NC Red will soon serve its last lobster roll, and a new Latin-American restaurant called Calle Sol will open in its place this spring.
The big picture: The Plaza Midwood building has seen a lot of change since The Penguin Drive-In closed in 2015 — from an old-school diner to an upscale Mexican restaurant to New England-meets-Southern cuisine.
Now the restaurant will change hands between two of Charlotte’s most experienced restaurateurs, current owner Bruce Moffett (Good Food, Barrington’s, Stagioni) and new owner Frank Scibelli (Mama Ricottas, YAFO, Midwood Smokehouse).
- Moffett didn’t return my request for comment on the closure, but in November he told me revenue was down about 20% across his restaurants, plus he predicted an additional 20-25% decrease over the winter. NC Red opened less than two years ago.
What to expect: Calle Sol will have a casual cafe vibe inspired by Latin-American restaurants in cities like Miami, Scibelli says. You’ll see Cuban and Peruvian flavors in dishes like ceviche and arroz con pollo.
- Current Mama Ricotta’s chef Paul Cruz will serve as executive chef at Calle Sol, pulling in El Salvadorian flavors he learned from his grandmother.
- As the menu takes shape, the team will work with consulting chefs including Ana Quincoces, Cuban celebrity chef formerly of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Miami.”
- Moffett will also stay on as a consultant and minority stakeholder.
By day, Calle Sol will serve coffee from a to-go window and offer affordable lunch specials meat and three-style. By night, the restaurant will have a “sexier” menu, Scibelli says, including cocktails made with fresh sugar cane. Most entrees will be in $10-$15 range.
Menu: The restaurant channels Cuban-American communities of the ’60s and ’70s (think Miami and Tampa), much like the dishes at sister restaurant Little Mama’s represent Italian-American dishes from decades past.
- Ceviche – Three varieties with one rotating special.
- Arroz con pollo – A staple dish of rice and chicken.
- Chaufa – The Peruvian version of Chinese fried rice.
- Croquettes – Cuban-style croquettes with ham.
- Cubana – The famous Cuban-American sandwich.
- Soft serve ice cream – NC Red’s machine is sticking around, but expect a new soft serve menu.
Background: Scibelli is known for creating neighborhood spots like Mama Ricotta’s, which will celebrate 30 years next year, and he hopes to do that with Calle Sol, too.
He tells me he’s not concerned about opening in a location with so much turnover. “Five restaurants failed in the (Mama Ricotta’s space) before I went there,” he tells me. Calle Sol, he believes, “really fits this neighborhood.”
The old Penguin sign is still standing after seven years, and that won’t change with Calle Sol. Scibelli has plans to get the sign back to its former glory: rotating with lights.
Timeline: NC Red is planning to close on or around March 9, according to FS Food Group. Unpretentious Palate reported the closure will occur sooner than that: March 6. Calle Sol is planning an April opening.
Hours: Calle Sol will open with dinner first, then add lunch and breakfast. Over time, it’ll be open for all three meals daily.
Location: 1205 Thomas Ave. in Plaza Midwood.