After surviving the apocalypse without a smolder of damnation, alien abduction or even minor loss of flesh due to face-gnawing zombies, I'm feeling the need to live a little. So, in this new year, let us throw caution to the wind. Let us set sail on a great new gustatory adventure. In 2013, let us turn tradition on its pale, white ass and explore the unexpected, seek out the unusual and forge new frontiers with our forks.
Let's eat weird, Charlotte!
Several rebel eateries across the area feature menu items with unusual flavors or dishes that use typical ingredients in nontraditional ways. From fine-dining establishments to down-and-dirty diners, food trucks to bakeries, if you are game for a culinary adventure, let us take you on a gastronomical trip of psychedelic proportions.
Mushroom Bacon at Fern: Executive Chef Drew Trepanier transforms everyday vegetables into fanciful creations that please even the most carnivorous crowd. Case in point: mushroom bacon. Trepanier spent months perfecting his well-loved maple-glazed pumpkin filet's show-stopping element in a way that gives pork a run for its money. The entrée features a maple bourbon-drenched slab of local, Seminole heirloom pumpkin, grilled and served atop caramelized brussels sprouts tossed with royal trumpet mushrooms that have been cured, smoked and seared exactly like traditional bacon. One bite and you'll swear you are hallucinating. It can't possibly be vegetarian, but it is. Fern, 1323 Central Ave. 704-377-1825. www.fernflavors.com.
Shrimp Creole Cupcake at Cupcrazed Cakery: A little further south, in Fort Mill, Heather McDonnell is using her imagination and winning baking skills to come up with unexpected cupcake concepts. Sure, the Reese's cupcake with chocolate icing and peanut butter filling is outstanding, but there is a far more interesting choice in her shrimp creole cupcake. Savory, sweet and completely unexpected, McDonnell starts with a buttermilk cake studded with corn and shrimp. Flecks of black pepper underscore the sweet cake that is finished with a Cajun cream cheese frosting. Shrimp in a cupcake? Mad genius, y'all! Cupcrazed Cakery, 936 Market St., #103, Fort Mill. 803-396-7372. www.cupcrazed.com.
PORK brains and scrambled eggs at John's Country Kitchen: Since 1977, the Margiotis family has been serving good-old, straightforward, home-cooked breakfast in Plaza Midwood with their simple menu of eggs, bacon, pancakes and pork chops. Jimmy Margiotis (the namesake's son) still stands behind the counter working the Saturday morning rush. Don't miss the inconspicuous menu item listed simply as brains and eggs. That's right, John's serves up pork brains and scrambled eggs for breakfast — a protein-packed powerhouse which Jimmy Margiotis says he ate three times a day when he was a high school athlete. The pork brains are lightly scrambled with three eggs and put on a plate with toast and home fries or grits. The key to enjoying this dish is not plugging your nose, but ridding yourself of those nagging inhibitions. My husband and I ate a whole plateful — and Jimmy threw in a pancake for our bravery. John's Country Kitchen, 1518 Central Ave. 704-333-9551.
Foie Gras Cream Puffs at Soul Gastrolounge: The classic cream puff is reimagined by Soul's executive chef, Jason Pound, who uses a traditional dessert pastry for a savory take on an otherwise sweet application. J-Pound takes a profiterole, the traditional pastry used for sweet cream puffs and eclairs, and uses it as a vessel for decadent foie gras mousse, which is piped into its center. The foie gras mousse — fatty duck liver whipped into airy richness — serves as the cream, and a red wine reduction resembling chocolate syrup accompanies the dish. The cream puffs were sold out the first time I went looking for them — a testament to their unbelievable goodness. Soul Gastrolounge, 1500 Central Ave. 704-348-1848. www.soulgastrolounge.com.
Beef Tongue Tacos from the Tin Kitchen: Forget fish tacos and other standard fillings — Charlie Reid, executive chef of the Tin Kitchen food truck, is preparing an edgier option for taco enthusiasts. Tacos de lengua — or beef tongue tacos — make a weekly appearance at the beloved event in South End known as Food Truck Fridays. Banish the thought of the pallid cow tongue in the deli case and try this tender, flavorful version prepared with care. The tender inner meat is cut into small pieces and braised in a fragrant mixture of thyme, garlic, pasilla chiles, golden raisins and mole sauce for a solid eight hours. It is then tossed with more mole sauce and served on a warm corn tortilla made from scratch. This expert taco will have you singing the praises of tongue from now on. (Incidentally, tacos de lengua is a staple at various authentic Mexican restaurants around town, too.) And hey: Don't be scared of a little tongue. "The key to trying new things is finding a reputable joint to show you how it's done," Reid says. The Tin Kitchen, various locations all over Charlotte, 704-750-0477. www.thetinkitchen.com.
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