Tupelo Honey Cafe — Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

Posted on Feb 25, 2014 | 1 comment

I’ve never been to Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville.  I’ve heard about it, walked by it, and stalked the menu, but I’ve never been in its doors or dined at its tables.  People RAVE about the place.  It’s where everyone who visits Asheville wants to go.  I’ve even heard it said that Tupelo Honey Cafe is Asheville, meaning Appalachian, southern, and a smidge hippy (at least from this Yankee outsider’s perspective).

iphone (2)

Tupelo Honey opened back in 2000, and over the past few years they’ve expanded to become a seven-store regional restaurant empire, the newest location of which is in Charlotte. Tupelo’s Charlotte location opened in the space previously occupied by Pewter Rose Bistro, which closed last year.  Pewter Rose had great ambiance; it was romantic and cozy with the low-strung lights, origami birds, and hanging plants–it felt like a grownup tree house.  Tupelo’s renovations on the space retained much of the building’s character — high ceilings, brick walls, and wood detailing everywhere.  They reconfigured the seating layout, allowing for many more tables and a large bar area, but at the sacrifice of Pewter Rose’s romance factor.

tupelo interior 2tupelo interior

tupelo open kitchen

Tupelo’s focus on local sourcing was a cornerstone of their success in Asheville.  Even with the restaurant’s recent expansion, they’re sourcing goods regionally (via a company that aggregates foods from farms in each restaurant’s region), and using those local products to shed new light on many old-time, comfort classics.  There are grits made with goat cheese, ribeye served with bordelaise (a French wine sauce), and crab cakes with lemon cherry pepper aioli.  At Tupelo Honey Cafe, every meal starts with a complimentary basket of their famous biscuits, served hot with a side of blueberry preserves and honey (surprisingly, I preferred the honey).

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Pasta Bolognese {recipe}

Posted on Feb 13, 2014 | 2 comments

It is with great remorse that I recall how late bolognese entered my life.  Yes, there was a time when “bolognese” just sounded too fancy, too French, for my liking.  But if there’s one way to get me to eat something, it’s slipping it into lasagna, right there between the layers of pasta and creamy cheese.  And for this very thing, I say THANK YOU to Papa Joe’s (one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Akron, Ohio) for their bechamel lasagna with bolognese.  It was love at first bite, as they say.

For the record, bolognese is not French.  It is, in fact, a hearty Italian meat sauce.  I’ve come so far.

bolognese

I succumbed to eating bolognese without much arm twisting, but I didn’t attempt to cook the sauce myself until I sat in on a cooking class with my friend Keia (her blog:  Ink and Fork) at Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen at the Atherton Market this fall.

Here’s the deal.  This sauce takes time.  The more time you put into the sauce, letting it gently simmer on the stove, the richer the flavors will be.  The good news is the sauce gives you an excuse to open a nice bottle of red wine (as if you needed an excuse…), and you, lovely chef, can enjoy the remainder of that bottle while the sauce slowly cooks down.  It’s precisely the sort of relaxing kitchen moment I crave.

bolognese 4

This sauces freezes well, and even if you double the recipe, you’ll still have plenty of wine to drink, so go for it, friend.  For my bolognese, I like a medium to full-bodied dry red wine, like the Alamos Malbec I used in this batch.  Whatever varietal you choose, make sure to pick a wine you’d actually enjoy drinking.  Which is exactly what I did with the rest of my Malbec…  This one is going into my regular rotation!

alamos malbec bolognese bolognese 2bolognese 5

Bolognese from Chef Alyssa

Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen — Healthy & Sustainable cooking classes
If you’re looking for a fun date night or girls night out, check out Chef Alyssa’s cooking classes.  Chef Alyssa does an awesome job of breaking down intimidating recipes into easy, step-by-step chunks.  Keia and I had a great time in the class, and this bolognese recipe is one I’ll be making for years to come.  Check out the class schedule here.

Chef Alyssa

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped (about 3/4 of a cup)
  • 2 ounces thinly slice pancetta (I used 3 ounces of smokey bacon)
  • 8 ounces ground beef (I used 90% lean)
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine (I highly recommend Alamos Malbec)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 pound pasta of choice (I used fettuccine)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan
  • Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat oil in a heavy pot over (or large saute pan) medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots and saute until soft, about 8-10 minutes.

Add beef and pancetta (or bacon); saute, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon, until browned, about 15 minutes. Add wine and balsamic and boil for 2 minutes, stirring often and scraping up browned bits.

Add the stock and tomato paste. Reduce heat to very low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors meld, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper.

Finish sauce by adding the milk, then bring to a simmer until absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Transfer the sauce to a large saute pan.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 1 minute before al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cupful of the pasta water, and add the pasta to the bolognese sauce. Turn heat to medium-high, toss to coat.  If the sauce is too thick, add a few splashes of the pasta water to loosen it up.  Top with parmesan and parsley before serving.

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At the Chef’s Table, a Greenville Food Tour {Greenville, SC}

Posted on Feb 3, 2014 | 1 comment

Looking back over the past two posts, I’m just baffled by how much food and fun I crammed into my short weekend in Greenville!  Nichole of Gap Creek Gourmet sure knows how to show a gal a good time!  I’ve got one last post to share with y’all, and it’s food-filled doozy.

Greenville History Tours

Nearly every Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon, John Nolan, owner of Greenville History Tours, leads a group of food lovers around downtown Greenville to check out some of the area’s most popular restaurants.  He has two food tours–the At the Chef’s Table Tour and the Tastes of the South Tour–both of which cost $45 and last for 2.5 to 3 hours.  During my visit, I went on the Chef’s Table Tour, a unique, behind-the-scenes, VIP excursion on which we sampled signature dishes at five area restaurants AND met each of the chefs behind the food.  Five amazing dishes, five alcoholic beverages, time with the chefs, plus tidbits of Greenville history and architectural facts make this tour an awesome value.  If you’re looking for things to do in Greenville, I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than on this Greenville food tour!


TOUR STOP #1:  Soby’s on the Side

Each of the stops on John’s Chef Table tour are part of the Table 301 restaurant empire, and our first destination was Soby’s on the Side.  Soby’s on the Side is located right next to Soby’s (more on that restaurant below).  It’s a breakfast and lunch joint (with breakfast offered all day and brunch on the weekends), and they also handle all of the catering for the Table 301 group.

Our tasting plate featured their interesting take on steak and eggs:  filet mignon, orange marmalade, sorghum syrup, egg yolk, and green onion, with a mimosa on the side.

sobys on the side steak


TOUR STOP #2: Nose Dive

After our breakfast tasting, we headed over to Nose Dive, a gastropub that serves lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends.  At Nose Dive, they take the term “gastropub” seriously–they’re striving for food forwardness, to be more than just a bar.  They’ve got some traditional pub food on the menu (burgers, fish and chips, and tater tots, to name a few), but the menu also feature unexpected dishes like pekin duck, potato gnocchi, and steamed mussels, plus a dark chocolate candied bacon brownie.  Yes, please.

While we sampled a dish of hearty pot roast with creamy Anson Mills grits, sweet heirloom carrots, and blistered tomato (and a beer), Chef Craig Kunhs talked about his home gardening practices, and how he feels it helps him to better understand the products he buys from local farmers to use in the restaurant.  

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Restaurant Roundup: Bacon Bros Public House, Passerelle Bistro, & Roost Restaurant {Greenville, SC}

Posted on Jan 29, 2014 | 2 comments

imageBacon Bros Public House has been open for less than two years, but many people in town have already declared it one of Greenville’s best restaurants.  Located on Pelham Road, a 15 minute drive from downtown Greenville, the kitchen at this meat mecca is headed up by Chef Anthony Gray (who previously served as the executive chef at High Cotton in Charleston), while the front of the house is the stomping ground for general manager Jason Callaway, who worked with Chef Gray at Coal Fired Bistro (also located on Pelham Road).  As a sommelier and mixologist, Jason is the mastermind behind Bacon Bros’ inventive cocktail list as well as the new reserve wine list offerings.  I met these two fellas during my visit to Greenville with Nichole of Gap Creek Gourmet, and was enamored with this duo of fun-loving jokesters.

The food at Bacon Bros is what I’d call farm-to-table, southern-inspired gastrofare–it’s comforting and hearty, and, sure, they’ve got the southern standards covered, but their urbanized approach has upped the ante.  Pimento cheese?  They serve it up with bacon jam.  Mac and cheese?  Theirs has bacon and chiles.  The burgers?  Made with a house-ground mixture of bacon, brisket, and beef chuck.  Jonesin for some pulled pork?  How bout pulled pork shoulder with cornmeal and country ham waffles (yep, there’s hunks of ham right in the batter), sorghum BBQ sauce, and creamy slaw?  It’s awesome, believe you me, and it was my favorite of all the dishes I devoured at Bacon Bros.

Bacon Bros - Pulled Pork w Waffles

When you’re visiting a place with “bacon” in the name, especially one that cures, smokes, and dries all their meats in house, you’d be remiss to pass on the charcuterie offerings.  The term “in-house” used here is literal–there’s a glass-enclosed curing room near the rear of the restaurant, where you can see the Bacon Bros pride and joy:  all-natural, pasture-raised meats from South Carolina farms, which they pitt smoke with South Carolina peach wood.  They even sell packs of their peach wood smoked bacon to-go for $9.  How’s that for bringing home the bacon?

Bacon Bros -- house-cured meat

There are half a dozen “snacks” (or small plates)  on the menu, including tater tots with smoked pork shoulder, sticky bacon caramel popcorn, and cornmeal fried pickles with smoked ranch.  I imagine most people come to Bacon Bros to eat themselves to the brink of meat sweats (I know I was successful in this mission), but if salad is your thing there are several interesting options, like the frisee topped with a poached farm-fresh egg, kale with grilled fig and lardo (cured meat) vinaigrette, or arugula with lamb ham, apples, and pistachios.

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Greenville, South Carolina. Who knew?

Posted on Jan 22, 2014 | 60 comments

Greenville Downtown 2

I hadn’t a clue what to expect as I set out on the hour-and-a-half drive from Charlotte to Greenville, down in upstate South Carolina.  I’d heard some things–mostly that is was a lively city with a great food scene–but still, I was hit with an unexpected surprise when I rolled down Main Street that first time.  Downtown Greenville is ADORABLE, with its tree-lined streets, each adorned with cute little shops and boutiques plus restaurants galore.

Greenville Downtown

My first stop on the trip was to meet up with my new friend Nichole of Gap Greek Gourmet.  It was a cold and rainy day, so the subterranean oasis  that is Coffee Underground felt especially cozy while we enjoyed a quick warm up of the caffeinated variety.  I loved the place so much, that I came back once more during my short time in Greenville for a cappuccino and warm cinnamon chip scone while getting in some computer time.  It was fun and nostalgic sitting there listening to the conversations of the Greenvillians (did I make this term up?), many of whom were college students studying for what appeared to be an upcoming history exam.

Greenville - Coffee Underground 2Greenville - Coffee Underground Scone

After coffee, Nichole and I headed above ground to check out some of the shops on Main Street.  We stopped into the infamous Mast General Store, and I was super excited by their candy selection.  Every time I see Mallo Cups, I think of my mom (since they were one of her favorite childhood candies), and Mast had dark-chocolate mallo cups!!?!  I managed to exercise some self-control since I had a feeling I’d be eating my face off later that day, but I’m kicking myself for not picking up a pack!

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Restaurant Roundup: Cowfish and eeZ {Charlotte, NC}

Posted on Jan 15, 2014 | 2 comments

Talk about good genes–two of Charlotte’s best Asian fusion restaurants, The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar and eeZ Fusion & Sushi, share a common, decidedly successful parent, Marcus Hall.

thecowfish_logoThe Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar is located down in South Park, right next to South Park Mall, and specializes in burgers, sushi, and burgushi (a non-traditional mash-up of sushi and burgers–sushi with beef and burger parts and sandwiches with sushi parts).  It’s a trendy restaurant, with a massive fish tank behind the 40-seat bar, and a large outdoor patio.  The place is always packed, which I think is a great testament to the quality of food they serve.

burgushi2Fusion cuisine is a big focus at Cowfish, and there are several over-the-top sushi roll combinations on the menu, like the filet & lobster roll, barbecue pulled pork roll with bacon coleslaw, and even a Mary Had A Little Lamb-urgushi Roll, complete with tzatziki.  They’ve also got traditional sushi covered, including sashimi, nigiri, cones, makimoni, and hosomaki.  I’ve been to Cowfish many times since moving to Charlotte, and have taken many out-of-towners there, but I’d never tried the burgushi until, on my last visit, I ordered the Nature Boy’s WOOOOO–shi BuffalOOOOO–shi Roll.  Please, PLEASE go to Cowfish and order this roll.  Aloud.  Not only will the name make you giggle, but the Ric Flair inspired sushi roll with bison, fried green tomatoes, chipotle aioli, and jalapeños will leave your belly feeling extremely happy.

The burgers offerings are equally inventive, my favorite of which is the boursin burger, served with sautéed mushrooms and onions on an onion roll.  Boursin cheese and onions?!  I die!  Heat-lovers will also love the Jalapeno Popper Show-Stopper, a burger that gets its kick from jalapeño-infused cream cheese, jalapeño bacon, and fried jalapeño garnish.  Other notables are the reuben burger, bison burger, pimento cheese burger, and the Hunka, Hunka Burnin’ Love burger topped with peanut butter, bananas, and bacon.

cowfish burger

Since the Cowfish menu is so LARGE, I often opt for the bento box, which gives you a little bit of lots of things:  a small roll, a mini burger, and three sides of your choice (DO NOT MISS the cucumber salad).
cowfish bento

Ginormous salads, appetizers, and desserts round out the menu.  The lobster and crab spring rolls, legendary blackened ahi tuna nachos, and mu shu chicken lettuce wraps are all solid options, as are the fresh berry tall cake (lemon pound cake, vanilla bean ice cream, and berries… shown toppled over (oopsie), below) and the spiked milkshakes, of course.

dessert

Capture

Over in Huntersville’s Birkdale VillageeeZ Fusion & Sushi is serving up even more fusion fare.  The decor is Asian-inspired, with bamboo pole fixtures hanging from the ceilings, a full sushi bar, and framed Asian lettering on the walls.

 

Some of the favorites from Cowfish’s menu also make an appearance over at eeZ Fusion & Sushi in Huntersville’s Birkdale Village, including the crab rangoon dip, mu shu lettuce wraps, Thai cucumbers, lobster & crab spring rolls, and the blackened Ahi tuna nachos.

cowfish lobster crab spring rolls eez

The bulk of eeZ’s menu is dedicated to an insanely long sushi list, which includes sashimi, nigiri, hosomaki, cone hand rolls, makimono, plus fusion specialties. There’s no burgushi, per se, but they do have a filet mignon roll with avocado and scallions, and dozens of crazy sounding rolls like the tempura battered Dominatoroll with fresh yellow fin tuna and fried garlic, topped with homemade guacamole, crab rangoon dip, and sweet chili sauce.  YES.  I’ve tried the Boss (spicy yellowfin tuna with English cucumbers and wasabi mayo), Miss Moffit’s Roll (spicy tuna topped with avocado slices), and the All Eyes on You roll (spicy salmon roll topped with seared scallops and dots of sriracha), all of which I’d order again (and again).

sushi

scallop sushi

As if the expansive sushi offerings weren’t enough, eeZ also offers pad Thai, curry, Mongolian beef, cedar plank salmon, blackened Mahi-Mahi, build-your-own stir fry, plus practically every kind of Asian chicken known to man (szechuan, sweet & sour, Kung Pao, cashew, teriyaki, etc.).  I’m a big fan of their Asian-fusion tacos.  They offer Thai curry, Mahi Mahi, and my favorite: Korean bulgogi beef.  Can’t make up your mind?  eeZ’s got a bento box option too:  one roll, one entrée or taco, plus edamame, Thai cucumbers, and jasmine rice.

bento

Want a little yin with your yang?  Try starting with the light and refreshing squid salad and ending with the moan-inducing Peanut Blast pie that’s jam-packed with peanut butter nougat, chocolate cake, mousse, and Reeses cups.

squid salad

The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar on Urbanspoon  eeZ Fusion & Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Cheesy Marsala-Glazed Meatloaf {recipe}

Posted on Nov 26, 2013 | 4 comments

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf v2

When I was a kid, I loved ketchup-and-cheese sandwiches.  I’m not talking about grilled cheesy goodness dunked in ketchup, here; this was two pieces of Home Pride, a single slice of Kraft American, and a heavy-handed squiggle of Heinz 57.  I was obsessed with ketchup.  Ketchup made everything better.  Although both parents deny preparing said ketchup-and-cheese sandwiches for us kids and my sister says the thought of such a sandwich “makes her want to hurk,” there’s no denying that ketchup was the star ingredient in my mom’s meatloaf.  I was, of course, meatloaf’s number one fan.  Just the word “meatloaf” takes me back to those days, standing in the kitchen, watching my mom transform a mound of ground beef into a perfect oval with rapid two-handed pats before she iced the whole thing with ketchup and tossed it into the oven.  It killed me that meatloaf took so long to cook.  An hour?!  Really, Mom?  And then, as we (finally) sat down to eat, I’d silently start hoping for leftovers, because the only thing better than Mom’s meatloaf was a cold, leftover meatloaf-and-ketchup sandwich the next day.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf

Now that I’m all old and mature, my ketchup-and-cheese sandwich has been upgraded to a crusty baguette with hunks of gooey brie, and a taste for wine has replaced my craving for all things ketchup.  And meatloaf?  Well, I still love it, and this cheesy Marsala-glazed meatloaf recipe puts a classy spin on the nostalgic meal.  It’s still got ketchup (as all good meatloaves do), but this one has hunks of gooey, white cheddar cheese and is dressed with a sweet wine glaze.  It tastes indulgent and traditional all at once, and it’s a dinner both kids and adults will enjoy.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf - 3 v2

Dry Marsala wine is fantastic in this recipe (I used Colombo Fine Dry Marsala Wine, which has hints of vanilla and raisin).  The meatloaf can be prepared a day ahead and stored covered in the fridge for a hearty, low-stress meal the next day.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf - 5

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