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).
Stretching my luck, I ordered another appetizer, the PEI mussels with green curry, coconut milk, citrus, cilantro, grilled baguette ($12). Two fantastic starters (not to mention well-priced, substantial servings) that I’d happily order again. And honestly it’s hard to make that statement because there are several other items on the appetizer list I’d like to try (including the crab beignets, baked goat cheese, and warm Brussels sprout salad, with bacon lardons, dried cranberries, toasted almonds, and champagne vinaigrette!).
For our first entrée, we split the seared diver scallops: four good-sized scallops served with risotto-style sweet potatoes, warm heirloom tomato, and orange beurre blanc over arugula ($29). The risotto-style sweet potatoes were unlike anything I’d ever had before–I actually had to double check the menu to be certain the sweet, creamy cubes weren’t some sort of foreign-shaped grain. Delicious.
Given the restaurant’s name, I felt obliged to order some beef. Flatiron solely serves Wagyu beef, a highly rated domestically raised Japanese breed of cattle. The beef entrees range in price from the $15 Wagyu burger (hickory grilled with white cheddar and onions) to the $33 Wagyu flat iron (the most tender, buttery steak I’ve had in Charlotte, served with Brussels sprouts and roasted garlic whipped potatoes). There’s also a tenderloin, ribeye, and puff-pastry-wrapped Wagyu meatloaf.
Other than beef, Flatiron’s dinner menu features a garlic herb chicken, cast iron duck with pomegranate reduction, veal cutlet, shrimp & grits, housemade pastas, Scottish salmon, and hickory-grilled NC mountain trout. Every dessert is made in house, including the special cheesecake bread pudding I enjoyed on my visit. The bar features craft brews, including at least six local NC beers at all times, over forty different wines including twenty-six(!) by the glass, and handcrafted cocktails.Read More
Invite me to brunch, and you’ll get a look. When I ask you “what time” with furrowed eyebrows, it’s because I’m trying to determine whether you’re inviting me to have 10am brunch (AKA breakfast) or 12pm brunch (AKAlunch). I don’t do brunch. I love breakfast and I love lunch. Why consolidate the eating joy into one meal?
Enter Elwoods Barbecue & Burger Bar‘s new brunch menu. Needless to say, I ate my words. Brunch vendetta be gone. How could I say no knowing their juicy brisket makes an appearance in several of the menu items? Exactly. You can get straight-up brisket and eggs if you’d like, but if we’re doing brunch, might as well get a little fancy and go with my top pick: the brisket BBQ Benedict with poached eggs and grilled tomatoes nestled on English muffin halves and topped with their signature red sauce. It made a brunch believer out of me.
If you’re not in the mood for BBQ (blasphemy!), their take on chicken and waffles, with buttermilk fried chicken tenders, a homestyle waffle, and honey maple syrup is a solid choice. They’ve also got French toast make with thick-cut Texas toast, and you can even get it stuffed with peanut butter and banana or strawberry and cream cheese.
For you do-it-yourselfers, there’s a build-your-own breakfast sandwich, with your choice of bacon, sausage, pulled pork, or pulled chicken, plus an egg, choice of cheese, and bread, PLUS a self-serve Bloody Mary bar. Homemade, house-made, made-from-scratch–you can use these terms to describe practically everything on the menu, including the breakfast sausage. I snarfed down my whole side of their hashbrowns–they’re the chunky, chopped potato kind (not the shoestring kind, thank god), and they serve ‘em up extra crispy.
Did I mention $10 bottomless mimosas? Who wants to meet me for brunch this weekend?Read More
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).
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’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).Read More
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.Read More
The 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.
Fusion 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.
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).
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.
Over in Huntersville’s Birkdale Village, eeZ 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.
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).
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.
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.Read More