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Fireside Chat 

Charlotte's cozy cuisine spots

Now that the leaves signal us with their last display and the nightly chill begins to drive us from the patios, decks and rooftops, we start looking around for those cozy spots where we can warm our feet as well as our bellies. Old houses, some historic, have long served as Charlotte's spots to dine near the fire or in a secluded nook. But other spots have been built that invite us in from the cold as well.

The Grubb property along Elizabeth may be getting all the press, but some of the older homes along 7th have been the spots to enjoy an inviting interior ambience.

Cool jazz, a warm fire and a brazen etoufee bring a loyal following to the Cajun Queen located in an old brick home in Elizabeth. Unfortunately, the jazz is upstairs and the fireplace is on the first floor, but you can still listen from a fireside table.

Cajun Queen, 1800 East 7th Street. 704-377-9017.

Just up the street and around the corner is Chef Mark Martin's spirited neighborhood hangout Ethan's of Elizabeth. This charming house has the feel of a well-loved afghan, so it's easy to linger over Martin's well-composed dishes, sharing a glass (or two) of wine in one of the more intimate dining nooks.

Ethan's of Elizabeth, 366 North Caswell Road. 704-375-3007.

It would be hard to find more serenity or warmth than in a small church. Bonterra, in Dilworth, is located in the old Atherton Methodist Church building built in 1895. This restaurant has an inviting openness when sunlight streams through the expansive palladium windows, but at night the atmosphere becomes more magical. Not such a shabby place to dine with a soul mate.

Bonterra Restaurant & Wine Room, 1829 Cleveland Avenue. 704-333-9463.

Also in Dilworth is Patou. There's no fireplace or cozy nooks, but the place oozes with Gallic charm complete with white lace curtains and dark hardwood floors. If you can't have Paris, you can always have Patou. The menu is a cross between a bistro and a brasserie. The most romantic beginning at Patou is a shared bowl of classically steamed mussels.

Patou, 2400 Park Road. 704-376-2233.

The Swiss, with their seemingly cold and efficient natures, got it right about their food. Nothing could be cozier than dipping food into the same pot. The best place to do this is the Melting Pot in Midtown. OK, the fire comes from a sterno -- don't get too technical. This place is fun, dimly lit and seductive.

The Melting Pot, 901 S. Kings Drive. 704-334-4400.

If cozy to you means fending off the winter winds in a Colorado lodge, then Firebirds at Stonecrest would be the choice. A cord of neatly quartered hardwood rests near the roaring fire at the rear of the bar area. The main dining area features a soaring ceiling of heavy timber framing and columns of towering stripped aspen. A diner can almost imagine a snowy Alpine meadow outside the expansive windows.

Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill, 7716 Rea Road. 704-752-7979.

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