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Gifted Gourmet
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A few posts in the Southeastern Forum of late have expressed dismay at the local cuisine ... in this case, Charlotte, NC, and Greenville, SC ... :huh:

Is this also true of your town if you live in the southeastern part of the United States?

Are you also overwhelmed by mediocrity? :unsure:

Or are there some truly stellar restaurants in your town that you cherish and are pleased to patronize? :biggrin:

Is this only true of the Carolinas? :hmmm:

Lots of questions .. do feel free to chime in ... you are among friends here ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Birmingham has a bit of the "eh" factor. If you are a fan of BBQ (which I am not) you have options. For the real food fan, it is a chore to search out great places here. You either get to the point where you find one or two special places, then do the rest at home, or else just hit a drive thru.

This is not to say that Birmingham has no good food. It's there. It's just that what I consider good food, and what the rest of this town considers good food are very different. For example, I made red beans and rice for a group of people yesterday. It was not my best effort, and was OK at best. These people acted like the hand of God came down and goosed them.

As this town goes, being the sports mecca (phht) that it is, pub food, BBQ, and tailgating fare seem to be the winners. You can pay $90 a person for dinner, or you can get some decent wings. Evidently, I hang out with the wrong crowd, but I can't afford Hot and Hot Fish Club on a regular basis.

So back to the original post, Birmingham has some pretty good casual places, a select few upscale places, but the overwhelming majority of the restaurants in town rate no higher than a 6 or 7 on the scale.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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Unfortunately, I must say there are not a lot of great restaurants to go to here.

That is an understatement, actually.

University town, lots of pizza places and some coffee shop/diner/vegetarian places that one would not want to look too closely at, I fear, in the kitchens where the college kids/cooks turn over with great regularity and have little sense of either ownership or sanitation.

One new restaurant has opened with a hype of being 'New York Upscale' type and it is doing surprisingly well. Technical capability in the kitchen, usually good service out front, and a bit of style overall.

Thank goodness.

Other than that, Roanoke is close by and has one each good Japanese, Indian, and 'Brazilian' (in quotes for the food has such a French angle that it is somewhere in between) restaurants.

For a fine dining experience, The Greenbrier is about an hour and a half from here...and there is a small restaurant in Monroe County, WV owned by an ex-Greenbrier Sous Chef which is very good too foodwise but shaky in service and atmosphere....

Well...you know....I even get exasperated at the grocery stores....

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In Charlotte, we have a couple of upscale "chains" that cater to the steak and potato crowd: Mortons and The Palm. I have tried neither because I can buy and cook a pretty darned good steak and potato at home at a fraction of the price. For the $7 I would have to spend on one baked potato at Mortons, I can buy two bags of Yukon golds and make pommes Anna.

Reading the posts here, I believe the problem in finding innovative and excellent cuisine in Charlotte or Birmingham or Blacksburg, VA or Greenville, SC (or any other mid-sized city anywhere in the US) is that the audience is limited. Charlotte is populated mostly by upper middle-class family types. They have the means to dine at great restaurants, but not the courage to try something unique. I gave a cocktail party one year for my office staff and no one touched the brie or cantal cheeses, but the country ham biscuits were gone in a flash. And pate? Forget about it - though many of these folks have been known to eat livermush!

All of that said, however, I am sure Atlanta and Dallas and Houston and Miami have more than their share of mediocre restaurants serving the usual steak, chicken, fish entrees I complain about, but that do a booming business.

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Although I've begun visiting Charlotte intermittently and plan to relocate there in late 2005 / early 2006, I've done very little food exploration. That's mostly been due to limited time and limited budget (when I'm spending $200 - $300 airfare to visit for a three day weekend it cuts into the dining out budget).

Relative to the NYC area where I lived from 1999 - 2003 Charlotte has a paucity of offerings. Now that I'm back in Syracuse (central NY state) I have a different reference point. Syracuse is predominately mid to lower middle class rather than upper middle class but like Charlotte is culinarily conservative and family oriented.

Charlotte's abundance of discretionary income and rapidly growing ethnic communities seem to be driving more rapid development of good options but it seems that local folks are a bit less adventurous than people of similar social class are here in the northeast. I went to a "neighborhood" Christmas party last winter in my GF's upscale suburban development and saw cheese and crackers, mac 'n cheese and pulled pork being gobbled up while more intriguing/less traditional offerings were barely touched.

That's not to say that change isn't starting to occur. I have a sense, perhaps unfounded but still a strong intuition, that much of the Charlotte community wants to become a bit more worldly and more adventurous. It will take some bold restaurateurs, who have established trust on the part of their regular clientele, to push this change forward but I think it will happen.

Friends in the Northeast ,who think that little of interest (food-wise) other than BBQ occurs outside major metro areas, are dumbfounded when I tell them that Charlotte has four operations in Charlotte (a store, two market cafe's and a wine store). That fact alone portends a favorable change. I also have to think that the presence of the new Johnson and Wales campus will eventually result in some talented and innovative young chef's appearing on the scene and eventually opening their own places (this will take a few years).

The geographic sprawl of the area still presents challenges for those wishing to pop out for a quick meal. My GF lives out in the University Park area, which is dominated by chain restaurants (although we have had some terrific brunch/lunch meals at Lava Bistro in University Commons). To reach some of the more interesting upscale eateries in areas such as Dilworth or to get to most of the ethnic offerings, requires a 30 - 40 minute drive.

That can be a challenge when one wants just "step out for dinner". We'll quite likely relocate once I'm settled in there... perhaps to the Elizabeth or Plaza-Midwood area, but the bulk of the population growth in Charlotte is occurring around the periphery and chains continue to appear along with these new neighborhoods.

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Relative to the NYC area where I lived from 1999 - 2003 Charlotte has a paucity of offerings. Now that I'm back in Syracuse (central NY state) I have a different reference point. Syracuse is predominately mid to lower middle class rather than upper middle class but like Charlotte is culinarily conservative and family oriented.

It's all about where you're coming from. I might complain about some aspects of the Charlotte dining scene, but on the whole I'm happy with it. Before coming here, I lived in Manteno, Illinois - 60 miles south of Chicago. Our options were a 15-minute drive to Ruby Tuesday's, TGIF, Applebees or a Greek diner. Otherwise it was at least an hour one way to go out for dinner. When I moved to Charlotte I thought I'd gone to heaven, with lots of decent places and a few very good places within easy reach. What we don't have, and probably won't have, is the ultra-high-end. But there's plenty of quality here. I always find someplace good to go out to eat. Of course, there's more mediocre than good here. But I think that's true everywhere.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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Here in Asheville we are blessed with such a diverse population from old style hippie communes to large developments with multi-million dollar homes.

I think, because of that we are also blessed with a very wide range in eateries. There are several vegetarian places to high dollar ($100 a meal) restaurants. Still, we don’t have what I consider any five star places we go out every weekend to eat and over the last ten years we lived here we’ve never lacked for a good meal.

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phaelon56 mentioned urban sprawl. I think that is a valid point. Cities here, for the most part, tend to be really spread out. Therefore, you have to really want to venture to get to some good food.

In Birmingham, for example, my favorite restaurants are in Irondale, Homewood, and Hoover. Still part of the Metro, but a 10 mile drive from home on the south side of Birmingham (except for Homewood).

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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richmond is full of little restaurants- i could go to a new place every night for months and still have plenty of variety. but i've noticed that the lack of professional restaurant staff (seems like it's mostly transient students staffing restaurants) causes problems with service and quality of food. also richmonders still seem to have the mentality that going out for chinese food is a big culinary leap. is this true elswhere?

"Ham isn't heroin..." Morgan Spurlock from "Supersize Me"

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I most certainly appreciate everyone's input on this subject and, while I realize it is indeed difficult to say negative things about dining options in smaller towns, I think the insight one gains is well worth the exploration!

Hopefully, others will join the discussion and focus on some of the excellent points made here ..

I agree that Atlanta was no different in terms of the restaurant choices .. that has all changed, markedly, after 1996 when the Olympics were here in town ... much growth followed that, for which I am quite grateful!

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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My family lived in B'ham about (gulp) 20 years ago when I was in high school. As I recall there were few memorable dining choices. For fancy we went to the Club, which was a private dinner club on the mountain overlooking downtown, and for cuisine we went to Five Points to a place the name of which I find I cannot recall, but where my mother had a garlic custard for dessert that I will not forget. Other than that it was BBQ and Milo's hamburgers and the like. What I do recall was how rare restaurants with a bar in them were at the time.

And at that time the family would make frequent excursions to Atlanta, for both the shopping and the food, Panos and Pauls, and another restaurant at the other end of Paces Ferry in Buckhead that was owned by the same folks, and Otto's and Hedgerose Heights and the Buckhead Grille, and other places in the area before it became the nightspot that it became in the late '80s and the restaurant scene moved elsewhere. All that by way of saying that I recall Atlanta with a relatively vigorous restaurant environment 15-20 years ago, though one that has changed alot in that period from the sounds of it.

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Watch out for Charlotte. Apparently, the powers that be decided that improving the culinary part of their city was important enough to throw many millions of dollars at Johnson & Wales. Have whatever opinion you like of the school, but the simple laws of supply and demand for labor, and plenty of money and people in the city will have an effect.

Pretty much everyone agrees here in Charleston that the glut of cheap labor provided by the student body of our JWU campus was a critical factor in the restaurant growth of the 80's and 90's. We'll see what happens here now that they are gone, but JWU-Charlotte will not be treated like the red-headed stepchild by the "mother ship" in Providence the way the Charleston campus was, and the impact will be significant , IMO.

:blink:

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Panos and Pauls, and another restaurant at the other end of Paces Ferry in Buckhead that was owned by the same folks, and Otto's and Hedgerose Heights and the Buckhead Grille, and other places in the area before it became the nightspot that it became in the late '80s and the restaurant scene moved elsewhere.  All that by way of saying that I recall Atlanta with a relatively vigorous restaurant environment 15-20 years ago, though one that has changed alot in that period from the sounds of it.

I have lived in Atlanta something like 27 years now and frequently ate at some of these "classics", including the often/much touted "Coach and Six" on Peachtree ... yes, it was a vigorous restaurant town then, and you are correct, it has developed even more expansively/extensively now .. stretching out to the suburbs with some amazingly good food choices, almost as far north as Chattanooga ... :biggrin: Thanks, Dignan, for your "historical perspective"! :wink:

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Watch out for Charlotte. Apparently, the powers that be decided that improving the culinary part of their city was important enough to throw many millions of dollars at Johnson & Wales. Have whatever opinion you like of the school, but the simple laws of supply and demand for labor, and plenty of money and people in the city will have an effect.

I certainly hope this proves to the the case. That is certainly the expectation. One thing Charleston has over Charlotte is tourism dollars, which typically lends itself to more and better restaurants. However, I have heard that Providence (not your typical tourist destination) has a decent restaurant scene courtesy of J&W.

I also have to say I am very happy we have not just one but THREE Dean and Deluca's in town where I can always count on the availability of duck breasts, venison and some other specialty items. Our Fresh Market temporarily carried D'Artagnan products, but I guess they didn't sell (bad marketing?). D&D makes some decent to-go items and they have a first rate cheese selection, though you have to watch out for some that are beyond their prime.

I would like to see more Charlotte restaurants featuring the unusual products - at least, unusual for Charlotte. We never see Artic Char on the menus, or skate. Rarely do you see venison or boar. Until I read the review on Salute, I had never heard of anyone in Charlotte offering squash blossoms. How about something with morels or other mushrooms not found here?

I want a La Madeleine or other bakery that can make a knockout croissant. I would love a Middle Eastern bakery where i can get fresh pita bread. I would also love a Moroccan restaurant.

Don't get me wrong - I am all for cuisine terroir - but I also love to try new and wonderful things.

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that is completely not fair that there are THREE d&d's in charlotte!!!! unfortunately richmond has a local grocery store mafioso and we can't get much more that food lion. (really this is another thread) are the good restaurants in charlotte downtown or in the burbs??

"Ham isn't heroin..." Morgan Spurlock from "Supersize Me"

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Charlotte needs Wegmans. I've been to Bloom, Food Lion, Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo and even "Harry Teeter" (my GF's misnomer for Harris-Teeter but I kinda like it). I should try to be polite but on this point I won't - they suck!

Just curious... is there a traditonal Italian market in or near Charlotte? We tried ot visit the one in Matthews recently but they're now closed.

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While the restaurant scene in Charlotte is decidedly mixed, doesn't the very presence of three, count 'em, three, Dean and Deluca's mitigate or calm the painful sting of provincialism? :wink:

There is no, repeat, no, D & D in Atlanta ... only Eatzi's .. anyone got an Eatzi's in their towns in the Southeast?? :rolleyes:

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Charlotte needs Wegmans.  I've been to Bloom, Food Lion, Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo and even "Harry Teeter" (my GF's misnomer for Harris-Teeter but I kinda like it).  I should try to be polite but on this point I won't - they suck!

You might enjoy the Fresh Market on Providence for good meats and cheeses and a few specialty products that don't make it into the big supermarkets.

Just curious...  is there a traditonal Italian market in or near Charlotte?  We tried ot visit the one in Matthews recently but they're now closed.

I've seen ads for a place called "Ferrucci's" in Cornelius, but I've never been there.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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While the restaurant scene in Charlotte is decidedly mixed, doesn't the very presence of three, count 'em, three, Dean and Deluca's mitigate or calm the painful sting of provincialism? 

Charlotte got D&D because a local developer is friends with a D&D exec. The first one proved to be very successful, and the others followed suit. The Wine Bar at Phiilips place has great atmosphere. And yes, having a D&D within 3 miles does mitigate the pain!

that is completely not fair that there are THREE d&d's in charlotte!!!! unfortunately richmond has a local grocery store mafioso and we can't get much more that food lion. (really this is another thread)

We have the same problem here with Harris Teeter! They own the market - other chains fear to compete. Luckily, we are finally getting a Whole Foods in 2006, but I would love to have a Central Market or some other such store. We need a place to get better produce. The Matthews Farmer's market has good organic produce grown locally, and the regional farmer's market is good, though the selection is limited. The Fresh Market is okay, but their products tend to overlap HT.

IMO, most of the good restaurants are in town - not Uptown. The best I have tried are Barrington's in Foxcroft Village on Fairview, and Bonterra on Cleveland Avenue in Dilworth. Uptown, their are some good choices: Arpa for tapas and Luce for Italian. I never bother with chains: Morton's, Palomino, Capitol Grill. I think part of my reasoning is that I want to give the "little guy" a chance.

I have to be honest - I never venture to the burbs to dine. I don't like the idea of drinking a few glasses of wine, eating a big meal and then driving 10 miles or more to get home.

I was excited about the possibility of a new place scheduled to open later this year - announced in Charlotte Magazine:

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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Charlotte will be getting an EarthFare grocery store, no two stores before the end of '06. This is fact, I sell them meat products. Their near fanatical zeal for organic and clean puts Wholefoods to shame.

There is an excellent Italian Market in Greensboro that is worth the ride. Stay of the interstate and go the back way. Giacomo's on High Point road. 336-547-2888. Giacomo is Brooklyn born and raised, makes his own salami and quite a good grinder.

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I'd love to have a Whole Foods in Birmingham. There are a couple of "gourmet markets", but that requires a lot of legwork. The Bruno's chain is OK, as far as grocery stores go, as they will carry more upscale or hard to find items, and they will special order for you, under most conditions.

Birmingham also has Culinard for education, also Southern Living and Cooking Light magazines are headquartered here. They have cooking demos and classes as well. So there is some education available, we're a couple of hours from Atlanta, so it's not like we're completely in the backwoods, but for a city of nearly a million people (metro area), there aren't a whole lot of options.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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Charlotte will be getting an EarthFare grocery store, no two stores before the end of '06. This is fact, I sell them meat products.

I have been reading about that. I have never been to an EarthFare. While their store in Charlotte will be over 13 miles from me - out in the new Ballantyne community - that is certainly shorter than the 90 miles I have driven to Winston-Salem to visit a Whole Foods!

A while back, Kathleen Purvis (I think) wrote an article on food shops in the Raleigh area. There were quite a few that made me want to jump in my car and make the 3 hour drive!

According to the Creative Loafing, Ferruci's makes their own sausages as well - and Cornelius is closer than Greensboro. The now-defunct place in Matthews didn't have much. What Italian products are you looking for? Pasta and Provisions has lots of dried/canned goods, and of course excellent fresh pasta and house made sauces, but they lack in the meat/cheese dept.

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