she frequently helped her mother host dinners for decorated military members and government officials. She also worked as a nanny early on in her professional life. “My staff all joke around that I’m the baby whisperer,” Csoka says. “I love babies. I’ve been there, done that. I know how to be with kids. That part comes naturally.”
There is no kids’ menu at The Artisan’s Palate, but Csoka still has several children as guests, usually between the hours of five to seven. She believes these families are drawn to her establishment because it offers, as she describes it, “elevated food in a comfortable space.”
“The menu is really not children-friendly, to be honest,” Csoka says. “But the parents who come are foodies. They bring their kids, and they have their children eat our food. They’re going to eat the meatballs. They’ve fed them our warm, marinated olives. I love the idea of introducing [them to,] feeding them the food we have like empanadas, like duck confit. But you can’t do that in a space where you don’t feel welcome.”
Csoka and her staff still marvel at one of their little “regulars.” This child eats everything from the octopus to the pork belly — and even tips the servers from her allowance.
Another reason foodie families feel at home in The Artisan’s Palate is the accommodations.
“We opened up after the whole HB2 fiasco,” Csoka says. “I knew that I wanted to do a unisex bathroom, but then I had this really big bathroom. Immediately, I knew I needed to put in a diaper changing station.” Csoka then noticed she had another need to meet. “We had some mothers coming in and needing to nurse,” Csoka says. “They’d put the blanket over them. And we’re totally cool with that, too. There are some who are more modest. To me, it was, of course, we’re going to allow them to have privacy if they want it. I had an extra chair, so I decided to put it in that bathroom.”
Csoka feels that dining opportunities in Charlotte are limited for the culinary curious with kids in tow but does hope more parents will feel encouraged to try different venues as a family. “Obviously, there are the breweries,” she says. “Young parents are bringing the kids there, but they’re not foodie places.”
Some in the industry, without kids’ menus, do buckle when they see children entering a dark, intimate restaurant. “You might go to certain restaurants, and if you bring a bunch of kids in, their notion is going to be, ‘Kids are gonna act up, they’re not gonna eat food, they’re gonna get upset about whatever,’” Csoka says. She understands that viewpoint but cares less about a mess on the floor. She cares more about how the parents and children treat an already-understaffed staff and that they balance expectations. For example, she recently had a large party of 10 adults and eight children. They expected to dine as a family at one table and did not understand that the layout would not allow for such a seating. Others get upset when there are no nuggets available or that the grilled cheese on offer is presented in a less familiar way.
“We are a child-friendly foodie place, but there’s a balance,” Csoka says. “Sometimes you can get taken advantage of. The parents who get that, we can tell.”
Restaurateur (and mother of three — ages eleven, nine, and six) Katy Kindred agrees that a child-friendly atmosphere, coupled with reasonable expectations, allows everyone to better enjoy foodie-style restaurants, including their own: Kindred in Davidson; Hello, Sailor in Cornelius; and milkbread in Davidson (with a Plaza Midwood location set to open soon after a delay on essential construction materials).
“Before we even opened [Kindred], I distinctly remember during training going over this,” Kindred says. “The culture of having kids in a restaurant is so important. You don’t necessarily have to have a kids’ menu. Having mild kid-friendly options makes the parents less stressed.” In addition to menu curation, the Kindreds are also careful to design with children in mind. At Kindred, children’s books and a small chair help form the bathroom aesthetic, and children’s place mats frequently adorn the marble dining tables. Coloring pages and crayons are placed within reach, at a child’s eye-level, at Hello, Sailor.
Kindred believes there are many ways to make families feel at home in a restaurant. She recalls how one restaurant owner in Spain did this particularly well with her own children during their summer vacation. Once they were seated and while they waited, the owner came by and sat with the family. He took time to go over the menu with the children since it was all in Spanish and included some dishes less familiar to them. Kindred points out how at ease this made everyone feel and how it even encouraged her little ones to take a leap and try octopus for the first time.
“I think that part of hospitality is welcoming people and having them feel relaxed in the place you created,” she says. “In the very beginning, we knew we were opening a restaurant that would be perceived as fine dining. It was really important that we break those barriers down, and that everyone feels welcome. That children feel welcome.”
That is why the Kindred staff brings house-made play dough out to any children, even before the milkbread arrives. It is why children are greeted with goldfish for munching at Hello, Sailor and why the Kindreds plan to offer soft serve ice cream at the Plaza location of milkbread (an ode to the former tenant, a 1950s-era Dairy Queen).
The Kindreds have worked hard to cultivate an inclusive atmosphere where everyone feels welcome. They continue to train their hospitality staff to see children who enter their restaurants as “not a bad thing. In our mind, they’re just another guest in the restaurant.”
Here are other family-friendly foodie hot spots, including selections from a few Charlotte chefs and restaurateurs who have young children, in their own words:
Doug Rose, co-owner of Team Rose Bread
“Our most recent family meal excursion was to Birdsong for beer and free peanuts. The kids played a card game while we sat outside. Then we had dinner at Optimist Hall. It’s always fun to pick and choose a few spots there. Both Birdsong and Optimist have great outdoor seating. We love sitting on the back patio at Inizio, too. Lang Van is another favorite family spot, and we’ve celebrated quite a few birthdays there. The owner Dan is most welcoming. It’s not just a place to bring family, but a place that feels like family. It’s not uncommon to become fast friends with those at adjacent tables because of her hospitality. Because we have four kids, it’s pretty expensive to eat out all together, so most nights we eat at home and prefer making our own weekend brunch with our bagels and bread. That being said, we celebrated a holiday meal with extended family in the private dining room at Supperland, which is the best of both worlds…great food and the kids can have the run of the place without any concern for impacting other guests.”
“Jeff and I take the kids to eat at our restaurants at least once, sometimes twice a week. We like to check in with the places, and get a chance to spend a little bit of time with the servers and managers. Most of what Jeff and I do these days is all behind the scenes stuff that happens during the day, so getting a chance to know more of our teammates on the floor is a lot of fun. It also helps to just be there and experience how the place feels and see if there are any gaps we can improve upon. We use this as a fun way to spend time together as a family, enjoy delicious food, and ‘work’ as well, but when our family is not dining out at one of our establishments, these are some of our go-to family-friendly spots: bike ride to the Light Rail and stop for coffee at Not Just Coffee. The kids like to get the oat milk steamers. Take out at Pio Pio, we like to get the Latin Combo with an extra side of rice and beans. We always add extra garlic sauce. My kids eat this on everything. I love that it gives the kids a taste of foods I don’t ordinarily make at home (hello, delicious plantains!).”
Chris Sottile, owner of The Loyalist Market
“I live near my shop, so more times than not if we’re with the kids, we’re eating near Matthews. I have a son with autism and his diet consists of very little, so almost always we’re looking for somewhere that has french fries. The places we end up at the most are Pizza Peel, Carolina Beer Temple when they have a food truck (Jon G’s being our favorite), Mac’s Speed Shop, or Extreme Ice Center (low key with one of the best beer selections in town!). Getting into Charlotte, my favorite sandwich shop in town (besides The Loyalist Market) is Good Wurst Company. They have the best hand-cut fries that my son will eat, and it’s an easy place to bring the kids. My kids love eating at Little Mama’s in SouthPark. Chicken parm for my girl, and my son will eat plain noodles or french fries. Finished up with a huge cannoli!”
Chris Coleman, executive chef at The Goodyear House
“Other than Goodyear House, which is very family friendly with the play area and large outdoor space, my family really enjoys Rai Lay in Riverbend Village and Miguel’s off of Little Rock. Both places offer bold flavors with fun environments. My kids love the lo mein at Rai Lay and the shrimp enchiladas and quesadillas at Miguel’s.”
Justin Fry, owner of JF Chocolat
“We had both of our kids during the height of the pandemic, so we really tend to stay home. They do love the Local Scoop ice cream shop and the play area in front. In terms of food, we get food to go and eat at home or do a lot of grilling ourselves. The kids also love Stacks’ pancakes. The staff is getting to know us there, and they are great with the kids.”
Stuck at home? Need a helping hand? Just feel like take out? Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen offers Family Table Meals, prepared fresh daily, for pick-up or delivery. Chef Sam Diminich of Your Farms Your Table just announced a new kids’ meals service, available for pick-up or delivery Tuesday through Saturday. The three plate options include fruit and vegetable sides and are offered at $15 each.
Did we miss any family-friendly foodie spots? Let us know.