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Culinary Goodness from Fire in the City

19 Aug

It was a great Fire in the City dinner with some spectacular food created by Chefs Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant and Luca Annunziata of Passion8 Bistro. The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series kicked off its first battle last night, and below are photos of the six courses with their descriptions. The secret ingredients were Eggs and Molasses.

The overwhelming favorite dish by diners was course 4! Surprising to me was Heirloom’s dessert (course 5) getting slightly edged out by Passion8’s (course 6). Must be the chocolate sweet-tooth in me coming out. Congratulations to both chefs and their teams on a great night, and to Chef Luca Annunziata on the win!
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Course 1 – Maple Leaf Farms Duck Sausage Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Scotch Egg, Petite Herb Salad, Quick Dill Pickle, Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Duck Jus – by Heirloom Restaurant

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Course 2 – Ponzu Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Glazed Tuna, Soft Boiled Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Egg, Sesame Sorghum Duck Yolk, Roasted Beets, Radish Chervil Lemongrass Coulis, Cucumber, Orange Dust – by Passion8

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Course 3 – Woody &Wilcox Birdbrain Farms Ostrich Egg Fried Flounder, 3-Times Cooked Potato Chips, Brussels Slaw, Ostrich Egg Sauce Gribiche – by Heirloom Restaurant

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Course 4 – Raviolo a la Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Yolk, Ostrich Egg Carbona, Crispy Oyster Mushroom, Roasted Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Party Pan Squash, Charred Corn – by Passion8

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Course 5 – Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses Cake, Sorghum Dark Chocolate Cremeux, Sorghum Mousse, Sorghum Raspberry Caramel, Raspberry Anglaise, Vanilla Tuille – by Heirloom Restaurant

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Course 6 – Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses & Milk Chocolate Caramel Cup, Citrus Curd, Sorghum Madeline, Blackberry and Pom – by Passion8

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Fire In The City Kicks Off Tonight!

18 Aug

compdiningIn just a few hours, we’ll be sitting down to the first of the Fire In The City dates of the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series for 2014 at Bonterra Wine Room. For those not familiar with the event, think Iron Chef, pitting two local chefs, a secret NC-sourced ingredient, and six courses to wow the dining room while making sure to incorporate the ingredient in each course. Attendees vote for their favorite of each course, while not knowing which chef came up with either creation. In the end, scores are tabulated and the chef with the highest score is crowned the winner for the night.

Now, do that over eight preliminary rounds, and another seven nights of the winners battling each other, and you get the winner of Fire In The City. Similar events take place in Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro, and Raleigh throughout the year. In the Fall, winners from all five cities will meet in Raleigh to compete against each other in a champions round.

Tonight, we’ll see Luca Annunziata from Passion8 take on Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant. We’re excited to see the unique creations that are sure to come from these two talented chefs. If you can make a future competition, it is well worth your time!

Not Your Dad’s Uptown Charlotte

17 Jun
View from BB&T Park

View from BB&T Park

Let me apologize to Uptown Charlotte. You’ve been neglected, and I won’t let it happen again. For some time, Christy and I rarely found ourselves traveling to Uptown on the weekends. With so many other areas of the city booming (South End, Plaza Midwood, & NoDa to name a few), it was easy to turn a blind eye to the tall buildings and all the city has to offer. Now it seems like we can’t get enough. Over the last month, Uptown seems like a second home…and we can’t wait to get back soon. Here are some highlights:

Van Gogh Alive @ Discovery Place – A really unique and powerful exhibit about Vincent Van Gogh that highlighted both his art and writing. We weren’t expecting to have such an emotional response from the display, but a focus on Van Gogh’s own mental health coupled with the powerful backdrop of music and imagery left us in awe. I only wish we mentioned this sooner, as the exhibit has come to an end.

The Asbury – Located in The Dunhill Hotel, The Asbury offers a unique take on Southern food. The kitchen uses local and regional ingredients to create visually stunning dishes that are equally delicious.

Charlotte Knights Baseball – There isn’t a better view of the Charlotte skyline than when you’re sitting in BB&T Ballpark during a Charlotte Knights game. I’ve actually been twice in the last four weeks, and each time was equally fun! Some outstanding food is available at the park, including Queen City Q and Whisky River. Craft beer fans have plenty of options as well, including local favorites Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDa Brewing. Regional craft brewers with beer options include Natty Greene’s and Foothills. You don’t have to be a fan of baseball to go to a game. Honestly, I can’t even tell you who won either game. If you plan on going though, make sure you buy your tickets well in advance. The Knights are leading the league in attendance and sellouts are frequent.

Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment @ Mint Museum – The exhibition covers 11 women photographers and their assignments while working for National Geographic. Each presents a unique story through the lens of their camera. A pretty inspiring collection of photographs that aren’t only visually stunning, but showcase the often dangerous lengths assignment photographers go to get a story.

5Church Restaurant – 5Church feels like it belongs in a bigger city like New York or Chicago. Attention to detail runs rampant in both decor and the food. I’d argue it is probably the most popular restaurant in the city. If you go, be sure to look up. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is handwritten in its entirety across the restaurant’s ceiling. On this trip, we enjoyed the Artisan Cheese Plate, Black Bean Hummus, Grilled C.A.B. Hanger Steak, and Carolina Catfish. Dessert made us pucker with the “Lemon Tart” Pistachio Cookie & Pomegranate Sorbet.

Charlotte Symphony Summer Pops @ Romare Bearden Park – Another new addition to the Uptown landscape is Romare Bearden Park. The open area was the perfect setting for the Charlotte Symphony’s first live concert in Uptown in 10 years. Food trucks were on hand to feed the masses before the free concert. The symphony played “Music of the Movies” and included:

  • Highlights from Jurassic Park
  • Suite from Gladiator
  • Theme from Schindler’s List
  • Star Trek: Into Darkness
  • Themes from 007
  • Cinema Paradiso
  • Suite from Titanic
  • Imperial March from Star Wars

If you aren’t finding something to do in Charlotte, there really is no excuse. In addition to all we did in the last month, SpeedStreet and Taste of Charlotte were also taking place in Uptown. Navigating the city isn’t hard (except when festivals close down streets). If city parking seems difficult, park further out from the city and take the Lynx Light Rail into town.

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December was a Blur – Raleigh, Savannah, & The Carolina Chocolate Drops…

1 Mar

Every year the month of December shoots us off into a whirlwind of activities that never seems to settle down until well into the new year. December 2013 did not disappoint…and I sit back (now in March) in amazement at all we’ve done in the last 3 months. Here are the highlights (in several posts) – of all places and events that we’d recommend to anyone who has the chance to experience them – just maybe not crammed into such a short period of time.

Raleigh Birthday Weekend | Dec 8-9th

With birthdays only two days apart, and a great friend’s (Adara) birthday being another two days away, we always try to celebrate together. This time it was a trip to Raleigh for the weekend. We started the day at Busy Bee Cafe for a beer and then headed over to the Raleigh Times Bar for some lunch and continued drinking. Pulled pork nachos were recommended by foodie friend, Kristen Baughman, who knows a lot about all things food and drink in North Carolina (check out her blog Gadabout Food). We chose right! Fresh jalapeno sitting on layers of chips, cheese, and pulled pork – what’s not to love?

Next, a visit to Crank Arm Brewing for a flight of beer and a round of Cards Against Humanity got us even more in the birthday spirit. A couple doors down is Videri Chocolate Factory – try some free samples and then pick up a bar or two for the ride home. A short cab ride to Stanbury for dinner – wow….Cheese plate, Crispy Pig Head, Fried Oysters, and a homemade pop-tart dessert. Go there now!

We finished the night at Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co…Rose Gose and Next Best In Show Saison were wonderful. When we drink…we eat. Our 2nd dinner was a slice of the “Most Outgoing” pizza (local mushrooms, caramelized onion, fresh arugula, brie, mozzarella blend, tomato sauce). The trip really opened our eyes to how great a city Raleigh is, especially if you like to eat and drink. At every turn, there seemed to be another place we wanted to try. Guess we’ll just have to make a return trip soon.

Carolina Chocolate Drops @ Neighborhood Theatre | Dec. 14th

If you haven’t seen or heard the Carolina Chocolate Drops…stop reading and go listen to them. The Grammy award-winning group was mentioned in Rolling Stone Magazine…”The Carolina Chocolate Drops are…revisiting, with a joyful vengeance, black string-band and jug-band music of the Twenties and Thirties—the dirt-floor dance electricity of the Mississippi Sheiks and Cannon’s Jug Stompers.

The show happened to be one of the last two performances for founding member Dom Flemons, who has ventured out on a solo career. While hearing their album is enjoyable, they’re best heard live. The classically-trained voice of Rhiannon Giddens is one to be heard, and could probably stand on its own without the use of a microphone. Add in the musicality of the entire group, and you’re sure to witness a unique concert experience that should be the norm, but unfortunately is rare these days.

Cornbread and butterbeans and you across the table…

Brews+Bards Pop-Up Meetup: Chickspeare @ Actor’s Theatre | Dec 20th

Back in October we co-founded Brews+Bards, a social meetup group centered around craft beer and local theatre. So when Chickspeare and Actor’s Theatre put on a production of “Twelfth Night” with NoDa Brewing on-hand serving up beer, it was a no-brainer for us to attend. Head Brewer Chad Henderson randalled Coco Loco through cherries and vanilla – a must try if you ever have the chance. The “chicks” of Chickspeare put on a great, and very funny show, and was the perfect primer for the upcoming Christmas vacation.

Roadtrip to Savannah, Georgia | Dec 22-24th

Because our jobs keep us pretty busy throughout the year, the last two weeks of the year are usually the only time we can manage to get time off together. So once every couple of years we forego a trip to Florida to visit family, and try to get away (just the two of us). Savannah was our trip this past December. We really love the city, as there is so much to see and do, if you like walking!

Had a great lunch at Crystal Beer Parlor (CBP), a place that’s been around since 1933, making it Savannah’s second oldest restaurant (not sure who beat ’em out). When in Savannah, you have to try the she-crab soup, and CBP was so good. They have a nice beer list, including a section called “Beer of our Fathers” with the likes of Dixie, Mickey’s, and Genesee. We opted for the Gangway IPA by Red Hare.

A walk around Forsyth Park got us thirsty for another beer. After checking into our room at the East Bay Inn, we headed down to River Street. There we found Dub’s Pub at the end closest to the bridge. A couple of beers by River Dog Brewing Company (IPA & Chocolate Rye Porter) and an Iron Lion Pale Ale by Southbound, and we were ready for dinner at 22 Square (a Farm-to-Fork restaurant) located in the ANDAZ Hilton Hyatt. A good, but very quiet (we were the only ones in the restaurant) dinner set us up for the Haunted Pub Crawl that took us to 5 bars with entertaining ghost stories.

The following day, we walked around a lot of the squares in Savannah before touring the Mercer Williams House (made famous in the book/movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil“). I wasn’t sure if the tour would be worthwhile, but I was really impressed. The owner, Jim Williams, was in the antiques business, and had quite a collection of unique items throughout the house spanning centuries. Afterwards, we had a great lunch at The Public Kitchen and we were off exploring some more of the city.

Rain tried to wash us out, but we only had to face a light drizzle by the time we headed to B. Matthews Eatery for dinner. While often mentioned for brunch, the dinner menu looked amazing. We opted for a charcuterie plate, which the staff was happy to custom-combine a mix of meats and cheeses for us. I think it was my favorite bite of the trip.

Afterwards, we walked the block to Abe’s on Lincoln. I think we’ve mentioned it before, but if not, Abe’s is one of our favorite places in Savannah. It seems to be more of a neighborhood bar for locals, with the occasional tourists (us) wandering in. The dimly-lit tavern has some nice craft beer options, friendly patrons and bartender, and lots of stories from everyone who walks into the place…oh and a jukebox too!

The weather prevented us from venturing too far from the area around our hotel. We finished the evening at Planter’s Tavern, which is located under the very popular Olde Pink House restaurant. While we’ve never been upstairs for dinner, on a previous trip to Savannah we had dinner at the Tavern, which offers the same menu in a more casual setting. On this particular trip, we were so full from eating all day that we shared a scallop dish. The bonus of the night was the old woman playing piano in the corner. She was belting out jazz and looked to be someone who’d have a lot of stories if you could get her away from the piano.

The next day we were in search for fresh muffaletta bread, which we were going to take home with us for Christmas. Turns out you have to order it ahead of time, so no one had anything that worked, but we did pick up some desserts from Back in the Day Bakery. One extra bonus was finding a liquor store that stocked Westbrook & Cigar City beer, which we can’t yet get in Charlotte. We escaped the city with a trunk full of good beer, a box of desserts, and some great memories!

As you can see, it was a busy few weeks. I’ll stop here – as we had more adventures, but I’m sure you’re tired of reading this already long post. We would love to know your favorite places to visit when you’re in these cities. Please leave comments below, as we love to discover all that’s great in the cities and towns around us! Thanks for reading.

Hot Diggity Dog – Bein’ American…Eatin’ Hot Dogs

3 Jul
I can already hear the rumbling of thunder in the distance, just waiting until you fire up the grill to unleash the rainy fury that no doubt awaits us here in Charlotte this 4th of July. Fortunately, Charlotte provides some great options for grabbing that All-American hot dog and a cold beer without investing all that time and money at the grocery store. Here are a couple of our favorites to consider for the holiday weekend…
JJs-Red-Hots-CharlotteJJ’s Red Hots – www.jjsredhots.com – Charlotte – Partying on the 4th What better way to celebrate America’s birthday, than with JJ’s who’s celebrating their 1 year anniversary on the 4th. JJ’s serves world famous Sahlen’s hot dogs, and has every imaginable topping to take your dog from ordinary to exotic. Music starts at 1 p.m. but the celebration starts when they open at 11 a.m. (never too early for a $1.99 hot dog right?)

A collection of “Dogs of the Week” throughout the year allowed local celebs to create their own concoction and make it available to the public. While I didn’t get to try them all, the one that had me regretting I didn’t get a second one upon pulling out of the driveway – Kaiser’s Revenge (OMB Copper beer cheese, fried jalapenos, onion rings, and rocket sauce) – by Ryan Self of The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. I’m not sure if the weekly dogs will be available tomorrow, but it never hurts to ask. Continue reading

Long Live Peruvian – A Visit to Viva Chicken

23 May

I always get a weird look when I tell people we had Peruvian food for dinner. And after they shake the look off their face, they always ask, “What is that?” The short answer is “delicious”. However, it’s a cuisine with a foundation in local (Peru & Inca) food with heavy immigrant influences from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Corn, potatoes, and chili peppers are staple ingredients, with marinated meats, kabobs, and stir fry being popular entree options.

Viva ChickenViva Chicken recently opened on Elizabeth Avenue, just down from CPCC. Viva Chicken describes itself as, “a Peruvian inspired restaurant in Charlotte, NC focusing on Pollo a la Brasa (Peruvian rotisserie chicken). Peruvian flavors, affordable prices and a great atmosphere…” What’s not to love about any of that? We had to make a visit.

I had an expectation that this would be a traditional sit-down restaurant, so I took a double-take when we had to order our food at the register. But it really wasn’t a big deal, as once you’ve ordered, a server comes to your table for the rest of the meal and takes care of you.

I would urge you to sit outside on their covered patio. Summer temperatures might make it less attractive, but on the night we were there, the weather was perfect and I think it only enhanced the experience. Peruvian feels like a cuisine that should be eaten outdoors. Maybe it’s a personal opinion, but Peruvian and other food from tropical climates (Cuban, Mexican, etc.) taste better with a warm breeze and cold drink in hand.

There are a couple of local craft beer options available on draft. After ordering a Ramble on Red by NoDa Brewing Company, we found out there was an issue preventing them from pouring beer that night. So instead, they gave us some of their house-made red Sangria. It was freshly made with pieces of fruit throughout it and not overly sweet like so many seem to be. It was the perfect accompaniment to go with the food and warmer temperatures.

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Quinoa stuffed Avocado

We began the meal with the Quinoa stuffed Avocado appetizer. As you can see from the photo, this whole avocado is split in half and then filled with organic quinoa, onions, cucumber, tomato, cilantro, olive oil, and lime. We opted to add rotisserie chicken to it for a nominal fee which is highly recommended, though you get so much food, probably isn’t necessary. A love for avocado won’t hurt anyone’s feelings in this joint, or anywhere you might go to get Peruvian food. It plays heavily in and around many dishes – something I’d advocate more restaurants consider doing.

Christy ordered the Viva Tacu Bowl (Peruvian canary beans, rice, aji amarillo, fresh cilantro and salsa criolla). I took a few bites of it when Christy wasn’t looking and would have been happy if I’d ordered the same thing. Just a nice combination of flavors and seasoning, further accentuated with a spicy Huacatay Sauce – a Peruvian black mint infused with fresh herbs.

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Viva Tacu Bowl

I had the Pollo a la Brasa (Rotisserie Chicken) with white rice and sweet plantains. The chicken had a crispy skin and was so tender it left me continuously picking at the bone trying not to leave a morsel of it behind. A mild Aji Amarillo sauce (referred to as the “yellow” sauce) was good for dipping and if I had more, would have been used on my rice. Only after I ordered did I realize there was a cilantro-infused rice side available, which I’ll opt for instead of the plain white next time.  I want more of the yellow sauce in my daily life. Maybe we’ll try this recipe sometime soon?

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Pollo a la Brasa with White Rice & Sweet Plantains

I have a special place in my heart for plantains. Having lived in the Tampa area before moving to Charlotte, a strong base of Cuban food was always available and plantains were always on the plate. I can’t not order them when I see them on a menu, and Viva Chicken’s did not disappoint. Sometimes plantains are really mushy, but these were firm and sweet. If you don’t get them as a side, consider ordering them at the end of the meal.

We were so pleased with the service. The girl who took our order at the register (sorry I don’t know her name!) checked on us often, cleared our plates, and kept us hydrated with water….all with a smile. As we left, everyone wished us a good night…something you can’t help but love as a nice finish to a great dining experience. Walking out, a sign caught my eye which pretty much sums up why we’ll be back and why this place is destined to succeed – great customer service and sense of “community”.

Perhaps the coolest part of the restaurant was this sign.

Perhaps the coolest part of the restaurant was this sign.

Where do you take visitors in Charlotte?

1 May

We’re curious to know what other people do when they have friends or family visiting Charlotte? Are there special places you always visit? A favorite restaurant, bar, or attraction? We have our go-to’s – NoDa Brewing Company, VBGB, Pizza Peel – can you tell we love to eat and drink?

We want to hear what your can’t miss places are in Charlotte. Whether it be for atmosphere, a place to hang out and take in the city, some kind of adventure, or anything else you can think of, we’ve got people coming to visit – so we want some new ideas to mix in with our regulars.

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