Friday, February 27, 2009

Recipe Friday: Lemon Chicken

When I first started cooking, I was terrified of actually cooking a whole chicken. Let's face it, its not the prettiest site. A plucked and headless carcass, is not the greatest thing to deal with. Who would've guessed it's sooo darn tasty???

So, after I got over the "YUK" factor, this has become one of my good 'ol standbys. Serve this with some Mac and Cheese, and you've got one of my wife's favorite dishes!

Ingredients:
1 Whole Chicken
12-18 Sage Leaves
3-4 garlic cloves
2 large lemons (3 small)
Salt and Pepper

Directions:
1)Wash the chicken, and remove the neck, heart, liver, etc.
2)Place chicken in foil-lined pan.
3)Rub all of the chicken with lemon juice from one lemon, and then rub a generous amount of salt and pepper onto chicken too.
4) Stuff chicken alternately with sage leaves, garlic, and lemon (sliced into quarters or sixths), repeat until chicken is full.
5) Place one lemon piece and sage leaf underneath each wing.
6) Cook in oven at 375, for approx 1.5 hours.
7) Eat with a bottle of chardonnay, and enjoy!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

TJ's Deli and Grille

Yesterday I went on a Foodie field trip to Mooresville. I was in search of a new restaurant, and wanted to see some new scenery. So, after driving around in circles for a bit, I settled on a place that wasn't a chain, and looked fairly new. TJ's Diner.

Well, that's what the door said. The Take Out Menus have TJ's Deli and Grille listed, and incidentally, that is also what Google Maps says, so I suppose I'll go with TJ's Deli and Grille. Which makes more sense, considering this place is definitely NOT a diner.

After walking through the doors, I found myself inside a large and cavernous room. There were LOTS and LOTS of empty tables. Off to my left was a cash register, and since I didn't see any wait staff (I still thought it was a diner at this time), I headed there. Behind the register, the menu was posted against the wall.

I didn't notice anything spectacular on the menu. It contained the standard hamburgers, chicken fingers, gyros, etc. But something caught my eye -- the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. I LOVE THOSE! So, I ordered it, with a side of Curly Fries. YUM!

While my friend and I were waiting for out food, I filled my styrofoam cup with soda, and we took our seat. This restaurant is definitely new, and apparently took over the space from another restaurant. The decor and feel of the room were inconsistent with the fast-foodish menu. I got the impression that the type of restaurant had changed, but the decor didn't. The current restaurant was definitely a notch lower on the food chain.

The food arrived, and we were both underwhelmed. On my styrofoam plate was my sandwich and a paltry amount of curly fries (yes, you read that right, I had a styrofoam cup AND a styrofoam plate). My sandwich was below average. The buffalo chicken meat wheel that was on the cold bun was adequate, but hardly noteworthy. While comparing my order with my friend's, we noticed that his onion ring order had a deep-fried treat. A crispy human hair! YUK!

Thank God I was already done with my meal -- because my appetite would have been completely ruined.

After that little treat, I headed to the bathroom to use the facilities. It was a mess. There were at least a dozen paper towels on the floor, and the toilet looked like it hadn't been scrubbed for weeks. Ugh.

To be honest, I couldn't wait to leave. And fortunately, the restaurant did nothing to keep me there.

Score:
Atmosphere: 2/5
Food: 1/5 (This would've been a two if my friend didn't have a hair in his food, and a zero if the hair was on my plate.)
Service: 3/5
Total: 6/15
Price: $ (less than $10 per person)

Conclusion: I can get better food with bigger portions at a Jack in the Box. I will never go here again.

Restaurant Info:
TJ's Deli and Grille
120-A Marketplace Ave.
Mooresville, NC 28117
704-799-2801

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wine Wednesday: 3 Blind Moose - Cabernet Sauvignon

I admit it. There is no denying it. I can't hold back the truth any longer -- I bought this wine because of its label. The image showing the 3 Blind Moose drinking, and the back of the bottle filled with "Moosisms" (i.e. "... you'll fall head over hooves...), won me over. Not to mention it was less than $10.

This cabernet, from California's Central Valley, is almost more purple, than it is a dark red. And it has a spicy aroma. The flavor, though good, was a little unusual. My wife and I both tasted black pepper and olives. Yes, I said olives. Sort of a cross between a black olive and a greek olive. Nonetheless, it was still good and it still tasted like wine, I just wasn't what I've normally come to expect from a cabernet.

Wine Recommendation: Good, but not great. Buy it if you'd like to try something a little different -- sort of like it's label.

Price: $ (Under $10)

Wine Info:
3 Blind Moose (Go to their website, it's hilari-moose)
2006
Cabernet Sauvignon
Woodbridge, CA

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You voted, and I'll review

After a few weeks of voting, the readers of this blog voted that I should review Mickey and Mooch in Huntersville. So, sometime within the next 2 weeks, I'll go there and post my review here.

To be honest, I have no idea what to expect. Some have said that it's over priced. Others have said that it's worth it. But, either way, you'll have my unbiased review shortly.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for Wine (Review) Wednesday!

Monday, February 23, 2009

JD Rockers

I have a problem -- I'm addicted to Birkdale. And because of this -- I've been waiting months for the new sandwich shop to open. It recently opened it's doors, and this weekend I finally got to see, taste, and hear what JD Rockers was all about. Let me tell you, this is no Quiznos.

JD Rockers is the latest food establishment to open in Birkdale Village. Upon entering, my senses were a little overwhelmed. The restaurant is decorated in a visually loud rock and roll theme. Bold colors adorn the walls and ceiling (purple with green dots), the benches are themed after different bands, and paintings of Elvis and Johnny Cash greet you as you enter. In addition, one of the TVs was playing a rock concert (with a band unknown to me) very loudly.

Once I scanned the lengthy menu, I decided upon the Southwest Fiesta sandwich, chips, and a coke. I took a seat along the window after grabbing my drink, and looking through the paltry - yet mostly gourmet - chip selection.

After waiting about 4-5 minutes, my sandwich arrived. After I freed it from it's paper wrapping, I examined it. The baguette seemed relatively small, (at most 8 inches), but it was FILLED with hot steak and topped with a large amount of melted provolone cheese. I took my first bite, and I was happily pleased. The steak was flavorful, tender, and moist. In addition the sandwich came with "spicy mayonnaise," though I would call it a southwestern sauce. The term "mayonnaise" doesn't do this sauce justice - It was flavorful, spicy (almost too spicy), and really made the sandwich great.

Though I loved the food, the interior didn't do it for me. It seemed misplaced for the type of food served, and the area it's in. However, the children in the restaurant seemed to love the sensory overload -- I'm just probably too much of an old fuddy-duddy to appreciate it. :)

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 10/15
Price: $ (one person can get out for less than $10)

Conclusion: The food was great and though the service was friendly, it was a little slow and seemed slightly disorganized. I imagine that will change as the restaurant matures. If I lived in Birkdale Village, I would definitely take advantage of the free delivery!

Restaurant Info:
JD Rockers
16925 Birkdale Commons Pkwy
Huntersville, NC 28078
704-987-9431

Friday, February 20, 2009

Recipe Friday: Maple Pork Chops

This is a great slow-cook recipe that I've been enjoying this winter. It's one of those great recipes that you can leave on the stove for hours, and it fills the house with salivating aromas. Once, while waiting for a guest to arrive, I let this cook 1.5 hours longer than I normally would have. Let me tell you, after all that cooking, the pork chops were so tender that they broke apart when I tried to transfer them to the dinner plates -- YUM!

Ingredients:
1/4 cup flour
Salt and Pepper
No more than 4 pork chops (preferably bone-in)
Oil (Vegetable or Canola)
1 Yellow Onion (the bigger the better)
1 clove of garlic
2 teaspoons chili powder
3/4 cups of chicken broth
3/4 cups of REAL maple syrup (not the fake stuff)
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire

Directions:
1) With medium to high heat, warm a deep skillet or pot with 2-3 tablespoons oil
2) In a large plastic bag place the flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Place the whole pork chops into the bag and shake. Once the pork chops are coated, place them onto the skillet. Depending upon the size of the skillet, this may need to be done in a couple of batches.
3) Remove the pork chops, and add the onion (chopped), garlic (chopped), and chili powder.
4) Once the onions are soft, pour in chicken broth and deglaze the pan.
5) Stir in maple syrup, vinegar, and worcestershire, and bring to a boil.
6) Place the pork chops back into the deep skillet, and cook over very low heat for approx 2 hours, until the sauce is thick. If some of the pork chops aren't covered in sauce, occasionally move the pork chops to different positions withing the skillet.

I recommend serving with rice (I like to pour extra sauce over mine), and a warm vegetable.

I originally found this recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking cookbook. I made a few minor modifications. This is a great cookbook, and should be in everyone's kitchen -- including yours!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Back Tomorrow

Today I'm working on a side-project, and it will take most of my time. However, tomorrow I'll be back with a delicious recipe for ya'll to enjoy!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wine Wednesday: Sanford Chardonnay

I first hit the Sanford Winery several years ago while vacationing in California, and driving nort on the 101. I only knew that it was on a list of wineries mentioned in the movie Sideways (which I had not yet seen).

My wife and I turned a left off of Santa Rosa Rd. and drove through a field of grape vines, leading to an oak lined drive, that took us to a rustic tasting room. After trying some wines, and looking around, my wife found and autographed "Sideways" book (which is better than the fantastic movie). We promptly purchased the book, and a couple bottles of our favorite wine of the day, the Sanford Chardonnay.

Though this Chardonnay is not from the same year as that first taste, the Sanford quality remains consistent. This golden straw colored wine is well balanced, and not too light. The flavors of fruit (in particular apple) and a twinge of oak, are offset by a light acidity, which keeps the wine from becomming too heavy. I'd recommend this wine for a pasta with cream sauce, chicken, or a strongly flavored fish (salmon, tuna, etc.)

Wine Recommendation: Good Buy. But drink now. I don't think it has much longer to age.

Price: $$$ (mid-$20s: Wine in NC is more expensive than in CA)

Wine Info:
Sanford Winery
2005 Chardonnay
5010 Santa Rosa Road
Lompoc, California 93427

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Taco Stand on Statesville Rd.

Growing up in California, I learned that if you want to find cheap, but tasty food, your best bet is a taco/burrito cart. So, the other day when I was looking for a good but VERY cheap lunch, I was excited when a friend recommended the the Taco Stand found in the parking lot of the Seed Planters Supply and Equipment, just off of Statesville Road, south of Stumptown Road.

It's hard to miss the bright red taco cart as you drive by. It's one of the smaller taco carts that I've seen, and it's pulled by a pick-up truck. Though there was no line to order, but there was a line of people waiting for their food. So, I placed my order of three Pastor (spicy pork) Tacos, and waited.

This definitely wasn't Taco Bell, where everything was pre-made, and shoved into a tortilla. The two guys working hard in that taco cart, actually cooked the food for that order, then started the next order -- I was impressed.

After about eight minutes my food was ready, and including a can of Coke, I paid less than $7. After checking out the spartan dining area which consisted of two long tables and some chairs under an aluminum roof, we decided to head to my friend's place to eat.

The pork came wrapped in two small corn tortillas, and was cooked with onions, cilantro, lime juice, and herbs and spices. In addition, it came with two salsa containers. One contained a tangy salsa verde, and the other contained a VERY spicy tomato based salsa.

I was very happy with my meal. The pork was tender, filled with flavor, and contained very little fat. The serving size per taco was good, but ordering two seemed too small, and ordering three seemed too big -- SO next time I'm there I'll see if they can make me 2.5 tacos! :)

Score:
Atmosphere: 1/5 (It's a taco stand, you don't go there for the atmosphere)
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 9/15
Price: $ (CHEAP!)

Conclusion: Though this is a relatively low score, the thing here is economy. Great food, terrific price. I highly recommend it, and will be back to try their Carne Asada. I hear it's even better than the pork.

Restaurant Info:
Taco Stand
(In Parking Lot of Seed Planters Supply and Equipment)
14310 Hunters Rd.
Huntersville, NC 28078

Monday, February 16, 2009

Participate in Wine Drinking Focus Group

If you're in the Charlotte area and would like to get paid $200 to drink wine -- you need to read this:

Alpha Buzz is holding a wine focus group in the Charlotte area on Monday, February 23, 2009. And they need people to sign-up. They are not selling you anything. They only want your opinions. So, go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=R6UMhPELrQBM4mdxu53q3Q_3d_3d and fill out the survey. If you are selected, they will contact you, and give you the details.

So, hurry up and sign up. I did, but wasn't selected, I knew too much about the food industry and PR. But they asked me to post the link above. So, there it is.

Good luck, and if you get selected, be sure to tell me all about it!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Recipe Friday: Chocolate Fondue

I've always enjoyed dipping strawberries into chocolate, and what better way to treat your Valentine to dessert? I used to think that it was just a matter of melting chocolate and dipping something into it. Boy, was I wrong!

Here are the ingredients that you'll need:
16 Ounces (or more) of your favorite chocolate (I suggest a mixture of semi-sweet and milk chocolate)
1/2 Pint of Whipping or Heavy Cream
Approx 2 tablespoons of flavoring liquid (amaretto, hazelnut syrup, etc) -- OPTIONAL

1) Place a non-stick pan over very low heat, and add the cream.
2) Once the cream is hot, but not boiling, add a small amount of chocolate until it completely melts into the liquid. Keep stirring.
3) Continue to do this until the mixture is the consistency which you prefer. I'd suggest using all the chocolate, but to keep it a little more on the thin side use less chocolate. Keep stirring.
4) *Optional* add the flavoring of your choice, and add until the chocolate sauce has the amount of flavor you want (approx 2 tablespoons)

Pour into a warm fondue pot with the heating element on, and serve with your favorite fruits and snacks. I suggest strawberries, sliced bananas, marshmallows, etc.

Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Brooklyn South

As I've previously mentioned in this blog, I love pizza. And even though I already had pizza twice within the past week, when a friend mentioned getting pizza at Brooklyn South, I was all over it.

We entered Brooklyn South, and I was a little surprised by the interior, a big stone fireplace in the middle of the room which was flanked by large wood supports. It didn't quite feel very New York like to me. (I later learned out that the interior design was left-over from a Colorado themed sandwich shop.) The photos on the walls, however, pay homage to New York City, and the staff all had T-shirts that featured NY subway lines.

We approached the cashier, and we ordered our pizza and drinks. About 10 minutes after we got to our booth, our pizza arrived hot out of the oven. The pizza was VERY greasy, so I mopped it up with some napkins. Then I took a bite. The slices were standard New York style slices, and were so wide that the slice needed to be folded length wise. The crust was firm and crispy, even in the middle (which surprised me considering the amount of grease). However the toppings seemed a little lacking to me, the cheese and sauce were thinly applied, and the pepperoni was ok, not great. I'd give the flavor an average rating, it wasn't bad, but it didn't grab my attention either.

However, the staff here were very good. They were friendly, refilled my drink several times, and handled all requests quickly and efficiently. Though the pizza didn't do it for me, I was intrigued by the pasta entrees listed on the menu. I'll definitely be back to try those.

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 10/15
Price: $ (One person can easily get out of here for less than $10)

Conclusion: I wasn't overwhelmed by the pizza or the feel of the restaurant. It just seemed like a standard pizza place to me. However, if I was from New York, I might feel different. So, if you're from New York, and are craving a slice of home, this is probably the place for you.

Restaurant Info:
Brooklyn South Pizzeria
19400 Jetton Rd
# 201
Cornelius, NC 28031
704-896-2928

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wine Wednesday: Pine & Post - Cabernet Sauvignon

In an effort to bring a little more diversity to the content of this blog (and as a way to keep restaurant bills down), I'm starting Wine Wednesdays. Where every Wednesday, I'll bring you a review of a wine I recently tasted. And this one really knocked my socks off: Pine & Post - 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

This Cab comes to us from the Pacific Coast. Specifically, the Columbia Valley of Washington State. Typically I'm a California wine snob, and specifically, I love the chardonnays and pinots from that region. So, I went out on a limb when I tried this. What factors drew me to it? The desire to try something new, the label, and the price (was on sale for under $7 at Harris Teeter).

Despite the low price, this wine is no Two-Buck-Chuck. Instead, I found this deep red wine to be extremely smooth with no alcohol burn on the throat. It is slightly dry, and has a strong concentration of currant flavors, with a hint of plum. It had enough spice to it, so that it wasn't overwhelmed by the pepperoni pizza I was eating, but it's mild enough so that it can just be enjoyed by itself.

I highly recommend this wine. I've had much more expensive wines that aren't nearly as good, and whenever I go to the store, and find it on sale, I usually bring 2-3 bottles home with me. For the price, it just can't be beat.

Wine Recommendation: Buy Now, Buy Often

Price: $ (Less than $10)

Wine Info:
Pine & Post
2006
Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley, WA

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dilworth Coffee (Denver)

In keeping with the travel theme I started yesterday, today I will post about my recent travels to a coffee shop in Denver. No, not THAT Denver, I'm talking about Denver, NC.

The other day I drove across the Catawba River, and headed to the Dilworth Coffee in Denver. It's sorta hard to find. Nestled in a little crook of the strip mall, to the left of the Harris Teeter, it took me a second to find.

It's a small coffee shop, configured in a triangle(ish) shape, one wall has the table, one has the coffee bar, and the other is mostly windows and has a couple of big comfy chairs. When I walked in I noticed a mural on the wall saying "Home of the Royal Moose." I'd learn what the royal moose was in a few minutes.

I waited in a slow moving line about three customers deep (it probably wasn't too slow, but when I'm waiting for coffee I get cranky). While in line, I checked out the display case -- nothing looked great until I spotted what looked like a yummy cinnamon roll. So, when I got to the cashier, I ordered the cinnamon roll, and a caramel mocha. The cashier looked at me and said, "Oh, a Royal Moose." Apparently they revere my favorite coffee drink to such a high extent, it has been elevated to a position of royalty!

After I paid for my breakfast, I took the cinnamon roll to the microwave, and nuked it for just over a minute. After I got it to my table, my coffee was ready. The Royal Moose was delicious, but almost a little too sweet.... almost. Next came the warm, gooey, cinnamon roll. Aside from Cinnabon, this was the greatest cinnamon roll that I've ever had. The frosting wasn't too sweet, and slightly warmed, it soaked into the roll making it moist, sweet, and gooey, all at the same time. What a way to start the morning!

Score:
Atmosphere: 4/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 3/5 (average speed at the register)
Total: 11/15
Price: $ (Coffee and cinnamon roll for less than $10)

Conclusion: If you're in Denver, this is a great option for morning coffee. The interior is small, but feels cozy, and the cinnamon rolls and coffee are darned tasty!

Restaurant Info:
Dilworth Coffee House
145 Cross Center Rd
Denver, NC 28037
704-827-0007
http://www.dilworthcoffee.com/

Monday, February 9, 2009

Foodie Travels: Richmond, VA

Late last week my wife learned that she'd be traveling to Richmond, VA, during the weekend, for work. Being the dutiful husband that I am, I yelled "ROAD TRIP!" and started giggling to myself that I'd be getting out of the house. Yeah, I invited myself. But it wasn't until a few minutes later that it hit me -- I'd invited myself to a weekend in Richmond, VA. Not my idea of the most culinarily refined city, and definitely not someplace where I'd voluntarily plan to spend the weekend.

So, yesterday (Sunday), when we were looking for brunch, I was starting to get a little worried. We stopped by the hotel restaurant and weren't too impressed. So we asked the concierge where we should go, and he recommended a restaurant that was a couple of blocks away. We went there, and were informed that there wasn't an open table for another three hours!

After this news, my wife turned to me and said, "Lets go exploring!" And we did. Now keep in mind, it was late morning, and I hadn't had my coffee yet, so I was cranky. Very cranky. And my wife is leading me on a search for food through side streets that have no open restaurants, or traffic on them. As we walk, we come across the "Canal Walk" of Richmond. A nice, and relatively new pedestrian area along a local canal. It's a miniature "River Walk" in Austin, TX, minus the restaurants, stores, and people.

An hour later, we've walked the full length of the canal walk, and we're on the other side of the tracks -- literally and figuratively. We make a left onto 17th street, go down a block, and we run into a neighborhood of restaurants, cafes, and stores. And we go into the first place we see -- the River City Diner. After a five minute wait at the bar, we are seated, and my rumbling tummy began to relax.

This River City Diner (from what I can tell it's a local chain), is decorated with a revitalized urban feel. The brick wall is exposed, with old style painted signs and properly distressed plaster. There are chalk boards on the walls giving the daily specials, next to flat screen HDTVs. This place mixes new and old with a refreshing hip style. Oh, and they played the best music ever -- 80s.

So, now I'm relaxed, the caffeine from the coffee is entering my blood, and my omelet appears. It's huge, and takes up half of my plate. Filled with ham, cheese, peppers, and onions, this is one hearty omelet. In addition, the hash browns were fantastic. I didn't see any onions or spices in the hash browns, but there was plenty of flavor. I suppose it came from grease, onion salt, garlic powder, etc. My meal also came with a rather plain biscuit, but all in all, I can't think of anything to complain about.

Score:
Atmosphere: 4/5
Food: 3/5 (Standard diner food)
Service: 4/5
Total: 11/15
Price: $ (most entrees less than $10)

Conclusion: This diner, in an urban neighborhood that is turning around, was a great find. I was quite happy with the food and service. When I'm in town again, and I'm looking for a quick, cheap, and delicious meal, I'll be heading there again.

Restaurant Info:
River City Diner
7 N 17th St.
Richmond, VA 23219
804-644-9418
http://www.rivercitydiner.com/

Friday, February 6, 2009

Recipe Friday: Pulled Pork Tacos

Here is a recipe I've been using for the past few years. It takes about 4 hours to cook, and about 30 minutes to prepare. I originally found this recipe on the Realsimple.com website, and I highly recommend their site for easy-to-prepare, yet healthy recipes.

boneless pork shoulder (2-2.5 lbs)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons ground and dried cumin
1/2 cup apricot jam
2 jalapeƱos - seeded and sliced into rings
1 red onion - chopped

Over a sheet of aluminum foil, rub the pork with the salt, pepper, and cumin (I combine them all into one bowl, then rub the mixture onto the entire exterior of the pork). Then place the apricot jam, onions, and jalapenos onto the pork, and wrap in the aluminum foil. Now here is something important to note: baking all of this in the oven creates a LOT of liquid, that needs to stay inside the aluminum foil, as it keeps the pork moist and tender. So, make the aluminum seam along the top, and if needed wrap it in aluminum again, just to make sure.

Cook it for at least 4 hours at 300 degrees, serve with tortillas, cilantro, guacamole, and lime slices, and your favorite cerveza.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pho Nam

I was first introduced to Pho (a Vietnamese soup with rice noodles), by a friend. He lived near his parent's restaurant and one night we raided the kitchen, and he introduced me to this dish. I was hooked. And from that moment on, I've had Pho cravings every couple of months.

So after living near Lake Norman for over a year without Pho, you can understand the serious cravings I was having. Fortunately, a friend recently introduced me to this restaurant that is only a few miles from my house, and as far as I can tell, it's the only one in the Lake Norman area.

Pho Nam is a small restaurant, in a small strip mall on Catawba Ave. The restaurant doesn't really stick out, and the interior is sparsely decorated. Fortunately, the restaurant is big on taste! Once we entered we were able to choose our seat, and started looking over the menu. The first thing I found was the Ca Phe Sua Da (Cafe Soy Da), which is a vietnamese coffee served with condensed milk, then poured over ice. I have to order this iced coffee drink whenever I'm in a vietnamese restaurant -- I think it's an addition. Next I found the Pho Chin, which is the vietnamese noodle soup served with well done beef in it.

First came the Ca Phe Sua Da, it was delicious, and gave me a much needed afternoon caffeine and sugar rush. Next came the Pho, and I added all the necessary sides to my soup; these includes bean sprouts, basil leaves, jalapeno slices, and limes. I also added the plum sauce and chili sauce that were already at the table. I know it sounds like a LOT to add to a soup, but from the little I know about Pho, it very standard. The serving was huge, and the soup kept me full until dinner.

In addition, I had a bite of my friend's meal, it was a pork dish which looked like a soup that was missing the liquid (meat, noodles, and veggies only). The pork was fantastic, and had flavors that reminded me of a Korean BBQ. I'll have to try that the next time I go.

The restaurant is small, and seems to be a family affair. The owner works the small kitchen, and a woman, who I presume is a family member works the dining room. Both of them are very friendly, and make you want to come back.

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 11/15
Price: $ (Most entrees are under $10)

Conclusion: It's a good vietnamese restaurant with friendly service and tasty food. If you're in the mood for Pho, or other vietnamese cuisine in the lake norman area, I highly recommend it.

Restaurant Info:
Pho Nam
18059 W Catawba Ave.
Cornelius, NC 28031
704-892-9133‎

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brixx (Birkdale)

I love pizza. It is quite possibly the most perfect food ever invented. Really. Just think about it, where else can you get all the food groups in one slice of yummy deliciousness? Breads? Crust, check. Dairy? Cheese, check. Vegetables? Tomato sauce, check. Meats? Pepperoni, check. And for gourmet-style wood-oven pizzas, Brixx is a great choice.

If you enter the Birkdale Brixx on a Friday night, consider yourself lucky to get a table within 20 minutes. This place gets absolutely packed, there isn't an empty chair at the bar, and they even seat people on the heated patio. The place looks very chaotic, with children running around, parents trying to keep up with their children, and waiters and waitresses who are carrying large trays of food. But somehow it all works out. The food arrives within a reasonable amount of time, and no children are run-over.

This restaurant gets loud inside, and I prefer it in the summer when I can sit on the patio, eat, drink, and relax. But during the winter, expect the inside to be loud during the busiest hours, and conversation can be difficult at times.

But lets face it, if I wanted conversation, I'd choose a small and quiet restaurant -- I'm here for the pizza! So, I order a pepperoni pizza, with a bruschetta appetizer to be served at the same time. The pizzas at Brixx come in only one size. I'll call it an individual plus. It's slightly too big for one person (though I've eaten a whole one before), but not quite big enough for two people to share. Hence, the bruschetta. Combine the two, and you've got a great two person meal.

The food arrives, and my mouth is watering. We've ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon, and it's only whetted my appetite. The pizza crust is crisp along the edges, though the middle of the crust is somewhat soggy. The sauce tastes homemade, and tonight's pizza seems to have more cheese than usual -- EXCELLENT.

I take my first bite, and the flavors of the cheese, pepperoni, sauce, and crust, all accentuate each other. After my first slice, I reach for the bruschetta, but I don't put it on the toasted bread that comes with the dish. I instead put it on the pizza and take a bite. Absolute Perfection. Combine that with the wine and while I'm eating that bite, I'm in heaven.

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5 (This score would be higher if I was eating on the patio in the summer)
Food: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 10/15
Price: $ (Most pizzas and sandwiches under $10)

Conclusion: I'm rather partial to the Brixx in Birkdale, it's laid back atmosphere and good pizza are the reasons I go there often. However, their service can be spotty at times. If you're looking for a quieter venue on a Friday night, I suggest you pick up your order to go. That way you can have the same great food, but a little more conversation.

Restaurant Info:
Brixx Pizza (Birkdale)
16915 Birkdale Commons Parkway
Huntersville, NC 28078
704-894-0044

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Comments not working

I got a few e-mails today from people who tried to post a comment, but were unable to. I've reported the glitch to Google, and hopefully the problem will be solved soon. But until then, feel free to send me comments at lakenormanfoodie@gmail.com

Mama Mia Too

About a month after a bad experience at another italian restaurant, my wife and I decided to go out and try to find a good local italian restaurant, again. We settled on Mama Mia Too, located in Downtown Huntersville. Honestly, I had no desire to go there -- the name reminded me of the Abba play which I truly despise. Despite this initial reservation, I'm quite happy we went.

We entered the house (yes, the restaurant is in an old home), and we were promptly seated in a room that appeared to be the outside patio at one time. The room was decorated in an older style, reminiscent of something a grandmother would do. It should be noted however, the several other dining rooms (and there are many) in the home had a nicer and more elegant feel.

After scanning the menu, I ordered the Veal Parmesan -- one of my favorite italian dishes. The salad, which was included in the price of the entree, consisted of fresh romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and some shredded carrots. Though the salad appeared small in a large bowl, there was plenty to eat. In addition, they have a large array of dressings to choose from, and I chose the Parmesan Pepper Cream. This was an excellent choice.

The bread which came to our table was fresh, warm, and quite tasty. And the Veal Parmesean entree was huge. The veal, which was pounded flat, breaded, and topped with a health portion of cheese and sauce, was accompanied with a side of potatoes au gratin, and a small bowl of thin spaghetti noodles topped with tomato sauce that appeared to be homemade. This meal was so large, it could have easily been two.

In addition, the service was great. If our waiter was taking care of another table, the other staff at the restaurant dealt with our needs quickly. One incident, in particular, stands out in my mind. My wife and I both like large portions of parmesean on our entrees. While the waiter was sprinkling parmesean on the meals, he noticed this, and after he had finished he returned to the table with a bowl of parmesean for us to use at our discretion! This man quickly became my favorite waiter in the area!

After our meals, we made some extra room in our stomachs for dessert. The New York Style Cheesecake was good -- but not great. However, the flavorful (and somewhat strong) decaf coffee was a nice surprise. If it weren't for the fact that I was yawning during the drive back home, I would've thought it was regular coffee.

Score:
Atmosphere: 3/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 12/15
Price: $$ (Most entrees between $10-$20)

Conclusion: The meal was quite good, and it's the best italian food that I've had yet in the area. In addition, the service was fantastic. To quote Abba, "Mama Mia... how can I resist you?"

Restaurant Info:
Mama Mia Too
101 Maxwell Ave.
Huntersville, NC 28078
(704) 875-0575
http://mamamiatoo.com/

Monday, February 2, 2009

The V-Day Conundrum

Ok fellas, Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and lets face it, you haven't made restaurant reservations yet. Heck, aside from knowing that you'll need to get flowers, you don't know what you're going to do.

Are you going to suck it up, and go see a chick flick? Or are you going to take her to a concert?Only you know the answer to those questions (or you will soon, if you don't want to get into trouble)

However, if you want to save some cash, and make a meal at home, keep reading. Here's a quick and easy recipe that minimizes money, but maximizes flavor.

Suggested Entree:
Filet Mignon with Avocado and Olive Oil
Sides:
Risotto and Asparagus with Red and Yellow Peppers
Dessert:
Chocolate Bundles (Recipe by Paula Deen)

Directions:
1) Rinse asparagus, and break-off the ends by hand. Also, slice thin strips of red and yellow bell peppers. Then set aside, and wait for #6.
2) Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in skillet (cast iron if possible)
3) Once oil is hot, sear all sides of two filets for about 2 minutes
4) Place filets in oven at 350, for 30 minutes (well done), and less time for more rare meat
5) Once the filets are in the oven, begin making a box of risotto, follow the directions. (usually takes about 20-30 mins)
6)With risotto cooking, Slice one avocado in half lengthwise. Remove pit, then slice avocado while still in skin with dull knife.
7) grab asparagus from step 1, and place in medium-high heated skillet with 1 Tablespoon olive oil.
8) After asparagus cooks for about 1-2 minutes add peppers, and then season to taste. I suggest a small amount of soy sauce and honey.
9) Remove fillets from oven, and place on heated plate, top filets with sliced 1/2 avocado, and drizzle with olive oil.
10) Place health portion of risotto and vegetables on plate, and serve. I suggest a bottle of Merlot with this meal.
11) Consult the directions on the Chocolate Bundles dessert for the appropriate cooking times. The Chocolate Bundles will take about an hour (including thawing time for the dough), so plan accordingly.

Coming Tomorrow: Review of Mama Mia Too (Huntersville)