Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Deals, dinners and deals

All five Charlotte-area locations of Sonny's will offer half-price barbecue dinner plates all day Feb. 27, and the offer is valid for eat-in, takeout or drive-through.

Sole will hold its eighth annual Wine and Tapas Night Affair, 6-8 p.m. Feb. 28. For $55 a person, you'll get four tapas, accompanying wines, and dessert. 1608 East Blvd.; 704-343-9890.

P. J. O’Reilly's plans a St. Patrick's week celebration, beginning with live music and beer specials March 13, followed by live Irish dancers and music March 17 plus food specials such as corned beef and cabbage, bangers, Irish stew and more. March 20 will also have live music and beer deals. At the corner of Ardrey Kell and Johnston Road, 16640 Hawfield Way Drive; 704-341-2247.

Basil Thai Cuisine at 210 N. Church St. now discounts all bottled wine by 50 percent each Sunday. 704-332-7212.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

UPDATE: Dinners upcoming

Dandelion Market changed the date of its Feb. 22 dinner to March 1. The dinner offers craft beers from Big Boss Brewery. Among the matchups: Angry Angel with wild mushroom and chevre turnovers; Bad Penny with sausage-stuffed poblanos; Hells Belle with Chilean sea bass and roasted beets. $50; 118 W. 5th St.; 704-333-7989.

Soiree and Wine Maestro offer "Zin Din-Din" Feb. 24, with winemaker Bruce Patch of Wine Guerrilla on hand. The menu ranges from Thai duck to Southwestern spiced flank steak to braised pork belly with grilled romaine hearts and more, with zinfandels including 2008 Adel's Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley; 2008 Forchini Vineyard, Russian River Valley; 2007 Sonoma County "Yellow Label" and more. $50; 104 S. Main St. in Mooresville; 704-660-9106.

Joe Bonaparte guest-chefs at the Wine Shop at Foxcroft March 8 for a Giro d'Italia wine dinner. Among the courses: caponatina (like caponata) with shellfish and 2008 Bisson Marea; handmade tagliatelle pasta with Bolognese sauce and 2006 Camillo Donati Lambrusco; pancetta-wrapped New Town Farm Red Bro chicken with 2004 Le Calle Poggio d'Oro Reserva; and more. $65; 7824 Fairview Road; 704-365-6550.

Charlotte rates James Beard nominees

Good Food on Montford, Bruce and Kerry Moffett's small-plates place, is among 31 nominees for Best New Restaurant in the national James Beard awards -- sort of the Oscars of the U.S. restaurant world. Charlotte's Eric Solomon is also up in the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional field. Each list will be whittled to five finalists on March 22, then winners will be announced May 3 in New York.

Other Carolinas semifinalists: Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill and Durham's Magnolia Grill as Outstanding Restaurant (Magnolia is also up for Outstanding Service); and a crowd for Best Chef: Southeast: Ashley Christensen of Poole's in Raleigh, Sean Brock of McCrady's and Craig Diehl of Cypress, both in Charleston, Scott Howell of Nana's in Durham, Bill Smith of Crook's Corner, Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, Jacob Sessoms of Table in Asheville, and Ken Vedrinski of Sienna in Daniel Island, S.C.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wine to Water

Providence Cafe hosts a free Wine to Water event 6-8 p.m. Feb. 18. That means you can come to a wine tasting, eat hors d'oeuvres and meet Doc Hendley, founder of the group, which establishes new water pumps and educates local communities on how to take care of the wells. (Yes, you'll be able to donate, too.) The organization, highlighted by CNN, estimates it has helped bring clean water to more than 25,000 people in five countries, and is currently looking at ways to help in Haiti. More info: 110 Perrin Place; 704-376-2008.

Food Network Update: OPRAH and Guy Fieri ... again!

Not only are North Carolina's own Avett Brothers on the popular cake show "Ace of Cakes" Thursday (Feb. 18), so is a cake for ... Oprah! As Avett manager Dolph Ramseur said Tuesday, "If Oprah's people have promoted it even averagely..." it should be quite a viewing audience.
 Back story: Ramseur's a fan of the show and his wife, Dana, suggested he ask Charm City Cakes (the custom cake shop that stars in this Food Network reality show) to make an Avett cake. He wrote to them: "Look, I've got this band, they're very much like y'all: handmade, and everything they do is like it's made for each person." Shop manager Mary Alice Yeskey replied that she's a huge Avett fan and the shop was very excited. Originally it was to be a cake for the "I and Love and You" release, but timing resulted in this instead. Oprah makes that a little easier to swallow...
The Food Network's synopsis for this show: "Charm City Cakes gets a visit (and performance) from the country rock trio The Avett Brothers, when they come to town on tour. Lauren pesters Geof to oversee her work on a crazy groom's cake, a band bus. And Duff gets an impossible deadline to make a cake to take to a TV set in Chicago... and when Oprah calls, how can you refuse?" and a sneak preview of the O part is here.

Meanwhile, dish's Penny Craver confirms that the Plaza-Midwood restaurant will be on the Feb. 22 episode of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" -- Comfort Food Classics is the name of the segment. And in other dish news, the restaurant is running a special "until Spring" called Dessert for Two: two cups of coffee, two forks and one piece of housemade dessert for $5 plus tax. Melissa Myer makes all the place's desserts; she was part of the first Johnson & Wales Charlotte class, Craver reports.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

MBAs and March events

Brixx (multiple locations) began its 2010 Master’s of Beer Appreciation program this week. Participants (tuition is free) get a card to track their work through the “curriculum” of 32 beers and “one extracurricular beer activity.” Prizes, etc., are involved as well. Details:

Gallery at the Ballantyne Hotel will offer an Irish lineup for St. Patrick’s Day March 17, including house-cured corned beef and braised cabbage with housemade soda bread at lunch, and seared sea scallops with English pea green risotto in truffle sauce and herb-crusted veal ribeye at dinner. And yes, there’ll be green draft beer, for $2.10 all day. 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-248-4042.

Red Rocks Café at 4223 Providence Road hosts a fundraiser March 25 for Providence Home (Southport), a short-term shelter for youth who, because of an emergency, high-risk or crisis situation, cannot remain with their families. Info: 704-364-0402.

Avetts, more music/food and bad fry news: Links of the week

The Avett Brothers hit the real big time: Ace of Cakes. (Photo from the Avetts Website.)

More musician-on-food news here.

And I probably should have read this whole piece
before starting the 2010 Tournament of Fries...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dining With Friends

Feb. 20 is the date for Dining With Friends, a fundraiser for RAIN (Regional AIDS Interfaith Network) in which folks host dinner parties in their homes, then meet for Champagne and dessert at the McColl Center for Visual Art uptown. Hosts bring the money they collect from their diners to the finale. Some events are also open to the public, so don't fret if you're not already in; you can attend the Snuggie Ball at The Forum (create a fashion statement with a Snuggie, wear it, then donate it to those who need the warmth), a "Jersey Shore"-themed night at Town Tavern, a cocktail-attire BlackFinn event or an open party at Hartigan's. Each accepts donations at the door. You can also attend only the finale and donate there.

Among the restaurant sponsors are Basil, Cosmos Cafe, Soul, BlackFinn, Dandelion Market and Tic Toc Diner.

Organizing chair Amy Pickard says she expects 500 to 700 people to participate, and you can find more details and information (and donate, if you can't attend) at

Friday, February 12, 2010

Even now, more for Valentine's

Las Ramblas will be open, bar at 4 p.m., cafe at 5, this Sunday; 2400 Park Road; 704-335-8444.

The Monticello, beside the Dunhill Hotel uptown, offers a four-course menu Feb. 13 for Valentine's, including entree choices of filet with vanilla-poached prawn, sea bass or herb-crusted chicken. Sunday, the regular menu plus Valentine's specials will be available. 235 N. Tryon St.; 704-342-1193.

Providence Cafe does a special menu including crab-stuffed flounder and prosciutto-wrapped salmon today through Sunday. 110 Perrin Place; 704-376-2008.

Coco Osteria offers a three-course menu for $21.95 per person, plus its regular menu, for Sunday. 214 N. Tryon St.; 704-344-8878

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The South and food

The Oxford American's Southern food issue is coming up and accompanying events will be held in four cities, Charlotte tragically not among them. Charleston, Atlanta, New Orleans and, naturally, New York. (That said, not all of New York is apparently taken with the "Southern-fried restaurant craze"; witness here.)

Groody's back!

Longtime star chef Tim Groody will be in the slated-for-June-1 (or so) Flatiron Kitchen & Tap House in Davidson.

Groody, known for being at the fore of chefs focusing on local ingredients in this area, says Davidson "is perfect for what I do. It's family, it's fun ... That's where it should be done." He is "still playing" with the menu, but notes they'll have "a really good burger. I'm working on a good bun. We'll have a hot dog, and Kobe steaks, and all in between." Plans call for the kitchen design to be ironed out this week, and he and partners Michael LaVecchia and Chad Hollingsworth are scheduled to see the first set of plans next week. The restaurant will be in the Stowe building, a 21,000-square-foot venture at Main and South streets.

Groody says he plans to get help creating a Facebook page on which to post progress of the restaurant's development. (Lest you think Facebook isn't crucial: A friend of his did a Facebook poll on the restaurant's name, offering several options, and Groody notes Flatiron did "very well.")

Valentine's food for thought

If you're planning to stock up on chocolate and oysters for the V Day, you might just check here first.

Then again, maybe these (shown at right) will work. Personal fave, conceptually speaking: Kermit and Miss Piggy (a prickly pear pate de fruit with ginger on top of a milk chocolate and pear ganache, enrobed in milk chocolate). You have to order by Feb. 10 to avoid overnighting them...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Valentines: More

The Harper's restaurants all have V-Weekend specials:

M5's runs $45 per person, with choices such as Maine lobster, feta- and fig-stuffed leg of lamb and scallops with shrimp. 4310 Sharon Road; 704-909-5500.

Mimosa Grill's options, for $45, include wood-roasted oysters and grilled filet with fresh bacon. (That menu is also available a la carte.) 327 S. Tryon St.; 704-343-0700.

Harper's has a $25 deal: choice of salad; filet with blue crab cake; red velvet cake. SouthPark: 704-366-6688; Carolina Place Mall: 704-541-5255.

Upstream offers three courses, including entree choice of grilled filet and creamed lobster or sweet miso marinated sea bass. Phillips Place; 704-556-7730.

Zink's is $45 per person, with choices including seared foie gras crostini and grilled veal porterhouse. 201 N. Tryon St.; 704-444-9001.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Observer Food Tournament will be ...

... about (drum roll please) french fries!

Send me your favorite fry place by Feb. 16. I'll scout possibilities and begin the tournament with 16 contenders, which will be whittled down week by week with a combination of taste-testing and voting (details to come).

The champion will be announced to coincide with the NCAA basketball championship. Previous years' winners: Moosehead Grill for wings and Luigi's for pizza.

NOTE: This is not a voting stage; it's just a call for suggestions on places we should try. The voting comes later. You can comment on this post, e-mail me at, tweet @helenschwab (be sure to use the hashtag #helendining), leave a message at 704-358-5250, or drop me a line at Helen Schwab, Charlotte Observer, P.O. Box 30308 Charlotte, NC 28208-0308.

Could YOU do it?

Catching up on the news: The challenge: Run 2.4 miles. Eat a dozen glazed Krispy Kremes. Run 2.4 more miles.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Kids eat free!

Kids 9 and younger now eat free 4-7 p.m. each Monday at MezzaNotte -- three kids per family is the limit, and it's for dine-in only. 2907 Providence Road; 704-365-4650.

New menus, added hours, etc.

  • New at ilios noche: A $5 meze and wine menu offered 3-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday. Among the goodies:Greek style pork ribs with toasted coriander and lemon zest dry rub and Greek slaw; grilled housemade sausage with sweet onion; diver scallops with crushed chickpeas; charred asparagus with cracked black pepper; and more. Several are less than $5, such as spreads, and two -- grilled octopus and lamb pie -- are listed with the rest for organization's sake but marked as costing more. Wine choices include 11 reds and whites from Greece, Italy, Chile, California and more. 11508 Providence Road; 704-814-9882.
  • 131 Main in Dilworth has three new menus: lunch, dinner and a happy hour appetizer lineup. Lunch brings daily specials, such as bistro burgers each Saturday, and a lineup of "131 Main Favorites" such as cast iron cornbread and crabcake salad. Dinner also now offers daily features, such as braised lamb shanks each Tuesday, and "Favorites" that include shrimp and grits and babyback ribs. Items on the special appetizer list, served 5-7 p.m., are $5 each, and range from an artisan cheese plate to house-smoked salmon to roasted vegetable bruschetta. 1315 East Blvd.; 704-343-0131.
  • Ratcliffe on the Green will continue its Saturday-Sunday brunch (11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.) through February, including shrimp and grits, French toast with fresh berries, quiche Lorraine and more. 435 S. Tryon St.; 704-358-9898.

Updated: Valentines: Even more

Three courses for $35 at The Liberty run all weekend, with choices that range from roasted wild striped bass with smoked tomato grits to grilled Angus skirt steak. 1812 South Blvd.; 704-332-8830.

Mert's Heart and Soul has a special menu 3-9 p.m. Feb. 14 for $45 per couple: choice of appetizer or dessert, plus entree choice of blackened salmon, shrimp scampi or ribeye, plus Champagne. 214 N. College St.; 704-342-4222.

Nolen Kitchen, ilios noche and Big View Diner all will offer a fixed-price four-course Valentine's menu along with their regular menus. 2839 Selwyn Ave., 704-372-1424; 11508 Providence Road, 704-814-9882; 16637 Lancaster Highway, 704-544-0313.

TOMI for Valentine's Day will offer a special: shrimp, sea scallops and lobster tail meat stir-fried with organic noodles in ginger sauce. Creamy corn soup comes with it, for $19 per person. Also, the regular menu will be available. 7741 Colony Road; 704-759-1288.

Village Bistro offers a $29.95 dinner Feb. 12-14, with choices that include rack of lamb and pan-seared duck breast, along with its regular menu. 14815 Ballantyne Village Way; 704-369-5190.

Pierre Bader's four Uptown restaurants have Valentine's plans for Feb. 13-14: Pie Town has buy-one-pizza, get-one-half-off (704-379-7555); Sonoma does its entire dinner menu for three courses for $30 (704-332-1132); Press gives you a choice of small plate and dessert and a half bottle of Ferrari Sparkling wine for $20; and the new Aria has a menu that includes fettuccine carbonara, whole roasted bronzini and chicken parmigiana (704-376-8880).

Maddi's Southern Bistro will serve five courses and a surprise Valentine's Day gift from the Maddi's Gallery for $49 per person from 5-10 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14. It will also offer a Valentine's brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 14. Birkdale Village; 704-987-7762.

Luce's Valentine dinner will be served Feb. 12-14, with dishes such as speck-wrapped scallops in risotto and osso buco. Hearst Plaza uptown; 704-344-9222. Sibling Toscana also offers a special menu then as well, with gnocchi and fillet of sole with orange beurre blanc among the options. Specialty Shops on the Park near SouthPark; 704-367-1808. And Positano will have its regular menu plus specials. Birkdale Village; 704-896-2979.

Lava Bistro has a three-course "Sweetheart Menu" 3-9 p.m. Feb. 14, for $24.95 per person; choices include spinach salad with toasted coconut and vanilla vinaigrette; sesame seared ahi tuna with seaweed Salad and pineapple salsa; and more. 8708 J.W. Clay Blvd.; 704-549-0050.

GADOGADO will serve its regular dinner entrees and three specials from 5-9 p.m. Feb. 14: rack of lamb, lump crabcakes and filet mignon. 157 N. Trade St., Matthews; 704-844-8686.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Jacksina joins Andrew Blair's

Marc Jacksina, formerly co-owner and chef at Lulu, is now sous chef at Andrew Blair's, working with Blake Hartwick on the eclectic menu at 1600 Montford Drive.

"Any time you have the opportunity to add someone of Marc’s talent level, it’s exciting," said owner Andy Henson. Jacksina, who cooked his last shift at Lulu on Sunday, says he's excited about a larger kitchen with more equipment and range, and the challenge of up-and-coming Montford Drive and its vicinity. "My (food) is always kind of off-center, with a little sense of humor; I'm probably going to try to unsquare Blake and he's probably going to try to square me up; that's where the best food comes from."

Former partner Fabrice DiNonno bought out Jacksina, says chef David Clarke, who had served as sous chef at Lulu about 2 1/2 years, and has taken over the kitchen. Clarke anticipates keeping the menu steady through the winter, then increasing the rustic, homey French influence in the spring and summer. "We want to do very simple, very straightforward, from-the-heart food."

More for V Day (and the romantically challenged)

Pewter Rose does three courses for $45 on Valentine's night, with choices that include roast butternut bisque, steamed mussels with fennel, carne asada, shiitake-leek croquettes, pear and blueberry trifle, flourless chocolate torte and more. You can also order flowers from Sara Roth Designs through the restaurant (call by Feb. 5) for $60. 1820 South Blvd.; 704-332-8149.

Caffe Siena at the uptown Holiday Inn has a Valentine's package for $80 per couple: four course choices include lobster bisque, spinach cannelloni, free-range chicken, lamb tenderloin and more, plus a free glass of Champagne or house wine. 230 N. College St.; 704-335-5400 ext. 458.

For $100 per couple, Mez at the EpiCentre does three courses, with dishes such as charbroiled oysters and oysters on the half shell; grilled honey-glazed quail; Chilean sea bass; surf 'n turf; and more. 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-2400.

P.J. O’Reilly's calls to "the non-romantic, non-attached and basic anti-Valentine's Day individuals and groups" with its Tears in Your Beer day Feb. 14. Domestic bottle beers go for $2.14, the regular menu will be offered and one patron will win a six-month membership to Corner of Ardrey Kell and Johnston roads; 704-341-2247.

Mimosa Grill offers a four-course dinner for couples Feb. 12-14, in addition to the regular menu; choices include wood-oven-roasted oysters; skate; grilled filet with fresh bacon; and more for $45 per person. The restaurant will also offer a Valentine brunch Feb. 14 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for $30 per couple ($18 per person, $10.95 for kids 10 and younger). 327 S. Tryon St.; 704-343-0700.

Andrew Blair’s has a four-course menu for $65 per couple (including a glass of wine for each) Feb. 12-13, along with the regular lineup. On the fixed-price menu: pimento cheese dip, choice of salad, crabcake or braised short rib, choice of filet or scallops and dessert. 1600 Montford Drive; 704-525-8282.

Passion8 Bistro will have a sweetheart brunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for $25 per person, including a waffle station, pastries, salmon in spiced rum/golden raisin gastrique; Grateful Growers pork medallions and more. From 4-8 p.m., a tapas tasting menu is offered for $35, along with the regular dinner menu. 3415 Highway 51 North in Fort Mill, S.C.; 803-802-7455.

Revolution Pizza does a three-course meal including choice of bottle of wine or pitcher of beer for $40: included are two side salads, a medium shrimp pesto white pizza or spiced lamb red pizza and molten chocolate cake with raspberry coulis for dessert. 3228 N. Davidson St.; 704-333-4440.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Talk to us on "Charlotte Talks"!

Tune into WFAE's "Charlotte Talks" with the ever-enthusiastic Mike Collins at 9 a.m. Feb. 5 and get some Valentine's ideas on food from me and writers Heidi Bilotto and Tricia Childress. Or share yours. Or just call/tweet/email/post and talk to us... Go here for phone numbers, etc., to use to get to us. Note to those working: You can live-stream it at your desk!

Have some thoughts or questions you want me to cover? Reply here, on Facebook at "Helen Schwab on Dining" or tweet me @helenschwab. And yeah, you can always e-mail me at

New eclectic place at Ballantyne

The Blue Taj formally opens for dinner Feb. 8 at Ballantyne Village (where Vesuvio once was). Sibling to Copper in Dilworth, this will offer eclectic cuisine, says owner Apar Singh Pannu, with a menu by consultant chef Mel Oza. Some examples of dishes: chimichurri-rubbed chicken with a Provencal-style bean stew; Szechuan-inspired seafood medley with Oriental vegetables; and duck and mushroom taquitos with housemade pastry. Says Oza: “Think Wolfgang Puck. Elegant…. Rather than calling it multi-cuisine, we call it eclectic, meaning we’ll have things inspired by Thailand, inspired by Provence… not fusion, but more.” Lunch weekdays will begin a week or so later; dinner will be served nightly. 14815 Ballantyne Village Way at Ballantyne Village; 704-369-5777.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wine dinner

Aquavina hosts a J. Lohr wine dinner Feb. 20. Among the courses: seared diver scallop with October Night Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco; and braised short ribs with polenta and Hill Top Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles. $49.95; 435 S. Tryon St.; 704-377-9911.

More deal updates

Siblings Zink, Mimosa, Upstream and M5 are extending their three-courses-for-$30 deal through Feb. 6.

Caffe Siena extends it until Feb. 7.

Monday, February 1, 2010

2nd Dressler's opening, and more

  • A second Dressler's is working out kinks at Metropolitan this week (the former Midtown Square), gearing up for its opening Feb. 8. Look for a skyline view, an autumn palette and wine wall, and a menu that echoes the Birkdale Village original, with New York strip, halibut, tuna and Jon Dressler's mom's cheesecake, along with new dishes from chef Scott Hollingsworth such as seafood and grits, roasted duck and braised beef short rib. Dressler's Metro will be open for lunch and dinner daily, with an intermezzo menu in the bar; 704-243-9450;
  • Rudy Amadio is at the helm of the new Rudy's Italian Restaurant & Bar, where the old Firenze was at 6414 Rea Road. Fans will know Amadio from Dolce; the new place's menu ranges from pastas such as penne with sausage and broccoli rabe or fettuccine with shrimp and spinach to entrees such as seafood-filled flounder or veal saltimbocca. Yes, there'll be gnocchi, but only on Thursdays. Lunch Monday-Saturday will be added after Valentine's; 704-544-4949.
  • Also on tap: Donatos pizza (newest thing: Pepperoni Duo, with both slices and fine-chopped pepperoni) is slated to go into the former Queen City Pizza Depot spot at 2212 Park Road; the Flying Biscuit at Park Road Shopping Center has been delayed, and the Charlotte Duckworth's is moving from Woodlawn to the site of the short-lived Bombay Cuisine at 4435 Park Road.

New wings place

Buffalo Wings & Rings, a franchise of an Ohio-based chain, is slated to open to the public Feb. 3 at 16715 Orchard Stone Run in Ballantyne. The chain features wings (regular and boneless) and tenders with nine sauces, plus rings (circular fries, although the place does also have onion rings), burgers, salads and more. Twenty-three high definition plasma TVs will be available for sports fans, along with arcade games and a working whiskey still in the bar. 704-543-9464;