Family Dining: Mert’s Heart and Soul

If your idea of mac-n-cheese involves a blue box and a packet of powder, or if you consider hush puppies a type of footwear, it’s time you took a crash course in low-country cuisine at Mert’s Heart and Soul in the heart of uptown Charlotte.

Our family made an event of it on a Saturday, taking a quick ride on the trolley over to the restaurant after spending the afternoon at Discovery Place. The laid-back, “local-hangout” vibe is palpable thanks to a hearty and hilarious staff, as well as the funky knick-knack decor and patron graffiti plastering one brick wall of the eatery. Another wall hosts a huge photo display of soul musicians, their timeless tunes floating amongst the background noises.

Even though there were no crayons and accompanying kids’ menus, our two young boys took it all in, running up to an artsy upturned bicycle for a better look, scouring the photos and enjoying the attention from an easy-going and adoring staff. I wondered if kids were more of a rarity here in the middle of uptown – amid bankers and condo-owners – but as I looked around, I saw everything from starched shirts to T-shirts, and everyone from professionals meeting over dinner to families enjoying for a night out.

My husband ordered the shrimp and grits, served with stewy and spicy authenticity, and I ordered the salmon cakes, which were large and savory alongside the tangy sauce. Our boys shared a combination platter of honey-sweet fried chicken and flavorful ribs, with a sauce touted as “meet-in-the middle” (part vinegar-based and part sweet and tangy). We each enjoyed our hunk of buttery cornbread and passed around side dishes (most platters come with two), like yams sweet with brown sugar, crisp-and-salty string beans, and french fries pan-fried and dipped in sage. We finished it off by sharing possibly the best banana pudding I’ve ever tasted, all to the soul-wrenching songs of Roberta Flack in the background.

If you’re looking for a place with the authenticity worthy of taking visitors, or sampling for yourself the famous low-county cuisine, all in a place where kids feel right at home (and eat everything that’s put in front of them!), look no further than Mert’s.

The Chow Down
214 N. College St., Charlotte

Dollar Deal: $5.95-$14.95
Atmosphere: Casual and fun
Kids’ Menu: None, but many items are kid-friendly (like fried chicken, mac-n-cheese and cornbread)
Amenities: High chairs/booster seats and diaper-changing stations in restrooms
Got Milk/Juice: Yes
Smoking/Nonsmoking: Nonsmoking
Phone: 704-342-4222
Web Site: