Thursday, December 29, 2011

Leave the box on the shelf

For anyone that has had truly homemade pasta, I am preaching to the choir.  For the rest of you - it's time to leave that box on the shelf and try this.

Don't let the concept scare you.  It's simply 4 extra large eggs and 3 cups of unbleached flour (make sure it's not self rising).  It's that simple.  Mix, reserving 1/2 cup of flour to add as needed.  Mix and kneed until feel is similar to a play dough.  Add additional flour 1/4 cup at a time to get there.  You may exceed the 3 cup total depending on the egg size. 

Let rest 20 minutes before working dough.  The rest is in pictures.  If you have a rolling pin, work slowly until 1/8th of an inch thin, cut to size, boil until floating - in salted water - about 3-4 minutes at rull rolling boil.  Water level will drop between boiling batches.  Fresh pasta is thirsty. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Out with Soiree and in with EPIC

I am still sad at the loss of Soiree in downtown Mooresville.  Epic moving in was a welcome sight, but I had no idea how welcome.

I had heard that they were owned by one of the partners in Mickey & Mooch.  That they had quite a staff.  All things that made me very excited to go.  That exxcitement continued during the meal.

Now I must confess, this review is overdue.  We went a while ago, but life had been busy.  Still eating and creating, just not telling everyone about it.  Time has not been my friend.  Epic deserves better - because they delivered on everything.

I prefer to sit in the bar section when it is just my wife and I.  Servers on that side seem to have it together more, due to the faster paced nature of the bar business.  This was not exception and our server was outstanding.  Turns out - Friday nights get crazy busy there and we just beat a rush.  You wouldn't tell by how well she took care of us.

Mickey & Mooch prices can be a little steep at times, and Epic is close in their pricing.  The menu is little more vast, and so you can shop within your price range if you so choose.  When there's a nice filet mignon option on the menu - I know where my wife is going.  I am a sucker for Prime Rib personally.  Both were on our plates that night.  Salads, Crab Fritters (oh my goodness) and the incomperable Spinach/Chevre/Brie & Roasted Garlic Bake were all fantastic.  App and entree portion sizes were large and really make the price point less of an issue.

Desserts are ridiculous in size and quality.  We had to have them but had no room.  Take out boxes here we come.  I NEVER order dessert.  This was the rare exception.  Partly since our daughter is a chocolate lover anyway, I figured we could share the chocolate cake and reduce the guilt factor.  It is towering layers of cake and icing, not too sweet, but really quite light and tasty.  Every dessert that passed by our table was large and looked great - just making the decision that much harder.  I am sure any choice would have been a good one that night.

East Coast Wings is missing the mark

You will be hard pressed to find someone not happy to have a true wing place in Mooresville. After multiple visits, it's not going to be ECW making us all happy.

Wing night number one was filled with delicious wings, full of flavor and heat. It was unfortunately served with several missed chances to impress. Beverages gone empty, a server who does not like spicy food, bad advice about which night to come for specials, you get the idea. Let's add the fire alarm going off for several minutes and the poor fire department having to rush over for nothing - just not happy.

Visit two was with the family. It was intentionally planned on a bone-in special price night. What do you mean we are on the wrong night? My server last week emphasized that this was THE night to come. Oh well, we eat anyway. More poor service. Not fair, straight up poor. In an effort to keep our guy's wing night on schedule, one last try at the ECW and one more poor night of service. Add the balloon lady with this silly noise maker that sounds like a blender going off every single time she fills a balloon. All 100+ of them while we were there were a challenge for us to have a conversation.

Okay, let's get to the food. Prices are decent, flavors are a feature that expands the menu for non-wing eaters. As a family, we can all find something to eat easily. Just to stay with the good wing hopes - and take the bad service out - we did take out. They do not open until noon on Sunday. In the ever-competitive Sunday lunch business, this is a mistake for sure. We did get wings very quickly after ordering at noon. That was a plus. When I got home and saw my box said "hot" I knew we had an issue. Their hot is mild by most standards. These bad boys we're supposed to bring the heat. When I opened the box, it had a small container of the lava sauce in it. That was clearly an attempt to cover a mistake. That mistake continued by having the ranch (not blue cheese) inside without the carrots or celery to go with. Not only did the take out server assume the order was correct, nobody in the kitchen is verifying the orders.

Clearly, they have far more work to do than I would have hoped. After being a big fan of the Statesville location, I am sorry to have to write this. I have been told by many that Statesville has lost something too. I really hope they correct the ship soon or we are all looking for the next great wing place to come to town.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No...really. It's Cafe Really !!!

So, if you could underline the Rea from Really, you would get the pun based on the location.  You guessed it, Rea Rd.  So what kind of cuisine is it really?  Sorry, had to do it.  They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner - so diner-ish.  Well sort of.  Higher end versions of some favorites.

(Read second visit review at the bottom)

After a Sat. night trip to Blakeney, the need for some good food and a beer was becoming rather important.  There was a place named after meat and had a sign showing craft beers.  Hmmm.  That looked interesting.  Turned out to be a deli.  When I asked an employee for a sandwich and a beer where I could relax a little - he pointed straight across to this place.  No, really.  Haha.  Okay.  Enough of that.

Walking in it was smaller and quirky.  A fun decor without being tragic like the TGIFridays and Applebees of the world.  Open grill area and several beers on tap.  My kind of meal.  Come to find out it has only been open a short time.  This could get interesting.

We are seated and met by our server fairly promptly.  We order a couple of NC sourced beers on tap and they come quick, fast and just $4.00.  Well that's a plus.  I am interested in the fried green tomato BLT (might be like Monte's???) and the blue burger.  The server did not have any info to offer other than he has served a blue burger and they liked it.  Well, considering it comes with an onion chutney and just seemed more satisfying with a beer - there we have it.  I ordered it with a side of grilled coleslaw.  Yes grilled.  Nice char on the edges of some cabbage, but not cooked.  Made fairly traditionally after that, but oh that char.  It just carries through the entire blend.  Awesome in fact.  The burger was ordered medium, asking for the pinkest medium they could pull of the grill (really wanted med rare - really).  Came med well unfortunately, but well dressed and the onion chutney was tasty.  My worthy traveler also had the burger, with mixed veg.  Not sure why the poor enthusiasm on the side choice, but it is what it is.  They were well prepared.

After finishing, I opted to speak to one of the partners in the business.  New restaurants need feedback, good or bad, when they are still new.  We had some constructive criticism of the serving staff - plus plenty of kudos for the coleslaw and beer selections.  As we were told of the concept and the brunch menu, I got hungry all over again.  I can't wait to eat some Eggs Benedict with crab, or some of the wildly original french toast.

Hey, we got them added to Urbanspoon.  They have to correct a couple typo-s, but it's a listing.

Cafe Really on Urbanspoon


Okay, business must be slow because I got a Dealsaver offer from the Observer.  $20 for $10 certificate.  I am all in.  We had a charity event on a Sat morning and it was in the neighborhood.  I had not had their breakfast yet, and this was a great chance to try.  Brioche French Toast has got to be awesome.  Several flavors, plus omelettes and some new twists on breakfast classics.

We settle in for Java Jeff's coffee which is dynamite.  If I could just get the milk I asked for to put in it, it would have been that much better.  The big breakfast menu?  Nope - well not "really".  Haha.  3 french toasts choices makes my wife happy.  It looked like regular whole wheat bread, and the egg was only on one side.  Poor value and poor presentation.

Potato hash was just their deep fried potatoes from the home fries, covered in a sausage and tomatoe concoction with two eggs on top.  It did not resemble a hash in any fashion - and for $9.  You are ripping people off serving that.

The salmon omelette was overcooked.  I asked once I saw that and the cook does not work morning.  Why on earth is he cooking my breakfast then?  Salmon in an omelette is a risk.  Overcooked and flavorless was easily achieved here.  Smoked salmon would have been a better choice, especially considering the caper and onion accents in there.

Silver dollar pancakes came out the size of sliced bread, and the Monte Cristo was dipped in something that tasted like funnel cake.  It had turkey in it too.  What was that?

Listen up Cafe Really - you had a good thing and are REALLY blwoing it.  Tighten up.  Proper delivery of your menu is 2/3 of your battle.  Get it right and you can correct the menu later.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Foothills Brewing - Good food for great beer

It's a common expectation that there will be a good menu with a micro-brewery.  No so in NC.  In fact, several don't offer a restaurant at all.  What's worse, many don't offer any food that you can't get in your own neighborhood.  Why then drive to Winston?  Foothills - that's why.

We wanted a Sunday lunch that had some spirit (okay, beer, but you get the idea).  We checked Charlotte, Mooresville, Hickory - nothing that made me want to get in the car.  I had the word Foothills on my brain and could not figure out why so I Googled Foothills Brewery and viola!  Solid menu with some cool beers.  35 minutes later, I was enjoying it.

The building is rustic, just like a manufacturing company would have used a hundred years ago.  Lots of brick, old wood and huge windows.  A little feel of downtown Mooresville, just larger open spaces.  Parking was easy - a huge plus over going to Charlotte.  You can see the brewing area in the back of the restaurant, which is really cool.  It's not just polished vats for show, but a working brewery for your enjoyment.

For the beer lovers out there, they have daily specials and this one was $3 pints.  Real pints no less.  There are some high gravity (ie: alcohol) beers that don't qualify, but most do and they are great.  I chose the People Porter and it was exactly as the tasting notes stated - slight bitter with coffee notes.  Very smooth for a very dark beer.  Their sampler of course was the real deal ($7.99).  Several 6 oz tasting glasses of whatever they have brewed for your pleasure.  There is no way you can lose on that one.

For food, we went two opposite directions.  I chose the Cuban ($8.99), which use a house-made whole grain mustard (WOW) made with a little of their beer.  Had I know it was that good, I might have ordered the pretzels as an app and spent an extra hour or so there enjoying it.  This sandwich has sliced pork, ham, mustard, pickles and cheese - did I mention the mustard?  Exactly what you want - with the extra punch of that wonderful mustard.  It came with fries and that means ketchup.  We were offered both he typical store bought stuff, or yes, house-made ketchup.  And it's made with beer too.  Of course, we were warned it's a little sweeter - creating a love it or hate it experience.  Love it is an understatement.  We bought some for home.  It was outstanding. 

My wife ordered the Pear Salad, which has the fruit compliment to nuts, cheese and spring mix.  Nice read on the menu.  Add chicken for $5 - that's too high for the small piece.  The small salad did not excite me either.  In fact, we were very disappointed in the salad.  $14 by the time we add chicken, and it was a side salad-sized at best.  Add 25 cents for additional dressing.  If they put the portion up 50% and the chicken as $3 or $4, we might have something, but I truly felt robbed for that salad.  Needless to say I was donating fries to my better half.

Service was great.  Servers really know their beers (as they should).  We were shocked that a couple came in and sat near us ordering Bud Light.  Listen, I know that is the redneck beer of choice, but do me a favor "Larry the Cable Guy" types - eat at Golden Corral.  Don't go to a local brew pub and order carbonated water.  They make great beer, why not try it?  There is a mild pilsner-type for the weak at heart.

If I were grading, which I am, I would give the beer an A-
The food is a mixed bag.  With that said, overall it's a C+
I would certainly eat there again, I would just stick to sandwiches or appetizers.

Foothills Brewing on Urbanspoon

Farewell to MJ's in Mooresville

I have to admit, I took some heat for my review on MJ's several months ago.  It came from a handful of local fans/friends of the restaurant and that showed there was some spirit.  Jill (owner) and I exchanged a few emails and I was actually kind of rooting for them to launch the new menu and make something cool out of it.  In fact, we went for Mother's Day brunch and had a very good visit.  It wasn't but another few weeks and we saw the patio furniture gone.  Their website then confirmed the fact they have closed the business.

I do love to root for the underdog, the local owner, the unconventional.  They had two of the three and I applaud their effort.  Unfortunately, you either need the best location money can buy or a niche that people must have.  We eat out a lot less than 2 or 3 years ago, as with many people now too, so it has to be something we deem as a "must try" experience.  All I can say is if you live local, please eat local.  Leave the chains to the travelers and tourists.

Thank you MJ's for a valiant effort.

MJ's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Years and years of hearing about Dresslers and I finally went.  We wanted a higher end place to enjoy our anniversary, and they fit the bill nicely. 

We used Open Table to make the reservation for Thursday night, but upon entry, they had several open tables and did not ask.  We were seated promptly and greeted by a server moments later.  I say a server, not our server, because there is a team effort that takes place.  We had three different people tending to us, one in particular (Charlene), but they all seem to work together.

We ordered beverages and the Goat Cheese and Garlic appetizer.  For starters let me say how intriguing this sounded, and it lived up to the expectation.  The goat cheese arrived in a small broiler dish, with bubbling olive oil around it, with cloves are garlic just simmering away in the oil.  There is an S on that cloves.  There had to be 12 of these little morsels of bad breath goodness in  there.  There is a side of tomato/shallot chutney and served with warm pita points.  More than enough for two in fact, and just $7.00.  Very good first impression.

We ordered the Seafood and Grits as well as the Short Rib.  I am a sucker for a good seafood dish, and grits will make or break it depending.  These made it, promise.  The seafood was rock shrimp, lump crab and a large scallop in a cream sauce that was almost red thanks to some andouille sausage to heat it up.  There was a great cajun essence in there that I was not expecting, but enjoying!  The grits were scratch made and well prepared.  I once received instant grits under my shrimp (Jeffrey's) and have it was a huge turn off.  These were right on.

The short rib was a beast.  Not sure what is considered short, but this was a large portion of slow cooked beef with a nice sauce and a large portion of garlic mashed potatoes (red skin included).  Of everything, the potatoes were the only weak spot.  There was a certain taste as if they were prepared ahead and wrapped in plastic while warm.  Most plastic wraps give off a flavor if the food is not completely cooled off first.  Again, this was the only short coming of the evening. 

Dessert was on our minds and by the time we would have ordered it, we were full.  Leaving something on the plate and still no room for dessert.  We may order differently next time to leave room, but we feel we got our money's worth.  All total, with one adult beverage each, we were just under $65 before tip.  Priced right for the quality and service.

Dresslers has two locations, one in Birkdale that has been there for years and easy to find - and the other in the Metropolitan in Charlotte.  That is a more contemporary area, and they have wonderful outdoor seating, close to uptown.
Dressler's on Urbanspoon
Dressler's Metro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New twist on Tiramisu

The name itself means "pick me up", of course thanks to the coffee element of the dessert.  A southern-flavored cookbook has picked strawberry season (yes, that's a pun) to release a new twist on a classic dessert.

Strawberry Tiramisu Trifles

This recipe calls for 6 (9-ounce) glasses, but you could make this in a standard trifle bowl, a deep serving dish or even a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. From “The New Southern Garden Cookbook,” by Sheri Castle (UNC Press, 2010)

1 cup strawberry preserves

6 tablespoons Grand Marnier, Cointreau or other orange liqueur

6 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 cup chilled whipping cream
*avoid store bought and whip your own

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

7 ounces crisp ladyfingers or biscotti savoiardi

4 cups capped and sliced strawberries

6 perfect whole berries, for garnish

WHISK together the strawberry preserves, liqueur and orange juice in a small bowl.

BEAT the whipping cream to very soft peaks in a medium bowl. Add mascarpone, sugar and vanilla and continue beating until soft peaks form.

DIVIDE half of the whipping cream mixture evenly among the six serving glasses. (A small spring-loaded scoop makes this easier and neater.) Stand 4 ladyfingers upright inside each glass, spaced evenly. The whipped cream mixture should hold them in place. Divide half of the strawberry preserve mixture evenly among the glasses. Divide the sliced strawberries among the glasses. Top with the rest of the preserve mixture, followed by the remaining cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to overnight. Just before serving, garnish each parfait with a whole berry.

Yield: 6 servings.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soup kitchen cooks up a fundraiser for cash

Story courtesy of the Charlotte Observer

They're feeding more hungry people than ever in Mooresville, but costs are rising and donations are off.

Melinda Story was born and raised in Mooresville but never knew the town of 27,000 had a charity soup kitchen - or even needed one.

Then she lost her job.

"I'd been struggling for about three weeks when a friend said I should go to the local soup kitchen," Story, 47, recalls. "I remember thinking: 'A soup kitchen? Where?'"

Ten years later, Story is among the nearly 400 volunteers who work at the Mooresville Soup Kitchen, which served 40,000 meals last year.

That's a 7,000-meal jump over the pre-recession years, explaining why the 24-year-old nonprofit is selling tickets for its first-ever big fundraiser.

The plan is to host a community LobsterFest on June 3, with proceeds going to pay increased operational costs.

"When I first started coming, I didn't recognize anyone among the people getting help," says Story. "Now, I know a lot, including people I went to school with and people I went to church with. We all had jobs, and they've gone away."

Soup kitchen director Jody Schwandt says a lot of people don't imagine Mooresville has a poverty problem.

"Everybody thinks of this as Racing City USA, Lowe's corporate and Lake Norman," she says. "But they forget all the textile mills that were here. When those mills closed, those people were left without compensation."

Clients at the agency range from mothers with small children to people in their 90s, she says.

The soup kitchen makes it a policy not to make visitors prove they're local or even that they're poor.

"Our only requirement is that you walk through the door, and for 24 years, it has worked," Schwandt says.

"Some say we should continue that way. Others say we should screen people. I say we help neighbors - the people sitting next to you in church or in line with you at the bank."

As with Story, Schwandt has been a client, too. In her case, it happened when her husband was out of work due to cancer treatment, and the house payment and two auto notes became overwhelming.

"I'm a perfect example of someone who needed to be here, but we wouldn't have qualified for food stamps."

Lisa Qualls is the soup kitchen's fundraising chair, and she hopes to sell 400 tickets to the LobsterFest, raising $10,000.

Operating costs for the agency have risen about 10 percent the past two years, she says, putting the current budget at $160,000. Part of that increase is due to the fact that the soup kitchen expanded three years ago, moving off the property of First Baptist Church of Mooresville.

Most of the agency's money comes from churches, but that hasn't stopped donations from declining about 10 percent during the recession, she says.

"We don't want to wait until we're in a money crisis," Qualls says.

"There's a sense of ownership among the people who come here. And we're all looking for a way to make sure it stays around a long time."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sabi in Davidson

4 adults, 2 teens and 2 kids - we covered the gambit of tastes on Saturday at 5pm.  Yes, we got there a little early to avoid a crowd without a reservation.  We were greeted by a pleasant young lady that had to ask for help figuring where to put us.  Most tables are 4 tops, so 8 is a challenge when they are busy... it was 5pm.  The manager that assisted her was giving her a hard time because they had another group of 8 coming at 6:30.  Perfect.  Set us up there.  If you can't get us moving in 90 minutes, we got problems.  Sure enough (glitches and all) we were walking out the door at 6:10. 

After watching the hostess get reprimanded (wOw), we were seated in the far back of the restaurant.  Common when you dine in a nicer restaurant and have children - no worries.  Our waitress was prompt and friendly, took drink orders right away.  The adults all had water and that was not the right answer.  We were asked multiple times about ordering other drinks.  Really?  I can't imagine doing Sake shots with two teens and two adolescents present. 

We ordered 3 sushi rolls - a spicy tuna extra spicy, a Mt Fuji, and a Cali roll (soy paper instead of nori).  They all came promptly, we were asked for our drink order again (you get the idea) and we began to snack.  From the top... the Mt Fuji roll was exquisite.  The varying colors of the masago on top, the tilapia draped on the outside, it was a beauty.  It was $11.95, 8 pieces.  A little steep.  The spicy tuna roll was spot on.  Not extra spicy as requested, but very nice.  $6.25, 6 pieces.  That's a little closer.  Most in this area are $4.95-$5.95.  This is close.  The cali roll was a bummer.  Soy paper is a little thicker than nori, so the sushi chef must take that into consideration when wrapping.  Sure enough, thicker equals dryer and nothing stuck.  It was coming apart before the plate hit the table.  It was a crying shame and the waitress went missing for about 10 minutes - so she never got to find out.  Beverages went empty (must be because they were not adult beverages) and we had to verbally request refills as she passed by.  Being in the far back of the restaurant made catching her quite difficult in fact. 

Entrees ($10-$15) showed up well timed and we had all kinds of stuff coming out.  They do a spicy seafood trio that two of us ordered, sweet and sour chicken that is tossed with pineapple chucks (nice touch), got some tempura veg (incl asparagus and pineapple - nice touches as well), soup and a couple versions of lo mein.  Kids had chicken nuggets with fruit.  Great option having fruit instead of fries - kids need healthy options when eating out.

The seafood was well prepared - shrimp, scallops and mussells.  The mussells were out of the shell which is a great touch, and were cooked perfectly - almost melt in your mouth.  Shrimp were good as well, scallops were on the edge of overdone - which is forgivable being first in the pan I am sure.  All of that served with Asian veggies in a spicy sake ginger sauce.  Asian veg=broccoli.  Oh my too much broccoli.  Side of rice with all entrees.  Soup and tempura were good, sauce with tempura was not.  It has a ying yang dipping bowl with spicy mayo and wasabi mayo.  Neither were well received.  The conventional sauce for tempura has a little mirin and soy, served warm and delicious.  This wasabi mayo was rather bitter and did not pair with the spicy mayo at all.  Shrimp sauce helped cure the ails.  Back to entrees and loving the pineapple tossed with the sweet and sour chicken, yet leaving the chicken batter still crisp.  This was very well executed and certainly would have been a future re-order. 

Beef lo mein and chicken lo mein were just as you see anywhere, other than portions two could share (a plus) and the best value of the evening by far.  Where things really spiralled was the dark hair in the second spicy seafood.  Oh my.  Halfway through, pulling up a mussell and there it was in all it's glory.  The meal really came to a screeching halt at that point.  Again, trying to get the waitresses attention, it left us with too much time to discuss how un-enthused that made us.  She took it back without issue, apologized and came back to offer a replacement.  At that point the meal was essentially over so that was not needed.

This would be the opportunity for the ill-acting manager from our entrance to come and try to at least make an appearance.  Not looking for freebies by any stretch, just some reassurance that they recognize the issue and assure of it's correction.  Nada.  Really?  As we prepared to pay, things were rung wrong and we had to get the bill corrected.  After paying, as we left, we were not thanked, not given the "come back and see us", none of that.

Sadly, we discussed the option of going to the gym next door on the weekend and then going in for some sushi.  That might not be an option any more.  If you can't simply stop and thank folks spending their hard-earned money, let alone 8 people, then you really don't need to get any more of it.  Kobe Hero has better sushi at better prices and is 1 exit away.  Sushi at the Lake is right there too.  I don't need Sabi, and it appears they don't need me either.

Sabi Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 4, 2011

The little hot sauce that could

Sriracha (named for the region Sri Racha) is recognized for the green cap on the red hot sauce.  Can't miss that rooster either.  It went from asian heat to in every restaurant in the area.  Now there is even a cook book.  Being a seafood lover, this one caught my eye:

Sriracha Ceviche
From “The Sriracha Cookbook.”

1 1/2 pounds seafood, diced (such as shrimp, scallops, yellowtail or tilapia)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 to 3 medium tomatoes, diced
1 large red onion, diced
2 Persian cucumbers, diced
1 ear fresh sweet corn, kernels only
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sriracha
1 cup tomato juice or V8 vegetable juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 avocado, sliced, for garnish
COMBINE the seafood with the lime and orange juices in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until the flesh becomes firm and opaque, about 3 hours.

ADD the tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, corn, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, oil, sriracha, and tomato juice, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in chilled bowls or martini glasses, garnished with sliced avocado and cilantro.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

More Brawley for you - Shoals Saloon & Grille

Our last Brawley visit was not so hot.  In fact, this is where I wanted to go that night and ended up in our own Brawley Crawl.  Shoals is in that Bloom plaza halfway down Brawley.  Well placed in my opinion.

It's Saturday afternoon and we are met at the door by - no one.  I am not  fan of the "please seat yourself" sign, but we found a cool booth and sat.  Why don't I like the sign?  Two reasons:  first - we have never been here before and would like to be welcomed; second - what if we and three or four groups sat in the same section within minutes?  That would create a server issue of being too busy at once.  Notice to all restaurants:  Greet and seat at all hours.

We found cool booth off to the bar side, it was like a small lake cabin.  The entire motif is very lake cabin-oriented and well decorated.  It really was fun to look around.  As I looked over at the bar, someone took the time to think of TVs up in the cabinetry inside the bar for the patrons to see, rather than turn or look at a wall further away.  Well done.

Our waitress (Toni) was a classic New Yorker that found Mooresville.  She was kinda funny and asnwered some menu questions easily and honestly.  I appreciate honest servers.  If every questions you ask them ends in good or great, they are probably lying or you are at a 2 Michelin star establishment.

We ordered a wedge salad, burger special, grilled chicken sandwich.  As we watched the others around us, we saw a man delivering/expediting and I had to know more.  His name is Bill, he is a manager, and unfortunately - he did not make things smooth.  The role of the expediter is to ensure that all of the food is prepared, assembled and garnished as ordered.  I watched him deliver food a couple of times that had to go back for wrong assembly.  Our burger was not medium, but mid-well and had regular fries (ordered sweet potato); the chicken sandwich was missing the bacon and side of BBQ sauce; the wedge salad was missing the dressing on the side.  Our waitress knew and handled promptly, but if he took the time to check, he would have known as well.  I observed him deliver a salad with the wrong chicken on it to a table a few away from us.  By the time it came out correctly, they decided to pay and leave.

We enjoyed our food, enjoyed our service, and certainly enjoyed the place.  It is a definite return.  I know they have made some changes in the management, but I have to add my two cents and say that they may not all be good.  If the expediter is delivering food, they must be very detail oriented.  Re-dos cost time and satisfaction.  To see several during our visit (Saturday lunch) is a shame.  Imagine a peak time re-firing and re-doing several orders.  You will implode.

By the way, disregard the pricing indication on Urbanspoon for being $$$ - someone really got that wrong.  The menu is loaded with $7.95-$10 items, with some entress around $12-14.  The prices are very competitive and the portions certainly met/exceeded our expectation.  I would call it a "Like" based on overall, but would love to see a few tweaks in the coming weeks.  We will go back on a busy night and see how that goes.

Shoals Saloon and Grille on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sebastiano's and The Brawley Crawl

What's makes a Friday night out for dinner a great time?  Good food is a big part.  Several online reviews of Sebastiano's told us this was a good place to eat and off we went.

It's very easy to find, right on the corner of Oak Tree (across from Canvasback).When you walk in, you enter from the bar side, so it is a little deceiving.  You stand at a threshhold between the dining area and bar waiting to be seated.  It's a high traffic pass through, so you will get passed several times before you are seated.

We were sat and got our menus; and boy the menu is large.  Most of the space is dedicated to entrees, but you can see the pizza is the bulk of their business.  Our waiter came over, obviously Italian from up north, which is what you would expect in fact.  That was good because it really started to feel like one of the mom and pop pizza joints from back home (no I am not a New Yorker).

All of their prices are right in line with expectations.  Entrees from $8.95 and up.  Most in the $11 and $12 area.  Funny thing on the beverage menu - their beer offerings.  At the bottom, there is a "buck and change" selection.  Your lower priced options like Miller High Life Light and such.  Hey, $1.25 for a beer on Brawley is quite a treat isn't it?  They asked if we would like bread.  Smart on their part, so they don't give out product to someone that does not eat it.  It had a couple types of rolls and a focaccia - served with the olive oil if you like.

We ordered the bruschetta ($5.95) and received it shortly after our bread.  The menu said it had diced mozzarella in it.  Hmmm?  I have seen a lot of new twists in the bruschetta area, so this would be fun.  It came with several toasted breads on a bed of iceberg lettuce (that's different) with the mozz diced the size of the tomatoes.  They go heavy on the balsamic and light on the olive oil.  It was large enough to eat as an entree, good enough too.  We enjoyed it.

Our entree choices were the Chicken Cacciatore and Eggplant Parm.  Entrees are offered with side of pasta or salad or veg.  My personal thought... all sauced entrees need to include the pasta.  You can offer the salad as an option for $1.99 or something, but a pile of diced chicken in sauce (cacciatore) seems too odd for me.  One of us ordered the salad, which for a dinner salad was VERY nice.  The other elected the pasta, and that got split for the reason above.  More on that later.  Also ordered was a side of broccoli rabe.  Yes, it does exist.  Something I have not seen or eaten in several years - and love it!

Now, a couple of refills in, the salad is gone, the bruschetta long gone... tic toc tic toc... we have been here for over 30 minutes and the entrees are just not coming.  The server did a nice job for a while, but you could tell even he was antsy.  More so, those that ordered pizza and salads around us were seated, served and finishing while we still waited... tic toc tic toc.  Our server stopped to say there were coming, tic toc tic toc.  We had somewhere to stop after, but were not in a hurry.  Some delay is okay when you are just out for a night with no hurries, but this was beginning to get painfully long.  One more refill attempt and I just asked for our food to be packed to go.  We were now past 45 minutes and he said it should be any second but he can't do anything about the kitchen.  Shazaam.  Ask for it to go and someone lit a fire, we had food in two minutes.  I am sure it was close, but to get it together like that, someone finally took notice.

To my surprise, a box of food arrives.  He made sure to pack more bread, napkins, all of the food was packed well.  It really did come in a box.  He made a mild apology (and yes, we understand it's not his fault).  There was no attention from anyone in charge though.  We were not the only ones sitting there without food, but not a sole from management/ownership came out to talk to anyone.  Since we exit also through the bar, we walked right past nearly the entire staff.  Not a good bye, a thank you, nothing.  Ignoring a poor service experience is a great way to eliminate a second chance.  I am a firm believer in the 10 foot rule, and regardless of who is doing what, if someone walks within 10 feet - YOU MUST SPEAK TO THEM!  The bar is about 8 feet wide, so we were within 10 feet of easily 6 or 7 staff (including management) and not a word.

So how was the food you ask?  Well, the broccoli rabe was not oily, but nicely prepared and slivers of garlic as I would expect.  The cacciatore was asked for no peppers (and there were some) but otherwise very tasty.  This is where the one side of pasta just did not go far enough.  The eggplant did not hold up well to the drive.  If it is not prepared crisp before it is sauced and baked, it becomes gray matter.  This was just that.  The sauce was good, the portion was really good, but even if we ate it there - it would not have been a hit.  There is a common practice to use just egg and flour on eggplant, which creates an eggy batter-like coating instead of a crisp breaded coating.  Their way is done is several restaurants, but the best eggplant requires a little extra care.

So would we spend the money to go back?  I don't know.  Friends in the area swear by their pizza.  Most of the food was very well prepared.  If the kitchen performed better, I would say yes.  The poor handling of that concern is the concern.  What other areas are not being watched?  It leaves you open to question things.  Some might say it's not fair to judge on a Friday night.  I say just the opposite.  You really see how an operation performs when it is busy.  Let me say this to anyone that defends the Friday night excuse... there were about 15 people in the bar (and you could tell some were waiting on their take out).  There were only 4 tables full in the dining area when we arrived.  We were ahead of the rush.  When we left it was very full - sure.  But our food order was well before the rush.

In the end, if you can handle the Brawley Crawl traffic to get there, you can handle the wait to eat.  I am not sure I can. 

Sebastiano's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Update on Creole House in Cornelius

Man grew marijuana in Cornelius restaurant, police say

Police on Tuesday arrested the owner of the Creole House restaurant on North Main Street after making an undercover drug buy and seizing 87 marijuana plants, cash and marijuana growing equipment from a room on the restaurant's second floor, Cornelius police Detective Lt. Jennifer Thompson said.

Police charged Darin Jerome Nicolas, 44, with one felony count of sale and delivery of marijuana and two felony counts each of manufacturing marijuana, possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana and maintaining a dwelling to manufacture marijuana.

Nicolas is in the Mecklenburg County Jail this morning under an $80,000 secured bond.

(Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Emeril coming to Uptown.

Yes, Uptown Charlotte.

Wells Fargo has announced what else is going into the Levine Center for the Arts campus at South Tryon and Stonewall streets, and it includes a not-named-yet 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 dining-related tenants include the Energy CafĂ©, 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.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Creole House (by committee)

Since there are 4 of us that will reflect our restaurant views in this site, some restaurants will get multiple opinions.  A recent trips to Creole House came with a warning - Don't be in a hurry.  After reading a lot of posts on Urbanspoon, that seems to be a common thread.  Growing up in the upscale restaurant world, there are many things worth the wait.  The last thing I want is food that is fast and tastes fast.

Creole House does indeed have a pace that can irritate the hurried/lunch crowd.  On a casual Saturday outing, speed is not my concern.  Upon arrival we had to look around a little and make sure they were open.  It was not a busy day to say the least.  We saw some take out activity, so that was a plus.  There was no one else dining in when we were there.  It was about 1:30 pm, so well within a weekend lunch time for the casual-at-large in the lake area.  It does leave a little fear, but the food was the goal, not how many people were eating at the time.

Our server relaxed, probably to a fault, but again - if there is no hurry on the food, the server stopping by 10 times would become annoying.  We had ordered a gumbo and a jerk chicken sandwich.  Gumbos come with options - chicken, shrimp, crawfish, or all of the above.  I have had some unsavory crawfish in the past, so I opted chicken.  I would have like a "pick two option", but was not aware until after that I could request.  **Hint: Put that on the menu for those of us that didn't ask**

The gumbo was deep, dark and delish.  There is no good way to take short cuts with gumbo and get this kind of result.  It was very well prepared.  There was time allowed for the chicken to simmer in it to absorb the flavors and not feel like it was sprinkled in.  The small rice mound in the middle was a nice touch, without adding too much defeating the texture of the dish.

The jerk chicken sandwich was on the mild side.  Mainstream dining would dictate that.  I think jerk and think heat, but for many, true jerk flavors can be too spicy.  Good decision on their part.  As a "side" sauce (by request) they have a Cajun ranch that added flavor and heat.  Again, ranch not my choice, but it worked in this sandwich.  Otherwise it may have been a little dry with the bread.

As we were close to the end, I did see a little more activity.  In looking around it appears they do live music at times too.  Overall, it's got a great concept and a well prepared menu.  It can still improve in the service area.  Most places can really. 

We all agree we will be back, so that is saying something.  The overall Urbanspoon rating is really low, so we might have just been lucky.

The Creole House on Main on Urbanspoon