Tuesday, April 29, 2014

American Culinary Federation rewards Charlotte restaurants

The American Culinary Federation recognized Charlotte-area restaurants and chefs at the 2014 ACF Southeast Regional Conference in late April.

5Church and Mama Ricotta's received Achievement of Excellence Awards, denoting "a commitment to excellence" among "industry leaders."

Chef Geoff Blount, baking and pastry arts program chair at Central Piedmont Community College, won a Cutting Edge Award, which recognizes "leadership and service to the culinary profession."

And Philip Lloyd, chef/owner at Chef's Cuisine Inc. in Huntersville, was awarded a President’s Medallion, given to "foodservice professionals who exemplify culinary excellence and leadership, and have contributed their knowledge to the advancement of the culinary profession."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Got a rescue dog? Could be a cover dog!

Raffaldini Vineyards in the Yadkin Valley seeks a new cover dog -- well, label dog -- to appear on its Pino Vino VI, the newest vintage of Raffaldini wine benefitting area animal shelters and organizations. Email your photo and story by April 30 to pinovino@raffaldini.com for consideration, and include your name, contact info, the dog's name and story in 50 or fewer words; the winner will be announced May 9 and the wine will be released June 7.

The 2014 winner will take over from Trotter, a German Shepherd mix from Troutman, who graced the label of the fifth release of the wine, last year.

"Our goal is to raise awareness for the caring and compassion that all animals deserve,” vineyard owner Jay Raffaldini said in a press release (that's Jay, above, with the IV winner, Jake, and his owner). More on the vineyard is here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

If only ... you could afford these super-cool offers (and a question at the end)

The James Beard Foundation has a new thing: It's partnered with IfOnly, a remarkable operation that offers experiences you never thought you could get (hence "IfOnly") -- if you have the money to purchase them, that is -- and your purchases benefit charities or causes.

Some are clearly awesome: Superstar chef April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and The Breslin in New York teaches a butchery class and prepares dinner for 12 (OK, it's $5,000, but still) and a chef jacket signed by Michael Chiarello of Bottega in Napa, and the chance to get noted drink master David Wondrich's help in creating your own bespoke cocktail for $1,000.

(There's also the opportunity to have a famous chef follow you on Twitter -- for $65. "Experience the ultimate social media nod and connect with a culinary star" when a Cleveland chef (no, it's not Rocco Whalen) actually follows you (as long as you're not a business or offensive). Still, that's potentially more fruitful than personalized, emailed cooking tips from chef Michael Chiarello -- which are $750. A piece.)


Check it all out at www.ifonly.com.

A quick look at the other categories at IfOnly:

Also under the Lifestyle section (where the chefs are): Go with a friend to Haiti for two days with star photographer Russell James for $25,000 (plus $12,000 if you want to fly to the UNESCO World Heritage-protected Citadelle Laferriere and be the subject of a photo shoot). If you only have $10,000, you can fly to NYC instead and watch James shoot models, and get shot, too. These benefit the Nomad Two Worlds Foundation, which supports and promotes artists from indigenous and marginalized communities.

In Sports, you can hang out with NFL stars Marshawn Lynch and Josh Johnson at a reception in Vegas for $48,000 (benefitting the Family First Foundation).

In Music, you can bid (minimum start is $2,000) on a private piano and vocal lesson with A Great Big World (who did "Say Something" with Christina Aguilera).

And in the Bollywood section, $750 gets you lunch with Bhangra star Malkit Singh, which I would totally pay if I happened to live in India, since I find Bhangra the best music in the world to cook to.

What do you cook to?

Dine out, do good: MS version

The Chrome Toaster food truck's Aaron Rivera, with help from Greg Collier from The Yolk Cafe and Emma Merisier from Southern Cake Queen (who also has a truck), holds a dinner April 19 to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 7-10 p.m. at World of Beer, 222 E. Bland St. in South End.

Appetizers, four courses -- including scallops with spring pea agnolotti and foie gras with goose egg -- and wine are included for $75. All proceeds go to the MS Society's Greater Carolinas Chapter. Get tickets here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dine out, do good ... barbecue for Charlotte's Light Factory

Friday (April 18) is the last day to buy T-shirt tickets for the May 3 "Golden Hamiversary" of the CSCA Pig Roast, an event run for years by the Charlotte Society of Communicating Arts, and this year making a return -- and benefitting The Light Factory.

The event is rain or shine, at 9832 Concord Highway, Midland. You'll get pork, slaw, beans and buns, plus live music and "all sorts of frivolity," says its press (rumors include a bonfire), and tickets (which come with T shirts) cost $38 for S, M, L and XL, and $40 for XXL. Tickets will be sold until noon April 18 at the link above, which also gives you a little stroll through images past of the pig roast. (No spoilers, but scroll around on the website, because some of the old images and tales are fantastic. Personal favorite: 1993.) Here's a shortcut for the short of attention span.

(I know the image is cut off on one side, but Blogger only gives you a few sizes to choose from, and this pig, by seems to need some room to stretch ...)

The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film, founded in 1972, is working to reestablish itself in a new location on Central Avenue (it suspended operations in Spirit Square last fall) and is working to raise money for upfitting two galleries, classroom space and a darkroom.

Easter plans

Update: Bonterra will offer Easter brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 1829 Cleveland Ave.; 704-333-9463.

BLT Steak will serve breakfast 7-11 a.m. and brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m., with both a regular menu and some Easter-only dishes, such as goat cheese frittata and chocolate chip pancakes. 110 N. College St. in the Ritz-Carlton; 704-972-4380.

Blue will serve brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. with live jazz and carving stations of top round and spiral-sliced ham, plus chicken tagine, shrimp and grits and more. $39.95 ($14.95 for 6-12; free for 5 and younger); 206 N. College St. in the Hearst Tower; 704-927-2583.

The Capital Grille will be open 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. for Easter brunch, with choice of starter, entree and dessert for $49 for adults, $18 for children. Entree choices are lobster eggs Benedict, bone-in 14-ounce sirloin steak, 8-ounce filet mignon, seared halibut with roasted artichoke, dry-aged sirloin hash with fried egg and crisp onions, and citrus-glazed salmon. (There's a separate menu for kids.) 201 N. Tryon St., 704-348-1400.

Del Frisco's will serve brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner until 9 p.m., with full menus and a $49 three-course special also offered. There's also a $39 three-course brunch menu, plus a $12 kids' lineup. 4725 Piedmont Row Drive; 704-552-5502.

NOTE: This time changed April 15; it'll be serving until 2, not 3. Fleming’s offers a three-course brunch menu 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. with choice of prime rib with a trio of sauces, eggs Benedict (above), prime rib hash or baked brioche French toast, plus appetizer and dessert for $39.95 (and you get a $25 dining card, valid for a future visit). There's also a three-course menu for those 11 and younger for $18.95. 219 W. Trade St.; reservations 704-333-4266.

The Liberty hosts brunch with reservations from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Biscuits for everyone -- plus a Southern ham tasting, crab two ways, chicken and waffles, prime beef roast and more, served as a three-course fixed-price meal for $26.95 ($9.95 for 10 and younger). 1812 South Blvd.; reservations 704-332-8830.

Red Rocks will serve a buffet only, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., with reservations required and a surprise visit from the Easter Bunny planned. Cost is $27 for adults, $11 for kids, and the menu will be different at each location. Birkdale Village in Huntersville: 704-892-9999; Strawberry Hill, 4223 Providence Road; 704-364-0402.

SouthPark hosts a buffet 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for $37, with house-smoked salmon, Carolina shrimp and grits, wood-grilled barbecue chicken and more. 6601 Morrison Blvd.; 704-366-8688.

Upstream's buffet will be 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m., with prime rib, roasted salmon and mint-rubbed leg of lamb and a dessert bar. 6902 Phillips Place; reservations 704-556-7730.

Reminder: Taste of the Nation is tonight

Charlotte's Taste of the Nation event this year is April 16, an annual event that raises funds for national hunger relief group Share Our Strength's "No Kid Hungry" effort: 100 percent of ticket sales go to that program.

General admission tickets get you into the event at Two Wells Fargo Center Atrium at 301 S. Tryon St. from 7-9:30 p.m.; a VIP ticket lets you in at 6 p.m. for $100. Tickets aren't available online anymore, but they'll be sold at the door.

Taste of the Nation gets you tastes of the work of area restaurants and culinary schools, plus wine, beer and spirits (including offerings from the Mixologist Bar), plus live music, silent auction and live auction.

Participating restaurants are: BAKU, Brixx, Cantina 1511, Chima, Coastal Kitchen & Bar, Dressler's, Ember Grille, Gallery, ilios noche, Mama Ricotta's, Mimosa Grill, Napa on Providence, Saffron, Savannah Red, Upstream, Village Tavern and Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Forbes puts CLT event in 'must' list

The Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend, an every-other-year affair that brings vintners, wine lovers and much of their surrounding orbits into town to raise money for an array of area causes, made the Forbes' Travel Guide's list of five must-visit Spring Food Festivals.

Bernardin's gets a sibling in Charlotte

Chef-owner Freddy Lee has opened 3 Trade at 333 W. Trade St., sibling to his Bernardin's at the Ratcliffe, also uptown.

The new place focuses on Lowcountry and "contemporary American" food, "plus pasta and sushi," its press says. Executive chef Travis Garrett is a graduate of and former instructor at Johnson & Wales, and Lee, who's got a Culinary Institute of America background, said he plans to stay "very involved."

Lunch (about $8-$15) will be offered weekdays and dinner ($10-$25) Monday-Saturday. 704-370-3006.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Let me take you out to the (Charlotte Knights) ballgame ...

... where the good news is: Beer!

A Knight's Ale comes from NoDa Brewing and it's an IPA with more character than most of the rest of the concessions put together. Beer geeks deem it "sessionable" -- as in you-can-drink-several-without-falling-out-of-the-stands -- but I'll strongly encourage you not to test that definition, and instead pay more attention to the game.

On the other hand, A Knight's Ale isn't the only good beer news: There were also Olde Mecklenburg Brewery's Copper and Southside Weiss on opening night, plus Natty Greene's (from Greensboro, its stand offered Elm Street IPA, Wildflower Witbier, Southern Pale Ale and Buckshot Amber Ale), and Foothills (out of Winston-Salem, also with a stand).

You'll notice draft beer in regular plastic cups for $7.50 and in larger cups that look like Mason jars for $10, which may give you more beer, but offers you infinitely less dignity.

Budweiser (which brought the showy Clydesdales for opening night) is offered all over the park, though I only saw its entertaining Bottoms Up draft beer dispenser in one spot. (I do wish Budweiser wouldn't insist on spelling draft "draught" on the marketing materials.)

Note to the beer trekker: Queen City Q spots (there are multiples) also sell A Knight's Tale, as does a craft-beer spot offering Shock Top and SweetWater 420 on tap.

As far as food: well-browned brats and Queen City Q, with the first game-venue barbecue that hasn't been embarrassing, proved to be the highlights. The 'cue platter (actually a sandwich, with slaw, for $11) wasn't the best I've had from Queen City, as it had dried out a bit, but the flavor wasn't bad, the sauces were fine, and I have hopes for the process straightening out.

Taking the prize for worst item is the ribeye steak basket for $11, a truly dismal affair of overcooked beef with decent horseradish on a too-white bun: Open it up, pick out the fattiest pieces (it will be competitive) and you can concoct three decent bites.

And since everyone needs a hot dog rundown, here's mine:

Jumbo dogs ($5) are the best bet, at Hot Dog Nation as well as the Smokehouse spot in the back-of-outfield area and the Knights concession areas: plump and well-browned in more than one stand I spied into.

The Squire or Knights hot dog ($3) is a regular dog, and fine for $3; Sahlen's out of New York is the official Knights' dog. "Specialty" dogs come with "dragon chips" (aka kettle chips, aka browned, with a crunch, but cold), and are topped with chili and slaw or mac and cheese (!) or served Chicago-style, for $9.

Whiskey River's "Tiny Baby Corn Dogs" win for best name, and the honey mustard sauce is a smart touch. If Dale Jr. ever figures out how to hand these over less greasy, they'll be a strong contender. As is: No.

JustFresh is offering a couple of salads and some wraps ($8 to $11) for those seeking something less cholesterol-calorific, Salsarita's is doing chips and queso for $5 and burritos ($11 for the combo) and more, the Knights stands have a burger with chips and topped with bacon and cheese or chili and slaw for $10 (but you don't seem to be able to get one plain). Dave & Fran's, which has done an assortment of foods over the years in town, here offers pork rinds, roasted pecans and almonds, boiled peanuts, kettle corn and iced tea three ways (regular, peach and Arnold Palmer) -- and everything's $6.

Which, if you start with a $20 and get peanuts and kettle corn, leaves you enough for one regular Knight's Ale, and puts two quarters in your pocket. Settle into your seat, watch the sun set over the city skyline and thank the heavens Charlotte's finally brought baseball uptown, and changed our stars.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dog do-over

JJ's Red Hots tried a promotion at its Dilworth location for the opening of major league baseball on March 31 -- a $2 hot dog -- and when lots and lots of people wanted to take the restaurant up on the offer, things got a little messy. So the place is seeking to make amends: It sent out a post today saying "we just didn't deliver as planned" and "please forgive us" and (better, if you're into deals) that it will make the offer again, on April 14. Actually, it's making the deal bigger, by specifying that all its signature dogs (usually about $3.50 to $4) will be $2 on that day. 1514 East Blvd. and its Ballantyne location, too, at 15105 N. John J. Delaney Drive; www.jjsredhots.com.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kids' deal at Nan and Byron's

Kids 12 and younger now eat free (from the kids' menu only) 5-7 p.m. each Sunday through Wednesday at Nan and Byron’s. That means choices such as a small burger, spaghetti, grilled chicken, even the classic Beanie Weenies (for the horribly sheltered: an all-beef hot dog, "folded into baked beans"), and most come with a side, as well. 1714 South Blvd.; 980-224-7492; find the kids menu here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Festa Italiana is on the way

Festa Italiana, the annual St. Anthony celebration that benefits the Nevins Center of Charlotte helping people with disabilities that's in its ninth year, will be 1-7 p.m. May 18. The event will be held at Queens University, and the star attraction is Lake Como chef Massimo Zaina ("whose pork scaloppini brought the house down last year"); he'll be back, this time with his wife, Maria, also a chef. Last year's event purchased a new HVAC system for Nevins (replacing a system that dated back to 1969, according to a press release); this year, organizers are aiming at a handicap-accessible van with a hydraulic lift for wheelchairs.

Your ticket gets you all you can eat and drink (Italian food, wine and beer), plus Italian music, dance, opera and a silent auction, plus a Nevins Chime Choir performance and a kids' zone.

Early registration is open now, for $59 for an individual; that'll be $65 after April 20. VIP tables for eight (plus Prosecco!) go for $510 now ($560 later) and for 12, $765 ($840 later). More info: 704-750-9668.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dine out (or run?), do good

One hundred percent of proceeds at the Big View 5K on May 10 will go to stock school pantries and feed kids in Charlotte. The day, with the race starting at 8 a.m., will include cooking demos by a guy once Lebron James' personal chef, plus a farmers' market, a strolling magician, baked goods and pastries, free Mimosas for runners at the finish line and pre- and post-race stretching from trainer AC Jermyn. 16637 Lancaster Highway; 704-544-0313. Check out details here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Oysters aplenty -- again

Upstream's March oyster deal ($1 for East Coast oysters, $1.50 for West Coast) is over, but it went so well, there's a new deal for April: Same prices, offered 4-6:30 p.m. each Monday and each Thursday at the bar throughout the month. 6902 Phillips Place; 704-556-7730.

The illustration is by Sir John Tenniel, from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and if you haven't read the oyster poem (OK, OK, it's actually "The Walrus and the Carpenter"), you owe it to yourself to do so now.

Dyngus Day, a Peabody and more

Dyngus Day, sort of the Polish equivalent to St. Patrick's, is always the Monday after Easter (in fact, it's sometimes called Wet Monday and features a traditional soaking of girls by boys with buckets of water, squirt guns, etc. Don't ask). So it's April 21 this year and one group is planning a full-out celebration at the Red Fez Club (on Lake Wylie), with polka band and Polish food. Organizer Christina Newcomb wants it to become an annual event: "It's high time considering our growing Polish and Northeastern demographics, coupled with our serious lack of ethnic celebrations." The event has a Facebook page (from which the above photo, which features the Polish Heritage Dancers of Western New York), here. (On a smaller scale, Lebowski's in Dilworth does an annual Dyngus Day, with Polish offerings.)

Chef Vivian Howard of Kinston's The Chef & the Farmer restaurant has won a Peabody for her show; food editor Kathleen Purvis has more here.

Pizza: Is the boom over? Time thinks maybe it is.

The New York Times ponders how restaurants can be political flash points here, including a restaurateur in Clemson who posted a sign saying "If you are such a loser that you feel a need to carry a gun with you when you go out, I do not want your business." (He, in turn, is pondering whether he should have just used an official state sign instead -- and the story notes his Yelp star rating went from four to one.) Sean Brock, a high-profile chef in Charleston (McCrady's, Husk) tells the Times: "People are really looking to you for answers and guidance and your opinion on things... Twenty or 30 years ago you were just a guy who made eggs Benedict.”