Creative Loafing, Nov. 12, 2014
It's Saturday morning, and Bonnie Warford is checking the shelves and greeting customers in her creatively furnished food emporium, Earl's Grocery and Urban Provisions. Warford and her co-owner and sister Tricia Maddrey opened Earl's, named for their late father, last July, only a stone's throw from their iconic 25-year-old Carpe Diem on the ill-fated Elizabeth Avenue. Orange cones and construction barriers have plagued some of the city's most resilient entrepreneurs on that street for years now. But challenges have never stopped this duo, who opened their first Carpe Diem in 1989 in the old Ratcliffe Flower shop on South Tryon Street, at a time nightlife languished in Center City and in a building destined to be moved, twice. Long story.
But today, Warford is busy. The 50-seat dining area is filling. And while most customers pop into Earl's for a bottle of wine, breakfast, lunch or coffee drinks, the real find is on those shelves Warford attends to so assiduously. Food is often the object of a quest, and for food lovers, finding the exact ingredients to recreate the authenticity of a dish is essential. For many, Earl's will prove to be the end game.
Take beans, for example. While some regard beans with the same suspicion as day-old leftovers — since, on the whole, most chefs overcook them into a mushy mess — bean aficionados will find heirloom Rancho Gordo beans at Earl's. There they are: the elusive thin-skinned cassoulet, or Tarbais, beans, a pantry mainstay for cold winter nights and an essential bean to create dishes from southwestern France.
Artisan crafted pastas such as Rustichella's trofie (short and twisted) and garganelli (quill-shaped) made in the Abruzzo region are sold by the pound in bins. Condiments such as Brooklyn Delhi's tomato or rhubarb ginger achaar, and Marshall's Haute Sauce Red Chili Lime, a sweet bento chili sauce, are shelf-mates with barbecue sauce from Chicago. Three Little Pigs sausages from Brooklyn are on hand, too. The pickle bar has preserved lemons, and turophiles will delight in the cheese counter. Maraschino cherries free of high fructose corn syrup are included in a stunning collection of mixology syrups. Not surprisingly, each month CL-award-winning mixologist Bob Peters hosts a Mixology Lab.
Earl's showcases local products, some iconic Southern foodstuffs, too, like Geechie Boy Mill Grits, made from heirloom corn, from Edisto Island, South Carolina, and Rosa's Cheese Straws from Advance, North Carolina. New products are available as well: Roots & Branches crackers from Asheville, and Garnet Gals' jams and preserves (from Megan Lambert, chef instructor at Johnson & Wales University). Of particular note are the spectacular heirloom products from Anson Mills, including its Carolina Gold, an heirloom South Carolina rice. Earl's is the first retail store in Charlotte to carry Anson Mills. If you can't find a product, Warford says she will order it.
For prepared foods, credit goes to chef Marc Jacksina, formerly of Nan and Bryon's, Halcyon and LULU, who has forsaken the fine-dining circuit in order to prepare foods for the fast casual crowd, with dishes served in recyclable brown boxes. Both breakfast and lunch menus change daily. The lunch menu, at times, has had various renditions of a burger, pimento grilled cheese, a chicken salad wrap, wedge salads, a Cuban sandwich, soups and a re-envisioned (and by that I mean inspired by, not authentic) banh mi. While no one has been able to explain to me the inexorable rise of the kimchi taco, the pair of Korean breakfast tacos here is outfitted with layers of thickly sliced pork belly and fried egg backed by a chorus of mellow kimchi. Definitely a fork and knife affair. In juxtaposition of old to new is a goat cheese quiche bolstered by sundried tomatoes and arugula, and a Southern biscuit with chorizo-flecked gravy.
As the holidays approach and with gift-giving in mind, shopping for edible gifts is a cinch. Earl's has themed and edgy gift baskets. Friend with a broken heart? Gluten free? Recovery (Earl's is next to a hospital)? They have it. Celebratory ones, too, such as baby and holiday baskets. Or you can fill a basket yourself. The only difficulty will be not including everything.
My City Magazine, Oct. 24, 2014
The sisters who own Carpe Diem Restaurant have created another winner. Bonnie Warford and Tricia Maddrey have been seizing the day with a new place named after their father. They recently opened the doors to Earl’s Grocery, just a block away from their restaurant, and anyone who‘s anyone has been writing and talking about this place. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not a regular grocery store but a spot for your urban provisional needs. It has a deli but it’s not your regular deli … it has a liquor license.
Right in the heart of Elizabeth, this little (not regular) grocery store, deli and bar has been creating quite the buzz and not just with their cocktail classes (though celebrated cocktail guru, Bob Peters, makes his way to Earl’s from Pisces to teach mixology). Earl’s can also boast local gourmet foods and the fact that chef Marc Jacksina has had his hands “all up in” the menu and the impressive selection.
I spent the most time in the cheese, sausage and wine areas but there’s something for everyone there including (but not limited to) regional and organic beers, juices, local honey and spreads for days. The front of the building opens up on pleasant days and you may see some familiar faces and brands … and some with which you can familiarize yourself. So take your mom, your client or your significant other and go check out Earl’s. That’s an order.
If you’re looking to support local, then go no further. Monday through Friday they are open from 7:30am to 7:30pm and Saturdays they are there from 8:30am to 6pm. Photography and words by: Ellen Gurley
Charlotte Magazine, August
Sisters Tricia Maddrey and Bonnie Warford have been in business together since 1989, when they opened Carpe Diem in the historic Ratcliffe Florist building uptown. Since then, they’ve moved the restaurant twice—finally landing at their current spot on Elizabeth Avenue in 2003. Now the pair has opened Earl’s Grocery less than a block away from the restaurant. Named for their father, the bodega has taken over the long-empty storefronts that once housed NoFo on Liz, Smalls Food & Spirits, and Elizabeth Creamery.
“The idea is to help shoppers make a meal at home,” says Maddrey. Inside, metal café tables overlook Elizabeth Avenue and a line of stools sit at a counter along the far wall. Stations include a coffee bar, a juice bar, soft-serve yogurt, cheese and charcuterie, a selection of infused oils and vinegars, and a sandwich area that offers what Maddrey calls a food truck-inspired menu, including banh mi and grilled cheese sandwiches. (Take-out only; there is no table service.)
Cold cases hold baked goods made by Maddrey, who also creates the desserts for Carpe Diem; prepared and partially prepared foods by Chef Marc Jacksina (formerly of Lulu, Halcyon, and Nan & Byron’s), and a selection of staples like beer, milk, and eggs. Warford hopes the bodega sparks conversation. “We really want to be able to talk to people and get them to understand their food.”