Restaurant Roundup—Paco’s Tacos & Local Loaf {Charlotte, NC}

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Paco’s Tacos & Tequila is one of Frank Scibelli’s four major restaurants in Charlotte, along with my beloved Mama Ricotta’s, Midwood Smokehouse, and Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar.  Paco’s (Spanish for Frank’s, get it?) features Tex-Mex cuisine with a large chunk of the menu pacos tacosdedicated to TACOS.  There are ten types to choose from, including brisket, calamari, chicken fried steak, crispy shrimp, gringo beef, and whitefish.  The flour and wheat tortillas are made in-house (or you can opt for low carb  or corn tortillas), and you can add a stuffed jalapeno to your taco for a buck fifty.  Fajitas, enchiladas, and quesadillas also make an appearance on the menu, as well as a handful of Tex-Mex inspired entrees, and over eighty-five tequilas.  Taking a cue (as in barbecue) from its sister restaurant Midwood Smokehouse, Paco’s recently added a smoker to their kitchen artillery.  Currently, the pitmaster will smoke one featured entrée each night.  On my last visit, I tried the smoked brisket taco, and as the Midwood Smokehouse self-declared number one fan, I feel confident giving Paco’s smoked brisket the Fervent Foodie stamp of approval.  It is my favorite Paco’s Taco to date.  Other menu favorites include the chopped salad with cojita cheese and chipotle ranch, gringo nachos, potato mushroom & cheese flautas, and “The Margarita with No Name,” featuring El Jimador Blanco, 100% blue agave tequila,  and house made sour.  Of course, you can’t go wrong with any of the tacos.  Paco’s also makes the desserts in-house, and I strongly recommend both the Tres Leches and Chocolate PB Pie.

Paco's Tacos & Tequila on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local Loaf:  Located uptown in the 7th Street Public Market, Local Loaf is the new home to Chef Adam Spears (previously with Heist Brewery).  Local Loaf offers freshly baked Artisan Breads daily, including their hand-rolled baguettes, brioche, ciabatta, fruit and nut loaves, 9 grain, and biscuits.  In addition to the bread, Local local loafLoaf also offers breakfast and lunch.  The “brunchwiches” are served all day, and include a fried chicken and poached egg biscuit with chipotle Cheerwine glaze, a steak and egg baguette, and a monte cristo served on a brioche liege waffle.  The lunch menu includes eight sandwiches.  My favorites so far are the ham and brie (topped with local Lucky Leaf microgreens and mango chutney) and the Local Dip (think French dip with red wine braised sirloin and caramelized onions).  Other enticing options are the Veggie with creamed corn and fried green tomatoes on jalapeno focaccia and the Cuban with pickled cucumbers and fried pork rinds.  Soup options will change daily, but keep an eye out for the tomato bisque–it is AWESOME.  If the tasty sandwiches aren’t enough to make you love Local Loaf, the heavy emphasis on local sourcing will surely tug on those ole’ heartstrings.  Locally sourced goods include meat from Meat & Fish Co., produce and dairy from Homeland Dairy Farms and Greeneman Farms, and coffee grounds from Not Just Coffee.

Local Loaf on Urbanspoon

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Bubble–Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

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Bubble LogoFrom the luminescent silk screen Barbies on the walls, to the linen towels in the bathroom, to the liquid nitrogen cloud lingering over your cocktail, at Bubble Charlotte no details are spared.  Bubble, which officially opened May 17, 2013 (after years of anticipation), is Charlotte’s first champagne bar and oh so much more.  There’s a full-service kitchen, patio area with bar service overlooking the intersection of College and Trade, and not one but FOUR different beverage menus.

Bubble’s main entrance is on the Epicentre’s ground level.  Once inside, guests ascend a dramatic staircase to the second floor.  The decor strikes a playful balance between sophisticated and fashionable, and the dining area is anything but standard with large round communal-style tables.  The aim is a premium (but not pretentious) experience.

Bubble Charlotte seating    IMG_3144

So let’s talk booze.  Bubble has over 30 champagnes in house, and their Perlage preservation system enables high end champagnes to be sold by the glass, while still maintaining the flavor and integrity of the beverage.  Patrons can score a solitary glass of Dom Pérignon for $45, while a bottle can cost upwards of $200.

Bubble’s beverage repertoire spans much further than champagne though, and all of the bartenders are Bar Smarts certified.  They offer a “slim list” of sub-120 calorie cocktails, and their much-buzzed-about N’tini cocktail is topped with liquid nitrogen steam, which quickly chills the cocktail and produces a “seductive cloud.”  Ingesting liquid nitrogen is hazardous, in fact, a British teen had part of her stomach removed last year after ingesting the chemical.  To avoid potential harm, Bubble’s N’tinis should not be consumed until the liquid nitrogen cloud has dissipated.  At the press event I attended, Bubble’s operating partner, Bourke Floyd (fka Brady on Dawson’s Creek), was adamant about the safety precautions the bar will take to ensure no one is given an N’tini until it’s safe to drink.

bubble champagne    bubble cocktail

The petite chef-driven menu at Bubble features a handful of small plates:  prosciutto wrapped melon, pomme gaufrettes (waffle fries), chef-chosen cheese plates, and fresh, never frozen, calamari served with wasabi cream and Sriracha.  As for salads, I enjoyed both the fresh strawberry chevre salad (with goat cheese and Spanish candied walnuts) and the Caprese Napoleon, which is topped with a fig balsamic reduction and a light drizzle of olive oil.

Bubble Charlotte - tomato mozzarella

The entrees include champagne poached shrimp, Thai-chili ribs, steak frites, and Mediterranean chicken skewers.  There are also four flatbreads, the toppings of which were promising, but the bread itself was horrendous–flavorless with the texture of a hardened shortbread cookie.  Dear Chef:  please fix this flatbread faux pas ASAP.

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Studio Movie Grill–Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

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Whether it’s a hot date, a night out with friends, or a family outing, few will object to dinner and a movie.  It’s a combination that appeals to all the senses—the sights and sounds of the film, the smells and taste of the food.  And touch?  Well, I’ll leave that one up to you.

Studio Movie Grill (SMG), which recently opened in Charlotte’s Epicentre (in the spot formerly occupied by Mez), takes all that we love about this classic combo and mashes them into one in-theater dining concept.  The idea is not new to Charlotte, but SMG’s approach is more casual and family-friendly than its predecessor.

studio movie grill glasses

SMG movie tickets can be purchased online or at the front desk, and seating is selected at the time of purchase (so there’s no need to rush to the theater to score a good spot).  Speaking of the theater seats, these ones are plush and recline slightly, and each seat has a personal-sized swiveling table top, complete with a cup holder and a red “power button” that signals the SMG team you’re ready for service.

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Mama Ricotta’s—Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

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Shortly after moving to Charlotte, I fell in love with Mama Ricotta’s.  I blame it on the goat cheese and mascarpone dip, which was my first bite of food on my very first visit to Mama’s.

mama ricottas - goat cheese dip

Mama’s is the type of place where families feel equally comfortable as couples on hot dates.  The dining room is cozy with large family-sized booths plus intimate tables for two, vintage family photos, and a large wood-fired pizza oven.

If you have any Italian friends or family, you know the importance of sharing food in the Italian culture.  Food is love.  This holds true at Mama’s, where most of the pasta dishes are available family-style and are served in deep dishes that are passed around the table, just like at home.

It didn’t take long for me to realize Mama Ricotta’s had common ownership with Bad Daddy’s (one of my favorite burger spots in town) and Midwood Smokehouse (my favorite barbecue joint).  I’ve eaten at these restaurants dozen of times, and many of those meals have ended with toasts to Frank Scibelli, the owner and man behind the amazing food.

I’m a big fan of bread, and Mama Ricotta’s bread basket alone is worth a visit.  The housemade rolls are served with olive oil sprinkled with crushed red pepper flakes for dipping.  As for appetizers, there’s that amazing dip I mentioned–it’s a warm goat cheese and mascarpone dip served with grilled crostini and a warm tomato basil sauce, a steal at $8.50.  I also highly recommend the new house made burrata ($12).  Burrata is fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, and Mama’s burrata is soft and supple and accompanied by olive oil poached tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic, and grilled ciabatta.

mama ricottas - bread

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The Palm–Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

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When I think of The Palm, I envision a fancy New Yorker carrying shopping bags in one hand as she hails a cab with the other on her way to (insert pretentious voice here) “lunch at the Palm.

So, when I first got the invitation to come in and try out the Palm, I ignored it.  I’m in Charlotte, the Palm is in New York City.  A couple of weeks later, I received a second invitation right when I was coincidentally preparing for a weekend trip to NYC.  After mapping out the location of the Palm in Manhattan in relation to where I was staying, I began drafting a response email.  But just before I hit send, something caught my eye.  The invite was for the Palm in Charlotte.  What the what?  There’s a Palm in Charlotte??

Lesson #1:  read emails thoroughly before archiving, deleting, and/or replying.

When people ask me for restaurant recommendations  I often joke about avoiding four-dollar-sign restaurants.  In my book, $$$$ means special occasions only.  Luckily, I had a reason celebrate!  My mom was in town for the weekend, and it was the perfect opportunity to get fancied up for a girls’ night at The Palm.

the palm charlotte cocktail

As we walked into the restaurant, I felt a little apprehensive.  I still had the glamorous New Yorker image in my head, and I was wearing Gap flats after all, not Jimmy Choos.  All these anxious feelings melted away as soon as I approached the hostess.  From her smiling face, to the jolly restaurant managers, to the walls covered with caricatures of famous North Carolinians, it felt warm and welcoming, not the slightest bit hoity toity.

Lesson #2:  never judge a restaurant by what you’ve seen in the movies

Once seated, we were promptly served one of the best bread baskets I’ve ever laid my paws on:  a trio of breads locally sourced from Great Harvest Bread Company.  There was raisin bread, whole white bread, and my personal favorite:  the Dakota Bread with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and millet.

Mom and I were in the mood for some seafood, so we started with the Colossal Lump Crabmeat Cocktail ($24).  After we both verbally affirmed our passion for horseradish, mom dropped a heaping spoonful into the cocktail sauce.  I waited as she took her first bite.  She was speechless, her eyes closed, her face quickly turning red.  I waited for some sort of sign…  Was it good?   Was it bad?  Was she choking???  When a smile stretched across her face, I took a piece of crab, dunked it in the doctored cocktail sauce, and popped it into my mouth.  And that’s when I realized it wasn’t just any old horseradish.  It was atomic.  Breathtaking, nose-hair-burning, atomic horseradish.  It was fantastic.

Along with the crab, we enjoyed the bacon wrapped scallops ($16).  Though the bacon wasn’t especially flavorful, the balsamic and basil reduction served for dipping was the perfect tangy pairing for the scallops.

the palm charlotte bacon wrapped scallops

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Restaurant Roundup: The Yolk, E2, & Hazelnuts Creperie {the week in food}

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If you were to look through the massive accumulation of notes in my phone, you’d see my list of must-try breakfast joints near the very top.  Me and breakfast?  We go way back.  From dad’s crispy skillet potatoes to mom’s buttery pancakes, with as much cereal as one child can physically consume crammed in between, breakfast has long been a love of mine.  I’m always on the lookout for the yolkplaces to add to my list.  Just two days after meeting Gregory Collier, Chef and owner of The Yolk Cafe in Rock Hill, SC, I made the voyage south to try out his breakfast wares.

From any seat in the family owned and operated restaurant you can see Chef Greg at the helm in the open kitchen and his wife, Sabrina, assisting customers.  The restaurant has the feel of a diner with its vinyl booths and classic metal swiveling bar stools.  The menu, however, rings a different tune.  Take, for example, the Valencia omelet (my first choice), which is made with zucchini, squash, roasted tomato, and mozzarella or the fun-guy egg white omelet with mushrooms, herbs, and pungent asiago cheese.  Just these two options alone include five ingredients you won’t find at a run-of-the-mill diner.  A greasy spoon, the Yolk is not.  We’re talking steel cut oatmeal, chorizo chili, and crispy capers here!

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Cowbell Burger & Bar — Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

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Have you heard the breaking moos?  There’s a new burger joint in Uptown Charlotte!  Cowbell Burger & Bar will kick off its opening this Friday March 29th.  Located in the spot formula occupied by Nix Burgers, near the intersection of Tryon and 5th St, Cowbell will offer “artisanal burgers with a side of rock & roll.”  The restaurant joins a growing restaurant family that includes Leroy Fox (a mix of southern food and a contemporary vibe) and Mortimer’s Pub, which is located in the Epicentre and serves great sandwiches (I’m obsessed with their veg-out grinder).

Last weekend, I stopped into Cowbell for their Gulp & Graze pre-opening event.  The restaurant space has been revamped, and feels much larger than Nix.  The bar was pushed back, further from the door, leaving ample room for mingling and table seating, and the vibe is hipper too, with tufted leather chairs and low red lighting.

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Block & Grinder {Charlotte, NC–restaurant review}

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Block & Grinder just opened in Charlotte, and its concept is unique:  think full bar, wine shop, butcher counter, and restaurant all mashed into one location.  The focus is on fresh ingredients, what the owners call a “back to basics” approach.  Block & Grinder specializes in premium, all-natural meats and wild game.  The meats are fresh and cut and ground in-house daily, giving patrons a “butcher block to grinder” experience.  Even the corned beef and pastrami is brined, steamed, smoked, trimmed, and cut in-house.

Block & Grinder - farm to table

Most seats in the restaurant offer a full view of the open kitchen, which is headed by executive chef Kent Graham (who previously served as chef for the Atlanta Braves).  At any given time, you can see half a dozen cooks methodically knocking out orders as the line man calls them out.

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Should I stay or should I go {the week in food}

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I’ve been incredibly distracted the last couple of weeks, spending every breath of free time surfing Craigslist and property management company sites for a new apartment.  It’s one of those life moments when I just wish someone would tell me what to do.  Should I stay in my current rental and pay the (exorbitant) rent increase or move?  And if I move, where?  One bedroom or two?  Is it safe?  Can I walk to work?  Does it get good light?  Is street parking a deal breaker?  Is shared laundry?!  Where will I put my shoes?  Is there a coffee shop within walking distance?  What about good restaurants?  Will my beloved green couch fit in the new rental?  GAS STOVE!!!! Will my friends and family still come to visit???

It’s a lot to ponder.

With all this rental business looming overhead, I’ve been a stranger to my kitchen.  You know what that means.  It’s time for a little restaurant recap!

Let’s start with the Common Market hot mama panini–tomato, red onion, red pepper, spinach, Havarti, and mayo plus turkey–that I devoured right there in the parking lot.

Common Market - hot mama panini with turkey

No shame, this girl.

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Lunches, lattes, and lust-worthy onion rings {the week in food}

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Over the years, I’ve developed a bad habit of eating at my desk and working straight through lunch.  Bypassing a midday break means more work gets done, and, all else equal, I get to leave an hour earlier than I would otherwise.  It’s a horrible, horrible thing.

Lately, in an effort to maintain my sanity and some degree of happiness, I’ve been making a conscious effort to break away from my desk every day for lunch.  Most days, this means me, my salad, and my iPad huddled next to the fireplace in the back of Caribou Coffee.  It’s incredibly relaxing sitting next to the heat of the fire and feeling the buzz of the city whirling by.  Though, I’m quickly developing and addiction to afternoon lattes.  Good thing or bad thing, I’m not sure.

This week, I also squeezed in a lunch at Pure Pizza at the 7th Street Public Market, which I capped off with a delicious latte o’ love from Not Just Coffee.  (See?  Addicted!!)

not just coffee charlotte

Friday, I met my new friend Keia (check out her blog:  the Sunnyside Up) at Harvest Moon Grille.  Keia and I first met via phone when she interviewed me for her Creative Loafing article on what is means to be a foodie.  This was our first official lunch date, and in true Mary fashion I started our convo off by awkwardly exclaiming “So… I want to be you!”  I quickly followed our laughter with an explanation that I’d love to work as a freelance food writer and attend an abundance of fun food events as she does.  And now you want to be her too, am I right?

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