Corkbuzz Charlotte: much more than “just” a wine bar {restaurant review}

My level of wine expertise falls somewhere between red wine neophyte and casual red wine drinker.  While I enjoy drinking [red] wine, just pronouncing “Tempranillo” or “Sangiovese” gives me quivers of self-doubt.  Over the years, I’ve developed some “tricks” to make it appear as if I know more about wine than I do.  In fact, I once wrote an article for Urbanspoon (on their now extinct official blog) called How to Order Wine Like a Boss.  The article consisted of 600+ words of advice on how to successfully order a bottle of wine at a business meeting without looking like a schmuck.

corkbuzz entrance

Despite this light-grade wine anxiety, one of my favorite nights-on-the-town is spent sharing wine and small plates with friends.  Recently, I did just that with Frank Vafier, co-owner of  Corkbuzz, a restaurant and wine bar in South Park.  You’d think drinking wine with a wine bar owner would be intimidating but Frank is an easygoing sort of guy.  We spent the evening talking about ping-pong tournaments, karaoke, and our shared interest in dinner parties while we tasted several dishes on the Corkbuzz dinner menu.

According to Frank, the idea for Corkbuzz was hatched by his niece, Master Sommelier Laura Maniec.  Laura is one of about thirty female Master Sommeliers in the world, and at one point in time she was the youngest Master Sommelier, period.  Despite these rather impressive credentials, the Corkbuzz philosophy on wine is relaxed, with a focus on “enjoying wine and talking about wine in a way that makes everyone feel welcome and never intimidated.”  Their approachability is exemplified by their knowledgable unpretentious servers, the restaurant’s no-corkage-fee policy, and the “ask the Master Sommelier” link on the website that invites website guests to send their wine questions Laura’s way.

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Pasta Bolognese {recipe}

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.

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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Cheesy Marsala-Glazed Meatloaf {recipe}

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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Eat local at Atherton Mill & Market — Charlotte, NC

Atherton Mill MarketLiving in a city has its perks, and one of my favorite things about Charlotte is our local markets.  During the week, I often stop into the 7th Street Public Market for lunch at Pure Pizza and to wander around the vendor booths (and drool over the wares).  Another gem in Charlotte is Atherton Mill and Market, which is just outside of uptown in South End.  This week, I stopped in for a visit and spent some time chatting with the folks at Atherton.  Every time I visit the market, I’m surprised by just  how much it has to offer–it’s so much more than fresh produce.  It’s local foods, local farms, and local artisans.  Where else can you find nuts roasted that very morning and bread made with local brewery starters?

Atherton Mill and Market

2104 South Blvd

Hours:  Tuesday  10am-7pm, Wednesday – Friday:  10am-2pm, Saturday:  9am-2pm


Just for fun, here’s a list of 9 awesome things I found at the market:

#1 Simply Local – a retail grocery within Atherton Market that offers goods from local producers and farmers.  This is where I nabbed the Big Spoon Roasters Peanut Pecan nut butter for my foodie penpal!

Atherton Mill Market (2 of 27)

#2  Pickleville – kosher style pickles plus fresh salsa and Cajun creole food.  My favorite is the HOT GARLIC pickle.

Atherton Mill Market (14 of 27)

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How to order wine like a boss.

Fervent Foodie is a contributing writer for the official Urbanspoon blog.

Whether on a hot first date or trying to impress the bigwigs at a business meeting, ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant can be quite intimidating for a wine neophyte. A successful attempt requires balance: ordering with confidence, not looking like a cheapskate, and above all else selecting a wine that actually tastes good.  With all the stuffy jargon and wine lists that include dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties, wine is often seen as a complex beverage only enjoyed by snooty oenophiles. If you don’t even know what an oenophile is, this article is for you, my friend.

(continue reading about how to order wine on the Urbanspoon blog)



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End of Vaca

Monday morning we left Charleston and headed to Botany Bay Plantation on Edisto Island.  We got a ton of great pics.  Here are just a few:

We munched on the remnants of food we brought from home while driving through the plantation.  For more information on Edisto Island, check out

Then we headed back to Charlotte.  This time, Priceline got us a room at the Double-Tree in Uptown Charlotte for only $45 a night 😀

We really liked this hotel (especially because you get free chocolate chip cookies when you check in)…

The bed was lot more comfortable than Aloft’s bed, however you really just cannot beat the Aloft location!

Here are some shots of Charlotte:

Monday night we headed to Rockbottom for some cheesy jalapeno dip (hello $5 appetizers!) and drinks:

Then to Aria for dinner.

Aria was a lot fancier/swankier than I expected, but I thought the bartenders were pretty rude :-/

We ordered a Super Tuscan Wine to start:

We’ve never tried this type of wine before and we both really liked it!

We ordered the bruschetta for the appetizer:

This was actually served cold, which I thought was odd.  Then we got the vodka penne for dinner and added grilled chicken.  The pasta was super tasty, which made up for the appetizer.  Didn’t capture a photo unfortunately.

Aria Tuscan Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday morning, we went to the Holiday Inn’s Cafe Siena for our favorite breakfast buffet.  Walked around the city, then hit up Fuel on our way back to Ohio.

Jarrod is obsessed with Fuel’s chicken parm calzone.  I got an Italian sub which was also quite tasty:

And that brings us back to lovely Ohio.  First thing I did was head to Acme and buy an ABUNDANCE of produce.  My body is just craving healthy eating after a week-long restaurant binge!

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Last night I ate like a queen

For dinner last night, Jarrod and I headed to Coco Osteria.  We found this restaurant last time we were in Charlotte and loved it not only for the food but also the location and lovely outside patio right in the heart of uptown Charlotte.

First thing first, we ordered a bottle of wine:

Though we love wine, Jarrod and I are not wine experts.  We usually order wine based on which name sounds the most appealing.   This wine was fantastic!

We ordered some bruschetta to split:

I think bruschetta is our #1 favorite pick for appetizers.  We get it pretty much everywhere we go, and it is ALWAYS amazing.  I love balsamic.. and tomatoes… and basil… and bread… 😀

We also had some of the house beans and bread, which was so simple and so tasty:

When we go out to eat, Jarrod and I often split an appetizer and dinner.  That way we get to try lots of things without overeating (at least not TOO much).  We split the bucatini with grilled chicken for our main entre.  This consisted of hollow spaghetti, caramelized onions, smoked pancetta, tomato sauce & shaved pecorino cheese plus the grilled chicken we requested:

A fabulous first night of food on vacation!

Coco Osteria on Urbanspoon

Interval Training:  Day #1, Week #5

This morning, I woke up around 6:30am to get my run in for the day before the streets of Charlotte got too busy.  I am now at 3 intervals of 3 minutes walking and 7 minutes running.  I was a little nervous about the jump in running time from 5 minutes to 7, but I think being in a different city really energized me.  I had to do most of my running on the sidewalk, which made me worry about my knee.  So I tried to “think light” as I was running and put as little impact as possible on my legs.

I really didn’t have a route in mind, I just kind of set out and turned whenever I came across a red light:

There are so many beautiful buildings in Charlotte, and also very many beautiful restaurants I’d like to try 😉

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