Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Halcyon Flavors from the Earth

Planning for my birthday dinner Monday night I found that Halcyon Flavors from the Earth is closed for dinner on Monday. The fact that I have always enjoyed the food of Chef Marc Jacksina coupled with me wanting what I want resulted in a birthday lunch.

For some time I have felt that Charlotte had many decent restaurants but I often leave feeling that the food was just okay. Many places are “fine dining” posers. They try with silver domes and high prices to lull you into a state where you forget that the menu just was not at all interesting or if it was they drop the ball with poor execution.

Chef Marc Jacksina and Halcyon Flavors of the Earth is the real deal, they offer Charlotte dinners an experience of creativity that is being executing with both pride and precision. The space is fantastic I wont go further in describing it as I would show up in to a phone booth for food this well crafted.

Mrs. G. had perfectly prepared and pristinely fresh sea scallops with roasted Brussels sprouts enhanced with bacon and a light sauce.

I went with what I was informed was a new menu item Three Pigs. Some how both simple with flavors that were complex. First a BLT slider, excellent thick cut bacon, sun dried tomato and lettuce on a nice slider bun. Really good and it gets better. Next a pork meatball, moist succulent but not in the least bit greasy, brushed with a glaze that elevated this porky orb to new levels of wonderful. Served over collard greens that sang in harmony with their porcine passenger. The third little pig was a magnificent piece of pork belly, coaxed to surrender maximum taste, the combination of meaty/ fatty was perfection with the French lentils that accompanied.

This is what its all about for me. Top quality local ingredients, an intelligent, innovative menu executed with journeyman like skill and true artistry. Mrs. G. and I left excited by our meal and planning to come back for dinner and weekend brunch ASAP.

The Queen city has arrived this is world-class food that would please palates in any city.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fran's Filling Station

The word is out on Fran’s Filling Station. When a new place opens and people just seem to flock to it with no advertising you know that word of mouth is spreading. This place has outstanding food. Located in the same shopping center as Rusan’s and Fiamma in the former Gone Hog Wild location. The space has been totally redecorated and is warm and funky at the same time.

The food concept is driven by two factors, fun and deliciousness. The result as you would expect it’s fun to eat delicious food.
Some diner entrees include a first rate Maryland style crab cake with a spicy remoulade or Mussels your way with bacon, beer& hot pepper or with white wine and garlic or with red curry. All three are winners and I recommend getting them with the Fries (Belgian Style) to sop up the sauce.

If you feeling like something a bit more homey go for one of the Mom inspired dishes. What a pleasure it was recently to meet Mom. She was visiting and happened to be hanging at the bar. As it turns out Mom is not just sweet but also the originator of many of the best dishes. Try the meatloaf, eggplant parm, the meatballs with crusty bread and lots of marinara, I like mine with plenty of gooey cheese. Or the Thanksgiving on a plate. All the players are included. House roasted Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and rockin stuffing.
The sides can make a dish sing and many hit real high notes for me. Standouts include the roasted cauliflower; each day features a braised green and also a green veg du jour. Another can’t miss side is the Creamy Cheesy Polenta. Lets get real if its creamy and cheesy its got to be fantastic and it sure is.

The daily specials are many things, eclectic, innovative, traditional, down home, gourmet, and old school and very original. The element that they always share is being faithful to the concept of delicious and fun. Recent specials included – Crispy corned beef, sort of a deconstructed Rueben sandwich, Lobster taco’s, Texas Brisket and baked beans, Ciopino an amazing seafood stew, Beef Stroganoff, Roast Chicken and even Chicken Fried Steak to name a few

The pastry chef has some serious chops and if you have the room desert is a great way to top off your meal if you have room for it.

Whether you want to top off your tank or if you are on empty and want to fill er up Fran’s Filling Station will leave your engine purring.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Brazwells Premium Pub

Montford Drive is fast becoming a true restaurant row here in Charlotte. The latest place to open in the former location of the Press Box is called Brazwells Premium Pub.

What a difference being opened by seasoned pros makes. Tom Wicker and Britton McCorkle have been around Charlotte and know the business; between the two of them they have been involved in the French Quarter, Yellow Rose Tavern, and Vinnie's Raw Bar. The experience really shows.

While the place is brand spanking new it feels welcoming and comfortable from the moment you walk in. The patio out back, the long bar all of the attention to trim and décor make it feel familiar like a place that has been here for years.

Right out of the box they are knocking it out of the park with some great food. A few stand out dishes are the wings, crispy with enough heat to get my attention without requiring first aid, a spring roll filled with fried shrimp and andouille sausage and crab cakes, 5 mini crab cakes chock full of lump crab meat and little else gently coated with panko bread crumbs to add crispness and still allow the crab to be the star of the show. Those are just some of the appetizers. Entrees include some amazing burgers all served on a really nice Kaiser style roll. The Metheny Burger with Swiss, mixed grilled bell peppers, caramelized onion and mushrooms was a table favorite. The buffalo chicken sandwich was another standout. It’s a breaded and fried chicken breast tossed in buffalo sauce and topped with blue cheese crumbles, loaded with big flavor and crunchy texture. Both served with top notch fresh cut French fries.

Mrs. G. was delighted with the Pear salad. I can’t blame her it was a big bowl of mixed greens topped with candied walnuts, crumbled goat cheese and sliced pears. The house made citrus vinaigrette dressing blew her away. Chef Ryan who was trained at Johnson and Wales makes all the dressings and sauces in house. He is turning out some great stuff and making constant improvements as he gets customer feedback.

Most new places seem to bumble around when they first open but Brazwells has their act together. Cases in point are the servers. Everyone seems totally on the money, knows what they are doing and is in a great mood. You never feel like an intruder like in some other places. The servers actually seem happy to see you. Guests are made to feel welcome and are treated with friendly, attentive service.

Great atmosphere, food and service makes for a sure fire success. With out even advertising yet the place is drawing crowds. This is the real deal take it from the Godfather of Lunch.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fig Tree Restaurant

It doesn’t get much better than an excellent meal served in a meticulously restored and converted craftsman style home. The only way to top this is to enjoy all of this in the company of a beautiful woman.

The occasion was a celebration of Mrs. G’s birthday. She requested Fig Tree as she remembered the warmth and attention to detail that is reflected in the embracing atmosphere of this magnificently restored 1913 historic home called Lucas House.

After being ushered to a cozy corner table we were served a most memorable meal that exceeded our expectations.

Mrs. G. began with an appetizer of seared sea scallop with blood orange and wilted arugula. The scallops were perfectly seared and the freshness resulted in a lovely sweetness. I opted for the special stuffed tart of the evening. The flawless crust stuffed with a rich duck confit, Brie and caramelized sherried onion. What a luxurious way to begin a fine meal. The house includes a complementary choice of soup this evening it was vegan mushroom and barley or salad. Mrs. G had the house salad served with a delightful herb dressing while I went for the Caesar Salad both quite nice.

Entrees followed, Mrs. G. selected a special of the evening. Sautéed Halibut topped with lobster and rich lobster sauce and asparagus. All to often a dish described as topped with lobster means that the kitchen waved a lobster near the plate and a miniscule bit of lobster at best appears on the plate. Pleasantly this was not the case here. The expertly prepared portion of halibut was topped with an entire poached lobster claw. Well seasoned, well balanced, a delightful dish. I selected the grilled Filet Mignon topped with Stilton cheese and mushroom duxelles with fingerling potato’s a veal demi -glace and asparagus. Melted Stilton merging with demi glace created the ultimate steak dipping sauce for my duxelle and Stilton topped filet. This dish can best be described in a word. Decadent.

To cap off the meal Mrs. G. and I shared two deserts. Smores Bread Pudding served with vanilla bean ice cream was very tasty and the Cinnamon Sugar Beignets served with coffee ice cream were nothing short of magnificent.

The entire evening, ambiance, impeccable service and an exquisite meal will linger in both of our memories and we both look forward to returning soon.

Friday, January 30, 2009

You can’t say No to Nonna’s

Life in Charlotte is grand. That being said, hey sometimes it has its moments when we have to settle for a bit less than what we fondly remember. Case in point, ordering a salad or a sub at a “deli” and watching in sad disbelief as some kid weighs and portion controls a hint of tasteless cheese passing for provolone or adds cold cuts that just had to have been produced by chef-boy-ardee.

Well its time to put a hit out on that old place, the real deal is here in the queens city. I speak of
Nonna’s Kitchen located at 828 E. Morehead Street, Charlotte. NC.

The place is too small because when word of mouth gets around they will be slammed. A long assembly line like counter greets you staffed by a large staff that creates what you order as you order it, nothing pre made and sitting around.

Watching my figure as I am, I opted for the Soprano Salad. This is a tomato-based salad with Chicken, Cappacola, Proscuitto, Provolone and roasted red peppers. Yeah, that’s right I deluded myself that this was a low call lunch. Basically it was the sandwich I really wanted without the bread. At least I cut out some carbs.

It was not just good. It was outstanding. First the base of the salad, the tomato’s are a very risky way to go in mid winter. Somehow they managed to get tomato’s that actually have taste now. This doesn’t happen unless three things are present. They know, they care and they execute. They do, they do and they did. The provolone had a hit of sharpness and that made it a delight. All of the meats were first rate and it was not just a tiny bite here and there. The cold cuts and the provolone were layered atop of the tomato’s making for both a very satisfying and delicious salad that was a fantastic lunch.

I look forward to returning soon and often. The menu offers more tasty sounding salads, hot sandwiches including Mary’s Meatball, Hoagies with options like Provolone, Mortadella, Sopressata, Capocolla and condiments like Pesto Mayo, Hot Pepper rings, and roasted red peppers.

The owner is from Philly; the cashier is from Long Island. These folks “get it”. Take it from the GodfatherOfLunch this is the Real Deal Italian Style.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Chowdown at Lulu Restaurant, Charlotte – A Blast

Saturday November1st was the first Charlotte Chowdown. We met at Lulu Restaurant on Central Avenue and it was a blast. We were an intimate group of eight, most of us Chowhounds some friends and S/O’s. We shared restaurant tips, best food memories, and food stories and just basically broke bread together.

The lunch began with a few treats compliments of the Chef Marc Jacksina. We toasted each other with a festive peach Bellini and then got to sample an item that will be on the new fall menu, A pizza with duck confit, caramelized onion, barbecue sauce and cheese. It was fantastic. Some folks dined on quiche, others eggs Benedict I stayed with the duck theme and opted for the duck confit hash. I loved the crispness of the duck and the egg poached on top made for a lovely rich yolk sauce.

I believe a good time was had by all and all agreed we should have another Chowdown. We discussed Dim Sum restaurant as a possible next venue, but hey nothing is written in stone. Would you like to be part of the next Charlotte Chowdown? Where do you think it should be held? The event did prove one thing food lovers are a fun bunch of folk to hang out with.