Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stroll down (anniversary) lane

Reader Alex Coffin shares his clever 38-year anniversary deal with his wife: They decided each year they would go somewhere new and top-notch (or of sentimental value, as in the Open Kitchen, which he says was "THE 'date place' when I was in college." Now, looking back at "what once were VERY successful restaurants when we went there, I was struck with how many no longer exist ... How fleeting was success."

How many of the defunct (Charlotte ones are marked with an asterisk) do you remember?

(Note: Coffin moved to Charlotte in '76, so I've begun his list then. And this year's 38th-year dinner will be on a Baltic cruise.)

1977 Peking Palace*
1978 The Epicurean*
1979 Nakato
1980 The LampLighter*
1981 The Open Kitchen
1982 Eli's*
1983 Piper (Salisbury)
1984 Lizzie's*
1985 Hemingway's*
1986 Georgio's*
1987 Kabuto
1988 Pompano's*
1989 The Thistle*
1990 Chelsea's Café*
1991 Si*
1992 Thai House
1993 Miss Lucy's (Salisbury)
1994 Cajun Queen
1995 South City Grill*
1996 Patou*
1997 Vincent's*
1998 Campania*
1999 Hidden Garden* (Matthews)
2000 P.F. Chang's
2001 Trattoria Da Mimmo (Venice!)
2002 The Meeting House*
2003 Upstream
2004 Volare*
2005 Carpe Diem
2006 Santé (Matthews)
2007 Olde Hanza (Tallin, Estonia!)
2008 Zebra

And now, a word from France...

When a colleague told me his French exchange student had fallen in love with the Penguin in Plaza-Midwood, I asked if he'd like to write a little something -- add to our global perspective here, get a young voice, all that good stuff.

Samuel Fely from Limoges (that's him with the Big Block Burger) complied:

"Le Penguin Drive-In est un restaurant de Charlotte. Il est reputé et c'est merité. Les cheeseburgeurs y sont très bons, ainsi que les frites. Mais pour avoir une place, il faut attendre car l'endroit est petit et il y a de la queue. De plus l'endroit n'est pas très bien fréquenté et les clients fument, ce qui est désagréable. Cependant les serveurs sont relativement polis et le service est effectué rapidement. Et tout comme je l'ai dit, à toute heure la nourriture est vraiment très bonne. Il y a plusiers sortes de sauce à votre disposition. C'est agréable mais il n'y a pas beaucoup de serviettes, ce qui serait utile. ... Je me suis très régalé et c'était une bonne expérience."

IB French teacher extraordinaire Lynn Stultz, from Myers Park High School, was kind enough to translate:

"The Penguin Drive-In is a Charlotte restaurant. It is well-known and it deserves the reputation. The cheeseburgers there are very good, as well as the fries. But in order to get a seat you have to wait because the place is small and there is a line. The clients smoke and that's unpleasant. However, the staff is relatively polite and the service is quick. As I said, no matter the hour the food is really good. There are several kinds of sauces. This is nice but there are not a lot of napkins, which would be useful. ... I enjoyed myself very much and it was a good experience."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quail Hollow deals, and more

Bring your Quail Hollow golf tournament ticket (or other proof of attendance) in to Upstream (Phillips Place) through Sunday and you’ll get 15 percent off your food price. Also up at Upstream: Lobster Mondays return. That’s four, mostly lobster-centric courses for $35. 704-556-7730.

Another Quail Hollow promotion: Chef Jim Noble has added a quail entrée at both Noble’s (6801 Morrison Blvd.; roasted smoked quail with ramp and cornbread stuffing) and Rooster’s (6601 Morrison Blvd.; grilled brace of quail). There’s also a new bar menu at Noble’s, and new specialty drinks at both places. And Sunday, Rooster’s will offer complimentary appetizers for diners watching the final holes of the championship.

And more:

  • Vintage Wine Cellar (12206 Copper Way in the Toringdon Shopping Center) has expanded its seating with a large communal table in the middle of the café, and added tables and chairs, plus lounge seating on the patio. Also new: “Sushi Tuesdays” for the summer, with chef Tom Landers preparing the fish, and beer, wine and sake specials to accompany it. 704-543-3977.
  • Among seasonal dishes showing up now at D'Vine Wine Cafe (Ballantyne Village): pan-seared soft shell crab with lobster and tomato sticky rice over blood orange reduction; corvino (fish) with black Thai rice and ginger sauce; and chocolate dessert sushi with macerated berries. The café has live entertainment four nights a week (“dancing is encouraged!”) and the place’s first wine dinner is slated for May 14, six courses paired with Trefethen wines. 704-369-5050.

Even more for Mother's Day? You bet...

* Gallery (at the Ballantyne Resort) offers brunch for $39.95, with a lineup including Lowcountry shrimp and grits; silver cod with parmesan gnocchi; chicken; filet with sauteed mushrooms; crème brulee of the day and more. 704-248-4100.

* The second Cosmos Café opens May 6 at 8420 Rea Road, in the Robinson Farms development. The menu will be essentially the same as the uptown original’s (300 N. College St.; 704-372-3553), with a kids’ menu added, and dinner will be served nightly, plus lunch on Saturday and brunch on Sunday. 704-544-5268. Both locations will offer for Mother’s Day a $24.95 menu from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. that includes eggs, a carving station of roasted steamship of beef, Scottish salmon and pork loin, plus sides and miniature pastries.

* Charlotte Marriott SouthPark (2200 Rexford Road) offers several meals for Mother’s Day: breakfast buffet or a la carte, and brunch 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. for $29 ($25 for seniors, $12.95 kids 7-12, free 6 and younger). On that menu: eggs Benedict, blueberry pancakes, omelet and waffle stations, striped bass with crab, beef roulade and more. 704-364-8220.

* Sante (165 N. Trade St., Matthews) will open for brunch from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. with a $14 brunch ($9 for those younger than 10), then reopen for dinner from 5-8 with its regular dinner menu. 704-845-1899.

* Mama Ricotta’s (601 S. Kings Drive) will offer Tuscan salad, an omelet station, a buffet including French toast and housemade Italian sausage, a carving station, pastas, desserts and more. $17.95 ($10.95 for children); 704-347-4904.

* Copper (311 East Blvd.) will be open for lunch from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. with its regular lunch menu. Also new here: a 900-square-foot patio in front of the restaurant, adjoining its shady side porch., with both tables and lounge furniture. 704-333-0063.

* Blue (Hearst Tower uptown) offers brunch 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. with carving stations of ham and whole roasted salmon, chicken and sausage paella, breakfast foods such as egg casserole and waffles, a cold buffet and more. $34.95 ($12.95 children, free for 6 and younger); 704-927-2583.

* Both Cantina 1511s (Dilworth, 704-331-9222; and StoneCrest, 704-752-9797) offer a special menu that includes shrimp and crab tostada; chicken enchilada suiza; ribeye fajitas and more.

Herbs for Austin's

Rosemary Pete is Pete Vinci, who sells herbs at area farmers markets and loves Caribbean food. Which explains why he'd be unhappy at the thought that Austin's Caribbean Cuisine (345 S. Kings Drive, near the Metropolitan development with Target and Trader Joe's) might suffer in these economic times.

So he's offering what he modestly terms a "deal of a lifetime": Get some of Austin's takeout food anytime in May and he'll give you a coupon for $2 off anything Pete sells at the regional Saturday market at 1801 Yorkmont Road, including dried herbs, plants, fresh produce and more. A few rules: You have to get Austin's to stamp your receipt, since its logo isn't printed on them. You get a coupon for every receipt you have, but you can't use them together to get more than $2 off a single purchase from Pete.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Charlotte cooking in competition

Chef stuff: CPCC culinary instructor Geoff Blount finished runner-up in the Pastry Chef of the Year competition at the recent Southeast Regional American Culinary Federation competitions at the Southeast Regional Conference. Students John Latour, Amanda White, Lisa Borkowski and Amanda Hamilton won medals in baking and pastry arts competition, and Russ Thayer was awarded a $2,500 scholarship.

Restaurant stuff: Nineteen restaurants compete this summer for the title of “Best Dish in North Carolina” in a contest sponsored by the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Gallery at the Ballantyne Resort is the only Charlotte restaurant on the list, vying for recognition among nine fine dining competitors, while 10 will compete in the casual category. The contest recognizes restaurants that use and promote N.C. food products, and finalists were chosen based on their proposed menus and marketing plans. They are required to offer the proposed dish or combination of dishes for at least a four-week period in May, June or July. Gallery chef J. Kelly Morrow will offer an Underwood Family Farm lamb quartet. Judges will visit each restaurant and declare first-, second- and third-place winners, which will be announced in August. Info: here.

More burgers coming, and Bologna (inspiration), too

Expect a second Big Daddy’s Burger Bar, at Ballantyne Commons in the former Wizeguys spot, by the end of June or beginning of July, says partner Frank Scibelli. He is also looking to place a third Cantina 1511 in the SouthPark area (with rooftop bar!) in the near future. The original Big Daddy’s is in Dilworth, at 1626 East Blvd.

Also coming up at a Scibelli restaurant: new menu items at Mama Ricotta’s (601 S. Kings Drive). He and chef Scott Roule, back from traveling in Bologna, Parma and Milan in Italy, aim to put some of the fare they liked best there on the menu in six weeks or so. Look for cotoletta Milanese done with fine, cheeseless breading; malfatti (spinach and potato gnocchi baked with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and butter); risotto Milanese; shrimp and fresh artichoke strudel with walnut sauce; and penne with bacon, pumpkin and balsamico.

Roule will open the new Big Daddy’s when it’s time, says Scibelli, which means he’s in the process of looking for a chef for Mama’s, and he’s finding some surprising candidates – “a guy from Gordon Ramsey’s” among them, he says. And “apparently New York has really taken a hit, so I’m … seeing great resumes.”

Coming up: Pears, chinchilla and Red Wattles. Oh my.

Ever had meat from the Red Wattle hog or American Chinchilla rabbit? Sampled an American heirloom pear? Probably not, since these are critically endangered foods. Your chance comes May 16, when 10 N.C. chefs present 10 courses using foodstuffs such as these in The Ark of Taste: A Slow Food Feast, at Beaver Dam Park in Davidson.

The Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, an initiative of the international Slow Food group, is a catalog of more than 200 foods threatened by industrialization, standardization, regulation and/or environmental damage. It aims to protect and promote foods that are culturally or historically linked and may be at risk of extinction.

The chef-etc./food lineup includes:
* Chef Mike Virgilli of Carmel Country Club: Chinchilla rabbit braised with vegetables
* Chef Paul Verica of Longview Country Club: Red Wattle pork belly (from Grateful Growers Farm)
* Chocolatier Erika Diamond: chocolates infused with heirloom pear liqueur
* Baker Laura Lucille Benoit: artisan breads made with organic grains from Anson Mills
Tickets are $100 and include the meal, wine and live music: Go to or call 828-446-8005. Proceeds benefit the Slow Food Carolina Piedmont Region convivia, the Davidson Farmer’s Market and the Lincoln County Farmer’s Market at Denver.

Want to get a look at the whole Ark, so to speak? Go here.

Nickel and Dine

Some of the best current deals:

* Luce (Hearst Plaza uptown) offers a four-course tasting menu for $30 each Friday and Saturday night. Call for menu: 704-344-9222.

* Nearly 600 T.G.I. Friday’s (multiple Charlotte-area locations) in the U.S. will offer all sandwiches and salads for $5 each today (April 27) through May 31. That’s 16 items in all, and each is a regular portion. Among the new offerings: Sante Fe chopped salad, Mediterranean salad with chicken, meatball sandwich and Thai chicken wrap.

* Every Wednesday, mini burgers (with purchase of drink and side) are $1 apiece, with no limit, at Topz Healthier Burger Grill (15025 Lancaster Highway).

* Max’s Ally (355 John Galt Way in Afton Village, Concord) now has seven lunch combos for $7 each: Half a sandwich with choice of soup, salad or sweet potato fries. Sandwiches include club on focaccia; honey mustard chicken wrap and grilled cheese with tomatoes on wheat.

* Providence Cafe (110 Perrin Place) offers a three-course fixed-price meal for $19.95 before or after any Blumenthal Center or Ovens Auditorium performance. Choices include grilled mahi mahi; roasted half chicken; angel hair primavera and more.

* Buffalo’s Southwest Cafe in Ballantyne (14015 Conlan Circle) offers 39 cent wings after 3 p.m. each Tuesday, and kids (younger than 12) eat free with supervised arts and crafts on Wednesdays.

More for Mother's Day (May 10)

Mother’s Day lurks:

* Arooji’s at SouthPark (720 Governor Morrison St., 704-366-6610) offers an a la carte brunch from noon to 4 p.m. Among the selections: filet mignon with scrambled eggs; French toast made with brioche and served with Grand Marnier maple syrup; sandwiches; salads; and pastas such as ravioli with mushroom cream sauce. Prices are about $9-$14. That’s followed by dinner (regular menu) from 5-9. 704-366-6610.

* The Fig Tree (1601 E. 7th St.) hosts both brunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) and dinner (5-8 p.m.), with porch and patio seating if the weather is nice. Menu highlights include truffle deviled eggs, lobster hush puppies, pan-seared salmon with pesto and savory waffle with Grateful Growers sausage. 704-332-3322.

* Global (3520 Toringdon Way near Ballantyne) will have three seatings, at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. with a fixed-price, three-course menu at $32 per person (with a $12 menu for kids). Choices include prime rib, Western omelet, shrimp and lobster grits, and more. 704-248-0866.

* M5 (4310 Sharon Road) offers brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for $18.95 per person ($12.95 for 12 and younger), with a special limited menu following, from 5 p.m. to closing. 704-909-5500.

* Both Red Rocks Cafes (Huntersville and Charlotte) host traditional buffets from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., following with their regular menus. Cost for the buffet is $22.95; $10.95 for children. SouthPark: 704-364-0402; Birkdale: 704-892-9999.

* The Morehead Inn (704-376-3357; Dilworth) and VanLandingham Estate (704-334-8909; Plaza-Midwood) offer their annual on-site brunches, with seatings at 10:45 am, 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 1:15 pm. $28.95; $24.95 for seniors, $15.95 for children 4 to12 and free for 3 and younger. Reservations are required.

* LaVecchia’s (225 E. 6th St.) offers 25 percent off any entree on its regular menu for mothers. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; 704-370-6776. Sibling NIX Burger and Brew (201 N. Tryon St.) offers half-price burgers to mothers. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; 704-347-2739. And Old Stone Steakhouse (23 S. Main St. in Belmont) will serve all-you-can-eat crab legs for $24.95, and offers 25 percent off any regular menu entrees for mothers. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; 704-825-9995.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Uptown restaurant gets new identity

ARPA, the tapas place and wine bar that is part of Harper's Restaurants, will become Harper's Grill the first week of May, if all goes according to plan.

The menu will include diner favorites from the Harper's chain, dishes from the Harper's Blue Ribbon BBQ (BR BBQ) and specials from corporate chef Tom Condron and current ARPA chef de cuisine Sam Diminich.

The company closed Harper's BR BBQ, also uptown, April 1. In Charlotte, the restaurant group's Harper's ToGoGo, offering takeout only, remains open in locations uptown and near SouthPark, along with Mimosa Grill and Zink American Kitchen uptown; Upstream in Phillips Place, M5 near SouthPark and two Harper's (Carolina Place and SouthPark). It also has Harper's in Columbia and Greensboro.

Says Harper's president Tom Sasser: "We really felt this was a great lunch spot and could not get uptown Charlotte to buy Spanish at lunch. The Harper's price point and more comfort-oriented menu is obviously a good thing in this economy for lunch and dinner.

"We hope to bring (ARPA) back in the future, at a different location and as a Spanish tapas, dinner-only restaurant."

The location, at 129 W. Trade St. (at the corner of South Church Street), has long been a fixture on the uptown dining scene, having first housed Sonoma a decade ago.

ARPA, which will serve its last meal May 2, moved into the spot, in a shuffling of uptown restaurants, in 2005.

Harper's Grill will be open weekdays for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner and Sunday for brunch. Prices will range from $6-$14 at lunch and most dinner entrees will run $12-$19.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Healthy eating uptown?

Readers had plenty of suggestions for a soul seeking sustenance without guilt in the uptown Charlotte area:

* Therapy Marketplace & Cafe (under renovation currently), particularly the Granny Smith Delight, a sandwich ("on 7-grain when I get it," writes our recommender) made of Granny Smith apples, Brie, carrots, mixed greens, raisins and a Dijon mustard sauce.

* The Pita Pit (which gets a plug from a high school track parent).

* The Original SoupMan (214 N. Tryon St.), particularly the Al's 5 Bean Soup, which our recommender says has no trans fats and is only 3 Weight Watchers points per cup.

* blynk organic (especially the combos).

* Brixx, especially the whole-wheat crust pizzas.

* Mimosa Grill and Rock Bottom for salad diversity.

* Jason's Deli, recommended by several readers, who note the salad bar and free soft serve ice cream.

First Bite on Lebowski's

First Bite is a look at, not a full review of, a new Charlotte-area restaurant.

The food
: Sports-bar-plus is how I'd characterize the lineup at Lebowski's, with fine Buffalo wings, a bunch of burgers and assorted sandwiches. The plus comes in with items such as hummus, veggie panini, chicken Florentine on grilled sourdough, and entrees such as chicken fried chicken and pulled pork with mac and cheese. Co-owner Kirk Weaver had Township Grille eons ago and yes, Buffalo fans, the beef on weck is here, too, along with the tin-roof sundae so loved there.

The place: Dark wood tables, black chairs, beer coasters and old album covers tastefully framed, and just three TV screens, keep this a pretty subtle look. You'll hear plenty of the music that once came out of those album covers, too, like Zep (that's Led Zeppelin, kiddies), but Jack Johnson abides, too.

The name: Yes, it's named for the Coen brothers' "The Big Lebowski" and the specialty White Russian list on every table supports that concept. But the joke isn't done to death, and the humor slops over into other areas, too -- like a recent "Michael Phelps" special of Sweet Tea Weed and water. (That's Jeremiah Weed's sweet-tea-flavored vodka. Get it?)

The details: 1524 East Blvd.; sandwiches and entrees about $6-$11; 704-370-1177.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nickel and Dine

Some of the best current dining deals:

* Global Restaurant (3520 Toringdon Way) rolls out its new Global Stimulus Package, adjusting menu pricing and offering promotions. Included: dinner for two daily, including a bottle of wine, from a limited menu, for $79; three courses for $30 (limited menu); 25 percent off all appetizers each Thursday; and half-off cheese platters each Saturday. 704-248-0866.

* Max's Ally (355 John Galt Way in Concord) has opened its patio for the summer (live entertainment starts the second weekend in May), and patio specials include daily discounts, including Saturday "date night," with three-course dinner packages for two priced at $45 and $55. 704-721-6297 or

* Sonny's BBQ restaurants (six Charlotte-area locations) hold their Customer Appreciation Day on Saturday: It's the annual 1/2 Price Day, with all barbecue dinner plates (except ribs for two) sold at half-price all day (dine-in only).

Got a deal I should know about? E-mail me at

Mother's Day is May 10, Kids...

  • Moms who wear a festive hat to Mother's Day brunch at the Ballantyne Resort get a complimentary glass of champagne. Brunch is 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and costs $48.95 ($25.95 for 7-12, $7.95 for 3-6, free for younger). Reservations required; 704-248-4100 or
  • Siblings Toscana (6401 Morrison Blvd.) and Positano (Birkdale Village) host a four-course Tuscan brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., with such entree choices as eggs Benedictina (poached over brioche with prosciutto cotto and hollandaise), risotto del mare (parmesan risotto with shellfish), roasted leg of lamb with asparagus, and rigatoni with sweet Italian sausage and peas. Cost is $24.95 ($9.95 for children) at Toscana, $19.95 ($7.95 for children) at Positano; reservations for either at 704-896-2979.
  • The Wine Shop (7824 Fairview Road) offers a three-course meal from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. with choices of she crab soup or salad, eggs Benedict or brioche French toast, and bread pudding with bourbon sauce or peach cobbler. $25 (complimentary Bellini or Mimosa after noon); reservations: 704-365-6550.
  • M5 (4310 Sharon Road) does a buffet from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for $18.95 ($12.95 for children), then reopens at 5 with its regular dinner menu. The buffet includes pastries, an organic salad station, Mediterranean and antipasti bars, an iced raw bar, pizzas and flatbreads, steak and more. Reservations: 704-909-5500.
  • Morton's (227 W. Trade St.) offers a fixed-price menu from 1-9 p.m., with salad; entrée choices of filet mignon, filet with asparagus and crab, broiled salmon, shrimp Alexander or chicken; plus side and dessert for $59. 704-333-2602 or

Beer and wine dinners

  • You’ll find a Spring Beer Fest at the Wine Vault (9009 J. M. Keynes Drive) Saturday: From 1-4 p.m., 50 microbrews and imports will be on hand, with live music and food from Boardwalk Billy’s. Admission is $15. Also coming up: An annual Torbreck wine dinner, TuesdayA28 at Pewter Rose (1820 South Blvd.). Among the offerings: Torbreck Les Amis (a rare old-vine Grenache); slow-cooked barbecue pork with Torbreck Struie; Torbreck Runrig as an amuse bouche; beef tenderloin with Torbreck Factor, and more. $85; 704-548-9463.

  • Blue (Hearst Plaza uptown) hosts a Trinchero Napa Valley wine evening April 30, designed as a cocktail party with sampling and explanations from cellar master Chuck Parker. On the menu: hamachi ceviche with Sauvignon Blanc, seared scallop over rhubarb puree with Chardonnay; lamb Wellington with Petit Verdot, and more. $34.95; 704-927-2583.

New offers, menus, hours, address

  • P.F. Chang’s (Phillips Place and Northlake) does a four-course prom dinner for $39.95 per couple, with choices for each course.
  • Fuel Pizza (nine area locations) now uses only kosher salt in its foods, which include pizzas with crusts that are regular, whole-wheat or vegan. The chain is also working toward using more local produce from area farmers.
  • Sonoma Modern American (100 N. Tryon St.) kicks in its new spring menu with a large "nibbling" section, expanding diners’ options -- which now include a version of Tater Tots, a Grafton Cheddar cheese fondue, and lobster rolls. 704-332-1132.
  • The Wine Shop at RiverGate (14142 RiverGate Parkway) now serves Sunday brunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Among the offerings: Benedicts of various form; omelets (with filling combos from smoked salmon and mascarpone to peppers and onions with mozzarella); frittata; quiche; and sandwiches and entrees, including Croque Madames and steak and eggs. About $7-$13; 704-831-9000.
  • GadoGado in Matthews (157 N. Trade St., Matthews) will reopen for Saturday lunch beginning May 2, and the patio will offer live music each Friday and Saturday night, beginning the first week of May. 704-844-8686.
  • Tanner’s Snack Bar has relocated from Old Pineville Road to 3401-C South Blvd., where it will continue to serve hot dogs, burgers, hot-shelled peanuts, “Maryland fried chicken” and more. 704-679-9900.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

First Bite on The Lodge

First Bite is a look at, not a full review of, a new Charlotte-area restaurant.

The Lodge
recently opened at Colony Place, with J.D. Duncan and chef Blake Hartwick offering their take on sports bar food.

The Food: The usual, but with some definite quality upticks and a few boundary-breakers. Calamari, for one, is fried, but in fat lengths rather than rings, and combined with chunks of three kinds of peppers. The plate's also heavy on the tentacles, so if you're a fan of those, check it out. Burgers come in regular, bison, venison, veggie and tuna -- though that's a misnomer, since it's simply a handsome slab of tuna, not comminuted (as in: chopped up). Fried turkey shows up in a Reuben and the Lodge club. Fries are the battered sort and were just OK, as were the burgers' soft, eggy buns. The beer list is terrific; try the Magic Hat No. 9.

The Look: Try to find a sport that's not represented, and let me know. I even found strap-on skates on display. Seating is mostly tables, with two giant curved booths, and plenty of TV screens.

Details: 7725 Colony Road; lunch and dinner daily; 704-544-5226.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Upscale South End steakhouse closes

McIntosh's, the "chain of one" upscale steakhouse that became a stalwart in South End, closed Saturday night after 13 years in business.

"We had a heck of a run there," owner Greg McIntosh said Monday morning. "The last two months in particular got ugly. If we were going into the fourth quarter, we'd be feeling differently, but we're … not going into a good time for high-end restaurants.

"I'd rather go out with my head held high. I would not want people to say, 'It's slipped.'… I tried to make the most honorable decision I could."

McIntosh opened the restaurant, first called Alston's, with a partner in 1996. Two years later, he bought out the partner and renamed the restaurant. In 2005, he completed a six-figure renovation, adding seats in the dining area, and a piano bar. McIntosh's placed among the city's top restaurants in the Zagat rating since it began surveying Charlotte voters in 2002. "My dad called me (this weekend)," said McIntosh, "and said, 'It's shameful. You just made the highest ranking steakhouse (in Charlotte) in Zagat.' "

When the restaurant first opened, Morton's had one location -- as it does again now, after closing its SouthPark site in January -- and "It was OK.. The town could absorb both of us. Then the Palm came in … and it was fine for awhile. Then Sullivan's and Capital Grille opened, and we all took a little bit of a hit. But people started settling in and deciding who was their steakhouse." Then 9-11 happened, and business everywhere slowed. "Then bam! There was Ruth's Chris, Del Frisco, Chima… the town went steak crazy, and we never really recovered from that."

Next, McIntosh says he plans to work "anxiously and vigorously" with his bank, Regents, which has been "really accommodating." And after that? "I really don't know. But I'm going to do something I haven't done in 18 years: Sit down for dinner at home with my family." His children are 15, 11 and 7.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Top Tidbits in Charlotte?

Wednesday night's Taste of the Nation event uptown -- raising funds for hunger-relief group Share Our Strength -- featured Dining blog correspondent (and Observer food editor) Kathleen Purvis as one of the judges. Her report:

Tough duty: Judges were impressed with the lobster bisque from LaVecchia's, the spring rolls from Basil Thai, and the lamb ribs, golden tomato and fried grits (plus a bite-size version of its ever-popular Krispy Kreme bread pudding) from Savannah Red. After consuming serious calories in an attempt to be fair, here were the winners.

Hot food:
1. Upstream, togarashi-marinated Key West shrimp with pickled watermelon.
2. Mez, lobster and shrimp cake on red pepper sauce.

Cold food:
1. Firebirds, shrimp martini on strawberry salad.
2. Gallery at Ballantyne Resort, cold appetizers including plum tomatoes stuffed with local fresh goat cheese and topped with pine nut/peppercorn brittle.

Table display:
1. Central Piedmont Community College, for the Aztec chocolate fountain (assembled on-site that afternoon by pastry instructor Geoff Blount and his students) and a student-made chocolate/sugar sculpture.
2. Gallery at Ballantyne Resort, for the cold appetizer presentations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Exclusive look at new NoDa menu!

Here are highlights at the Crepe Cellar, slated to open sometime around 4 p.m. tomorrow (April 16) at 3116 N. Davidson St. in NoDa, site of the former Addie's Jamaican spot; 704-901-6543.

Crepes range from four-cheese to ham and Gruyere with maple Dijon glaze, spinach and wild mushroom to sausage and peppers. French bread pizzas share space with entrees such as steak and frites with cognac green peppercorn sauce, whole roasted chicken, pumpkin gnocchi and Guinness pie; sandwiches include oyster po' boys and blackened chicken with cheddar and ancho chile aioli. And yes, there are dessert crepes, both crepes Suzette and crepes with Nutella and bananas. Check the Web site here.

Welcome to the first dining blog!

Bookmark this spot right now, since I aim to get you news on deals, openings, special stuff and more twice weekly -- and maybe more often. This will be your go-to spot for the latest in Charlotte-area dining, plus observations on new spots and answers to questions. Share your news, thoughts and tips, too.

Some ground rules on comments: Besides the usual (keep it clean, keep it civil, keep it witty whenever possible), please note that this is NOT the place to log complaints about particular restaurants. Tell me about those via e-mail -- -- but this blog focuses on news, and that's how we'll keep it. You can also post questions here, or send them, and/or comments to my e-mail address if you'd prefer that. I'll post replies if they're of general interest. (We're deactivating the Q&A column to consolidate things here.)

Now, on to news…

Nickel & Dine

Deals to check out:

* All month, Nonna's Kitchen (828 E. Morehead St.) gives you a 20 percent discount on sandwiches or salads based on your line of work: Wednesdays, folks in the entertainment and healthcare fields get the deal. Other days: Mondays: real estate and mortgage folks; Tuesdays: lawyers; Thursdays: contractors; Fridays: civil servants; Saturdays: educators. Bring some proof. 704-333-4499.
* Tuesday, April 21, is a red-letter day for dealmongers: It's annual Free Cone Day at all Ben & Jerry's (noon to 8 p.m.), plus it's the first of monthly four-course international nights for $20 at Foskoskies (2121-A Shamrock Drive; 704-535-2220).
New flavors at Ben & Jerry's include Chocolate Macadamia and Oatmeal Cookie Chunk, and the Davidson location will be donating its tips to North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue, which will be on hand with information (and if you'd like to donate to that cause, you can bring blankets, dog crates, strong toys and medicines such as flea preventatives).
Foskoskies will be offering a Greek Easter meal, with choices that include dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), leg of lamb with citrus-basil marinade, grilled chicken, baklava and date-walnut pie with ginger ice cream. The traditional red boiled eggs and skordalia will be shared at tables, too. Wondering about the eggs? Check out this.
* The Palm (Phillips Place; 704-552-7256) offers a three-course $19 business lunch and a $39 dinner that includes entree choices of 14-ounce filet, 9-ounce filet topped with crab or halibut. The dinner offer runs through May, and you need to print the coupon.
* Wolfgang Puck Carolina Bistro (5349 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-708-5802) now has "family nights" every Monday and Tuesday, when a family-style Caesar salad and any two pizzas or pastas from the menu goes for $20. (Also discounted: all wines go for half-price on Wednesdays.)

Jazz and Gardens and Baseball

Now available:
* Uno Chicago Grill (401 S. Tryon St.; 704-373-0085) celebrates a "New Orleans Jazz Festival of Flavors" today through June 7 with decorations, special music and food specials, including a shrimp po' boy, Cajun blackened mahi mahi and, yes, a jambalaya deep dish pizza.
* McNinch House (511 N. Church St.; 704-332-6159) has opened its garden wine bar for the season, serving wines, mixed drinks and nonalcoholic beverages; no reservations are needed, and the dress code is casual. The bar is open Tuesday-Saturday beginning at 5 p.m.
* Go to a Monday night Charlotte Knights home game this season and you can bank on getting a full plate: The park now serves an all-you-can-eat buffet of hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, nachos and sodas for $19 (that includes your ticket) for adults, $14 for those 3-12. 704-357-8071;

Online tip of the week

Not a dining tip, but a fabulously useful one for all your less-Web-adept friends -- you know, the ones who ask you how to find, say, Helen Schwab's restaurant coverage. Block-save the following and paste it into your address window (for technical reasons, I can't just make you a live link):

Cool, huh? Go to to do one for yourself.

Your turn

A reader seeks the healthiest meals in uptown Charlotte. Got a suggestion? I'd like to put together a list. Comment here, or e-mail me, and I'll cobble together some good news for lunchtimers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Come back tomorrow

Come back here tomorrow!

That's when restaurant writer Helen Schwab's blog will start.