Monday, December 28, 2009


M5 is a member of the Harper’s Restaurant group located in South Park. This was my first visit after the new chef change… and it was an overall menu change as well. M5 goes for the Mediterranean fare in a ‘trendy’ way. The restaurant is decked out in a modern vibe with alligator print booths and walls and brown and clue décor.

We ended up going for lunch since it is cheaper than the dinner menu and we were out doing after Christmas shopping. First glance of the new menu showed me that there were some big changes. The original menu was good (my old favorite – falafel and cucumber salad with pita is no longer on the menu and not offered – bring it back!). The new menu had the lamb and chicken pitas and some additional ‘med’ dishes. I was torn between the lamb pita or the Grilled Springer Mountain Chicken Breast… and decided on the Chicken Breast. This was served with ricotta gnocchi, caramelized onion, mushrooms (this is was sold me – prefer this over the fries served with the lamb pita). The spouse ordered the Chicken Rigatoni with peas, prosciutto and pesto. Nice hearty meals to overcome the Christmas wine the day before. To assist, we ordered a pitcher of red Sangria (made in-house) as an appetizer. The pitcher is $12 – which is a pretty good deal.

While the spouse was to recall the best alligator tail (inspired by the alligator skinned booth), our food arrived. My grilled chicken was sliced and served with a piece bone-in and the gnocchi was atop a broth-like sauce. First glance – the appearance was very nice. I could smell the parsley and onions once the dish was placed in front of me (I think the spouse was jealous of my selection). I began slicing my chicken – which was very tender – and it was complemented by a crispy thin skin finish. My first bite was ‘like butta.’ Very delicious and sinfully good. I devoured the chicken in a slow manner to enjoy every bite. The chicken had a good balance in flavor between the moist meat and the crispy, flavored crust of the skin. I am not a skin person but this was so thin and flavorful, I couldn’t resist. The gnocchi was equally as good. Surrounded by the onion and mushrooms, the gnocchi was tender and perfectly cooked. The broth sauce (I could taste butter, chicken broth and parsley) was nice a ‘light’ tasting and paired greatly with the gnocchi. If I were not at the restaurant, I would have tipped back the bowl and sipped the rest of the sauce like soup. The spouse’s rigatoni was also good – I had a bite and the pesto had a good home-made flavor. I am glad I ordered my chicken though and could see why the spouse was jealous of mine.

The service was also good with continuous drink refills. I did miss the fresh bread that was brought under the old chef and the hot pita bread… another item that should be brought back but probably better for me that it wasn’t…. can’t overload on those carbs! I give M5 4 ghosts – the chicken dish was to die for. The meal was about $45 with tax and tip.

Also on the menu, they had a tasting menu for $15 which included - Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup, Grilled Salmon with English Pea Risotto & Truffle Jus and Pumpkin Flan. They also have drink and appetizer ‘happy hour’ specials – nice on the patio when its warm out.

4310 Sharon Road, Ste. W01 (by Crate and Barrel and The Counter)
Charlotte, NC 28210

Encore Bistro

I have been to Encore a few times – even after running the SouthPark Half-Marathon banking on some good food and drinks.

We went to Encore last week while finishing last second gift shopping and looking at lights (a great house is nearby that has lights timed with music…. Anyways back to the food). The restaurant was fairly crowded for a holiday week. Note that on Wednesdays, martinis are half-off. That’s a good deal considering their martinis start at $10/drink. The best appetizer on the menu is the Feta Dip. It comes out with a nice portion and the cheese is melted and mixed with sun-dried tomatoes – served with parmesan covered flat bread. For this visit, I ordered the Chicken Napoleon (chicken breast with prosciutto, roasted red bell pepper, and provolone over vegetable orzo with marsala sauce). The spouse ordered the special, which was lollipop lamb chops with mashed potatoes, steamed veggies and a chimichurri sauce. The food that night was served rather quickly and very hot. I had to wait to start to seriously eat my meal. The chicken breast was sliced in half and stuffed with the prosciutto, bell peppers and cheese. The prosciutto added a super salty flavor to the chicken and the cheese could have been more melted – but the chicken itself was tender and pretty good. The orzo was good nicely with some large mushrooms (a plus) but the marsala was also over-salted. The spouse’s lamb was good nicely (medium) and tender and nicely flavored. The item not that rememberable was the chimichurri sauce. My favorite dish on the menu is the Asian Salad (noodles, broccoli, mushrooms, green onion, red bell peppers, wonton crackers, and soy sweet chili). I add-on the ahi tuna with the salad.

The service overall is good… if you sit in Nick’s section – it is excellent. Overall, I give Encore 3 ghosts. For this visit, my meal (chicken napoleon) was too salty and the cheese was not melted even though the food was piping hot. The food is also simple – I can copy cat these meals and make them at home. The reason why I ordered the chicken and not the Asian salad was that I actually made it at home the night before. It’s a good place to go if you want a simple meal and cheap drinks (again – go on a Wednesday) and don’t mind paying a little more than you would at Chili’s. Our meal was about $80 with tax and tip. Give it a try.

A side note for you charities – they participate in ‘celebrity bartending’ and all cash tips are donated to you. Info is on their website.

9824 Rea Road
Charlotte, NC 28277
Phone: 704-341-3651
Fax: 704-341-7956

Monday, December 21, 2009

Big Daddy's Burger Bar

Ok – so here is the Big Daddy’s review (like I said – I have been swamped!). The spouse was craving a burger and fried pickles so we found our Sunday meal at Big Daddy’s. We were seated pretty prompt (surprisingly) and put our order in for the fried pickles. We debated on which burger to get as there are quite a few… between the basic burger, veggie burgers, Southern (with cheese, slaw and chili) and a blue cheese burger – just to name a few. We settled on splitting their other namesake restaurants – the Mama Ricotta burger (housemade mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto) and the 1511 Cantina burger (black bean patty, green chilies, avocados, cheese and chipotle ranch – I upgraded the black bean patty to the buffalo meat). The order was placed (both medium) and the pickles arrived… The fried pickles here are sliced long versus the ‘chips’ you can get at other places like the Penguin and the Counter and served with ranch dressing. From appearance, it looks like a lot of pickles – but when you bite into them, I tasted only a salted fried matter. One slice of the pickle can give you your sodium allowance for the week. I ate a few more to see if it was just that slice – but these badboys were saltier than the Dead Sea – at least the ranch dressing helped mask it. The pool of grease was not that appetizing either. I will note that these were saltier and greaser than what I have had at other places in the Queen City area.

Our burgers arrived about 10 minutes later nice and hot. We both halved our burgers and began to dig in. I started on the Mama Ricotta burger first. I noticed that the bottom of the bun was completely soggy – but oh well – I guess that means one nice, juicy burger. Wrong. This burger seemed over cooked and was very dry, the tomatoes were overripe and super mushy, and the pesto was not very flavorful (here is where an actual dash of salt and pepper would have worked). The housemade mozzarella was actually pretty good and helped the overall burger taste. I shutter to say that I could have gotten a better cooked burger at Five Guys. Next – to my main event – the 1511 Cantina burger with buffalo meat. This meat was super flavorful and moist… another reason to ‘upgrade’. The avocado and chilies also added to the flavor and was complimented by the chipotle ranch dressing. This was the burger I was wanting – a juicy dream with a slight kick. We both had the tater tots with the burgers – nice and crispy and hot!

The service was pretty good… much better than it has been in the past. For the overall experience, I will give Big Daddy’s 3 ghosts. The 1511 Cantina burger carried the rating due to the dry and unseasoned Mama Ricotta burger and the overly salty and greasy pickles. I know this is a Charlotte hot-spot… but a dry burger is like walking across the desert with no water. They also have grilled chicken and salads for healthier options. The overall price of the restaurant is up there ($11.50 for the Cantina burger with the buffalo). I plan to visit again in the future (for some more buffalo) but will have to save some coin.
Two locations - Dilworth and Ballantyne -

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Eddie's Place

If you want a place that serves breakfast all day and some NOLA influence...and have time to spend... Eddie's is your place...

We went to Eddie's later in the day after the regular Sunday church crowd and took a seat near the bar (because football was on, of course). Eddie's had several drink specials and we settled on the $1.50 Miller Lites. From the first glance of the menu, it had just about anything anyone could possibly want... from all-day breakfast, Po'Boys, to Low Country fare. I ended up getting the She-Crab Soup and the half Muffalatta (being the NOLA theme). The spouse settled for the egg breakfast platter (with sausage patties, grits and biscuit). Not to forget - we started with fried pickles.

The pickles came out fast and they were hot. They were sliced in chip form and were cleanly fried. Not overly greasy like I have had before but super salty. The soup was next. I am a big fan of She Crab soup and order it anywhere I can. I have only found super great She Crab in Charleston and nothing that compares. I will say that the She Crab soup at Eddie's was good but not comparable to Charleston's She Crab. It says that its award winning... but I found that I needed to add some salt and pepper and the crab was lacking. It did not have the big crab lumps that I am used to when I order the soup in Charleston. Finally - our meals came. My Muffalatta was big! For those who don't know - a Muffalatta is a NOLA born sandwich, made with genoa salami, mortadella, ham, swiss cheese and olive tapenade salad. The sandwich was flavorful and piled with meat. The olive was suptle but gave a nice after-bite and complemented the spices of the meat. The sandwich was on ciabatta bread that was nicely toasted and not overly hard and crunchy. You can also get this sandwich 'cold.' The spouse's breakfast dish was filled to the brim. I took a couple of bites of the grits - which were nice and creamy - and especially good with pepper added. The biscuit was good and I will plan on ordering the healthy biscuits and gravy on the next visit.

I will mention that the service is slow and if you are in a hurry, then I would plan adequate time and pack your patience. The food overall was good. I only wish the She Crab soup was better. I give Eddie's 3 ghosts for the combined food and service.

There are two Eddie's locations - one near Cotsworld and one in Ballantyne.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lebowski's Grill and Pub

Lebowski's is in it's maiden year opening this past March 2009. It's on East Blvd, nestled within the likes of Cantina 1511, Big Daddy's, Moe's and Rock n' Lobster. It's named after the Big Lebowski and has various posters and quotes around the restaurant as well as album covers hanging from the wall. I decided to meet my spouse for lunch - we've never been and it's in the middle of where we work... a good meeting spot. We arrived and our drink orders were taken and delivered promptly. At that time, we were busy reviewing the menu - which had several items I wanted to order: The Sizzle Salad, the Turkey Burger, the Quesadillas... the list went on and on. We decided to both order a sandwich and split it as well as split the sides:

Me - Turkey BLT Wrap with Mac and Cheese (the wrap had Roasted Turkey Breast, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato & Mayo)
Spouse - Chicken Florentine (Chicken Breast, Provolone, Baby Spinach, Bruschetta and Spinach-Artichoke Spread on Grilled Sourdough) with garlic fries

We waited not even 10 minutes and out popped our food. The wrap was a good size - much larger than I have seen at other sandwich places. There was plenty of turkey and bacon (I loved that the turkey was crisp and not oily) and it was stuffed end-to-end. The mac and cheese was definitely homemade. The mac was cavatappi pasta and the cheese were several cheeses that oozed in the bowl. There was enough melted cheese left to scoop up with the garlic fries. The mac and cheese was hot and not overly salty. My half of the Chicken Florentine was still hot when I got to it (this was after eating my half of the wrap and mac and cheese). The chicken breast was thinly sliced and with each bite I could taste a piece of artichoke and spinach. The artichoke gave the sandwich the perfect sour bite - a good balance with the chicken and cheese. The garlic fries were equally delicious. They appeared to have a garlic batter and were garnished with parsley. The fries were a true treat - something I normally don't order (yes, even ghosts need to watch their weight) but they were worth it. I will be thanking these fries and the mac and cheese for my 3 mile run this afternoon.

All and all, the lunch was very good and at a great lunchtime value. The two sandwiches, sides and drinks was ~$23. You can pay the same price (or more) at Panera or Five Guys and the meal at Lebowski's was far better. I would like to go back to try the burgers and wings and their "mystery beer." I give Lebowski's 4 ghosts for overall service, food and price. We'll be meeting there again in the future.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Counter

The Counter is a hip, Southpark burger bar (and a small nationwide chain). I went during lunch and it was actually pretty empty (I have been on weekends and you usually have to wait). I was seated promptly and ordered an unsweet tea. The waitress explained that you 'build your burger,' which is a trend now throughout the burger business (as well as Five Guys, Big Daddy's, Red Robin). From the looks of the menu I noticed two main things - 1) the price - pretty steep and 2) no fries or other sides offered - you have to get those separately. You basically build a burger with a choice of cheese and 4 toppings and a sauce and bread. Anything more costs extra.

I settled on a 1/3 lb beef burger with jalapeno cheese. This was topped with more jalapenos, tomatoes, pickles and grilled onions on a wheat bun and roasted garlic aioli sauce on the side. I also broke the bank and ordered the 50/50 basket of onion strings and fries. The burger came out and it was stacked high... I knew this was going to be messy. The garlic aioli sauce was on the side and I took a single taste prior to using on the burger - it was smooth and not overly garlicky. I then thinly spreaded this on the burger (saving some for the fries). The burger itself was pretty good - a little dry but the sauce and toppings helped. Oh the toppings - there were a lot - so much so they fell off the burger. The fries were McDonald's like with some seasoning (Lawry's maybe?) on them. The onion strings were thin slices of onions (surprise!). I did finish the burger though and was full the rest of the day. Overall, the burger was pretty good but a little dry and not as juicy as a burger can be.

I give the Counter 3 ghosts. This is because the burger was good but not great. The price is steep, esp when you have to order the sides separately. The waitress was good though - esp keeping my glass filled with tea. The meal with tax and tip was almost $18 (yes, for lunch).

Feel free to go build your burger and try it out -

Friday, October 9, 2009

New South Kitchen & Bar

New South Kitchen and Bar serves food like its namesake... Southern food. The interesting thing about this restaurant is that it serves seasonal dishes, which allows rotation of a variety of dishes (but keeping their regular favorites like meatloaf and shrimp and grits). We went to dinner there on a Saturday evening to a good sized crowd. Our server came to our table and she was energetic and hip. She went through the menu and explained the restaurant's mission of their seasonal flair to the guests I brought (as it was their first time). We gave our drink orders (vino!) and reviewed the menu. The menu had a special of selecting an appetizer, entree, dessert and a glass of wine for $25 or you could order off the regular menu. You can't be a prix fixed meal if the price is right.

For the appetizer, we all seemed to settle on the fried green tomatoes. These tomatoes were brought hot to the table. The tomatoes were quartered (which you don't usually see - mainly arrive sliced) but it was a nice change as it allowed everyone at the table to have several servings versus just one or two slices. The tomatoes were served with horseradish relish with corn and bacon. This sauce complimented the tomatoes nicely and gave them a subtle bite. As for the entrees, we ordered the following:

Friend 1 - Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, thin beans, tomato demi
Friend 2 - Grilled chicken salad (not on the menu but this friend was not too hungry and the chef mixed up a seasonal salad with some chicken)
Friend 3 - American Kobe Sirloin with creamed spinach and potatoes and onion marmalade
Me - Shrimp and grits served with homemade sausage and mushrooms

The dinner came about the same time as the second glass of wine. My shrimp and grits looked steamin! I took a bite of the shrimp and they were perfectly cooked and well seasoned. The shrimp were also plentiful (usually you find only 3-4 shrimp but this dish had about 7). The homemade sausage was to die for... it was nice slices of sausage that were spiced just right. As for the grits - I couldn't have loved them anymore. They had a nice consistency and taste (not watery at all) and mixed well with the mushrooms. The dish was just a little on the salty side but overall, it was a great meal. I also tasted of the Kobe sirloin (medium) and it was a melt-in-your-mouth experience. The meatloaf was also very good and was moist - unlike some dried-out counterparts. As for Friend 2 - they were perfectly happy with their grilled chicken salad.

Lastly, we all ordered dessert. I settled on the sauteed bananas served with ice cream. They were great and the caramelized taste was perfect with the cold ice cream.

The waitress was great through it all as well - keeping drinks flowing and us customers happy. I give the New South 4 ghosts for overall great food and service. Also - Saturdays they have live music... very Jack Johnson like.

Check them out - in the Arboretum

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mamma Lena's

Last night a small group of us went to Mamma Lena's for dinner. I heard from friends that is was real good Italian food and was looking forward to it... however I would 'eat' my words by the end of the night.

Walking in, it seemed like a cozy place settled in a historic building in downtown Waxhaw. Brick walls, a huge bread maker (where they make the homemade bread) and pictures of people enjoying food on the wall. I sat down and prepared to look over the menu while waiting for other friends to arrive. The menu, by appearance, had many options from pasta to pizza to specialities. Once our final friend arrived (there were five of us), the waitress came over to get our order. Waters all around except a friend and myself ordered a glass of wine ($7). The wine arrived and it was generously filled - I figured it must be for the price. Friend 2 noticed that the owner wasn't working and stated the food isn't as good when the owner is not there (Flag #1). This is when it starts to get dicey... We began to place our orders:

Friend 1 - small pizza with bacon and ricotta
Friend 2 - small pizza with meatballs and ricotta
Friend 3 - small pizza with meatballs and olives
Friend 4 - gnocchi with side salad
Myself - gnocchi with side salad

Seems simple enough, right? Well, Friend 4 asked if they could upgrade to a Caesar salad instead of a house salad. The waitress stated that they only had large Caesar salads and couldn't do that (Flag #1 - this means that the salads are premade in the bowls - how hard is it to put some romaine, croutons and some parm in a smaller bowl?) - so Friend 4 was stuck with the house salad. While we waited for the salads, the bread was brought to the table. Not to ruin it, but this was the best thing we ate all night. The inside was moist and soft and the crust was flaky and crunchy. It was served with garlic butter that had nice sized pieces of garlic.

About 10 - 15 minutes later, the house salads arrived. They looked like they have been sitting in the bowl in the fridge (yea Flag #2!). The bowl contained iceberg lettuce and wilty carrot sticks with some croutons on top. The balsamic vinaigrette that came with it was thick and tasteless. It had the consistency of maple syrup. During this time, I noticed that several diners in the nearby tables just up and left... leaving their empty bread baskets and water. Yes - the service/kitchen seemed to be that slow. It took about 20 - 30 more minutes it seemed for our entrees to come to the table. All in all, it was ok as we enjoyed each others company chit-chatting - but the chit chatting was turning into grumbling stomachs. First, the small pizzas were brought out. Friend 1 and 3's order was right... Friend 2 was brought a bacon and ricotta pizza instead of meatball (Flag #3 - the waitress said it would be an easy fix as the meatballs are premade and cooked and could just put them on the pizza - should food be made to ordered? This isn't a fast food restaurant - believe me). The 'adding meatball process' was so fast, the pizza came back out with mine and Friend 4's gnocchi orders.

Gnocchi time. Ok - the plate appeared big. From appearance, it was gnocchi shaped balls with red sauce and mozzarella cheese. The cheese wasn't fresh mozzarella cheese either but just shredded cheese from a bag it seemed - I could tell because some was melted and some was not. Yikes. I decided to dig into the dish to give it a try... the 'gnocchi' didn't really seem like gnocchi. You know how homemade gnocchi has the definite potato dumpling taste, weight and texture (a nice, plump piece of dough with a moist center?) - this did not have it. The gnocchi appeared to be just a big piece of store made pasta with perfect lines. It was overcooked and had no gnocchi qualities that I have ever seen. As for the sauce, I might as well have just poured pure salt in my mouth. It was the saltiest dish I have had in a long time. If you count salt as a spice - it was really anything that seemed added to the dish. The tomato sauce had the consistency of a jarred sauce (Prego maybe?). Not to mention with the shredded cheese (that was cold) - this was not worth the $12.50 pricetag. I only really ended up taking 4 bites and setting the plate aside asking for a takeout box - maybe the spouse will eat it. Friend 4, who also ordered the gnocchi was not impressed either - also only taking a few bites and setting it aside. At this time trying to choke down the Atlantic Ocean with floating pasta, I really needed some water. The server only came once the entire time to refill our water glasses and I never saw her refill again - boy, did I need it.

As far as Friend 1-3's pizza - they all seemed to like it ok but stated it didn't taste like it usually does. The dough seemed to be homemade by the big bread machine also. Friend 2's pizza did look pathetic... pieces of bacon and ricotta thrown around with some cheese melted, then on top - clumps of meatballs that were thrown on as an afterthought.

I don't think that 'the owner isn't there so it's not as good' is a valid excuse. A great... even good restaurant should be on top of its game any and everyday. It took us about 2 hours for our meal and ~$30 just for mine - which was definitely not worth it. There are definitely better Italian, nonchain restaurants in the area (which will be showcased later) - heck even Carraba's is better (shutter - a chain!)

I give Mamma Lena's 1 ghost. Service was poor (even though the waitress seemed friendly but definately stressed), the wait was long, the food was over salted and not seasoned properly, food seemed store-bought and premade.... should I go on? Hey - I am sure some of you are going to disagree with this assessment but 'the owner wasn't working' isn't an excuse.
Downtown Waxhaw

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jojo's China Bistro

I went to Jojo's during lunch - right before they got busy. I noticed that the decor was pretty nice - wood floors, an open kitchen and big booths. The menu had several lunch specials in which you could order a protein plus two sides (salad, rice, spring rolls, soup or steamed vegetables). I settled on the Szechuan chicken with brown rice and steamed veggies.

The food came quickly and it was hot hot hot. The steamed veggies were my first victim. They were nice, crisp and bright - not ruined by oil or butter. There was a medley of mushrooms, broccoli, squash and carrots. The chicken was next - it was all white meat (yeah!) and tender. I wish that the chicken, however, was more spicy and less oily. The rice was simple brown rice in which I only finished 1/3 of the serving. Overall, the dish was pretty good and very filling. You could probably portion 3 separate meal servings from this dish (yes, I took some home).

The service was pretty good. My order was taken promptly and refills were provided. The food was also pretty good but as I mentioned above, I wish it was less greasy. The food was hot and tender and I did love that the veggies were actually just 'steamed.' I would go again - perhaps at dinner and try a different meal. I give Jojo's 3 ghosts.

Note - this is my smallest review!

7800 Rea Rd
Charlotte, NC 28277
(704) 541-6488

Monday, September 21, 2009

Don Juan's Mexican Restaurant

I ventured to Mint Hill today to try a Don Juan's (plus I had a coupon for a free meal!). Don Juan's is a Mexican restaurant behind Jimmie's on 51 and nested beside Rookie's Sports Bar. Going in, the restaurant looked new and some of the decor looked 'forced' into being a Mexican restaurant. We were told to seat ourselves and a server came to our table - which is good since we were the only people there. The server was friendly enough and brought us some chips and salsa as we browsed the menu. Let me explain the menu - it basically had headings of dishes - Burritos, Quesadillas, Tacos and under these headings were the meat you could get - Steak, Chicken, Pork, Chorizo, Shredded Beef, Ground Beef, Veggie, as well as some small combo plates (these were primarily a taco and chile releno). From looking at the menu, I was glad I had a free meal coupon as it seemed quite pricey for a Mexican restaurant and similar to 1511 Cantina menu prices (being this a very small restaurant, it surprised me). I settled on ordering the jalapeno queso and a beef burrito. My spouse ordered the chorizo burrito.

While we waited, we decided to snack on the chips and salsa. The chips = definitely store bought as they were perfect triangles and had no flavor what-so-ever. The salsa was a watery tomato mess with shards of herbs. It looked like they grabbed the cilantro - leaf and steam - and just threw it into the sauce. The queso came and it actually was a large serving dish versus a bowl ($4.50). It was the typical queso with slices of jalapenos chopped up and placed in there. I was hoping for a little more kick though.

Now for the main course... burritos. The plates were brought out and when placed down, the plate presentation was nice. The burrito, yellow rice and beans with a dab of guacamole and sour cream. I did not get the 'hot plate' warning only because when I touched the plate, it was cold. The burrito size was similar to a Moe's Jr sized burrito and filled with meat and more rice. The burrito itself was subwarm and lacked flavor. I am glad I had some leftover queso to eat the burrito with. The rice also was bland and it was basically yellow rice. I passed on the beans after one bite. As for the chorizo burrito, I took a small bite and again not too exciting considering chorizo is usually a flavorful sausage. It also seemed that the employees were almost too concerned about watching football than putting any effort in their food.

Again, I will state that I was glad I had a coupon as the burritos were $10 a piece (for me to say that my free burrito at Moe's early that week was better is scary). I left the restaurant with no real feelings except I still prefer El Valle (shout out!) and would probably not go back - even with a free meal coupon. I will also mention maybe an hour after leaving we both got bad stomach aches and heartburn... not fun. Thank God for Pepto. Since Don Juan's left me empty (and sick), I give you 1.5 ghosts (the .5 ghost for the queso 'saving' my burrito).

7102 Brighton Park Dr
Mint Hill, NC 28227-8052
(704) 573-0003

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

PJ O'Reilly's

PJ O'Reilly's is a new Irish pub off Ardrey Kell Road near Ballantyne. I found this place by accident as it is hidden in a shopping center and no bright lights (which the no bright lights is a good thing!). I went in and was very happy to find it was 100% no smoking and there were several televisions that decorated the walls. The restaurant was also decorated in the homely, pub flare.

The menu had a variety of food and not limited to "Irish" - Irish food (corned beef, cabbage and potatoes) and some English dishes (bangers, fish and chips) and America (burgers, chicken fingers, cheesesteak). I had settled on the Rynne's Ruben (corned beef, kraut, swiss and 1000 island dressing) and wedding rings (aka onion rings). I also ordered a Guinness for an appetizer.

The food took a little bit (but hey - it's a new place) but the server was very friendly and had a great attitude. She made the wait shorter by bringing another Guinness. My food eventually came and I was more excited about the wedding rings than the sandwich. They were fried in a Guinness batter - hot and crispy. As far as the Ruben, I was disappointed in the corned beef. Being Irish (ah oh!) - the corned beef was thick, dry and fat was covering the entire piece of beef. The beef was also very tough and grainy. I did not care for this at all and did not finish my meal. I was surprised that an Irish pub would serve corned beef in this condition. If made correctly, the corned beef would have been moist and the fat would be barely noticeable (noting that corned beef is a fatty meat) - primarily since the corned beef is cooked in its own juice and brine.

I was disappointed that the menu did not have enough true Irish food. Don't get me wrong, Irish food is not the most appetizing but it was more American food with witty Irish names. The service was great but the food failed. Again, this is a new place so I am sure there are some things to 'banger' out. I am torn but I will have to give PJ's 2 ghosts. Service and atmosphere = good but the food = not too Irish.

Feel free to give them a chance - I am sure I will be by there again for another Guinness and possibly another try.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lupie's Cafe

On the way Uptown to see a disastrous football game, I stopped at Lupie's for my pre-game meal and drinks. You know this place is going to be good once you pull in - nothing like a gravel parking area and a 'waiting area' with a booth facing the street and your local newspapers (Creative Loafing included). There is also a smoking/bar section as well. We waited about 5 minutes for a non-smoking table and were seated by an enthusiastic waiter. Within seconds of being seated we already had out drink order in and were reviewing the menu. This menu has everything a little ghost dreams about - 4 types of chili (and you can make it a 'mac' with spaghetti), burgers, nachos galore, and good ol' Southern cooking specials nightly. I was in luck that Thursday night was chicken and dumplings night... and it came with two sides. I ordered the mac and cheese and the squash. The spouse ordered the Lupie's burger with all the fixins (mustard, ketchup, cheese, onions, lettuce and tomato). As soon as we took our first sip of our cold Guinness waiting for our food - poof! out it came! I think the food was quicker here than any other restaurant I have been to.

My plate came out oozzing devilish goodness (glad I went to the gym that day). It had a heaping serving of mac and cheese (the REAL stuff - with the cheesy crisp topping) and squash with a bowl of the chicken and dumplings and cornbread. I first bit into the squash and it was so hot I practically burnt my tongue... but since I am transparent - it healed quickly. Next the dumplings... there is something about a hot bowl of saucy chicken and dumplings. It had a perfect flavor and not overly salty. The chicken was plentiful in my bowl and very tender. The dumplings sized from small to large balls of dough - and they were delicious. I saved the taste of mac and cheese for last. Again, the mac and cheese was hot and the top was the most perfect toasted cheese topping I have ever had for a restaurant mac and cheese. Cheese pulled from the mac noodles and the fork could barely cut it (sweet goodness!). I also eyed Lupie's burger - which was covering the hands of the spouse. The burger was also a very good portion and served on an onion roll - this burger was gone before I could even ask for a bite! When we checked out, the service was just ask gracious as when we entered.

I give Lupie's a solid 4 ghosts!
Go check it out - I will again... to try the chili and nachos!

Monday, August 24, 2009


Foskoskies.... now say that 3 times fast! Anyways - before heading out on a night on the town, my friends and I decided to hit up Foskoskies - a small hole-in-the-wall place in the Plaza/Midwood area.

We arrived around 6PM on Friday and at the perfect time as 5 minutes later there was a line of people waiting outside the door (which means it has to be good....). We sat near the front of the restaurant right by the "Specials" wall. There were about 7-8 specials ranging from homemade meatballs to seafood to dessert and the menu overall carries a down-home Southern flare with fried chicken to turkey pot pies to crab cakes. Our server came and seemed down-to-earth and was part of our table. We gave our drink and meal orders - my friend and I both ordered the boneless fried chicken breasts served with a honey pecan sauce and our other friend ordered the homemade meatballs. While we waited, we were delivered hot yeast rolls with room temperature butter that melted and glazed over the rolls. The rolls were probably the best 'free dinner rolls' I have had in a long time.

Not long after, our food arrived. My plate was nicely presented - two chicken breasts nicely fried (no grease) with the honey pecan sauce, a broccoli casserole and rice. I cut into the chicken and didn't even need to use my knife. It was moist and hot and very tasty. The honey pecan sauce was good but became overpowering after the 4th-5th bite (I did ask for it on the side and it was not). The broccoli casserole was warm when I got to it - it has a perfect mixture of broccoli and cheese and no additional seasoning was needed. As for the rice - it was just regular white rice so I barely paid attention to it except to use it as a mop for the chicken and broccoli. My friend who ordered the dish also enjoyed it. The friend who ordered the homemade meatballs received about 5 huge meatballs (made of beef and Grateful Growers sausage) and served on top of the penne. The meatballs were tender and juicy and filled with the perfect mix of Italian-like seasoning and hint of the sausage. From the looks of it - there was way too much penne and the presentation could have been a little more but overall it was tasty. My friend did not finish her meatballs.

The service overall was great. The server came over, as well as the owner, on various times to ask about refills and how our meals were. 5 ghosts for them! The atmosphere was cute - an 'old bar/restaurant' look however it seemed hotter in the restaurant than outside and I was sweating while I was eating - 2 ghosts. As far as the food - I really enjoyed it. Again, the honey pecan sauce was a little overbearing near the end but I just scraped it away... and yes, I did ordered it on the side and it came out on top of the chicken. With this in mind, the overall flavorness of the food that required no additional seasoning and the melting texture - I give the food 3.5 ghosts - for a total average of 3.5 ghosts.

2121 Shamrock DrSte ACharlotte, NC 28205
(704) 535-2225

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wolfman Pizza

Some friends mentioned Wolfman's Pizza and said it was the greatest pizza ever... hmmmm sounds like a challenge. I went to Wolfman's on Sunday hungry hungry hungry. We were seated promptly and was greeted by a friendly server... ordered drinks and apps (Styx - which are breadsticks with their homemade sun-dried tomato pesto, artichoke dip and marinara sauce). From reviewing the menu, they had pizzas that pretty much covered any appetite and taste - regular pepperoni, chicken, veggies, cheeseburger, potato - as well as sandwiches and pasta. We decided to settle for the 12 inch Led Zeppelin (Italian sausage, roma tomatoes, roasted red peppers, red onions, fresh mushrooms, black olives, jalapenos, fresh garlic and mozzarella cheese) - might as well go big or go home!

Once we placed our order, the Styx (you get 6) arrived and they arrived HOT. The steam was coming off of these breadsticks which had seasoning (tasted like some garlic, oregano and some other hints of Italian seasons) baked on top. The outside of the stick was crisp and it was moist on the inside. Also with the styx, you have the dips. My favorite was the artichoke dip. This was a cup of cheesy goodness. You could taste the artichoke while you pulled yards of melted Parmesan cheese. The sun-dried tomato pesto was also good. The dip was nicely balanced between the flavor of tomatoes and not too oily. The marinara was also good and was set aside to be used as a crust absorber.

About 10 minutes of finishing the appetizer, the pizza arrived. This pizza appeared to be chock-full! I could tell right away it was bubbly, cheesy goodness but also noticed that the crust was wet and a fork would be needed. I took a slice and placed it on my plate - ready to dig in. I noticed that the slice had an abundance of the veggies... the tomatoes and red peppers were chopped similar and looked identical on the pizza. The only way to tell them apart was the tangy taste of the red pepper compared to the sweet tomato taste. The red onions and jalapenos added a nice 'kick' and a crisp to the pizza - which was needed since the crust was so wet and moist. The Italian sausage was good and the fennel could be tasted throughout. I was glad that the sausage didn't overpower the pizza as the meat sometimes does. The veggies were definitely the fore-front of this pie. The outer crust was crusty and flavorful as my pieces had garlic and some melted cheese on them. Pairing the crust with the left over marinara and tomato pesto - it was a treat. I still do not know why the pizza was so wet and soggy for the most part. I am assuming the pizza crust was too thin. It was not too 'saucy' so I am thinking maybe the veggies must have cooked and drained their juices... just a thought.

Overall, the service was great. They were on-top of things and provided many refills. They get 4 ghosts. As far as the food - the Styx app was great and the sauces were full of flavor. The pizza was good but not the best I have had - if only the pizza was not so wet. I give the food 3 ghosts. Overall, Wolfman Pizza gets 3.5 ghosts.
The price was reasonable - for the Styx, pizza and two drinks and tip ~$25.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Senor Tequila Cantina Grill

I am a sucker for Mexican food - I will admit. I have actually been there before but wanted to write unbiased and not have my previous experiences effect my experience.

I decided to go at a non-peak time (2PM) for lunch and was able to seat myself right away. The waiter came by and brought my menu and fulfilled my drink order. During that time, another waiter brought some chips and salsa. The chips were cold and seemed that they have been sitting out for a while and had no flavor (i.e. salt, crispness). The appearance of the chips also seemed to be store-bought chips and not homemade chips that most Mexican restaurants make. The salsa was pretty good but not as flavorful as I have tried at other restaurants. 10 minutes must have passed until the server came to take my order (and I was one table out of three). I ordered the Senor Tequila Lunch Special from the lunch menu and it consisted of a burrito, taco, chicken flauta and cheese quesadilla. I asked for beef for the burrito and taco. At this time, I had finished my drink and it took about 5 more minutes for the server to come and refill my drink. 15 minutes later - the food arrived.

At first glance, the food seemed like it was worth waiting for... however, the food was at a 'room temperature' and my chicken flauta was actually shredded beef and the cheese quesadilla was beef... I guess a beef burrito and taco means to make everything beef. Since I have already spent more time there waiting than eating, I decided just to dig in. The burrito was simple - stuffed with beef and topped with cheese and red sauce. I will say that the beef was pretty flavorful and tasty - however, it could have been warmer than the room temperature. Next, was the taco - topped with lettuce and cheese. The taco was as expected and the bottom of the shell was greasy - which is common with the 'beef taco.' I dove into the 'chicken' flauta next... this was served with a red sauce. The red sauce was definitely needed as the shredded beef was dried out and again - not warm at all. I choked those down only to start on the 'cheese' quesadilla. The flour tortilla was cooked nicely with the right amount of cheese. I was on beef overload at this point so I basically ate the around it. Again - the server lacked the drink refills and dining follow-up.

Overall, the service was sub-par and the food was adequate - but not great. Especially being one of three tables, I would have expected better - including hot food. I was disappointed that I ended up with Beef everything instead of my original order (and what was described in the menu). Like I said, I am trying to let previous visits not sway my review - but I will note that service before was terrible. On this visit - service gets 1 ghost. Food has been a little better previously but on this visit - I give it 2.5 ghosts. Overall - an average of 1.75 ghosts and I will round up to 2 ghosts... It should not be too difficult to deliver what the customer asked for. Again, I could have asked them to correct it but after waiting already - I was hungry and ready to eat (and the 'store-like' tortilla chips did not satisfy my wait). I will also mention that the menu/meal is overpriced for what you get.

If you want some great Mexican - try El Valle (see previous review). They're spot on.

Senor Tequila Cantina Grill
6414 Rea Rd
Charlotte, NC 28277-2528

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cheese Mo'z

Over the week I tried Cheese Mo'z while out running evening errands. My spouse and I met up with another friend who wanted to try this new restaurant. It recently opened in May on Rea Rd in a nice little 'farm' community setting (along with some others - Cosmo's, Sweet T's). The Cheese Mo'z menu flaunts their 'coal fired' meals that are cooked at ~800 degrees.

We were seated on the patio and we had various servers walk by. About 5 minutes of sitting down, we were finally greeted and placed both our drink and meal orders. We ordered Cheesy Bread as an appetizer, which is coined as their signature foccacia bread with garlic, fresh herbs, smoked mozzarella and provolone cheeses and served with kalamata olive tapenade. I am not sure what is so signature about it - it was basically a piece of bread with some melted cheese on top - something I could made at home with Trader Joe ingredients. The olive tapenade did not look or taste like any other tapenade I have eaten. Both the bread and tapenade lacked flavor and I was not impressed by this dish. This was only the beginning of disappointment for the evening.

We ordered the following entrees:

Me - Five Cheese Calzone - Packed with mozzarella, ricotta, provolone, romano and parmesan reggiano cheeses, fresh tomato sauce and oregano - and I added pepperoni and mushrooms.

Spouse - Salmon Artichoke pasta - Oven-seared cedar plank salmon served on penne rigati pasta tossed with artichoke hearts, fresh oregano and homemade tomato sauce.

Friend - Small pepperoni pizza

I guess it was good we ordered an appetizer as it took about 20 minutes before any of the dishes were brought out. Mine and the spouses were first... The calzone was a big roll of black dough (we were warned of the coal... but the entire thing black?). The spouse's dish was not what was ordered - instead - it appeared to be spinach pasta. The spouse asked if this was the salmon and the waitress said she thought it was and left. (Keep in mind - the friend has yet to be served).

The spouse kept reviewing the dish and trying to find salmon and asked the waitress again - believing this was not the correct dish. The waitress said - "It was what was given to me." Also at this time, we asked where the small pizza was... A third time around, the spouse said that this clearly was not the salmon dish - the waitress - looking as if we were putting her out - marched back to the kitchen only to return with the 'correct dish.' No apology for the incorrect dish. Again - we asked where the small pizza was - and again - given an excuse ("the kitchen is backed up")... I would think that since all the orders were placed at the same time, the kitchen would receive the orders at the same time - weird how the kitchen seems to be backed up for just a small pizza. About 15 more minutes have passed at this point.

I decided to cut.... I mean saw... into the calzone. One bite and it was just a mess of dough with no flavor (unless you count burnt calzone a flavor). The cheese wasn't cold but didn't seem to be cooked all the way through and had a doughy aftertaste. There were a few pieces of pepperoni and hardly any mushrooms. I probably could have gotten a better calzone at Pizza Hut at this point. I didn't even finish the black ball of dough. What a shame. 20 minutes later - the small pizza came... Now, back to the salmon pasta - there was about 3-4 small pieces of salmon on dried out pasta. Seems like they cooked it, let it stand for about 20 minutes and then served it. The dish also lacked sauce and from what I tasted of it - it also lacked any type of flavor. This dish was also not finished. As for the small pizza, my friend took one bite and asked for a to-go box since it came 20 minutes into the meal.

Sorry Cheese Mo'z - this place is terrible and it will be very hard for me to go back. The service was slow and appeared to be 'put out' and drink refills hardly occurred. I needed all the water I could to choke down what I did eat. I give the entire place 1 ghost. If anyone has had a better experience, please let me know.
Don't waste your time.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


A few weeks ago, I was out and about and met a woman and son who were handing out flyers for their new restaurant - Kavkaz. I spoke to the woman - who is one of the owners of this family-owned restaurant - and learned it was a Mediterranean/Russian/Eastern European cuisine. This place sounded up my alley - plus I love trying new places! I told the woman I would come check it out soon and when lunch time arrived today - I knew it was time.

Kavkaz is a small little restaurant located in Stallings right off 74 east. The outside has a nice little patio, however, it faces the Stallings water - but still cute. On the inside, you are welcomed by a friendly, family staff who is eager to serve! My group (including my spouse and another couple) were seated and our drink orders were taken right away. From reviewing the menu, there was a good mix of cuisine and reasonable prices. Everything looked good and interesting to try - it was hard to make up my mind! The menu was also user friendly as it defined all the dishes served. The table ended up ordering the following:

Appetizer - Lahmajoon - minced beef and spices on a lavish bread made as a pizza
Me - Beef Kabob sandwich with a blinchik, or beef crepe
Spouse - Chicken Kabob sandwich with potatoes
Couple - Blinchiks, Khinkali (beef stuffed dumplings) and fried potatoes

While we waited, we were served fresh made bread and olive oil for dipping. The olive oil had spices which made the overall flavor of the bread very tasty. Within 10 minutes, our appetizer arrived - surprisingly a nice size. The Lahmajoon had 3- 6 inch 'pizzas' that were easy to split among the table. They were nice and hot and a mouth full of flavor. The minced beef was perfectly spiced and the lavish was nicely toasted - no burnt edges noticed! This dish made us all excited about our meal - and the smells from the kitchen added to our eagerness.

Our meals came shortly after we polished off the Lahmajoon. I traded half of my beef kabob sandwich with my spouse so I could try both the beef and chicken. Both kabobs were delicious. The beef and chicken were both tender and was wrapped in the lavish bread with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and onion with a nice light sauce. The flavors all complimented each other and it was a nice and light dish. Next, the blinchik. This is the reason to dine at this restaurant. The crepe was lightly fried with a nice amount of beef - again perfectly seasoned. The blinchik was not greasy at all and had a nice crisp. It was served with sour cream - but it is not needed. The couple also raved about their blinchiks as well. I did not try the Khinkali - as I will save that for the next visit - but was told they were also very good. The fried potatoes are steak fries - and served as a 'tower' - presentation is everything!

The service was very good - drinks were refilled on a regular basis and the table was cleared timely after each course. I was so full I could not try the dessert - but that too seems like it would be wonderful.

In the evenings, the restaurant has belly dancing and hookahs. Beer and wine is served throughout the day with various choices from Eastern Europe. Russian MTV is shown on the tv in the dining room, which is a good conversation piece.

The service and food both get 4 ghosts. For two drinks, the appetizer, and two meals - plus tax and tip - our meal was ~$32. This is a great little restaurant and I hope it succeeds. This place is worth the trip - so go check it out!

Monday, July 27, 2009

El Valle

I am a Mexican food junkie... ok a cheese junkie - but always love a quick, hot bite with melted cheese. I can find this at El Valle in Matthews. I will admit - this is my Mexican restaurant in the Charlotte area. I have been to others (again - a review will follow as I am giving everyone a new slate) but always find this one the best of the best.

Walking in, the decor is a little - I will say 'different' and the faint smell of cleaning products in the background may shock you a little but don't let that sway you. Once entering, you are greeted by the friendly staff who sit you promptly and bring the chips and salsa. The chips are warm and the salsa is in a small craft and small bowls (so you have your own and don't have to worry about double dippers!). The salsa is homemade and light and tasty and only the slight heat is an after taste. The waiter came and took my order - the #11 (one burrito, one enchilada - cheese, and a taco) and a jumbo margarita. Not even five minutes later, my meal arrived.

The plate was hot! and the food sizzling. The burrito was simple - beef and cheese. The beef had good flavoring and not overly greasy - as one my expect. The burrito had a red sauce as well which added flavor. I moved onto the taco next - this was stocked full of beef, lettuce and cheese and still hot. Finally - the enchilada. The cheese was melted all the way through (I have been to some places where the cheese is not melted all the way through and you get to the middle and it is shredded coldness). The enchilada sauce was also tasty. As for the jumbo margarita - it was big and it hit the spot.

I will also recommend the Chicken Chilaquiles - which is shredded chicken served on corn tortillas topped with some cheese and red sauce. This dish has it all - perfect flavored chicken that is tender to the touch with the nice blend of spices (and hotness) on top of the moist corn tortillas that compliment the chicken.

I give El Valle 4 ghosts just for the quickness, cheapness and hot food. Don't judge it based on the appearance - as this is a flavor party on a plate. (and yes - I did give it 4 ghosts - similar to Andrew Blairs and Crepe Cellar Revisited - but this place it GOOD). My #11 plus jumbo margarita was $12.50 (not including tip).

305 W John St Matthews, NC 28105-5356 (704) 845-1417

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dolce Vita Wines and Crepe Cellar - Revisited

Ok - went to NODA for the gallery crawl... which was pretty cool. Saw different works of art from photography to a reconstructed slave quarter to some paintings I believe I could paint myself. I also enjoyed the free wine and music and people watching as well. So back in NODA and thinking where to eat....

My friend I was with wanted to try the Crepe Cellar and I said - sure, I said I would visit again. The wait was a little over an hour so we left our name and number and decided to hit up Dolce Vita Wines.

Dolce Vita was nice and open and had a guy jamming on a guitar. We were both a little hungry - after walking around the galleries - so we decided to get a cheese tray. This was the only disappointing thing of the visit as the waitress did not know what was on the cheese tray... but hey - we ordered anyways. We paired this with a bottle of Ciao Bella Pinot Grigio and the hour went by quicker than expected (note - one glass of wine was $7, one bottle of wine was $22... do the math). As far as the cheese tray - it was pretty good. It had crackers, three types of cheese (I did not know what they were - just like the waitress), peppered salami, bread and olives). I enjoyed the honey-drizzled bread and peppered salami as they both played different tastes with the Pinot. If grapes and chocolate were on this tray, it would have been heaven.

So back to the Crepe Cellar... yes, I have visited - pretty recently - but was ready to dive in again. To be fair, I ordered the same item - Queen City crepe (see previous write-up) and this time it was nice and hot and the cheese was perfect and the bacon crunchy! Bravo! I will upgrade to 4 ghosts!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Andrew Blair's

My first summer restaurant for the Charlotte Restaurant Week (CRW) - Andrew Blair's. What drew me to the restaurant during this week was the menu offered - a glass of wine, two apps, an entree and a dessert - you cannot beat that deal for $30!

When my spouse and I arrived, we waited for our table for about 20 minutes (no biggie - it's a busy week) and sat at the bar with a glass of wine. The bartender was friendly and they had a baseball game on - which helped pass the time. I was also able to take in the atmosphere and noted that it was a 'hip, trendy' decor but very relaxing. Once our table was ready, we were sat by a friendly hostess who gave us an overview of the regular menu as well as the Restaurant Week menu. We had plenty of time to review the menu as it took about five minutes for the waitress to come to our table to welcome us. I understand it is busy with CRW but it more of a higher end place (as compared to your Harper's etc) but five minutes with no 'just a moment, we'll be with you' was hard to bite.

Once we were approached by our server - who was nice but a little rushed (again CRW) - we placed our orders:

Mine (per the menu)-
- Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir
- Roasted Oysters on the 1/2 Shell - garlic, Parmesan, Pernod cream and spinach
- Yellowfin Tuna Napolean - diced sashimi tuna, olive tapenade, cherry tomatoes, double yogurt aïoli, wontons
- Petit Filet and Crab Rosti - buttermilk mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, veal demi glace
- Chocolate Moltan Cake

Spouse -
- Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir
- Yellowfin Tuna Napolean - diced sashimi tuna, olive tapenade, cherry tomatoes, double yogurt aïoli, wontons
- Seneca Salad - arugula, shiitake mushrooms, goat cheese, pine nuts, strawberry basil vinaigrette
- Wild Salmon - sundried tomato & basil polenta cake, feta & cucumber salad, summer gaspacho
- Pistachio Milk Shake

Alot of food - for the price!

Our appetizers came and I received three oysters and a nice portion of tune. The oysters were nicely roasted and warm and tender. The sauteed spinach gave a good balance to the oyster - both in texture and flavor. Next, I dove into the tuna. This was excellent. The tuna was served on to of the olive tapenade and presented on a wonton. The olive tapenade was savory and a surprise for my palate as it was paired with the tuna. The tapenade was just the right amount (too much could have overpowered the tuna). I also tasted of the spouse's salad, which had the perfect amount of dressing - nice and light! As we waited for the entrees, we were also served pimento fritters and cornbread. One negative on this was that they already cleared our appetizer plates so we were eating over a basket. Second, the cornbread was ice cold and dry. The positive outcome of this were the fritters. They were hot and had a soft center and crisp shell - with a bite of the pimento. A side note - the server did get better as the meal progressed... so the first five minute wait can be forgiven due to CRW.

Entrees. My filet was a nice serving size - I did not leave overly stuffed. The filet, which I ordered medium, was a perfect medium. Nicely seared and tender. The middle of the steak practically melted in my mouth. The crab on top was nicely seasoned and paired well with the filet. I only wish there was more crab. The mashed potatoes were a smooth texture and not too heavy. I will admit - I am not a potato person - but I ate these potatoes! My spouse had the salmon (cooked medium), which I tasted. The salmon flaked easily and was very tender and flavorful. This salmon, combined with the feta/cucumber salad gives a good balance of acid.

The desserts came quickly after the dinner plates were cleared. My chocolate moltan cake had a crispy outside and a very moist inside. I will admit, I was expecting the middle to explode with chocolate - but instead, it was a very rich chocolate cake. The cake was thick to swallow but delightful. I also tasted of the pistachio milkshake (milkshake?!) and is was smooth with the hint of pistachio.

Overall, the meal was good. The service redeemed itself during the meal as I know it is restaurant week. I will say the location is a little off as it is a higher priced restaurant across from the Roasting Company and Angry Ale's... The price was $60 plus tax and gratuity and well worth it. I would give Andrew Blair's 4 ghosts.

Crepe Cellar

I finally made it to the Crepe Cellar in NODA. This hip, new restaurant/pub is where the Addie's Jamaican Cuisine used to be. Walking in, I noticed that the Cellar was a small, cozy place with a nice looking bar - as well as the friendly staff. Once being seated, our perky waitress came over and took our order - we started with nice cold Carolina brew and the pesto brie fries. All I can say about the fries - home cut - which means a good effort and a nice taste. The pesto and brie complemented themselves well.

For dinner, I ordered a crepe (obviously) - the Queen City crepe. This crepe has roasted chicken, cheddar, bacon and a tomato sauce served on top. For my side, I had to get the mac and cheese. This "crepe" cellar - has 5 dinner crepes and 6 dessert crepes. There are also other entrees that seem to outnumber the crepes! From the looks of other diners - it seems like they branched off from the crepe train and ordered the non-crepe items. I will say that the Steak and Guinness Pie looked tempting (and I will try it next time!).

Ok - so back to dinner - my crepes and mac and cheese have been delivered! The appearance was nice and simple... two crepes covered in the roasted tomato sauce - a nice size and not overly stuffed. As I took a bite - I was a little disappointed that the cheddar was not all the way melted. There were some areas that brought the chicken and bacon together through its gooey dream but the other half was unmelted shreds of cheese. The temperature was also not up to my liking - sub warm. Seems like the crepe was made and sat under the heating lamp while the mac and cheese was being dished - as this was hot! Yes - I did enjoy the flavor of the chicken and loved the sauce - but was hoping that the cheese was all the way melted and the crepes were warmer. The mac and cheese (as I mentioned) was hot. This was the best part of the dish - perfect noodles and a mix of melted cheese throughout. I will say that all this food made me pleasantly stuffed.

The service was exceptional - great staff that had a good vibe and made the Cellar a comfortable dining experience - I give them 4 ghosts. The food - it has potential! If the Cellar kicks it up just a bit - they will go from good to freaking awesome. I know its their rookie year too so they have some kinks to work out... so the food will get 3 ghosts - for an overall score of 3.5 ghosts. I will give them another chance for sure and look forward to it. Cost of meal was ~$25 with tip (inlcudes one $4 beer).

If you plan to go - go early - this place is small and it gets packed.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Zapata's Cantina

I was feeling a little festive with the Holiday weekend approaching so I took myself to Zapata's Cantina in Ballantyne. The server came right away offering chips and salsa and bringing my non-alcoholic tequila (i.e. water). The chips were served with two sauces - a mild and a hot. I noticed that one of the sauces had pieces of tomato and onion, while the other was a simple looking sauce. Both tasted the same temperature to me - I preferred the one with the tomato/onion pieces because of some additional flavor. I also ordered some queso, which was hot and served in a large 'soup bowl.' Tasty.

For my meal, I ordered a beef burrito from their Pronto Lunch Menu (a little smaller portion at a good price). The burrito soon arrived (pronto!) and was gigantic - it took up the entire plate. It had ground beef in the inside and topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato and guacamole. My first bite of the burrito was okay - nothing spectacular. I was disappointed that the plate the burrito was served on was hotter than the burrito itself... also I thought that the flavoring of the beef could have been more (like the salsa) and less greasy. I did finish the burrito and was stuffed - which is always good. The burrito was $7 plus tip. I will note that the service was excellent as the waiters were very considerate and constantly refilling the chips and salsa and water.

Based upon the temperature of the burrito and the lack of flavor (show me some heat!), I give Zapata's 3 ghosts as I could have made a better burrito at home (or another Mexican restaurant to be named later). Overall, if you are just in the mood for some fast-served Mexican food - then Zapata's is your place... and kids eat free on Sundays.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Well I decided to hit up the Penguin for a Monday night meal - hoping it would not be too crowded. When I arrived, I my name with the host and learned the wait was 30 minutes (30 minutes is not bad when people wait an hour + on the weekends). While waiting, I noted a beer special of Shock Top for $1.50/pint or $5/pitcher - so of course, I got a pint and the wait was soon over.

The menu is the typical 'diner' fare with sandwiches, hot dogs and vegetarian options... with their main item being the hamburger. They have three sizes of hamburgers - the single, double and the triple stack (or the 'Hemi') and you get add-ons such as pimento cheese and dressed all-the-way (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, mustard, mayo) or Southern style (which has slaw, chili, and some all-the-way items).

The server came to the table immediately and took my order - fried pickles, a single burger with pimento cheese dressed all-the-way and sweet potato fries. The pickles came out hot and fast - so hot I had to blow on them to cool down. The pickles were nicely fried with a hint of grease and had the perfect salty dill flavor in each bite. The pickles also come with ranch dressing for dipping that allows for a yummy bite. The 'regular' size is big enough to share with others and a good appetizer until the main event comes. The burger and fries came - and again, the food was on fire! I could barely wait to gobble the burger down so I risked burning my mouth in order to take a bite and it was delicious! The burger was moist and the pimento cheese (made daily by the Penguin) added a great flavor. The burger was about 1/3 lbs in size and was very filling. It was so good though I could have made room for another. Lastly, for the sweet potato fries - I was a little disappointed. Yes, they were hot - but they were limp and soggy. I like my fries crispy! They were also very thin-cut and usually sweet potato fries are a little bit bigger sliced...

The burger is about ~$7, with the pickles and fries adding about $3-4 each to the total. Leaving the Penguin, I was still craving the salty taste of the fried pickles and the perfectly cooked burger and thinking nothing of the fries... I give the Charlotte drive-in 'gem' 4 ghosts.

The Penguin is located at 1921 Commonwealth Ave, Charlotte, NC in the Plaza-Midwood district. Get there early on the weekends or try it during the week for dinner - you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Today some co-workers and I decided to go out for lunch and try Rotelli’s. Since none of us has eaten there we figured it would be a good place to try – especially since it was around the corner. We entered the restaurant and were hit in the face with the smell of pizza cooking (always a great sign) and greeted warmly by the hostess (I will also mention it was nice and cold in the restaurant – could have been the 90+ degree days we have been having). Browsing the menu, I noticed there were some lunch time specials – there were five that varied between slices of pizza to half sandwich combos – all under $6. Our waitress then came to the table to take our drink orders and to bring us some garlic rolls. The rolls were warm and buttery and I liked how the rolls were lightly crisp on the outside and very soft in the inside…. Did I mention we had about 12 rolls in our basket!

Trying not to fill up on bread, we decided to all order the half sandwich combo, which comes with a side salad (or soup if you prefer) and a slice of cheese pizza. You also get to select which half sandwich you want so I opted for the eggplant parmesan while my co-workers got the meatball parmesan and the spa grilled chicken. Our salads came first and they were big! Usually a side salad is small and lacking but this was a good sized salad with mixed greens and romaine, red cabbage, cucumbers and carrots. This ‘side salad’ could have been a meal. Next our slice of pizza came – which was hot out of the oven! The pizza had a very thin crust – which I like – and had some nice spices mixed into the cheese. The slice was also large, equivalent to the “NY Slice”, and initially required a fork to eat. Lastly, the sandwiches came – which were on 6-inches of lightly toasted bread. Biting into my eggplant parmesan, careful not to burn my mouth, I noticed that the eggplant was not greasy and was tender. I would like to see a little bit more seasoning in the eggplant but overall with the marinara sauce, mozzarella and ricotta cheese, it tasted good. My co-worker enjoyed their meatball parmesan and also commented it was very hot. The meatballs were moist and nicely flavored. We both liked how hot the sandwiches were as the cheese stretched between a bite and the sandwich – cheesy goodness! My other co-worker ordered the spa grilled chicken. Per the menu, it states that it is marinated in 12 spices and grilled – but looked more like a regular piece of grilled chicken as I didn’t see 12 spices or hardly any seasoning. I took a bite of the chicken and confirmed what I noted – it was fairly moist but no flavor at all. My co-worker commented that if the chicken was the only item ordered and not the combo, that they would be disappointed and possibly not return.

I give Rotelli’s three ghosts on the seasoning but four ghosts on the food quantity, hotness and price - so an average of three and a half ghosts. Overall, my dish was very good and very filling - I am so full I do not think I will be eating dinner. Not to mention, but this lunch combo was only $6. We had fast service at a great price – perfect for the lunchtime crowd.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dorian's Deli and Grill

If you are ever in Matthews and looking for an out-of-the-way place for lunch (or breakfast) - check out Dorian's Deli and Grill. Dorian's is a small, Greek family owned deli open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday (Sat is lunch only). It's a 'seat yourself' and usually grab your own menu type of place (before seating - check out the daily special near the cash register ~usually $5). The menu has the typical deli food (turkey sandwiches, burgers, salads) but also has some Greek dishes such as gyros and slovoki. The waitress came to the table pretty quickly after sitting and brought us some ice, cold unsweet tea - yum!

I ordered the chicken slovoki with the Paul's Chips (you get a choice of a side) and my partner ordered the pita cheeseburger. The meal was turned around in about 10 minutes - looking very delicious. My chicken slovoki was served in a warm pita with chicken tenderloins, onions, lettuce and tomatoes and slovoki sauce was on the side. The pita was warm and the chicken was moist. The slovoki sauce was very light and tasty when added to the pita. Now, on the Paul's chips.... these are homemade chips with a cajun/season salt on them. They are quite tasty! There is usually a mix of the real crunchy and some not-so-cooked ones - but even those are good. I also tasted of the pita cheeseburger, which was nice and hot. The burger itself was very moist and the cheese was nicely melted. The burger was also served in a warm pita. Once the food was brought, however, we never saw our server again (and I wanted a tea refill). I had to get it myself when we paid at the register. I guess a family owned business does not allow a full wait staff - but the food definitely outweighs this one con. My meal with tip was ~$8.

I give Dorian’s 3 ghosts in service and 4 ghosts in food, for an average of 3.5 ghosts. Don’t let the 3.5 ghosts scare you though as the food is a great quick-time lunch place.

1240 Matthews-Mint Hill Rd Matthews, NC 28105 (near the bowling alley)

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Food Blog

I also wanted to state that I am clearly not a writer... but wanted to write about the places I eat at and whether they are 'ghost' worthy. Restaurants can score up to 5 ghosts - 5 being the highest. Scores are based on waitstaff, quality of food and overall enjoyment of the environment. Yes - there are some places I will write about that I can clearly make at home - but hey - everyone eats out once in a while.

I will admit I have eaten at many places but when I decided to actually write about the places I have been, I have promised myself to have 'an open mind' and give places a second.... or third chance. Again - no chains - except for the local chains...
Good food, good times and good friends.... BOO!

The Roasting Company

As I was driving to the Southpark area on Sunday afternoon, I realized that since it was Father's Day it would be likely that most of the restaurants would be crowded. Wanting something fast - I decided to eat at the Roasting Company.

When you walk into the RC, the decor doesn't grab you - but the food eventually will. Menus are near the front of the door, which consists primarily of chicken and pork. Each dish has a piece of cornbread and a choice of 1-2 sides. The sides change daily and are posted on the chalk board above the 'order here' area. I decided to order the chicken and black bean combo (rice topped with chicken, black beans, onions, cheese, and jaco sauce), okra and tomatoes and the spicy mac and cheese (a pure carb overload - but excited!). While I waited for my food (which took all of 2-3 minutes), I browsed the salsa bar for a spicy addition to my meal. The salsa bar consists of a mild, hot and very hot sauce and onions. I opted for a mix of the mild and hot and by then, my meal was ready.

My plate was overloaded and HOT! At places like this, I usually like to eat my meal in pieces so I started with the steaming hot okra and tomatoes. The okra was nice and tender and the tomatoes had a nice flavor (not over salted). I sopped up the remaining tomatoes with my moist cornbread. Once I gobbled that down, I started in on my chicken and black bean combo. This meal completely covered the plate and piled high - still piping hot. The jaco sauce is a sweet, brown sauce that is over the chicken. A lot of the sauce would be almost too sweet to eat but if you order it on the side, you can mix in the perfect amount. I was also happy to find out that the sauces were organic and very low in calories. My dish also had more chicken than the 'fillers' you get at other places. Finally - my spicy mac and cheese. Yum - my weakness. It had pieces of pepper in the dish which gave it a nice Chuck Norris kick and it was not overly cheesy. It was the perfect side dish and surprisingly still hot after completing the remaining items of my meal. My meal was ~$10.

I give the Roasting Company 4 ghosts just for the speed of delivery and the hotness of the food!

If you go for lunch - get there early as it gets packed. The RC also does take-out.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Maestro's Pineville

Since Charlotte Restaurant Week is around the corner (, I thought I would write about an experience I had during the Winter restaurant week....

When we pulled up, we thought this place could have a lot of potential with the 'old house' charm... instead it was very poor service and cold food. We arrived to a semi-crowded restaurant with little greeting. It took the server ~15 minutes until we were even provided water - and we had to let him know that we wanted to order a drink (this was 30 seconds before we got up and walked out). Then another server came to take our order... which was basically all she did. No 'hello, welcome, how are you" or anything... We both ordered the wild mushroom soup, which could have been better if it was hot. Instead it was sub-warm. I ordered the filet, which was not too bad but really - you can't mess up steak too bad. My partner ordered the veal picatta - there were pieces not fully cooked and the dish was cold. The only redeeming part of the meal was the dessert (Choc mousse). Again, no one came by to ask how our meal was or offer any additional service... Our bill came (at this time we were contemplating our tip) only to find that 18% was already added on. They over-tipped themselves for sure. As we left, there was also no thank yous for coming, see you next time or anything. For a place that was in such a great building and area, the food and service ruined it all. This by far has been one of the worst places I have eaten at in the Charlotte area.

1 ghost
enough said...

Nikko - Ballantyne

Went to Nikko Sushi Bar in Ballantyne, which is a step-down on the 'hip' scale from the South Blvd location. I have dined here before - but I am going in with an open mind. We were seated promptly where the waitress came and took our drink orders. This place has some good martinis and I always order my favorite (an off menu item) - a plum martini. This is half plum wine and half sake... a nice balance of sweet and tart. This was shared by an appetizer of edamame.

For dinner, I decided to order sushi - the restaurant's namesake. From reviewing the menu, I wish there were some more options of sushi but it appeared to be primarily salmon and crab based items. I ended up ordering the dragonfly roll (a spicy, fried tuna roll with crab), the Philly roll, the scallop roll and the spicy crab/shrimp roll (the best sushi I have had is a place called Seito Sushi which is not in Charlotte - best roll - Sunset Roll that has salmon, a lemon wedge and crab).

Once I ordered, the edamame came out hot! It was as good as edamame gets. Good service so far but that soon changed. While sitting in the restaurant, I noticed that other diners were complaining about the lack of service. The dining room was not too full but it seemed like there were only 2 waitresses, which could have been the cause of the lack of service. Viewing the sushi bar, it had 3 'sushi artists' which did more talking then making sushi and this seemed to cause a break-down in the food serving. From the time I ordered, it took about 45 minutes to get the four rolls of sushi I ordered. During that time, the waitress did not come by the table to ask if I wanted another drink or refill the glass of water. Like I said -good service went down quick!

Finally - the food came. I can't complain about the sushi. The dragonfly roll is a larger roll with tuna that resembles more like chopped tuna (instead of the sushi grade tuna I am used to) but was still good and has a piece of crab. I believe it is the hot sauce they add to it that gives it the great flavor. The Philly and scallop rolls are the 'regular' rolls that you can get anywhere - but the fish tasted fresh and they were wrapped nice and tight. Finally, the spicy crab/shrimp roll was a 'salad' like roll with the same hot sauce used on the dragonfly roll. It too was good but I believe that the hot sauce gave it its flavor.

At the end of the meal, the waitress finally came and refilled the water. Too bad she did not do this while I was eating the spicy rolls!
Overall, the meal with two drinks, appetizer, four rolls and tip was ~$65.

Food = 4 ghosts, service = 3 ghosts for an average of 3.5 ghosts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Fig Tree

I dined at the Fig Tree this past weekend - my first visit. We opted to go there as I have heard many great things about this restaurant. We was able to get a 6PM reservation, which was fine as it was not overly crowded. Upon entering, I found the restaurant very warm and comfy. It is in an old house in the Elizabeth district and it is always nice to dine in a historic home (the Lucas House).

We were welcomed promptly by our server who took our wine order and presented us with warm bread slices (that kept coming) and a home-made rosemary olive oil and garlic pate for dipping. I ordered a glass of the Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2005 - which was nice and light.

For starters, I had the Bison Carpaccio. This dish had approximately six to eight thin slices of bison, which was dressed with some baby arugula, red onions, parmigiano-reggiano slices, and a horseradish vinaigrette. The appetizer was a perfect fit as we were both able to split this dish and did not make us too full. The bison was very thin and tender and adding a slice of the parm-reg and vinaigrette gave it a nice 'bite.' The bison was a nice subtle appetizer as it prepared us for the salad course.

Each main meal at the Fig Tree comes with a salad course which consists of mixed greens, carrots, cucumbers, croutons and tomatoes. You can upgrade to the Caesar or add gorgonzola, calamari, feta... and a few more options. I ordered the regular mixed greens, while my partner ordered the Caesar with calamari. My mixed green salad was nice and light and I enjoyed the vinaigrette and homemade croutons. I tasted of the calamari on the Caesar, which were delicately fried and tender. No grease and perfect seasoning. It made me jealous I did not order those as well.

As for the main course, I ordered the halibut - served with a lobster butter and asparagus. My partner ordered the lamb chops (medium) - served with a kalamata olive 'bread pudding' and asparagus. My halibut arrived at the perfect temperature and was a generous portion size. The fish was very tender and flaky as when I touched it with the forked, it melted on the plate. The lobster butter added a nice flavor against the tender fish. The fish was also topped with a lobster claw - and I wish there was more! The lamb chops were served with a red wine sauce, of which I also tasted. The lamb was cooked perfectly and very tender. The red wine sauce gave the proper balance on the plate. The bread pudding was also good, however, my partner commented it 'filled the stomach'.

We skipped dessert for Irish coffees as we were pleasantly full. Meal was also reasonable. For an appetizer, main dish, coffees, 4 glasses of wine (2 for the each of us), and tip - the meal was approximately $180.

I will start off this blog with a perfect 5 out of 5 ghosts. This was by far the best 'upscale' dinner I have had in the Charlotte area and the service was beyond excellent.

The Food Ghost is now appearing....

I am a Charlotte resident and love food. I have read many critiques on restaurants and have agreed and disagreed with many and feel that another voice is needed to find the 'perfect place'. I also know that the 'hole in the walls' are the best and chains... well - we will never mention that word again. As I dine at the Charlotte area restaurants, I will document my dining experience. I plan to remain like a ghost - as I may haunt your establishment and will love it or leave it! I will love to take recommendations as well - so list your favorite place - and who knows, I may like it!