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Taking first trip to Charlotte


Artichoke
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I am traveling to Charlotte from Manhattan this Saturday morning through Monday evening. I have never been and my one goal is to eat as well as possible in what will unfortunately be a short amount of time.

I am interested in good down home Southern fare, whether it is from a shack or a lone guy off the side of the road. Ambiance is not an issue for me, just great food.

Is the Coffee Cup and Prices Chicken Coop as good as I have read about? Reccomendations for BBQ, breakfast?

Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.

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Both the coffee cup and prices are as good as advertised. it's a cliche, but you're as likely to see a traveling sports celebrity there as you are a construction worker. Reason: it's no nonsense, real down-home, and neither place cares a whit about popularity in the public sense...they're too busy serving up the goodness!

AS for BBQ, Bill Spoon's on South boulevard is most people's pick (eastern nc-style 'cue). However, they are only open for lunch, and perhaps just during the week....worth it, though, if you can make it. They even take IOUs if you don't have the available $$$...

hope this helps!

Timothy C. Davis

Charlotte, NC

timothycdavis@earthlink.net

www.themoodyfoodie.com

www.cln.com

www.southernfoodways.com

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Both the coffee cup and prices are as good as advertised. it's a cliche, but you're as likely to see a traveling sports celebrity there as you are a construction worker. Reason: it's no nonsense, real down-home, and neither place cares a whit about popularity in the public sense...they're too busy serving up the goodness!

AS for BBQ, Bill Spoon's on South boulevard is most people's pick (eastern nc-style 'cue). However, they are only open for lunch, and perhaps just during the week....worth it, though, if you can make it. They even take IOUs if you don't have the available $$$...

hope this helps!

I 2nd Bill Spoons. I like their hush puppies too.

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Rats -- I wrote a nice, detailed reply and then lost my Internet connection. Let me see if I remember the gist of it.

Coffee Cup: Word is that it's recovering from the change of ownership, but I haven't been able to get over and check it out. The Cup always had the best pan-fried chicken; Price's has the best deep-fried chicken. Price's is only take-out, so be prepared to eat in your car, or drive over to Latta Park, which isn't that far away.

However, if you want another genuine Southern experience, get over to the United House of Prayer for All People. I prefer the mother house (I call it the mothership, no disrespect intended) on Beatties Ford Road. Remember, it's a church and I'm not sure of the weekend hours, although you can get a pretty good breakfast on Sunday morning. Best time to go is lunch during the week though.

Other places in the Southern/funky vein: The Penguin and Dish in Plaza-Midwood; Knife & Fork, which is an old diner that's been remade by a young chef; Mert's Heart and Soul downtown; and for a really interesting twist, Katchikaly, which is West AFrican/Southern.

Mid-range places I like include Ethans of Elizabeth, Cibi and Pewter Rose. High-end, if you want to drop a few bucks, Town is getting good word, although I haven't had a chance to go yet. Other high-end places worth blowing dough include Luce, Zebra -- controversial but always worth taking a chance -- Blue and Aquavina. I also like Palomino downtown. The menu has a range of price range options and the room is nice.

Enjoy your trip. With the rain the last couple of days, the farmers markets should be hopping this weekend.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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Where are the better farmer's markets in Charlotte? I went to one last sumemr out near the Colliseum Road (sp?) and it was terrible - poor quality and small selection. I was subsequently advised that there are many different farmer's markets in Charlotte and that some are very good. I expect to soon start getting back down there regularly again after not being there since last fall. Markets out towards the University park area would be convenient but I dont' mind driving elsewhere for the best selection and quality.

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Actually, if I can offer a word of defense for the regional farmers market, which is the one you mention: When did you go? There's a good balance between heirloom/organic farmers and truck-farm stands, but you have to go on Saturday morning, preferably before 9 a.m., to get the full range. If you go during the week or after noon on Saturday, all you'll find will be second-hand produce sold by vendors, not by farmers.

The Matthews Community Market is all farmer-grown and is also a Saturday morning kind of market. Since it's restricted to farmer-grown and -sold, it gets better as the summer progresses.

The uptown market on Saturday mornings has also been growing and is worth considering.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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Actually, if I can offer a word of defense for the regional farmers market, which is the one you mention: When did you go?

I was there on a Saturday at about 11 AM - I know that's a bit late but I was stunned at the small number of vendors and the lack of variety. There were some Asian ladies selling fresh cut flowers reallly cheap, we bought a few jars of homemade chow-chow that have proven to be excellent and there was one guy with what appeared to be excellent smoked/preserved meats (ham, bacon etc.).

The market we went to was somewhere out near Colliseum Drive or Road - south of the city center by perhaps ten minutes or so. Please note that I'm not criticising Charlotte Farmer's markets in general - I asked a few people about them after our experience and was told "that's not one of the good ones" when I indicated where we'd been. It was definitely not Matthews or Uptown. There were no heirloom varieties of anything that I saw and the produce appeared to be pretty well picked over, not to mention pricier than Food Lion or the other grocery chains.

I expect to be back in Charlotte for a visit in both July and August. Can you suggest a market we can visit and the best time of day to get there? (i.e. how early).

By the way.... I mentiond to my GF about the lunch and breakfast at the United House of Prayer - she goes near there on her way to University Park Baptist on Sundays and was happy to hear about the breakfast - I've nudged her to go check it out ASAP she'll probably wait until I'm there to do it.

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I was at the regional farmers market yesterday morning about 8 -- my first visit in a month, since I've been waylaid medically and just returned to driving. My haul:

Four kinds of lettuces out of a total of eight to 10 kinds, a small and very sweet cabbage, new potatoes with rough red skins, chioggia beets, two kinds of heirloom cucumbers, jade beans, long pink radishes, Easter egg radishes, farm eggs, fresh-dug garlic, two-tone baby squashes (the yellow and green ones) with the blooms attached, locally made goat cheese and farmhouse cheddar from a new vendor, tomatoes (still hothouse because it's a little early in the season for the heirlooms), the first S.C. peaches of the season, S.C. cantaloupes, local blueberries, and, yes, a bouquet from the Vietnamese family. (I'd been a month on nothing but supermarket produce -- I got carried away!)

It sounds from your description that you went to the regional market, but I'm puzzled why you didn't find much, unless you went in March. We early birds do tend to pick over the best stuff and some vendors are wiped out by 11 a.m., but still . . . . However, please understand that I have followed the evolution of these markets since 1989 or so, so I tend to see our locally grown produce as having vastly improved. On the other hand, I'm not exactly a neophyte who hasn't seen enough other markets to compare: I'm a market nut and have prowled from Union Square to Pike Place and Granville Island, plus all over both Carolinas.

The directions to the regional market, just to be sure: Take I-77 south to Woodlawn. Turn right and go through the light at the Billy Graham Parkway. Turn right at the next light, Yorkmont Road, go about 2 miles and the market is on the left.

If that one still doesn't ring your bell, you can take an excursion out to Matthews for the Matthews Community Market (it's small, but very earnest) or if your girlfriend is into antiquing, head farther east to the still-new Waxhaw tailgate market. One of the organizers is promising ducks and duck eggs.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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I 'm reasonably sure I was at the one at the location you're describing but it was in July or August. It may have been closer to noon when we were there but maybe it was just an off day. I'll definitely revisit there and will also try the other ones you describe. My GF is not particularly into antiquing but she's always up for any kind of shopping and that fits the bill :smile:

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  • 3 months later...

Just back from a weekend in Charlotte. We had a very good Vietnamese dinner on Monday night at Ben Thanh on 4900 Central Ave. It was among the best Vietnamese I've ever had. I've been advised that the place on Shamrock is at least as good if not better but I was very happy with my meal at Ben Thanh. It's worth noting that the restaurant was close to being full with a predominately Vietnamese clientele on a weeknight (a good sign) while the Pho place next door was completely empty at the same time (a bad sign).

We also happened across a Killer Taco Truck that I intend to revisit.

Our attempt to have breakfast at John's Country Kitchen (5918 Central Ave - gets a rating of four grease stains from Holly Moore on hollyeats.com) was foiled by our inability to get out the door early enough on Saturday morning (Hurricane Frances had me stuck at Dulles Airport until after 1 AM). We tried the lunch at John's as they were not serving breakfast at 2 PM but it was seriously medicore. I'm still game to try them for breakfast as the breakfast looks like the real deal.

Being new to Charlotte (she's lived there for less than two years and I'm still on visitor status), we enjoyed looking around the little business district in Elizabeth. Pretty cool little neighborhood and I think we might consider moving there once I get int town full-time.

We stumbled across Dish, just around the corner from John's, on Thomas Ave (or Street?). Late Saturday night, our attempts to visit Latorre's on 5th Street for Cuban food and salsa dancing was foiled by the crowds that were enjoying the Hispanic/Latino festival. We went to Dish for a late dinner instead.

I like this place. It's a bit noisy and the decor is sort of retro funky cool although not particularly warm or cozy. The staff was a different story - warm, friendly, efficient and down to earth. We really wanted the shrimp 'n grits but it was late and they'd run out. I had Cajun meatloaf and my GF had crab cakes. Prices were low, the mains were pretty good and the sides not bad. The garlic mashed potatoes weren't as garlicky or buttery as I like them but were certainly adequate. We both found the collard greens to be "different" from what we're accustomed to but tasty none the less (although they needed to be heated up a bit). The deviled eggs and biscuit that come with all entrées were outstanding. Dish is inexpensive, doesn't try to over reach and IMO offers a great value for the money - we plan to dine there again. Most entrées with two sidesand the biscuit/deviled egg included are $8 to $14 - very reasonable. We started with loaded black bean nachos, she had a Margarita, I had a ginger beer and we each had an entrée. Total bill with tax before tip was about $32 - very, very reasonable.

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Just back from a weekend in Charlotte.  We had a very good Vietnamese dinner on Monday night at Ben Thanh on 4900 Central Ave. It was among the best Vietnamese I've ever had.  I've been advised that the place on Shamrock is at least as good if not better but I was very happy with my meal at Ben Thanh.  It's worth noting that the restaurant was close to being full with a predominately Vietnamese clientele on a weeknight (a good sign) while the Pho place next door was completely empty at the same time (a bad sign).

You might be interested to know that the owners of Ben Thanh come from the same family as the owners of the place on Shamrock (Lang Van).

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You might be interested to know that the owners of Ben Thanh come from the same family as the owners of the place on Shamrock (Lang Van).

That makes sense. The food and the service were both very good. The shrimp were larger and a bit tastier than what I typically see in Viet restaurants and the iced coffee was above average. The coffee was not quite as good as what I get here in Syracuse but up here they're using a brand imported from Vietnam rather than using the Cafe du Monde or Community Coffee that most places use (both are New Orleans dark roast brands).

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We also happened across a  Killer Taco Truck   that I intend to revisit.

Our attempt to have breakfast at John's Country Kitchen (5918 Central Ave - gets a rating of four grease stains from Holly Moore on hollyeats.com)  was foiled by our inability to get out the door early enough on Saturday morning (Hurricane Frances had me stuck at Dulles Airport until after 1 AM). We tried the lunch at John's as they were not serving breakfast at 2 PM but it was seriously medicore. I'm still game to try them for breakfast as the breakfast looks like the real deal.

Is that the truck that hangs in the parking lot at Carniceria Mexicano? I have been interested in trying it. Across the street is a small bakery that advertises tamales. I have tried tham, and they are not bad for what you can find in Charlotte.

As for breakfast, John's is pretty good - especially if you like country ham and smoke-filled greasy diners. The best breakfast in Charlotte, IMO, is at the Coffee Cup. Their biscuits are real and very tasty and their country ham is, according to my husband, deliscious. I can't eat the stuff -- too salty.

We love the area around Dish - you MUST try the Penguin the next time you are in town. Their fried pickles are worth the trip from the University City area and their burgers are excellent.

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Is that the truck that hangs in the parking lot at Carniceria Mexicano?

No - it's not even in Charlotte. You have to go up Rte 85, get off at the second Huntersville exit and go east on Rte 73 for about 1/2 mile and then turn south on Rte 116. It's in hte middle fo nowhere.

As for breakfast, John's is pretty good - especially if you like country ham and smoke-filled greasy diners. The best breakfast in Charlotte, IMO, is at the Coffee Cup.

I was more interested ina good traditional country breakfast than in smoke and grease :biggrin: (but I'll tolerate them when I have to). We'll try the Coffee Cup next time.

We'll also try the Penguin as neither of us have ever had fried pickles. Making a trip for meals from the University area seems almost a given if you're looking for anything other than chain food (although we've had pretty good lunch food at the Lava Bistro in University place). How are the burgers etc at Herlocker's Drive-In?

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I have never been to Herlockers, but I have heard it is a great local hangout. My husband and his work buddies are on a mission to find the best burger in Charlotte. So far, the contenders are Lupies (on Monroe Road), Zack's on Scalybark (just off South Blvd) and Fenwicks (on Providence Road). The big downside to Zacks is that they are closed on weekends (I really hate that) Same with Mr. K's

Another fun place to visit for a real old-time South feel is Tony's Ice Cream on Franklin Blvd in Gastonia. Tony's makes a mean burger as well as incredibly thick milk shakes.

Here's some exciting restaurant news that appeared in the 9/04 issue of Charlotte magazine:

Tower-Top Dining Returns

Jim Emad plans to fill a void in the downtown restaurant scene: dining with a view. The former LaVecchia’s general manager—he had been with the seafood restaurant since it opened in 1998—will open Bentley’s on 27 on the twenty-seventh floor of the Charlotte Plaza building. Emad says he has taken down some of the walls of the former Tower Club, creating a large open space for a dining room. All the tables will be situated to maximize the view of the city.

The cuisine will be classic American and French, with several dishes prepared tableside. Expect a bone-in rib eye, steak au poivre, Chateaubriand, duck a l’orange, Dover sole, Australian lobster tail, and various other steaks, chops, and seafood specialties. He also plans to develop a strong, reasonably priced wine program, including forty by the glass. “I want to give the people a dining experience,” says Emad. “That’s what I love to do.” He’ll have help from his customized computer system, which will allow the staff to remember regular customers’ favorite dishes, drinks, and tables, not to mention their birthdays.

Emad hired Bill Schutz as his chef. Schutz worked in several prominent kitchens in New York, including Midway, La Caravelle, and Bouley Bakery under superstar chef David Bouley.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Palm’s Monte Smith Goes Tex-Mex

To regulars of the Palm, Monte Smith is like an old friend. Now, they’ll have to get used to a Monte-less Palm. The former general manager, who had been with the steak house since it opened here in 1997, has gone out on his own. His new Tex-Mex restaurant, Lulu’s Cadillac Café, opens later this year in the SouthPark area. “We want to do with Tex-Mex food much like what P. F. Chang’s did with Chinese food, which is take a classic cuisine well loved by the American demographic and fine-tune it to the American palate and add quality,” he says. As an example, the Texas native, who lived in Latin America for fifteen years, cites his chile rellenos, which will be stuffed with three real cheeses, rolled in cornmeal, fried, and served on a bed of sauce, instead of drowning in it.

The “streamlined” interior will be done in grays and deep reds, with red leather seating, brushed steel, modern art, and perhaps photographs of Texas skylines. Rock and roll will play in the background. Smith envisions a classy, fun place that fills a niche for families and those seeking a more casual SouthPark dining experience. His chef is Justin Mendenhall, who worked with Smith at the Palm before going to New York for seven years. Smith and his partners are aiming for a December opening

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How about that classic looking old diner place that's katty-corner from Dish? Had a sign saying BBQ in the window and I was curious. Is it just another greasy spoon?

Thanks for the tip on the "dining with a view". I'll impress the GF for some special occasion and take her there for a surprise dinner (she's not tuned in enough to local Charlotte developments to know that it's going to be opening).

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That classic diner place is The Penguin! They have burgers (pretty good, but small), dogs, cue (never tried it -- they "import" it from some place I've never heard of), homemade soups and great fried pickles and onion rings, plus some blue plate stupe dishes. And you can't beat the atmosphere -- tattoos and body piercings compete with the banker look. On Satudays at lunch this is a real family joint, so you may prefer to hit later in the day - after 5 - to avoid lots of little kids being allowed to run amok.

The next time you go to Dish, try their shrimp and grits - a signature dish for them and my favorite off the menu. I wish they'd create some outdoor dining.

Next door to Dish is Thomas Street Tavern. Don't go there to eat - but it's a great place to hang out and have a few drinks. They have a great patio. Their chips and salsa are good, though.

Around the corner, on Commonwealth Ave, is The Diamond -- another "meat and three" joint. They are not open for b'fast, but they do a fair job with fried chicken and veggies. Fuel Pizza, on Central, is just okay IMO. Also on Central is a new Caribbean joint that was just okay. The best Caribbean according to Charlotteans is Antonneys, but I do not like it. I have heard good things about Austin's Caribbean on Kings Drive.

Less than a mile away, at the corner of 7th and Caswell, you will find Bayou Kitchen, which has the town's best chicken fried steak and not-too-bad Texas-style cue (I am a TX native). Further up 7th Street towards town is Cajun Queen. And even further up is Restaurant Cibi - a chef owned place that was very good the two times I visited. It is currently closed for renovations.

I moved to Charlotte in 1992, and I can say the restaurant scene has improved 150% since then. It is much more fun to go out to eat now. The burbs are still plagued with chain establishments, but "in town" things are really picking up.

When are you planning on moving to town?

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When are you planning on moving to town?

At the end of 2005 if I can tolerate the long distance relationship stuff for that long. I may just give in and get there a bit earlier but certainly not any sooner than a year from right now. I made a comittment to some folks here toi give them at least a year as their coffee roaster, espresso machien tech and early morngin FOH guy for a new cafe location they're opening. The $$ will let me move to Charlotte totally debt free and the experience I'm gaining is targeted at opening a coffee business shortly after I arrive there. The current plan is to start with just roasting and with Internet retail and some local wholesale customers to be followed by regular retail sales. Those plans will undoubtedly evolve.

One of my new on-line acquaintances, Bob DeLano (along with his wife), is opening an espresso bar in the South End a few weeks from now

Java Passage

He's got top shelf equipment being installed and has done his homework. He'll be getting his beans initially from Counter Culture Coffee in Raleigh-Durham, an establishment that has earned an excellent national reputation the coffee and espresso community. I have no doubt that they'll be offering the best espresso Charlotte has ever seen to date.

Interesting that you mention the noticeable improvement that's occurrred inthe past ten years or so in Charlotte restaurants. A similar trend has occurred here in Syracuse, where I'm currently living, and in another parallel development, our suburbs have also become chain restaurant hell. With only a few notable exceptions, all the interesting new places are in city neighborhoods.

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Interesting that you mention the noticeable improvement that's occurrred inthe past ten years or so in Charlotte restaurants.

And, as you will see, this is equally applicable to hazardnc: As I read this piece over, from the Charlotte Observer, your words hit me once again .. here is the item .... just see how Charlotte has evolved and changed for the better, the much better! It is about this year's Charlotte Shout food festival:

the article

starting Thursday, with appearances by Wolfgang Puck, Martin Yan, Tyler Florence, Rick Browne and pastry chef Sherry Yard ... "This year is really going to show what we've tried to do, which was to create a food event that has no rival in the country," says festival organizer Robert Krumbine.

"People are seeing us as a completely different place. It's not just little ol' Charlotte, North Carolina, anymore."

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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One of my new on-line acquaintances, Bob DeLano (along with his wife), is opening an espresso bar in the South End a few weeks from now

Java Passage

He's got top shelf equipment being installed and has done his homework.  He'll be getting his beans initially from Counter Culture Coffee in Raleigh-Durham, an establishment that has earned an excellent national reputation the coffee and espresso community.  I have no doubt that they'll be offering the best espresso Charlotte has ever seen to date.

That's awesome news. Charlotte has been lacking a top flight local java joint since David Brinkley's son/son-in-law (?) left town a few years ago.

I was beginning to think that the caffeine counter-culture would be permanently Stariboued into submission in this buttoned-down corporate town.

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The location for your friend's java joint is excellent - near a booming revitalization area - near the trolley line, etc. If you haven't tried Phat Burrito (at Camden and Park I think), that is a must - excellent salsas and a really good spinach quesadilla.

The historic South End has REALLY changed in the past ten years. The area around the intersection of South and East used to be populated by hookers and other sad types and the only establishments were topless bars. Now, there a several good restaurants, a large selection of lofts, some great art galleries and fun shops. I hope the Elizabeth area and Plaza Midwood area experience the same success as they are closer to where I live.

One more winter in Syracuse, and you will be down here. There are plenty of former New Yorkers here - including a huge contention from Rochester and surrounds. We will make you a Southern boy yet!

BTW - I pick up a taco from a "loncheria" or taco wagon at the corner of South Blvd and Archdale and it was excellent - $1.40 a piece - choices were carne asada, barbacoa, cabeza, lengue, al pastor, pollo y chorizo. A bit greasy but very good. Then I bought some wonderfully soft, fresh, made-in-house corn tortillas from the tortilleria next door. I also bought some excellent skirt steak at the Carniceria on Central avenue and cooked up some fajitas and tomatillo salsa washed down by frozen margaritas. Fiesta!

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