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Downhome Gourmet 

World class continental Southern food

Word is out that Johnson & Wales University will be building an $82 million culinary campus in Gateway Village which will include residence halls, classrooms, labs and hands-on training facilities. Classes will start in 2004 with about 825 students, and there are plans to more than triple that enrollment by 2007.Johnson & Wales, with campuses all over the country as well as Sweden, offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Culinary Arts and will be a prestigious addition to the city. The lesser informed among you may be wondering why an internationally recognized school like J&W would pick a city like Charlotte to call home.

It seems obvious to me that J&W's directors have sampled some of Charlotte's World Class Continental Cuisine, as well as some of our unique Southern adaptations of classic Continental fair.

What? Don't believe me? Well, here are some World Class examples of Charlotte's own unique and creative take on Continental Cuisine:

Pommes Frites (Jacques dans une Boxe) -- There are 22 Jacques dans une Boxe locations in the Charlotte area and each offers a number of ways to enjoy the classic Pommes Frites. I had the Seasoned Curly Fries and found them to have a subtle spicy tang trapped in their delicate undulations. For a hardier and more substantial presentation, you might want to try the bolder Bacon and Cheddar Potato Wedges.

Pros: You can get a true international feel here. My server spoke in a language which I assume was French since it was clearly not English. Burgers are generally better than you'd expect from fast food.

Cons: No maitre d' to assist with seating.

Price: Seasoned curly fries are $1.49. Bacon and Cheddar Wedges are $1.99.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Jack is the fictional founder, CEO and spokesman for Jacques dans une Boxe. A former clown, Jack used to take customer orders from his position on top of the company's drive-thru speaker box until he was blown up in a 1980 TV commercial that marked the company's strategy to cater to adult tastes. In 1995, Jack was brought back in his current role with the company. According to Jack's California driver's license, he is 6'8" and weighs 195 pounds. His birthday is May 16. Jack has a wife named Cricket and a son, Jack Jr. Jack owns several classic cars, including a Dodge Viper.

Pain Grille a la Francaise (International House of Pancakes) -- Nothing says International Cuisine quite like pancakes, and the Charlotte area is blessed with five locations that do just that. Go beyond the pancakes and order the Vive La French Toast (Pain Grille a la Francaise) and you will swear you're at a quaint French outdoor cafe, eating your three thick slices of bread dipped in egg and milk. Served alongside is an egg (in the French tradition of liberte, the choice of style is yours), and deux links. Care to add some sweetness? You have your choice (that liberte thing again) of blueberry, strawberry, boysenberry, or butter pecan syrup.

Pros: Sample the vast international taste palates of the world. Try German pancakes (with lemon butter), or French pancakes (with orange sauce), or even Swedish pancakes (with lingonberries and lingonberry butter). What a wild, varied world we live in!

Cons: No General Foods International Coffees available to complete the experience.

Price: Vive La French Toast is $6.09, hardly "moderately priced." Maybe it was the exchange rate, but six bucks for three slices of bread, two links, and an egg seems a bit much. Endless cup of coffee is $1.45. A glass of chocolate milk will set you back $2.09; moo-ouch.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: IHOP was founded by Al Lapin in Toluca Lake, California. IHOP is also used as an acronym for the International H2O Project, the International House of Prayer, and (I kid you not) the International House of Pigeons.

Bouillie de Foie (Art's Barbecue and Deli) -- Foie gras, considered a delicacy in the gourmet world, is fattened duck or goose liver. It is highly perishable and difficult to find fresh in the US, and was not even available in this country except as pate until 1980. North Carolina, of course, has its own version of this rare treat made from pig livers called bouillie de foie (or more commonly, livermush). You can find it at Art's Barbecue and Deli on Morehead Street, as well as almost every place that serves grits. Art's BBQ is a friendly, downhome place to enjoy this NC breakfast staple.

Pros: Deep fried liver with pork fat. Lose that liver part and you have nature's most perfect food.

Cons: Ask for bouillie de foie in a Southern restaurant and you're likely to get your ass kicked.

Price: A breakfast of livermush, two eggs, grits and biscuit at Art's Barbecue is $3.25.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Shelby, NC holds an annual Livermush Festival which includes a recipe competition and a hollerin' contest. No definitive word on whether a Miss Livermush is crowned, but we're kind of counting on it.

You can e-mail Gene Lazo at GeneYouIgnorantSlut@Yahoo.com

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