Thursday, August 22, 2013

Salty Caper - A beer place or a pizza place? Let's see...

A recent visit to Davidson Beverage Company sent us to Salty Caper last night for a date night.  The website doesn't offer much, so we called to see what specials they had for a Wednesday and were told "$3 beers on what we have".  Not sure what they had, but $3 is a deal these days.  The restaurant is kind of buried back off the corner of Williamson and Brawley, with Lowes Foods and Fusion Bowl.

Upon entering we were greeted by the sign that said "Seat yourself. Order at the bar."  Hmmm.  That was interesting.  We sat at one of the hi-tops off to the side of the bar and could easily see the beer list on the colorful chalk board.  Sure enough - there were little $3 signs over most of the beers on tap (about 10 or so).  I like that.  A Rogue and a Japanese import were excluded, but there were plenty of others like Boulevard and Mother Earth that get $5 and $6 a pint elsewhere on this night.  Sweet!

So one of the 5 guys working behind the bar/pizza area delivered menus and I thought maybe we will get table service.  It's a fairly simple pizza menu with a few extras like salad (1) and calzones.  He proceeded to tell us to order at the bar.  Okay.  Hang on.  There are 5 of you here, there are about 8 customers, and I can't get someone to take a table order while you are bringing me the menu?  That is just odd.  Make it lazy.  I ordered a couple beverages at the bar, then ordered a salad for each of us.  They thankfully delivered the salads to the table.  We also ordered the Greek pizza.  The salads came prepackaged for take-out in plastic containers.  Lettuce and a little shredded cheese.  That will be $4 each please.  Ughh.  The dressing seemed homemade, or at least a good purchase if it was brought in.  I just don't get the $4 and plastic container.  How about a tomato or two?

We were also given Chinet paper plates for the pizza.  They had pizza stands on every table, with grated cheese and crushed red pepper flakes below.  No salt or pepper (odd), but the cheese and peppers were nice to see without having to ask.  As I looked around I realized I am looking at it all wrong.  It's a beer joint that makes good pizza.  They make no effort to be a restaurant and you can tell by how they congregate behind the bar/pizza area.  In fact, 3 of them were making pizzas at the same time for the few people that were there.  One as a server would have really made it a better visit.

The Greek pizza was LEGIT!  Super think crust that was tasty.  The right amount of cheese (including feta), kalamata olives, a little bit of spinach cooked in under the cheese, and some chicken on top.  The small is about a 10 inch and with the salads and a couple beverages, I was full.  I was tempted to get another pizza just to try it - but I have to admit - I prefer to come back in a couple weeks and do it again with a different pizza this time.

So here's the thing... if you want a hang out beer place with some post-college aged dudes in t-shirts and ball caps dispensing beer and great pizza - THIS IS YOUR PLACE.  If you want a pizza restaurant, look elsewhere.  Brooklyn Boys is across the road.  If we are with our daughter, we would go to Brooklyn for sure.  Just us and I will pick Salty Caper each time (just no salad, err lettuce tote).

Salty Caper on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bisonte Pizza Co in Matthews

Little by little, the "other" NY pizza has been making its way South.  I wouldn't think anything other than wings if you told me about Buffalo cuisine.  I take that back.  Maybe a Beef on Weck sandwich for those of you that know what that is (yumm).  I am kind of stuck in my ways on the traditional thin crust NY pizza.  Sling them big and thin and you have a winner.

Well enter this Buffalo pizza.  Still thin - but just a little more consistent thickness in the crust.  Gone are the huge bands of unsauced crust that circle the massive pie.  Instead, it's as if it's a pinch of crust.  Just enough to hold tight to being picked up; but sauce, cheese and toppings find their way into uncharted territory.  The kicker are all the little adds/flavors that can be put on the crust edge too.  More on that later.

So when you drive up to Bisonte, the first thing you notice is it's in a very residential area of Matthews.  Agricultural too.  There are longhorn cattle grazing across the street.  How cool!  The plaza is anchored by a Harris Teeter and is easy to get to from all typical Matthews roads.  Inside, it's granite counter tops and higher end furnishings than a typical pizza place.  It's more in line with the new remodels of a Brixx. 

I have seen more and more fast casual-style ordering at pizza and mexican restaurants these days; and Bisonte is another.  You can peek at the pizzas being made, see what the "by the slice" selections are, or order off the menu before you fill your drink and take a seat. 

The menu starts with what it should - the pizzas.  The first thing you see are the specials (Mon-Weds) and the FREE specialty crusts.  Now look.  Pizzas aren't as cheap as they used to be (outside of Little Caesars of course).  I mean REAL pizzas.  When you get stuck for add this add that, I get annoyed.  A free speciality crust add on is a welcomed bonus in my book.  We had the garlic on one and sesame on another.  I didn't pick the sesame - but I wish it did.  What a cool nutty flavor those sesame seeds added to the edge.  Consider me mildly impressed.

I am a little old school on what I eat at a full-fledged pizza place.  Since I grew up on Wooster Street pizzas (google it), I like a salad and a slice or two.  We ordered the caesar and the antipasto.  The caesar dressing was very good, the italian was nice too.  I am used to oil and vinegar on my antipasto, but the italian was fine.  For basically $5 salads (smalls), I could have left full.  Being the glutton that I am at times - I inhaled a few slices for fun. 

I had read a review online that didn't like the white pie because it wasn't what they were used to.  If I have learned anything, it's that food is different in every part of the country (think BBQ in NC, Kansas City, Memphis).  What would make you think pizza wouldn't be also (think NY vs Chicago, and now Buffalo).  I read the description and the white pizza was like nothing I had eaten before.  Fontinella cheese huh?  I had to try that.  This is the one we had the garlic crust on.  I was genuinely impressed.  The pies at places like Pepe's and Sally's are little more than olive oil and some cheese.  I had issue calling that much more than a flat bread.  This was a serious pizza pie!  The onions were almost sweet, the garlic was there for sure, and the nuttiness of the fontinella hands down made the pizza. 

The other pie was the Tomato Basil Roma.  This was definitely in line with the Margherita Pizzas of old.  The tomatoes are stewed and the cheese is abundant, but the differences stop there.  This is also the one we had the sesame crust on.  Again, not my decision, but I was quite pleased.  In fact I wish I had a second pizza to take home for later.  We really tore into this one.  It might have been a good idea to wait a minute and let it cool off ... ouch!  I never learn :)

I will say this - I am going back for the wings.  I went set on pizza and didn't want to over do it (even though I still did).  They are having a big Grand Opening Benefit on Thurs July 25 2013.  It might be a good day to pop in and eat a little more.  Who knows.  I just might see you there.
Bisonte Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 21, 2013

First time ever to Ruth's Chris.

Saturday night in Charlotte can be a long wait for anyone interested in a good meal.  In fact, even the quick sit-downs like Salsarita's and Chic-Fil-A are packed.  How on earth do you get into a Ruth's Chris on a Saturday night then?  Well reservations silly.
Okay, I am sure that sounds easier said than done.  They are wise to use a computer-pased system that not only can we reserve online and integrate, but they use it for all calls and walk in.  This doesn't allow for someone to guess or add randomly.  This is quite an accomplishment in the field of food service.  Being concerned (ie: not knowing how good it worked) we arrived at 8:15 for our 8:30 reservation.  Good planning/good manners.  Your choice.

While we waited and conversed, they came around with complimentary Champagne.  That was a very nice touch indeed.  Minutes later we were seated.  They were almost exact in meeting the reservation.  When I tell you that this place was packed, I mean it.  The occupancy fire notice shows a capacity around 250 and they sure had that there.

So, how does that picture look by the way.  The waiter came over to tell us about the specials and the meat - and what you see there is the Filter Mignon that was on my plate.  No "choice" cuts here.  It's all Prime Aged beef and it shows.  Those little onion strings on top are a nice garnish, but that sizzling butter is what people know so well.  The meat is placed in a 1000 degree broiler and served on a 500 degree plate.  You can hear that butter sizzle from 10 feet away.  Don't miss the HOT PLATE warning from your server or your fingers will pay the price (ask my wife). 

One thing I thought was curious was the recommendation to all order different sides.  I am used to a scoop of this or that next to my beef.  Since they operate in an a-la-carte fashion, the side portions were extremely "generous".  I used quotes for generous because the reference is for the amount.  Price now, not so generous.  Good... YES.  Low cost... Not on your best day.

I had the Crab and Corn Chowder for my starter.  Crab was present and nice.  Corn was the real feature.  A nice bisque-style base made it a joy.  It was a cup size portion leaving plenty of room for the real star of the show - the Filet.  Now they have all cuts and sizes, but we came for Queens Feast and the choice was the Bistro Filet, Stuffed Chicken, Salmon or Portobello Mushroom (for the vegetarian option).  Now it is my thought that you eat steak at a place made famous for steak.  The couple behind us had the chicken.  More power to them, more meat for me please.

I am a medium rare guys on this steak anywhere else.  That 500 degree plate made me think that rare would be in order.  It makes sense to think it will cook a little as it rests on the plate.  I was wrong.  That's okay though.  The sear was great, the inside was cool, the meat was rare and stayed that way.  It cut like butter and you could see how impressive the Prime aging was on the cut.  For rare meat, it was did not bleed onto the plate.  It was thanks to that great aging.  That alone is worth the price of admission I tell you (and may tell you one more time later).

The sides chosen were creamed spinach, sauteed mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes.  The one we didn't pick was the creamed corn.  Not really exciting, especially after Crab and Corn Chowder.  Two people could easily enjoy one side.  4 people = 4 sides and we were stuffed. 

Oh wait, there's a dessert coming.  A great cupcake-sized cheesecake with some creme fresh and berries on top.  To the side was some house-made chocolate and nut bark.  Unlike M&Ms it does melt in your hand.  Not an issue though.  Finger licking was not frowned on apparently. 

They may be best known for their steaks.  I get that.  I will talk about this for a while, as well as plan my next visit.  The service was insanely good.  Our waiter balanced humor with efficiency.  One table next to us was rather needy in the ordering process, but he made short work of it as he could.  They have folks helping with water, bread, cleaning the table with that cool little wand.  Food is expedited out and the server is of course on hand to ensure satisfaction.  I don't think I could have asked for any better service.  Going back I will have something to compare it to.  Until then, all full service have a really high mark to live up to.  I wish them well.

Queens Feast was a 3 course for $30 event.  Beverages are not included.  We priced out dinner against the regular menu and this saved us around $12-15 per person.  I love this promotion, but understand, I will not feel bad paying the additional $ to have this experience again and again.

Ruth's Chris Steak House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

HEIST Brewery is a NoDa gem!

It took me way to long to discover the great brewing scene in Charlotte's NoDa district.  The best comparison is like a mini Asheville right here in our area.  After many 2 hour trips to Asheville it was time to stay closer to home.

HEIST has done a great job of converting the the Highland Mills factory into a fun throwback to a time long lost.  The story is that one of the masterminds behind this place is a distant relative of Baby Face Nelson.  Considering my Great Uncle was THE Melvin Purvis (yes, the man that caught Baby Face), it serves well that I would review this place to make sure it was legit.

When you arrive, you want a big sign telling you that you are at the right place.  Not here.  One you are inside, you are sure you have arrived.  Stripped and exposed brick walls, large wood beams, great homage to the mill is all over the place.  A large glassed wall has huge views into the tank room.  The bar area is all big wood and a great tap station.  High top tables are the table of choice in this place, so be prepared to sit high.  It's not Chili's, so booths are not the design concept.

The menu is more eclectic than you would ever imagine at a brewery restaurant.  They do have a white cheese dip with pretzel sticks.  The pretzels are of course fresh made soft sticks, and the cheese is insanely good.  They offer bisque but don't ask for a spoon.  It comes in shooters.  Perfect for sharing.  The martini doesn't require you to be 21 since it's Steak and Papaya.  Pork belly corn dogs, duck quesadilla, flat breads and vegetarian options add to this great menu. 

Beer and burgers go well together and they don't miss.  The burgers are insanely delicious.  One even has ground porterhouse and beef brisket.  That 90% fat chuck burger doesn't have any place here.  I even got mine Med Rare.  Yes. - really.  It was great.  Side items are not fries.  Choices are a little limited unfortunately.  Marinated cukes, creamed corn and tater tots are the choices.  I have to admit that the tater tots are the best I have ever eaten.  Fresh shreds of potato mixed with some mashed, speckled with rosemary and flash fried.  Who needs ketchup?!

What makes this even more interesting a place to eat is the in-house baker.  Who does that?  Well, it appears they do, and I saw the guy so he really does exist (like the M&Ms that met Santa).  I have heard of places cross-using the beer ingredients in baking, so that may be the advantage.  All I know is the bread products are really really good.  I had a sandwich with jerk chicken on one of these sourdough-styled rolls and the bread was a highlight for sure.

Okay... should I mention the adult carbonated beverages?  If you insist.  There were 10 to choose from on our first visit.  We had a blast with a couple of flights as our tasting lesson.  The stouts and porters were just what you would hope for.  The I2PA was a great hoppy treat without tasting like a pine cone.  The red, the hefe and the pale ale were all studs in their respective categories.  The only hiccup for me was coming back for the second time and the porters were different.  Same name, same description, more hop and less malt.  They were good, but inconsistent with the earlier batch.  That can be troublesome if you find one you really enjoy and it's never the same.

I can assure you that we will be there several more times in the future.  This place has really opened us up to NoDa and we have had fun recently exploring those neighboring breweries.  I highly recommend a visit (or three) to the area.  Just remember to have a DD so you can enjoy your time there. 

Heist Brewery on Urbanspoon