Restaurant Roundup: The Round Bistro, Fahrenheit, Stagioni

THE ROUND BISTRO.  I don’t make it out to Gastonia very often (once a year, give or take), imagebut I made a special trip last month to check out Chef Jack Acheson’s restaurant, The Round Bistro, and celebrate the restaurant’s two year anniversary with a wine dinner.  Within minutes of speaking with Chef Jack, one thing becomes blatantly apparent:  his strong passion for the history and diversity of American food.  That’s what fueled him to chose American cuisine as his concept for the Round Bistro, and each month, Chef Jack develops a new regional menu that features indigenous ingredients of a specific U.S. region.  Last month’s region was the Pacific Northwest, and for September, he’s taking a fun turn and featuring famous football stadium foods.  Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, and Chef incorporates what’s in season into his regional menu planning.

The menu at the The Round Bistro is large, and spans the gamut from fondue-of-the-day to potato-crusted crab fritters, muffaleta to “Pittsburgers”, plus several salads, She Crab soup, shrimp and grits, and fresh salmon FIVE ways (including baked parmesan crusted, olive oil poached, cedar plank roasted, and blackened).  In short, if you want it, they’ve got it, brunch included.

Every third Thursday of the month, The Round Bistro hosts a wine dinner.  Chef Jack works closely with a sommelier to select regional wine pairings for each of the six courses, and he uses these dinners as an opportunity to showcase his culinary creativity.  The menu for the wine dinner I attended included a cold peach soup with mint and cantaloupe, bay scallop over cactus and smoked gouda salad tossed in a green apple vinaigrette, cedar roasted salmon over basil tomato risotto, wine poached heritage chicken over rosemary polenta, pappardelle pasta with lamb ragu, and chocolate and raspberry mousse parfait, plus wine pairings for each course.  All for just $65 per person.

As seen on WBTV: Three Awesome Sausage Toppers {recipe}

Did you catch me talking sausage toppings on WBTV this morning?  Check out the video link below!

Here we are, in the height of backyard barbecue season, with literally dozens of ketchup and mustard covered hot dogs under our belts, and  Don’t get me wrong, I love that classic combo, but sometimes I crave to shake things up a bit.  Get a little spicy, a little saucy, a little something like THIS:

Sausage toppings

TOPPING REMIX #1:  a Mexican-inspired sandwich using Johnsonville Chorizo Sausage  topped with some of my homemade guacamole and fresh pico de gallo.  Incredible flavor, practically impossible to eat just one.

TOPPING REMIX #2:  a Johnsonville Turkey Sausage with Cheddar topped with barbecue sauce and a simple lightened up slaw.  Hearty and healthified without sacrificing a pants size.

Chinese Porterhouse Pork Chops {recipe}

Growing up, pork chops were one of my least favorite family dinners.   Coated in Shake n Bake and cooked, and cooked until they were so firm a steak knife would bow as you sawed through them, it was one of the few meals I wouldn’t fight my brother for seconds on.  They ranked only slightly higher than hobo dinners, yet, just like those horrid foil packets of sliced kielbasa and mushy vegetables I dreaded, the chops required a vat of Ranch dressing to make them swallowable.   Of course, this was before the USDA revised the temperature guidelines for cooking pork.  The new rule-of-thumb is 145 degrees and 3 minutes resting time, which results in one juicy, tender chop.  Voilà:

hoisin pork chop 2

Speaking of revisions, did you know pork cuts recently underwent a renaming process?  I had no idea, until I started searching for this month’s North Carolina Pork Council Blog Network featured cut of pork:  the Porterhouse Chop, formerly known as the pork loin chop.  I found this handy reference image on the Pork Be Inspired website:


For these chops, I was shooting for big, bold flavors and juicy meat — something a wee bit crazy to put the chops of my childhood to shame. (more…)

Adventures in Grilling

Back in Ohio, I had a lot of things.  A house.  A yard.  Shrubbery.  The whole kit and kaboodle.  Sure, most people save downsizing til they’re empty-nesters, but me?  Oh, no.  I cut ties with three-quarters of my belongings at age 26, leaving behind my beloved hedging shears, lawn gnomes, and my beautiful propane grill (complete with double burners), and headed south.  Since then, I’ve dreamed of the day I’d once again cook over an open flame, just me, my meat, and the great outdoors.

I spent the Memorial Day weekend at home in Ohio, and one morning I convinced my dad to teach me how to light a charcoal grill.  As a soon-to-be-thirty, self-declared independent woman, I’m ashamed to publicly announce my ineptitude in this area.  But standing in the backyard, listening to him explain the mechanics of the offset smoker while the flames licked at the mound of coals put a fire in my belly.

And when I returned home to Charlotte, this:

Weber One Touch

Even before I’d taken the grill out of the box, I invited a few friends over for sausage party.  I stocked my fridge full of Johnsonville brats, opened up a bottle of wine, and got to assembling my new grill.

weber one touch partsweber one touch assembled

In retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea to give the ole grill a trial run.  Nothing like going at it green with a crowd full of hungry bystanders.  Though my dad had showed me how easy it was to light a charcoal grill using a charcoal chimney, I was overcome with a sudden confidence in the grilling aisle at Lowes, and when I picked up the chimney to put it in my cart, I thought, “oh, no, I got this,” and put the chimney right back on the shelf.  Flash forward a few hours later, with the aforementioned starving bystanders, and me with nary a chimney, shred of newspaper, or drop of lighter fluid in sight.

An hour and one burnt thumb later, there was ash-covered charcoal… sort of.


And we waited.grilling & chillin

Several mistakes were made this day, but I did do one thing right.  Friends, ALWAYS have snacks on hand.  The simple Johnsonville Andouille smoked sausage and caramelized onion pizza I threw together kept my friends from rioting while we faltered with the grill.  This is sausage and onions done right.  Classy, even.

andouille and caramelized onion pizza 2

And after two hours of “grilling” we FINALLY sat down and enjoyed some Johnsonville original brats plus some brat-stuffed jalapeno peppers.  And you know what?  It was fantastic.  Even with all the flubs, as long as you don’t pierce the brat with a fork and leach it of its juices, that thing is sure to be delicious.

(As soon as everyone left, I logged onto Amazon and ordered a charcoal chimney.)


Macy’s Grilling Guru Competition hits Charlotte


Macy’s Great American Grilling Guru Competition stopped into Charlotte last week, and I had the opportunity to watch the gurus get their grill on, onstage at Macy’s in South Park.

HERE’S THE SCOOP:  The competition launched back in Cat-Cora---Macys-South-Park-Charlott[1]April, and contestants had until May 3rd to submit their recipes.  On June 7th, 18 semi-finalists competed in Sizzle Showdowns at six locations across the country, judged by Macy’s Culinary Council Chefs, including Cat Cora and Stephanie Izard.   The winner of each semi-final showdown gets to compete in the finale in New York City on June 28th, and the finale winner gets $10,000 plus a trip to New York City to watch the 2015 Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks.  Awesome, right?

At the competition, I was shocked by the contestants’ calm demeanor onstage.  I expected a mad dash, but each contestant confidently worked through their recipes and finished early, submitting their final plates to Chef Cat Cora for judging.

The competing recipes were:

  • Sherri’s Grilled Thai Lamb Loin Chops
  • Josee’s Shrimp & Apricot Stuffed Grilled Pork Tenderloin
  • Andre’s Steak & Potato Sliders with Basil Gorgonzola Cream



Viddlz Alertz {plus a sneak peek of J. Sam’s}

I have a few food obsessions.  Yes, besides my well-documented love of barbecue, there are some foods I simply cannot go without ordering.  Burrata.  Scallops.  Caramelized onion anything.  Housemade bread.  Bread pudding.  Bread.  We all have our trigger foods.  How cool would it be to get an automatic alert any time one of the foods you’re craving was offered by a imagerestaurant?  Blackberry cobbler, softshell crab, meatloaf.  Whatever!  That would cut out, like, hours of food research a week.  Am I right?  That’s why I’m super excited about a new concept in Charlotte called Viddlz Alertz.  It’s an online tool that lets you manage your cravings by alerting you when your particular food obession is offered in the area.  Plus, the Alertz system displays daily drink and food specials from restaurants and bars you follow (you can also get daily email updates with this info), and the Viddlz app is expected to be rolled out later this month.

J Sams Charlotte Scallops (more…)

Kale Caesar Salad with Pan-Seared Shrimp

Back in 2010, I made a personal vow to focus on healthy eating (read all about it here). This was a challenge for me, the girl who considers bread, brie, and wine a square meal, so I started with small things, like packing a homemade lunch each day, instead of relying on Lean Cuisines and fast food. Slowly, I established a routine of making healthy choices whenever I was the one in control of the preparation (well, MOST of the time, anyway), which lets me enjoy eating at restaurants without worrying quite so much about all the salt and the butter and delightful carbohydrates I’m consuming.

One of my healthy eating goals for 2014 is to incorporate more kale into my diet, as part of the Kale Up campaign.  Kale is a green I’ve shied away from in the past, other than occasionally tossing a few handfuls into a nice bean soup. Kale is a very hearty green — you don’t have to worry about it going limp or getting soggy. I often find kale salads are even better when the kale has a bit of time to “marinate” in the dressing.

kale Caesar salad with shrimp

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Crumbled Goat Cheese and Blistered Tomatoes {recipe}

Ohhhh pork.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.





Wait.  Did I mention barbecue?

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Crumbled Goat Cheese and Blistered Tomatoes 4

Seriously, though.  Pork tenderloin is a super simple, oober delicious and versatile cut of meat.  My all-time favorite tenderloin recipe is my Sweet Chili Pork Tenderloin.  Roasting the pork in the oven is so simple (arguably fool-proof), I decided to use the same approach for this recipe, which utilizes some of those sweet summer tomatoes starting to pop up in the markets.

This is the first of five pork recipes I’ll be creating for the North Carolina Pork Council Blogging Network in 2014.  Did you even know there was such a thing?  Admittedly, I did not, but when the Pork Council comes a knockin on your inbox,  you say YES, PLEASE.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Crumbled Goat Cheese and Blistered Tomatoes

Tangy Tomato Bourbon BBQ Sauce {recipe}

My passion for barbecue was discovered late in life, at the ripe age of 26, at the very same time and the very same instant I discovered my soulmate of the meat variety.  PORK.  Thank you Charlotte, for introducing this Ohio girl to your precious piggy bounty, abundant sauces, and deep-rooted opinions on all things ‘cue.

Though it greatly annoys  me when a recipes calls for two cups of “your favorite barbecue sauce,” I’ve never attempted to make my own before now.  It’s something I’ve left to the professionals (aka Midwood Smokehouse, my favorite barbecue joint in town).  I favor BBQ sauces that are heavy on the vinegar (that’s eastern NC style for you BBQ neophytes), but I’m also coming around to the sweeter, ketchup-based sauces.  So this recipe, my first ever BBQ sauce, is a mash-up of the two, a combo that’s united with a heavy hand of Four Roses Bourbon.  Bourbon and barbecue?  Puh-lease.  tangy tomato bourbon barbecue

Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse–Davidson, NC {restaurant review}

Flatiron Davidson NC

I think it’s safe to say I dine at restaurants more often than the average eater, that is to say A LOT.  I impose mandatory splitsies on my dining companions, which means everyone gets to try everyone’s food, so it’s normal for me to sample several plates during a single meal.  This is good for obvious reasons (though my pants may disagree), but trying lots of different things means you’ll inevitably end up with a dish or two that just don’t strike your fancy–something you wouldn’t order again or that you wouldn’t recommend to a friend.  Every once in a while, I’ll find myself eating an AMAZING appetizer, and feel my apprehension grow as I worry the remainder of the meal won’t live up to the starter.

This is precisely how I felt when I dined at Flatiron Kitchen & Taphouse for the first time.  I started with a glass of Malbec and their fried green Napoleon:  salty fried green tomatoes, sautéed spinach, sweet bits of corn, and bacon atop a dollop of warm, creamy goat cheese (a hearty serving for a mere $8).

Flat Iron - Fried Green Tomatoes (more…)