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Inside The Workman’s Friend in Charlotte: A Foodie's Perspective

Updated: Apr 12

Workman's Friend sign in Charlotte, NC

Kevin Devin, Maynard Goble, and Tommy Timmins own five powerhouse bars in Uptown, South End, and Plaza Midwood — Connolly’s, Prohibition, Dandelion Market, Tyber Creek Pub, and The Workman’s Friend.  

The Workman’s Friend in Charlotte has been on our list to try for a long time.  When I recently read that it was named the 12th best Irish pub in the US, according to results published by Yelp in March 2023, we made it a priority to go.

sitting at a table in the workman's friend resteraunt in charlotte

Our fellow foodie friends, Melissa & Paul Korten, joined us yet again to see if this place was worthy of a foodie review. Having traveled extensively through Europe, Paul and Melissa have been to several pubs in Ireland.  Additionally, Melissa’s maternal grandfather had been a ship’s cook in the Irish Navy.  So, she had eaten more than her fair share of Irish food in her hometown of Johannesburg, and she didn’t love some of what her grandfather cooked.  But in fairness to him, Melissa thought that he was more accustomed to cooking for a ship full of sailors which can be very different than cooking for a family.

Walking into the establishment, the interior felt cozy with lots of reclaimed materials which makes one feel as if they have been magically teleported to a neighborhood pub in the countryside near Dublin.  Fortunately, by having a reservation, we were seated in the back of the restaurant.  This section was much quieter than the front ⅔ of the space due to the music being so much louder in the front.  If you have any difficulty carrying on a conversation with lots of ambient noise, you should request sitting in the back.

To begin, we started with two appetizers.  The first was the homemade Sausage Rolls that were served in a puff pastry and served with ketchup.  Ketchup?? That’s what I was thinking.  But Paul said that ketchup, or red sauce as some Irish refer to it, is served with sausage over there.   Beth and I were expecting the sausage to have the typical spicy taste that we are used to in the South.  But Irish sausage is generally less spicy than their American counterparts. 

The second appetizer that we ordered was the Seared Scallops served on top of black pudding in a bed of cauliflower purée.   Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to what the scallops came with when I looked at the menu.  So as I cut a piece of my scallop and what I thought was a mushroom, I said that the mushroom paired well with the scallop.  Paul informed me that the “mushroom” was actually black pudding.   Well, I had no idea what it was, so I quickly hopped on Google, and here is what I learned.

“Black pudding, also known as blood pudding, is a distinct regional type of blood sausage originating in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is made from pork or occasionally beef blood, with pork fat or beef suet, and a cereal, usually oatmeal, oat groats, or barley groats.” (Wikipedia)

Ok, I was a bit shocked as that sounded pretty gross. And I can see why they call it black pudding.  That’s got to be an easier sell in the US than something called blood pudding. But I thought it tasted pretty good,  and the earthy taste was what made me think it was a mushroom.  Also, I’ve since learned from our daughter that blood puddings are considered a superfood. However, neither Beth, Melissa nor Paul thought that the pudding added anything to the dish. I wonder why….🤔

For our main courses, Melissa ordered the Meat & Cheese Board which came with the chef’s selection of homemade sausage and cheeses along with other charcuterie items.  

food at the Workman's Friend in Charlotte

Paul had the Crispy Skin Salmon with a carrot puree, roasted asparagus, and herb aioli.  He declared it to be excellent.  Having eaten a lot of meals with Paul, his standards are pretty high.  So I took notice when he said that, so I took a bite as well.   He was right; it was really good.   It wasn’t a dish that I would expect at an Irish pub.  But it's smart to have a couple of choices for those who do not want traditional pub fare.  

Beth ordered the Open Faced Roast Turkey Sandwich with brie, arugula, and apple chutney.  She loved it along with the side of homemade chips, i.e. the Irish and English version of fries.   And these chips were hand-cut and fried so that the middle of the chips was still soft.  That is one of the marks of a good chip. Melissa vouched for their authenticity noting that her grandfather made them just like that.

 Open Faced Roast Turkey Sandwich at the Workman's Friend in Charlotte

I ordered the Shepherd’s Pie.  Also called a cottage pie, this baked dish is generally a combination of minced lamb (sometimes with beef) with vegetables in a sauce and topped with mashed potatoes.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries before refrigeration was available to many people in the UK, it was a way to use the remaining meat of an animal and preserve it to eat throughout the following week.  It is one of my favorite meals, and Beth makes an excellent shepherd's pie.

In this case, the pub’s version was dry, and they made the dish appear larger with an overabundance of mashed potatoes instead of adding more vegetables. Candidly, Beth’s pie is better, but this was still pretty good.  When I mentioned to the server that my pie was a little disappointing, she was honest to say that they have had numerous complaints about it which she has voiced to the chef, but he continues to make it the way that it is.  


Sheppard's Pie at the Workman's Friend in Charlotte

I found that to be interesting, so I asked to speak to the manager named Tanner.   When Tanner came to our table a few minutes later, I told him that I had heard that they’d had several complaints about the dish.  He asked me, somewhat defensively,  who I had heard that from.  I told him that was immaterial since I did not want to get our server in trouble.  Then, he confided that they have had several Irish customers who have made the same complaint.  I asked him if the chef was the owner of the restaurant, and Tanner said

no.  So I said, “ Then this appears to be a case of the tail wagging the dog.  If you have had numerous complaints, especially from Irish customers, then why have the owners or the general manager not told him to adjust the recipe to make it correctly??”  Tanner took all that in and said that he appreciated my feedback.  I have no idea whether they will change the way that the dish is made.  But he did comp my meal and a glass of wine, and I didn’t ask for that.  I appreciate any restaurant that will do this when a customer has had a disappointing experience.  And Tanner had no idea that I was reviewing the restaurant.

The question that we always ask when we try a new restaurant is whether would we go back.  In this case, yes.  Three of the four of us had meals that they enjoyed.   And I appreciate how the staff handled my situation.  I would simply order something else next time if they have not adjusted the shepherd's pie recipe.   

So, if you want to experience a pretty authentic Irish pub, we encourage you to try The Workman’s Friend.  Plus, going to Plaza Midwood is fun with its bohemian, eclectic feel.   And as always, if you go to the pub, please let us know what you think.  And if you have a recommendation of a locally-owned restaurant that we should try, let us know that as well!

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