Word travels fast about good food. When it comes to bagels in Charlotte, the name that kept coming up was Poppy’s. Located at the harried intersection of Providence Road and South Sharon Amity Road, Poppy’s Bagels and More is doing true New York-style bagels, sandwiches, soups and deli-style sides.
It’s owned by Long Island native Ron Rippner, who named the place after his father. Well, his father’s nickname. Like many New Yorkers, Rippner couldn’t find a “proper” bagel when he first moved here, so he took to replicating it himself.
Of course, if I’m hitting up the bagel shop, there’s only one thing to order — an everything bagel with lox and cream cheese all the way ($6.99). That is, with lettuce, tomato, onion and capers.
I’m sure you may have expected to find some bright, verdant dish here on the page this month. Maybe you were hoping for a colorful plate of vegetables sounding the trumpet of springtime, bursting with fresh flavors and edible flowers. Perhaps, you thought I would wax poetic on the spring revival at the farmer’s markets? Nope. Not this time.
This dish, my friends, is dedicated to the betterment of my sanity. It is the proverbial (and quite unexpected) chicken soup for my soul. And, there’s no chicken in it. Sometimes a dish is in the right place at the right time and it is everything one needs at that moment. The “Chicken” and Dumplings at Fern — a feature on the new spring menu coming out the second week in April — was that for me.
In Charlotte, there are things that our culinary scene lacks. An abundance of good Korean food and ramen joints, for example. What we don’t lack is a hunk of ground beef slapped between two buns. Burgers. The Queen City has as many burger joints as there are stars in the sky. Actually, we probably have more than that.
Every time I turn a corner, a new burger spot opens with the latest iteration of grassfed beef, artisan toppings or new and improved bun technology. I made that last one up, but you get my drift. When the market is soaked through with choices, it’s easy to forget about the old guard, places that serve a burger that’s just plain good — which is why I want to talk about the hamburger at Fenwick’s.
The tiny family-owned structure on Providence bearing a neon sign of its namesake has been serving the well-to-do neighborhood of Myers Park since 1984 and still manages to fill seats. Heck, I even had to wait for a table.
I don’t do drugs anymore, but I will eat a torta to alter my state of consciousness. In fact, this is an experience best done with friends at Tacos El Nevado, the hole-in-the-wall Mexican spot down the glorious ethnic corridor that is Central Avenue. Best known for its tacos — authentic, inexpensive and the epitome of simple cuisine done right — Tacos El Nevado is a best kept dining secret in Charlotte. Though, if you want to get lifted, the torta cubana ($8.50) is your ticket.
Remember Halcyon? That restaurant attached to the Mint Museum made notable by a certain chef Marc Jacksina who brought Southern and seasonal together inside the elegant rustic space? Yeah, that one.
It’s been well over a year since Jacksina left the building to pursue other endeavors (he is now at Earl’s Grocery in Elizabeth) and executive chef James Stouffer took over. For some inexplicable reason, the foodie fangirls and boys abandoned ship here for no good reason. Since Jacksina’s departure, Stouffer has been quietly executing dishes centered around the seasons, employing classical technique and European-inspired touches for offerings that are as colorful as they are comforting. Farmers pay Stouffer a visit each week, delivering fresh produce to populate the ever-changing menu. On any given night, you can find him joyfully cooking in the tiny shoebox of a kitchen with his team. You won’t find the trendiest tricks or even a sous vide machine, for that matter. What you will find is a passionate chef cooking, truly cooking, honest food.
If you didn’t already know this about me, I’m a proud supporter of swine consumption. I like pig in all of its delicious iterations, and I’ve never met a meat sweat I didn’t like. To be fair, I’m an equal opportunity carnivore, and when I walked into Little Spoon, the Selwyn Avenue breakfast and lunch eatery open since late July, I was looking for a different dish. Thanks to a chance run-in with one of my most trusted food advisors, I was swayed by the siren call of pork when she ordered the porchetta ($11).
It seems almost counterintuitive to overlook the enticing selection of seasonal and artistic dessert creations made by pastry chef Ashley Boyd at 300 East only to settle for a perceived commoner — the brownie à la mode. Am I crazy to suggest you bypass the tender and pliant goat cheese panna cotta or the perfectly autumn sorghum molasses cookie stuffed with homemade butterscotch ice cream and head straight for the stuff of church bake sales? Would I lose my street cred if I told you to choose a dessert that’s been corporately bastardized in chain restaurants into morbidly obese caricatures of confection crowned with Reddi-Whip? Perhaps. Except this brownie is different.
When I first heard the word mofongo, it conjured up memories of my childhood, when my Italian-by-way-of-Long Island mother would hurtle Italian-ish swear words at me in times of toddler distress. One of them sounded an awful lot like mofongo. Couple that with an offensive hand-to-chin gesture and, well, you get my drift. But, I digress.
Mofongo is a traditional Dominican dish, also found in Puerto Rican cuisine, made of fried green plantains mashed with garlic, mixed with crispy bits of pork skin, called chicharrones, and usually served with a simple tomato sauce. In Charlotte, you can get your mofongo fix at Nano’s, the well-loved Dominican restaurant at 3428 N. Tryon St. Nano’s was first opened in 2007 by Julio “Nano” Victoria Sr. and then recently purchased by Dalton and Miriam Espaillat, the husband-and-wife team who also own Three Amigos (Dalton is the Dominican amigo) and Sabor Latin Street Grill.
Nano’s serves a plethora of mofongo options, including a version with the option of shrimp, marinated steak, fried chicken or crispy pork.