Thursday, January 31, 2013

New grilled cheese

Orrman’s Cheese Shop, the tiny shop in the 7th Street Public Market, now serves grilled cheese sandwiches. Owner Rachel Klebaur's standard is cheddar, gouda, mustard and pickles on sourdough, but variations, too, ranging from $5 to $7.50 (like gouda with preserved walnuts and shallot confit). There's also a peanut butter and jelly on brioche (you can add goat cheese from Bosky's in Waxhaw!), and sides include chips, olives and more.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New at Fern, Halcyon, Urban Sip

New menus are out for siblings Fern and Halcyon. Among additions at Fern (1323 Central Ave.) are seared beet tataki (salt-roasted sesame and togarashi-crusted beets served a kimchi spring roll), triple onion soup, and "surf n' turf": seaweed-infused turnip scallops and grilled seitan filet. New at Halcyon (500 S Tryon St.) are Atlantic salmon with hominy puree and hickory tea, and duck breast with roasted sunchoke and chevre puree and carob-soba noodles.
Both places have new desserts, too, including beignets stuffed with vegan cookie dough at Fern, and a beet cheesecake with chocolate balsamic sauce and candied beets at Halcyon (that's it, above).

Urban Sip, the wine-Scotch-etc. bar on the uptown Ritz-Carlton's 15th floor, now offers live jazz 8-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The tapas menu adds olives, chilled smoked shrimp, smoked salmon tartare, lobster summer rolls and more cheeses and charcuterie. Info: 704-547-2244.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Looking for a bit of secrecy?

Chefs Craig Barbour of Roots (food truck) and Susan Dillingham (The Tiny Chef) will do a multi-course, "wine-inspired" meal 7-10 p.m. Valentine's night for $195 per couple. It's dubbed Innamorato, and that is all the info you will get. Interested? Email, and you'll eventually get details like, say, the location. Maybe.

A tasting and an anti-Valentine's party

The Wine Vault offers a tasting called "21 Big Rich Red Wines" 6:30-8 p.m. Feb. 5 at Founders Hall for $25, and Aria will offer its three-courses-for-$30 deal and charge no corkage fees for those who buying wine at the tasting. Valet parking will be available on College Street. Reservations: 704-548-9463.

Also coming up from the Wine Vault: Its annual We Hate Valentine's Day party. "NO Couples! NO Flowers! AND NO PDA!!!!" is the motto, breakup songs are the musical motif, and those who buy three glasses of wine get the fourth free. Don't forget your designated driver. 9009 J.M.Keynes Drive.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Oysters and crumbs

Georges Brasserie offers $1 oysters and $3 glasses of selected Champagne tonight through Jan. 31; 4620 Piedmont Row Drive; 980-219-7409.

Blue extends its three-for-$30 Restaurant Week deal through Feb. 13. 704-927-2583; Hearst Plaza uptown.

Jimmy and Carolyn Crippen, owners and founders of Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant plan to leave the Blowing Rock business. Jimmy Crippen says he will focus on "competition dining," such as his Fire on the Rock and accompanying contests between chefs in different geographic regions that formed the 2012 Got to Be NC food competition in 2012. (Plans call for Charlotte to be added to the range of areas.) Specific plans are not clear; the Crippens said in a press release they are "talking with potential buyers."

Culinary program's restaurant open

Artisan, which The Art Institute of Charlotte calls its "student-run dining lab," is open for its winter 2013 session, serving lunch 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Thursday through March 14. Students, under supervising chef Mark Martin, cook, as well as run the dining room. Among the offerings are Creole chicken sandwich, grilled grouper and porter-braised short ribs, and a $13.95 three-course menu. You don't need reservations, but can make them at 704-357-5900. 2110 Water Ridge Parkway (off Tyvola Road in southwest Charlotte).

Friday, January 25, 2013

SouthPark wine bar on way

J. Sam's should open by "the end of February, first of March," says J. Sam Daniels, who's putting the wine bar into the former Dolcetto at Piedmont Town Center.
He thinks this wine bar concept will work, he says, because he'll be combining "SouthPark sophistication" with "NoDa artsiness"; "everywhere in SouthPark is so corporate, and it's all very nice, but they have that big corporate feel... This will be a local place for locals to hang out."
Expect a short menu -- five or six cheeses, a couple of charcuterie items and about eight other dishes, ranging about $7-$16, all with pairing suggestions and rotating regularly -- plus about 20 wines by the glass and about 60 by the bottle.
Monthly wine tastings and monthly art shows of Carolinas-based artists (whose work will be on the walls, for sale, for the month) and a full bar, plus a dessert menu, are other features.
Daniels, who worked in politics but says this has been a lifelong dream, said workers are just finishing up a kitchen upgrade, and consulting chef Robert Brener (who teaches at Johnson & Wales) has been working with him on the menu.
4625 Piedmont Row Drive, on the side Taco Mac is on.


Dishcrawl Charlotte kicks off on Feb. 27. Dishcrawl, which has locations around the country and beyond, create dining experiences from progressive dinners to fixed-price ones and more, with an emphasis on area restaurants and chefs. This event will take diners to four restaurants (they're TBA, as is the initial meeting spot) in South End, and costs $45. Info here or email Ciara Caron at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bits and crumbs

Mimi’s Cafe plans to raise awareness about women's heart health during American Heart Month this February. On Feb. 1, guests who "Go Red For Women" -- meaning wear red and dine in -- will get a free cup of signature soup. Throughout the month, if you donate $1, you'll get to put up a card showing your donation; $5 gets you a pin; and all donations go directly to the American Heart Association. Also, on each Tuesday of the month, guests get a free cup of soup with a donation.

Pure restaurant in Matthews, a Georgia-based taqueria chain, has closed.

Rooster's at SouthPark hosts a Gerard Bertrand wine dinner Jan. 29 for $65. Among the offerings: smoked, seared salmon belly with black rice and Minervois; grilled quail breast and leg confit with Tautavel; and short rib with Chateau Hospitalet. 6601 Morrison Blvd.; 704-366-8688.

Paco’s Tacos & Tequila has a new express lunch menu: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, you can get an array of combos (small chopped salad and taco, quesadilla or chili or tortilla soup) for $7-$9; tacos for two for $11 and more. Specialty Shops on the Park; 704-716-8226.

Eat while you watch the film (again)

Into the EpiCentre movie theater and Mez spot uptown will go Studio Movie Grill, a national chain of which this will be the 12th U.S. location. (They're in Arizona, Illinois, Texas and Georgia.)

SMG EpiCentre will show first-run movies and a menu ranging from crab cakes and sundried-tomato-and-arugula pizza to steak sandwiches and coconut chicken tenders. Full bar, too, plus what the company calls "SMG With A Twist:: documentaries, one-night-only concert films, sports and $1 classic movies, plus themed monthly film series. Target opening is Feb. 26, and hours will be 3 p.m. to midnight weekdays, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday-Sunday.

Here's how seating works: You choose your seat when you buy your ticket -- which lets you loll at the bar and sit down when you like. You order your meal after sitting down, by pressing a call button that will summon a server to your seat.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

King's Kitchen: Coats needed!

With the impending temperature drop (some forecasters are predicting 20s tonight), The King's Kitchen not-for-profit restaurant uptown is calling for donations of coats, jackets and sleeping bags through today, which it will distribute to the people the restaurant helps each week, says owner Jim Noble. You can bring donations to the restaurant at 129 W. Trade St., or to sibling Roosters at SouthPark (6601 Morrison Blvd.).

El Camino update

El Camino is open at 1600 Montford Drive, offering Tex-Mex food and decor -- the result of travels by Andy Henson and chef Todd Townsend to Austin and Houston. "We don't take ourselves too seriously," writes partner Barbara Henson; "that's why it's a 'Tex-Mex Joint.' Our hope is that customers will be able to enjoy authentic embellishments from Mexico and Texas that are different than the everyday Mexican restaurant decor." Artist Scott Partridge designed and painted three murals for the restaurant. All dishes (fajitas, nachos, enchiladas, burritos, etc.) are less than $13, and the place serves lunch and dinner daily. 704-525-8282;

Friday, January 18, 2013

More closings...

TOMI has closed at Colony Place, according to an email I got from co-owner Kevin Cheng. This Taiwanese spot was the second restaurant for him and brother Ben (KOKO in Dilworth was the first), and I'm sorry for Charlotte to lose it.

Also, two readers have now told me Dynasty Cuisine in Matthews is closed. This Chinese spot, formerly Buffet Dynasty, is a significant loss for the area, since its traditional dishes ranged far and wide, including a marvelous dim sum lineup.

If you missed the news of Charlotte restaurant icon Pewter Rose closing after this Sunday night's dinner service, that is here. A sad week for the city.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Soup on Sunday coming up

Jan. 27 brings the 13th Annual Soup on Sunday benefit, bringing you tastes of soups from all sorts of area restaurants, plus a chance to buy pottery by area potters and sample the wares of culinary students from Central Piedmont Community College, Johnson & Wales and The Art Institute. Cost is $40 (soups, drinks and a handmade bowl) or $30 (just not the bowl), and $10 for kids 7-12 (younger are free).

The event, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Philip L. Van Every Culinary Arts Center at CPCC (425 N. Kings Drive), benefits Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region.

So far, restaurants and soups include the following (check for updates and ticket sales; you can also buy tickets at the door or by calling 704-335-4312):

300 East: butternut squash with Gorgonzola
Barrington's: celery root and chestnut
Bricktop's: to be determined
Brio Tuscan Grille: lobster bisque
Brixx: white bean chicken chili
Community Culinary School of Charlotte: mulligatawny
CPCC's Culinary Arts: creamy broccoli, and South African lamb chili
Crepe Cellar: TBD
East Boulevard Bar & Grill: bleu cheese tomato bisque
Fenwick's: tomato bisque, and one TBD
Harvest Moon Grill: sweet & sour pork
Jackelope Jacks: chicken & wild rice
Johnson & Wales: shrimp bisque
Katz New York Deli: mushroom barley
La-tea-da's: white bean & collards soup with crispy pimento cheese
The Liberty: TBD
Mama Ricotta's: Italian wedding soup
Newk's Eatery: chicken noodle, and crab soup
Paco's Tacos & Tequila: pozole rojo
Peculiar Rabbit: vegan black bean and sweet potato
Red Rocks: chicken tortilla
Rodi: Moroccan meatball soup
Sante: roasted butternut squash
Savannah Red: spicy smoky Jerusalem artichoke chowder
Terra: cream of mushroom with truffle oil
The Round Bistro: she crab
Trio: mulligatawny
Zebra: truffled mushroom, and lobster bisque

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Grilled cheese on (no, at) a Ritz

The Ritz-Carlton began a pop-up lunch offering in the lobby (the Bar Cocoa area) a couple of weeks ago and plans to continue: Look for Rogue: A Grilled Cheese Eatery 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays, with sandwiches ranging from $4.50 to $6.50 and including American on white; French onion with Gruyere on sourdough; smoked turkey with Swiss and corn chowchow on multigrain; and more (soups, for instance).

Want to talk Charlotte restaurant history on the radio?

Give "Charlotte Talks" a call/email/text/etc. Thursday morning on WFAE (90.7 FM), when the topic is "The History and Evolution of Dining Out" and the guests are a more fun lot than that title would lead you to believe: author Molly O'Neill ("The New York Cookbook," and most recently "Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Baseball"; she's also former food columnist for The New York Times Magazine and twice a Pulitzer nominee); Peter Reinhart, who's got the best job description of all time as "chef on assignment" for Johnson & Wales; the always fun Bruce Hensley, creator of Charlotte Restaurant Week; and me. Details and all kinds of links here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New restaurants popping up

Catching up on openings, coming-up openings (and a reopening): 
Coming up:
Block & Grinder, a long-awaited restaurant from Jed Kampe (former owner of the New York Butcher Shoppe on Selwyn), with chef Kent Graham (who's spent time at the French Laundry and Plaza hotel), has a target opening date of March 11, if all goes according to plan. Says Kampe: "We're still going to have a butcher shop, but ... it will also be just a really nice neighborhood restaurant." Plan on high-end burgers of beef ground daily (and all through the day, from a recipe he and Graham played around with for quite some time), plenty of steaks, and housemade deli meats from smoked turkey to pastrami. Prices on steaks, he says, will run about $15 to the low 30s; he and Graham are still working on the lineup. There'll be a full bar, but also a wine retail section in the back of the place, which should seat about 70, with 20 on the patio.
2935 Providence Road (in the former Panda Express, at the corner of South Sharon Amity); 704-364-2100;

Carrburritos will offer margarita specials at its grand opening, Jan. 16: $4 house ones and $6 specialty ones, plus T-shirt giveaways and gift certificate sweepstakes. This is the second location for a Carrboro taqueria-style spot and is at 445 S. Main St. in Davidson, within the Wooden Stone Gallery. 704-237-3040;

Crisp is slated to open its third salad-centric spot, at Latta Arcade, within the month. It'll be takeout only, focus on salads primarily (with a few sandwiches, but no pizzas), and open 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. weekdays. 320 S. Tryon St.; 704-376-0015.

Luciano's, part of the Georgia-based Italian chain, is looking to open by the end of February, according to general manager Polo Castro. That's at 1910 South Blvd., the former La Paz spot;

Now open:

Letty Ketner now has Letty's in the former Foskoskies at 2121 Shamrock Drive, serving shrimp creole, honey pecan chicken, "neatloaf" (veggie meatloaf) and more, including Sunday brunch. You may recall Ketner from the old Hotel Charlotte; she says several other longtime Hotel Charlotte staffers are here, including "my better half Ron Ketner" as bar manager. First wine tasting event will be Jan. 27, with six courses and six wines for $35. 704-817-8702.

Joe Hooper's Beverage and Sandwich Exchange is open at 1300 Central Ave. (formerly Stackers), with what it calls "a unique take on bar food," including deviled eggs, fried bologna sandwich and a burger with bacon and fried mac 'n cheese. The place is sibling to All American Pub, Braswells, Whiskey Warehouse and Jack’s Corner Tap in Cornelius. 704-334-2434.

Miyagi's menu offers a handful of Korean entrees, plus an array of Asian starters and pan-Asian starters (ahi tuna tacos, edamame, crab rangoon, and a sort-of-Thai version of pigs in blankets), and a short sushi lineup, too. In NoDa at 3220 N. Davidson St.; 980-949-8171;

Vine American Kitchen (in the former City Range spot) serves a straightforward menu of burgers and sandwiches; entrees such as ribs, salmon, steak and jambalaya (note: it's got rotisserie roast beef and chicken); and more. 13735 Conlan Circle; 704-469-5282;

And reopened: 131 Main in Dilworth, at 1315 East Blvd. This outpost of the area chain had been closed for months after a fire, then car accident, but is back up for both lunch and dinner. 704-343-0131.

Monday, January 14, 2013

5Church group plans new spot

The guys who put together 5Church uptown plan to open Nan and Byron’s in the former Vinnie's Sardine in South End this summer. MAP management is Mills Howell, Alejandro Torio and Patrick Whalen, with executive chef and partner Jamie Lynch. "Traditional American" is the plan right now. Torio says this means "food we grew up with" -- such as chicken pot pie, spaghetti and meatballs, barbecue meatloaf -- and prices that are "affordable"; think an entree price range with the top in the vicinity of $15. The title comes from Grant Wood's "American Gothic" and that aesthetic will also influence the decor. (Interesting!)

The address: 1714 South Blvd., where Vinnie's closed, rather suddenly, in December, after 20 years. (A Vinnie's is still open in Mooresville.)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Weigh in on Tournament of Food

OK, food fans.

Which food shall we assess in this year's timed-with-NCAA-basketball Observer Tournament of Food?

Promising Twitter suggestions (@helenschwab) include mac 'n cheese, tacos and grilled cheese sandwiches. Past tourneys have covered wings, pizza, fries, burgers and sandwiches. (And if you don't remember, you can see how those turned out by going to links on the Observer's dining page here.) Comment here, or email me at, and we'll get this party started...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How is this not already here?

French Fry Heaven is, according to its own press, "the first and best concept in the gourmet fry category" -- thereby introducing said gourmet fry market. Based in Jacksonville, Fla., this is a franchise concept that offers what it calls "Angels" and "Saints." Those are Belgian-style fries (crunchy outside, fluffy inside, regular potato) and sweet potato fries. Each can be topped with a choice of more than 50 toppings, from garlic parmesan with black truffle salt to "the Festival": a treatment that makes sweet potato fries taste like funnel cake. The original opened in October 2011. Now three locations are open, with 69 "in the pipeline," planned from Texas to Massachusetts, according to the company.

'Pourhouse Points': a house oyster at Growlers

Growlers Pourhouse now has its own "house oyster": It's called a Pourhouse Point, it's what's called a triploid, and it's being grown just outside Harker's Island in floating baskets, one of several techniques used to bring young oysters (called spat) to edible maturity.
Paul Manley (left), partner in the restaurant, says he has relied on Gulf oysters for years in various ventures, and found them inconsistent (for lots of reasons, including weather and diminished amounts of product). He pursued the idea of working with someone to come up with a particular oyster to be served on the half shell: He wanted a deep (shell) cup with a sturdy top shell that wouldn't sliver or flake when you open it, medium body and a medium-high salt finish. (Oyster lovers can rival wine geeks in descriptive terms, but Manley keeps it pretty simple.)
He says he worked with James Morris Jr., a scientist who does research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to choose the strain and develop the process. Triploid oysters are sterile, so they don't get "spawny" (milky) in summer or "spawned out" (reduced in size) in fall the way reproducing diploids do.
They are Crassostrea virginicus (the Eastern oyster) and are spawned in a Virginia hatchery, then planted at the N.C. coast spot.
"It's the best N.C. oyster I've had," says Manley. On the half shell at Growlers, they're $10 for six, $17 per dozen (cheaper than the Bluepoints and Beausoleils that go for $19 a dozen). The sibling Crepe Cellar is also using them, in a Rockefeller-like appetizer using brie, spinach and Coppa Americana that's six for $12.
Growlers: 3120 N. Davidson St.; 704-910-6566.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Restaurant Week returns

Jan. 18-27 is the next Charlotte Restaurant Week, with more than 110 restaurants in the area taking part in this three-courses-for-$30 deal. You can see the specific lineups offered by each restaurant and make reservations, at the event website here.

Some distinctions to watch for:
* Some places offer a bonus course, glass of wine or discounted bottles or glasses of wine accompanying the deal. Typically, those are places with lower regular sticker prices on the food, but not always.
* If you’re a bargain hunter, you’ll want to pull up the place’s menu; links to restaurants’ websites are conveniently located on each restaurant’s page within the Restaurant Week site. Some places include signature dishes and regular menu items in the three-for-$30 lineup; some do more off-menu dishes. Some do smaller versions of what’s on the regular menu (check steak weights, in particular).
* Some places let you mix and match from their entire regular menus, which is the most efficient way to see if you’d want to become a regular customer. (Lots of diners do the three-for-$30 as a novelty, a reason to go somewhere they haven’t been before. Others do it for the bargain angle. But some really are auditioning a new regular destination.)

Expect places to be busy, and remember that drinks (for the most part) and tips are not included in the $30.

Places new on the CRW landscape include Amor de Brazil, Dean & DeLuca Wine Room, Heist Brewery, Napa on Providence (formerly Providence Cafe) and Peculiar Rabbit.

Excited about a particular one, or have thoughts or questions on the lineup? Let me know in the comments.

Free pancakes coming

IHOP will give away a free stack of buttermilk pancakes to each diner 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 5, National Pancake Day. The chain hopes to raise $3 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals this way -- guests will be encouraged to make a donation during their visit. IHOP has raised more than $10 million in the last seven years of doing the event. More info: