Tag Archives: food

Cubano

10 Jun

Psssst.  Charlotte. Hey, Charlotte. Look at this. LOOK. AT. THIS.

Cuban (Havana Harry's).jpg

Do you know what this is?  Do you?

It’s a Cuban Sandwich.

Do you know what goes on a Cuban Sandwich?

Sliced ham, sliced roasted pork, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and sliced pickles. If you’re a girl from the Tampa Bay area, like me, you also get some salami. Cuban sandwiches were born in Tampa, if you didn’t know. If you’re from Miami you put some mayo on there.  No biggie.

But Charlotte, you know what doesn’t go on a Cuban sandwich?

  • Lettuce (NEVER do this. Ever.)
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Dijon mustard
  • Spicy mustard
  • Jalepenos
  • Grill marks (because it’s pressed, you know?)

Pork is preferably roasted and sliced, not pulled or chopped. And please, please make it on Cuban bread. Pretty please?

Not saying these things aren’t tasty on a sandwich, because they are. They just don’t go on a Cuban sandwich.

Not gonna lie, it drives me a little crazy that the North Carolina version of a Cuban sandwich is heavy on pulled pork. Pulled pork is just so dang ubiquitous here, that it seems like most restaurateurs never question whether or not it belongs on this type of sandwich.

And for those that would sully greatness by adding lettuce (::cough cough:: Midwood Smokehouse) please stick to what you know (and do well), and leave Cuban sandwiches to those who care to do it right. At some point your “Southern twist” on the Cuban sandwich makes it not a Cuban any more.

The beauty above comes from a tiny shop in Largo, FL, called Havana Harry’s Market. If you’re down that way, definitely stop in on your way to the beach, the sandwiches are legit. You can pick up some black beans and rice and Cigar City beer while you’re there.

Havana Harry's Sign.jpg

Diggin’ that ‘do, Harry

Not that all Cuban sandwiches in the Charlotte Metro area are terrible. There’s a Colombian bakery in Stallings called Lucy’s Bakery & Deli. Sandwiches are made with mojo pork, sometimes sliced, sometimes shredded. They also sell guava and cheese turnovers, so it’s hard to get mad about the shredded pork. And the owners are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I feel a little like I’m back in Florida every time I go.

I’m generally okay with a chef putting his/her own spin on a dish, especially a spin that brings it closer to the amazing Southern cuisine we can get here in Charlotte. But some things are better left un-spun.

Just my two cents.

 

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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Something Old & New

17 Apr

So we’ve been to some really great places recently and just wanted to highlight two that we love.

Rooster’s Wood Fired Kitchen (Southpark)

roostersRooster’s isn’t new, and it certainly wasn’t our first visit…but it had been some time since we were last there. It never really disappoints, which is why it is almost always busy no matter the time of day. The hickory wood fired-ovens fill the restaurant with a great smoked aroma that instantly makes you hungry.

Anyone who enjoys southern cuisine should drop everything they’re doing and head to Rooster’s immediately.

Our suggestion is to order a few of the vegetable sides for the table (they’re all large enough to share). We started with fried okra, skillet fried corn, and fire roasted beets. Fried okra is quickly becoming a favorite thing for me. Most I’ve had is heavy on the batter and completely overpowers the okra itself. Rooster’s batter is really light and flaky and seems to barely hang onto the okra, allowing you to really taste the hard-to-describe flavor of the vegetable. You won’t be disappointed with the corn or beets either. I’ve never been a fan of beets, but Rooster’s is making me a believer.

I ordered fried oysters and the arugula salad with chevre, and Harmony Ridge Farm apples for my entree. I was worried the oysters wouldn’t be enough because it came from the antipasti portion of the menu. I was pleasantly surprised when 6-8 large, meaty oysters were presented in front of me. A more firm batter than the aforementioned fried okra made for a nice crunch that complemented the soft of the oyster itself.

Christy’s hangar steak was cooked perfectly and really tender. A friend ordered the boneless beef short rib, which piqued my interest, and will likely be on my list for a future visit. Looking forward to coming back soon.

Pint Central (Plaza Midwood)

pint-central-logoWow…we really like this place. Our visit was mid-day on a Saturday during March Madness, just as the weather was getting warmer. We got our first taste of NoDa Brewing’s CAVU here (very highly recommended). Pint Central has 28 drafts and over 50 bottles of craft beer available.

First impression – The place feels cared for…which after talking with one of the owners, Carlos, is absolutely validated. He came to our table and introduced himself (something that should happen everywhere, but never does). He mentioned they did most of the work themselves, including building the bar and having his mom design the tables.

pint-centralCarlos’ brother is responsible for the menu. The food isn’t your typical bar fare. The empanadas were some of the best we’ve had, with a light, croissant-like crust that almost had us order another round. The garlic parmesan fries were a great blend of flavors piled high on curly fries (who doesn’t love a curly fry?). Other highlights were the eggplant dip and Brussels sprouts.  I look forward to trying the avocado fries and caprese stack on a future visit.

Just a great experience all around. If you’re looking for a place to hang out, give Pint Central a visit. With the weather warming up, they have a really nice patio that’s sure to get busy as more people discover it’s there.

Food Makes a Place a Home

19 Jul

home cookingOn July 11th, Jason and I braved the 20th straight day of rain in Charlotte (or was that the 21st?) to attend “Explore the Gathering Power of Food” an installment of the WFAE 90.7 Public Conversations series.  The conversation involved a panel of four “food enthusiasts” including a former restauranteur, a chef, a food writer, and a “communal food enthusiast” and was moderated by a historian from the Levine Museum of the New South.  It was a 90-minute conversation between the panel and audience members about their experiences with food bringing people together.

Full disclosure: we attended and observed rather than getting involved in the conversation ourselves.  I think having worked an 11 hour day and skipping dinner before walking into a room full of strangers to listen to everyone talk about their grandmother’s cooking took the words right out of me.  Continue 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.

viva-avocado

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?

quarter-chicken

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.

Emotional Cooking…

29 Apr

VeggiesI had one of those days at work…

You know, one of those days where the reality of exactly how much is out of my control came into focus.  Acute focus.

Being the type of girl who likes control, this frustrates me to no end.

I’m a counselor, so I’m reminded nearly every day of exactly how much is beyond my influence. One of the first rules of counseling is to accept that you can’t change everything.  And that sometimes things just suck.

This reality slapped me in the face on a daily basis in a former life, when I worked as a mental health counselor.  Now I work in higher ed. The slaps are still there, they just come less frequently.  Sometimes they come from places that I don’t expect.  Today was one of those days.

Fortunately , I come home to Jason.  He listens to me (not that counselors can say much), offers me a hug, a glass of wine, and a refill if I need it.

We cook dinner.  Life gets better.  I let go a little.

There’s something about chopping vegetables that’s therapeutic after a rough day.  The focus that’s required to dice and mince without losing a finger overrides my attempts to wrap my head around the things I don’t understand or can’t control.

Counseling requires patience and a faith that things will evolve into what they need to over time.  Transforming raw ingredients into a dish is immediate, and that immediacy is satisfying.

Tonight we pulled together a simple sweet and sour pork dish.  The recipe is courtesy of the Baltic Maid blog.  Plenty of chopping and a return to peace.  I’ll worry about what I can and can’t control tomorrow – tonight we cook, dine, and relax.

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