Monday, January 31, 2011

Charlotte, let's talk

I'll be on the radio at 9 a.m. Tuesday, with Mike Collins on "Charlotte Talks" on WFAE 90.7 FM. Have a few burning restaurant questions? Let 'er rip -- comment here and I'll try to get to those, or call in tomorrow at 704-926-9323 or 800-603-9323, or tweet or Facebook the show. Share your thoughts!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wine dinners

Micky's Bistro hosts a Chilean wine dinner, featuring Terra Andina, Jan. 30 for $30 per person, $50 per couple. Among the fare are grilled Norwegian salmon over yucca slaw with 2009 Terra Andina Leyda Valley Pinot Noir Reserva, and a cast-iron-fried, panko-crusted petite filet medallions with a caramelized onion Carmenere reduction, with 2009 Terra Andina Central Valley Carmenere. 15906 Old Statesville Road, Huntersville; 704-992-1781.

Zink offers a Robert Foley winemaker's dinner Feb. 2 for $75 per person. Courses range from yellowtail crudo with olive oil sorbet, with 2008 Pinot Blanc, to rosemary-crusted venison strip loin with 2008 The Griffin (a red blend). 4310 Sharon Road; 704-909-5500.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hotel Charlotte closing

Hotel Charlotte friends got an e-mail Thursday night saying the restaurant is closing after service Saturday, Jan. 29. Owner Steve Black wrote "I had hoped we would be able to hang in until after Valentine's Day, or be able to complete the month of February. But it was not to be..."

The restaurant at 705 S. Sharon Amity Road, has served for more than three decades, celebrating its 31st anniversary this week with a special menu. That menu will still be in effect, according to the e-mail. 704-364-8755.

Have memories of the place? Comment, please...

More deals

Harper's at Carolina Place and SouthPark offer three courses for $20 in something called Winter Fest, through Jan. 30. Entree choices include blackened or grilled mahi mahi and grilled sirloin with beer-battered onion rings.

Georges Brasserie extends its Restaurant Week deal (three courses for $30 through Feb. 3. 4620 Piedmont Row Drive; 980-219-7409.

P.F. Chang's now offers a happy hour menu 3-6 p.m. daily at all locations, with dim sum including six new steamed dumplings and the return of "Flaming Red Wontons," plus "street fare" such as "Asian tacos" and Shanghai street dumplings filled with chicken.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Andrew Blair's will extend the Queen's Feast menu (four courses for $30 and a glass of red or white wine) through Feb. 5. 1600 Montford Drive; 704-525-8282.

The Subway at 626 N. Graham St. uptown will be doing a grand opening March 24, with free subs from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Also of note: this location, according to its press release, is "the only sandwich restaurant in downtown to offer $5 footlongs all day every day of the week."

Wagyu, gluten-free pizza (not together), more

Wagyu beef (the breed made famous by Japan's Kobe beef) is back on the menu for a limited time at several Harper's Restaurant Group sites. Rich and extensively marbled and pricier than regular meat, this beef comes from Rock House Farm in North Carolina. Zink near SouthPark and Charlotte's Harper's at SouthPark and Pineville have each added several Wagyu specials to their regular menus; Mimosa Grill uptown and Upstream at Phillips Place will each present daily specials.

All 19 locations of Brixx now offer gluten-free dough.

Gallery 's new winter dinner menu includes first plates such as parsnip soup and Hudson Valley foie gras; small plates such as vegetable risotto, veal osso buco and seared sea scallops; and entrees such as salmon with sweet potato fingerlings and roasted lamb ribeye. 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway; 704-248-4100.

The Ritz-Carlton plans afternoon tea for Easter (April 23) and Mother's Day (both May 7 and 8). For $30 per adult, you get a finger sandwich selection, warm scones with preserves and Devonshire cream, then a course of petit fours, all with looseleaf teas. The child's price is $10, and sandwiches for them include peanut butter with housemade strawberry jam and ham and cheese, plus a selection of desserts. 201 E. Trade St.; 704-547-2244.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Soup and oysters and do-gooding

Soup on Sunday Jan. 30 gives you unlimited tastes of soup, plus the chance to get a handmade pottery soup bowl. The event, the 11th annual, is a benefit for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at Central Piedmont Community College's Culinary Arts Center, 425 N. Kings Drive (at the corner with Seventh Street). Among the soups on tap: Barrington's cream of cauliflower; BrickTop's lobster bisque, Cuisine Malaya's vegetable curry, Fenwick's tomato bisque, Red Rocks Cafe's white bean chicken chili, Sante's roasted butternut squash soup, 300 East's butternut squash with Gorgonzola, and Zebra's truffled mushroom. General admission is $30 and includes food and beverages; the Soup Lover's Special is $40 and you get a handmade pottery bowl (more will be for sale); children 7-12 are $10 and those younger are free. You can get tickets at or at the door, or call 704-335-4312.

Also Jan. 30: Look for the Growlers Pour House's oyster roast noon-6 p.m., benefitting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The roast will be in the back parking lot, under a tent, with heaters and five bands; tickets are $12 ($10 in advance) and include a $3 food voucher and $3 drink voucher. Chili, fries, brats and clam chowder will join the oysters:

"Party HEARTy" is what Georges Brasserie is calling its 5-7 happy hour Feb. 4, which will support Go Red for Women Day in conjunction with the American Heart Association. A portion of the proceeds of the Go Redtini -- made with pomegranate and orange -- and glasses of Chateau L’Amandier Bordeaux will be donated to the AHA.

Red Rocks Cafe at Strawberry Hill (4223 Providence Road) hosts a drop-in reception and silent auction March 15 to benefit the Men's Shelter of Charlotte and Providence Home (a youth shelter). Tickets are $150 per couple, $100 per person and are tax deductible. You can mail a check to the cafe, to the attention of John Love (the zip code is 28211), and your ticket price includes a buffet of heavy hors d'oeuvres and an open bar.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Updated: Let the valentine plans begin

Creole’s Louisiana Kitchen offers special dishes Feb. 11-14, including stuffed Cornish hens, and half-priced bottles of wine, and couples will get a free dessert with the purchase of two meals. Also: all diners that weekend will be entered in the drawing for a trip for two to Jazzfest 2011 in New Orleans. 15105 John J. Delaney Drive in Ballantyne; 704-544-5213.

Sibling plans: Luce and Coco Osteria, both at the Hearst Plaza at 214 N. Tryon St., will do three-course couples menus -- Luce's will be $69.95 and Coco's $49.95. Toscana (6401 Morrison Blvd.) will offer its regular menu plus specials.

McCormick & Schmick’s (SouthPark and uptown) will have a special menu Feb. 11-14 and any guest who makes a Valentine's Day reservation will get the “above and beyond” service: roses delivered to the table when the guests arrive (for a cost) and the option of having a personalized message on their dinner menus or a personalized note card on the table when they arrive.

Zebra plans seatings at 5-5:30, 7-7:30 and 9-9:30 on both Feb. 12 and 14, and will be open 5-8 p.m. Feb. 13 (that's a Sunday). Among menu items: lobster bisque, the signature vase salad, pan-roasted wild striped bass, lamb tenderloins, a "Lovebirds Sweet Sampler" for two for dessert and more. $85 per person; 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525.

The Ritz-Carlton uptown hosts a "Valentine's Experience" 5-11 p.m. Feb. 11, 12 and 14 in Urban Sip, its 15th-floor wine and Scotch bar, part of several plans at the hotel over the Feb. 11-14 weekend. The Experience involves a special menu, with offerings such as Dom Perignon and dessert for two (chocolate fondue with strawberries, pistachio genoise, bananas and more), trio of Blue Point oysters with Champagne gelee and caviar, and more. Also up: a chocolate lover's dessert buffet in the Lobby Lounge 9 p.m.-midnight Feb. 12, along with live music from the Robyn Springer Duo. Cost is $12. 210 E. Trade St.; 704-547-4179.

McNinch House is taking Valentine's reservations for Feb. 11-14, offering a package of two "grand" seven-course meals with wine pairings, and taxes and tip included, for $450 per couple. 511 N. Church St.; 704-332-6159.

Kalu plans a six-course Valentine's dinner Feb. 14 for $125 per couple, and you can also add the option of sakes (including a sparkling one) paired with the meal. Reservations required; 505 E. 6th St.; 704-910-4877.

Passion8 hosts a three-course Sweetheart's Champagne Brunch Feb. 13 for $32 per person, and will open Feb. 14 for a four-course "Love Bug Dinner Date," including 40s jazz for atmosphere, for $125 per couple. 3415 Highway 51 North, Fort Mill, S.C.; 803-802-7455.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Amelie's expanding -- where?

Amelie's, whose original French bakery location in Charlotte's NoDa neighborhood saw such success with a 24/7 policy that a second, uptown location opened last fall, is expanding again.

This time, to Florida.

Todd and Carole Binkowski, longtime Myers Park residents and fans of Amelie's, relocated to be with family in Tampa, says co-owner Lynn St. Laurent. The Binkowskis had wanted to open an Amelie's extension in south Charlotte when they were here, but the timing just hadn't worked out. But now in Tampa, in Hyde Park Village, a place St. Laurent says is undergoing a community-based resurgence, things fell into place. The Binkowskis will be owners-operators, with the Amelie's ownership group also partners. Opening is planned for February, with a menu essentially the same as the originals.

"For us, the exciting part is (that) this is a really good test to see if Amelie's can be replicated, still keeping the same feeling we've got going here," says St. Laurent. Asked what the key to that is, she replies: "I know some of it sounds really corny, but we try so hard to be a part of the community and not really so concerned with being this money-producing restaurant kind of place... We want to see if we can go in and be our casual selves, you know?"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First Bite: The Penguin

First Bite is a look at a restaurant that’s opened recently, based on one visit, not a full-fledged review.
The food: Burgers? Check. Fried pickles? Check. Dogs? Check. Big metal letters spelling out “BARBECUE” on the wall? Check. Newly added “TM” after the name? Check. On a visit this week, the new Penguin felt both simplified and complicated: The juke was silent and a lunchtime crowd sported no visible tats or piercings, though a party with seven small children swarmed in without a hitch and a couple of older gents tucked into burgers at the bar. The sporty, laminated menu has a whole “BIG CHOPPED SALADS” category now, sandwiches include barbecue, grilled pimento cheese, chicken tenders and a whole lot of burgers. Those start at 1/3 pound for $3.75 and are moist (pimento cheese on the eponymous burger helped), while fried items were … meh: Really salty, oily fried pickles, for example, with bits of fries in the cardboard basket. Sweet potato fries fared better: square-cut, not greasy, with nicely soft interior, though no dipping sauce. Drinks come in Penguin plastic cups you can keep, and if you buy a Penguin T-shirt ($12), you can wear it in to the restaurant anytime in 2011, buy an entrée, and get a free small order of pickles.
The look: Big Game Brands, whose press says it hopes to “expand the Penguin Drive-In’s brand throughout the U.S.,” has used lots of photos from the era of original owner Jim Ballentine in the décor, along with press clippings. Black and red checked floors, wood paneling, black booths, red tables and some shine on red-and-white chairs give it a same-but-spruced look.
The service: Mine smiled, was quick and fresh-faced, and knew the menu; they’re clad in Penguin Ts and pants or jeans.
Details: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Thursday, to 2 a.m. Friday-Sunday; 1921 Commonwealth Ave.; 704-375-1925;

Links of the week

The "must-have" oyster guide app for iPhone. Dubbed Oysterpedia, it helps one distinguish among 200 kinds if you get the $1.99 version; 60 for free. (But really, if you want to distinguish among more than, say, 12, wouldn't you go ahead and spring for the two bucks?) I'm linking to the Gizmodo story about it because the comments are priceless.

Atlanta restaurant critic gets stern with chefs: "You need to up your game."

Charleston's Sean Brock (he of the fabulous tat) tells you where to eat in his town.

Free bagels

Bruegger’s began a survey of e-mail subscribers and Facebook fans this week, asking about favorite bagels and spreads. In return, people who print out a coupon through the Facebook page or e-mail club site can get three free bagels Feb. 8 (before 2 p.m.), to celebrate the place's 28th birthday. (So far, we're told, the Everything bagel and plain cream cheese are leading. So they need some creative input...)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Emeril Lagasse opening restaurant in Charlotte

Bam! Wells Fargo announced what else is going into the Levine Center for the Arts campus today, and it includes a restaurant from TV star chef Emeril Lagasse. He's got a dozen restaurants, from New Orleans to Miami to Vegas, and is known for his Creole expertise.

Other new tenants include the Energy Café, a second location of this quick-service, healthy eating concept; Mizan, a Mediterranean restaurant and lounge (both plan to open in the second quarter), and Emzy Asian.Sushi Bar, an Asian fusion/sushi place scheduled to open in the third quarter.

“I’m very happy to be working with our new partners at Wells Fargo and look forward to opening our first restaurant in Charlotte,” said Lagasse in a press release. “The beautiful new campus is the perfect fit for our restaurant and we’re excited to get started with plans and development.”

Friday, January 14, 2011

Deals and new dishes

Terrace Café now offers "The 8, 9, 10 Dinner Deal": That is, you get $8 off when you order any two of the SouthPark area restaurant's nine entrees that start at $10. Print a coupon at; the offer is good until Feb. 26.

Burgers & Brews is a new offering, Wednesdays starting at 11:30 a.m. in the lobby lounge of the Ritz-Carlton in uptown. For $15, you pick among a lineup of specialty burgers -- including a bacon, blue and barbecue burger; a Mediterranean lamb burger and a chicken tikka masala burger -- and also get fries and a paired beer. The lobby area will also now have live entertainment each Wednesday night. 201 E. Trade St.; 704-547-2244.

California Pizza Kitchen has begun putting at the bottom of each meal check a 20 percent discount offer (not including alcohol) for the guest's next dine-in meal within seven days.

The updated menu at IceHouse includes eight versions of 14-inch flatbread pizzas, including The Veg (with a black bean base); several new sandwiches, including Greek chicken and hot ham and Swiss; and a separate lunch menu that offers quick service items as well as half-sandwiches with a cup of soup and small house salad for $10. 2100 South Blvd.; 704-375-1128.

Beer, wine dinners and more

Zink hosts a Founders Brewing Company beer dinner Jan. 18 (moved from Jan. 11 because of weather): Four courses and pairings for $55. Among the fare are an open-faced grouper cheek taco, with pale ale; and cocoa-braised bison short ribs with a porter. 4310 Sharon Road; 704-909-5500.

D'Vine Wine Cafe hosts a beer dinner Jan. 20 with Global Brewers Guild. On the menu: Thai lettuce wraps with Great Divide Dunkel Weiss; bourbon-glazed pork spare ribs with Crooked Line Cockeyed Cooper Barley Wine; seared venison chop with North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin; and more. $40; 14815 John J. Delaney Drive; 704-369-5050. (Also coming up next week: a new winter wine list and menu, and the venison chop on this beer dinner menu may make the list; it's being served all weekend to gauge interest.)

The Wine Shop at Foxcroft plans a Lambert Bridge wine dinner Feb. 7 with speaker Andy Wilcox; among the courses will be pork sugo (sauce) with tagliatelle with 2006 Merlot, and braised short ribs with squash orzo and 2006 Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. $50: 7824 Fairview Road, 704-365-6550. Also, the Shop has several new menu items, from handmade focaccia and pastas to duck confit, winter salads and hanger steaks.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Big Ben, bits and crumbs

Big Ben British Restaurant & Pub holds its grand reopening party Jan. 14-16, with dinner specials and an assortment of drink specials. Live entertainment will include "Reggae Don" and "The Piper, Dave McKenzie." 2000 South Blvd.; 704-817-9697.

Restaurant Week note: Toscana and Luce will open for dinner on both Sundays of the Jan. 21-30 event. Also up with the Italian siblings: Valentine's plans. Luce and Coco Osteria, another sibling and both at the Hearst Plaza at 214 N. Tryon St., will do three-course couples menus -- Luce's will be $69.95 and Coco's $49.95. Toscana (6401 Morrison Blvd.) will offer its regular menu plus specials.

Fran's Filling Station kicks off a weekly Sunday buffet Jan. 16. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the offerings will be about one-third brunch dishes and two-thirds lunch food, and cost $12.95. The place's Facebook friends and Twitter followers are encouraged to send in suggestions, and owner Fran Scibelli says she'll pick a couple to feature each week. 2410 Park Road; 704-372-2009.

Dinners coming up

Tex-Mex expert and cookbook writer Robb Walsh comes to Paco's Tacos & Tequila Feb. 9 to discuss his work over a local-ingredient dinner. Walsh, who's won a James Beard award and written for Gourmet and Saveur, has been a consultant for the restaurant and accompanied owner Frank Scibelli on a research trip through Texas before Paco's opened. Among the fare: grilled shrimp and guacamole salad; Tex-Mex tortilla soup and green-chile fried chicken. $40, with proceeds going to the FS Food Group Scholarship at Johnson & Wales. 6401 Morrison Blvd.; 704-716-8226.

Mimosa Grill hosts its first wine dinner of the year on Feb. 9, featuring varietals from Oregon's Torii Mor. Owner Margie Olson will be there for the five-course dinner, which will include lobster carpaccio, bourbon-smoked bacon-wrapped pork loin, coffee-dusted American Wagyu flank steak and more. $85, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the students of Johnson & Wales University's Co-op Club, which runs a community garden. 327 S. Tryon St.; 704-343-0700.

Carolina Ale House en route

Carolina Ale House, a Raleigh-based chain with 15 locations, plans to expand to uptown, opening in spring in Charlotte Plaza at 201 S. College St. The menu ranges from wings and burgers to pizzas and steaks, along with a typical draft and bottle list in the dozens.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Penguin slated to open...

... Jan. 15 (next Saturday), with an event starting at 11 a.m. with, naturally, fried pickles, along with live music and giveaways. Big Game Brands is the Charlotte-based company looking to "expand the Penguin Drive-In's brand throughout the U.S.," according to a press release. That's owned by Martin Sprock of Charlotte, best-known for his Raving Brands, and for creating multiples of such spots as Moe's and Flying Biscuit.

"We are excited about bringing the Penguin's unique brand of traditional American cooking back to the Charlotteans that have supported this restaurant for generations," Sprock said in a press release, and added he has his eye on other cities. The Penguin, a landmark in Plaza Midwood since the mid 1950s, has been "completely refurbished," but keeps the (now trademarked, according to the release) Famous Penguin Fried Pickles and Famous Penguin Pimento Cheese dishes. It's at 1921 Commonwealth Ave. Spokesman Bruno Lucarelli (reached this morning in New Jersey) said folks at the restaurant are "running in circles" trying to prepare. A website is up at, but the menu is not yet posted.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top area chef leaves post

Longtime star chef Tim Groody has left Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse in Davidson. "We weren't on the same page," Groody said today, adding that it was a mutual parting, and that he's looking; "I'm working a bunch of things." He says he's thinking to stay in the lake area, hopes to do something soon and intends to try to do something "more so on my own."

Michael LaVecchia of Flatiron said he will miss Groody's culinary talent and style, "and his expertise in opening the restaurant was critical." He said he wants to return to the original direction, which emphasized "the highest quality proteins and boutique meats in the country, with a very simplistic execution ... making sure the price point fits with the (concept) and the economy." He said he's interviewing chefs today; he's interested in young talent, and hasn't ruled out hiring from within. Also, expect a marketing campaign from Flatiron; "we're still just in Davidson; we haven't got down to the Birkdale Village people (yet); we don't have the people at the Point at Exit 36."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bits and crumbs

Blue hosts a six-dish Silver Oak wine dinner Jan. 14 for $125. Among the courses: scallop with foie gras torchon with 2008 Twomey Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir; seared Magret duck breast over parmesan polenta with 2006 Twomey Napa Valley Merlot; and venison strip loin with 2005 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Hearst Tower, corner of College and 5th streets; 704-927-2583.

Caffe Siena at Holiday Inn Center City plans a four-course Valentine's meal for $89.99 per couple, offered Feb. 11-14 (as is a room package). Dinner includes choices such as pan-seared Chilean sea bass; roasted free-range chicken, Maine lobster, filet mignon and more. 230 N. College St.; 704-335-5400, ext. 458.

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery has a new head brewer: Evan Carroll, former head brewer for Big River Disney (yes, that's at Walt Disney World in Florida). He's won medals from the Best Florida Beer Championships and plans to offer his recipes, along with a new specialty cask beer every first and third Thursday at the restaurant. (Spiced Wheat debuted Dec. 31; next up is a Schwartz Jan. 17.) 401 N. Tryon St.; 704-334-2739.


Restaurateurs: Think you've got the best dish in North Carolina -- using N.C. products, that is? The N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services holds a contest that pits contestants in three "divisions": Western, Piedmont and Eastern. Deadline is March 31: Enter online at or contact Tim Parrish at 919-707-3137 or

Monday, January 3, 2011

What to look for in '11

Here's what some media are predicting for the new year. Among my favorite ideas: Dirt. Bunnies. Eating for sex. (What?)

Bon Appetit's ideas.

The Food Channel's.

Trade pub National Restaurant News's.

Technomic's (a food service research and consulting firm).

Baum and Whiteman's (another consultant firm), which includes the immortal "gross is good."

Think anybody's right here? (And yes, there's a lot of overlap.) What do you anticipate seeing?