Thursday, July 28, 2016

Eating like a queen

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 at 7:00 AM

I took a break from my usual routine of boat action and drinks at my favorite bars in the Q.C. this past weekend. For those of you who are wondering, no, that doesn’t mean I didn’t drink. I went to the Bull City — i.e. Durham, NC — to participate as a bridesmaid in a wedding that I’ll remember for a lifetime. It was the first marriage among my closest college friends, so you can imagine the entire experience was an emotional rollercoaster.

After three nights staying up until 4 a.m. and driving back to Charlotte on Sunday, I started to come down from my wedding/reunion high and I genuinely felt depressed. The entire weekend was riddled with thoughts of loss. The loss of loved ones. The loss of college youth. The loss of wasted time in terrible relationships. The loss of alcohol as we relived our younger years over the toilet. You get the point...weddings bring out the happiest and saddest memories at the same damn time.

Nevertheless, I started to feel even more depressed when I thought about the loss of my favorite restaurants in my old hometown. And then, the greatest reminder showed up in my work inbox. The email was from a co-worker and the subject line read: 204 North. I opened the email and it said: Would you guys want to do restaurant week tomorrow at 204 North at 6:30? As the old Southern Baptists would say, “Won’t God do it?!”

In the midst of wedding plans and whining over everything, I had completely forgotten that Charlotte Restaurant Week aka Queen’s Feast had officially kicked off on Friday, July 22. Restaurant week is one of the most amazing ideas ever. Participating restaurants offer foodies and restaurant goers the opportunity to experience three-course meals for a fraction of the price.

I was reminded of the reservations I made during Triangle Restaurant Week (Durham’s version) in college and laughed thinking about how that was the only way we were able to afford a meal outside of our campus meal plan. I guess the fond memories of the weekend were going to follow me to the Charlotte after all.

This year at Queen’s Feast, there are 134 restaurants in the Charlotte and surrounding area participating. For those of us on a loose budget — as in I should be budgeting because I’m broke — this is as close to heaven on Earth as you can get. Picture carrot-ginger soup, sizzling juicy filet and garlic mashed potatoes, followed by chocolate cheesecake. If that doesn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know what will. And that’s just one combination you can get at the famous Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Needless to say, that email was just what I needed to bring me back up after the weekend festivities and the resulting comedown. 204 North Kitchen and Cocktails is one of the newest additions to the Uptown restaurant scene. I’ve been meaning to coordinate a happy hour trip after work to check it out, so this sounded like a dream come true.

We snagged a reservation for six and I decided to take a look at what was going to be on the menu. I can tell you right now what I’m going to order: fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and country ham, the 204 cheeseburger and a sorghum sticky bun. Also, in that order.

Here are a few tips for you to keep in mind before Charlotte Restaurant Week concludes on July 31:

Pro tip #1: It’s highly recommended that you make reservations during Queen’s Feast. When the prices go down, demand goes up. As such, restaurants get super busy during this time of year making it impossible to get seated in a timely manner, if at all. So make reservations and make them early.

Pro tip #2: Check out the menu beforehand. The entire menu isn’t available at Queen’s Feast prices. Make sure you’re actually interested in what the restaurant is going to be serving on the Charlotte Restaurant Week menu.

Pro tip #3: Some restaurants offer “upgrades.” For example, at Ruth’s Chris you can order a King’s Fest Entrée with your meal when you pay $45 instead of $35. This menu features larger steaks, shrimp, crab cakes, even add-ons like lobster. Take your meal to the next level and get the most bang for your buck.

Where do you plan on going for Queen’s Feast? I’d love to hear about your restaurant week experiences! Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Finding random, new adventures

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 12:42 PM

On Monday morning, as I laid in bed glancing at the many unanswered texts from the weekend and reviewing social media, I lost my breath for a second. I thought I’d forgotten to wish one of my closest friends ‘happy birthday.’ Nope, I hadn’t. I had simply forgotten the fact that I had drunk called her at 2:31 a.m. on the way home from a bar. Whew, I was relieved as I rolled out of bed and prepared for a short work week.

Like so many others, the weekend had seemingly flown by. On Friday, some gal pals at work and I decided that we wanted to deviate from our regularly scheduled program of simply getting wasted by heading over to BLT Steak at The Ritz-Carlton. A couple of us were salivating over a recent Instagram post about the restaurant’s $5 at 5 happy hour (thanks a lot @eatdrinkclt) and decided to fit in some quick girl time before the night’s festivities.

Amateurs to the classy venue, we had already peeked at the specialty cocktail menu when we realized the happy hour menu was only served on the bar side of the restaurant. Even though we relocated, we went with our original drink choice and kindly asked the bartender to whip us up a couple fresh blueberry mojitos. Next, we ordered the Steak Sliders and Kobe Hot Dog to share.

Either I was starving, or the food was amazing, because there wasn’t anything left to take home.
After our pregame snack, we made moves to check out the latest Goodyear Arts Preview Party at it’s new home on College Street. We had no idea what to expect, as it was our first time attending the much-talked about showcase that formerly resided at the defunct Goodyear building in Uptown.
All we knew was that there was an art event going on and that we could get free beer. Who can turn down art, hipsters and free booze in a kick ass building? Not me! We walked around and pretended we knew what we were observing while joking about which pieces we would “borrow,” if given the opportunity. (We didn’t attempt to really steal anything, I promise.)

Before long, we were heading over to The Gin Mill for a couple drinks before my friends split up for the night. Did you know you could order food from Tavern On the Tracks? Keep that in mind the next time you elect out of The Gin Mill because you’re worried all they’ll have to offer is popcorn. After everyone went their separate ways, my boyfriend and I decided on one last stop, Blue Olive Lounge. We ended up dancing the night away there. Most of the rest of night was spent holding on to the toilet for dear life, as I braced for the worst parts of the day/night — the spins.

The next morning, my boyfriend and I planned on heading out to the lake for some fun in the sun and booze but the weather was cloudy so we opted for naps and Netflix for most of the day. Once we agreed that we should at least try to get out for a bit, we settled on dinner at Enso Asian Bistro & Sushi. And for dessert? We finally got to check out the newest dessert sensation in Uptown Charlotte.

Kandy Bar is an upscale dessert bar and nightclub nestled in the corner of the third floor in the Epicentre. While you may not see it in passing, once you’ve walked beyond Vault the neon purple lights that adorn the bar and décor are impossible to miss. I’m not even a huge fan of dessert, but when I walked in I wanted to scream, “Willie Wonka where’s my golden ticket?!” They no longer have the item I wanted to try — Brie cheese and fig jam nestled between two pieces of pound cake and grilled to perfection — but I wasn’t disappointed when I tasted the Dutch Apple cheesecake. If you’re looking for after dinner drinks or dessert, I’s suggest Kandy Bar. In a short time, it’s moved toward the top of my list. (Pro tip: memberships are required and are currently $1, dessert menu stops at 10 p.m. and a dress code is enforced.)

After dessert, I thought for sure that my boyfriend would want to call it quits early. I was wrong. We ended up going to one of his friend’s houses for a couple beers before heading back to Ballantyne to call it a night — that is, after another stint at Blue Olive Lounge, of course. By 3 a.m. we were back on the couch and drowsily watching television while eating leftovers and Cookout grub.

And just like that, another weekend adventure in the Queen City was down in the books.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Walk before you crawl

Posted By on Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 1:13 PM


 As a 21-year-old Ohio University student, I’ve experienced my fair share of bar crawls on the streets around Ohio University. I’ve seen sorority girls dressed up as Tom Cruise in Risky Business with oversized oxfords and tube socks weaving in and out of the many bars that Athens, Ohio hosts. I’ve seen bar-hopping frat boys, dressed head to toe in patriotic gear like it’s the Fourth of July, chanting “USA! USA! USA!” in the dead of winter.

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I thought my summer stint in Charlotte would expose me to a population of young adults, like me, who are pursuing professional roles or have already assumed them. I heard about the high popularity of micro-breweries and NoDa bustling with wayfarer-wearing, young business-casual Charlotteans discussing their favorite wine and cheese parings or the advantages of dry-hopping versus wet-hopping and thought I had a good grasp on the city’s culture.

Then I saw a list of the bar crawls to be held all over the QC this summer. These events — for which participants register and pay around $30 for tickets that cover entry and often include a drink special at each bar — happen almost weekly in this city, and it looks like the organizers are starting to run out of ideas.

The unoriginality for some of these crawls makes me glower. “The Great American Bar Crawl,” for example, takes place July 30 and costs $30 per ticket. I’ll give you three guesses as to what the theme is. Yep, the EventBrite listing states, “We've set up the venues for the largest, most patriotic bar crawl the world has ever seen! All you have to do is put on your most patriotic outfit and head to the registration location. We'll have the ridiculous drink specials in place, and the party ready for you!”

The GABC will also be held in cities like Nashville, Tennessee; Wilmington, North Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Jacksonville, Florida. Their website also encourages participants to “gear up” before the big day (which doesn’t even fall on July Fourth, but I guess an excuse to drink doesn’t need to be logical), by buying patriotic garments such as hats, bandanas, tank tops and pants on Amazon; all the better to lose the friends that convinced you to come in a sea of red, white and blue.

For those with more specific regional tastes in shitshows, the Country Bar Crawl will be in Charlotte next week. It’s a little more appropriate, considering we are in the South and, for some inexplicable reason, people embrace southern culture a little closer during the heat of the summer. Expect a bunch of daisy dukes and cowboy boots for this party July 23, because we all know that country music and Southern culture is truly at the heart of the Queen City.

If I’m being honest with myself, I see the merits of signing up for a sponsored bar crawl: “free” stuff to commemorate the event, drink specials, no cover charge at specific bars and there’ll be a ton of new people to meet and bond with over your mutual love of getting trashed Uptown.

But at the same time … why? It’s seems like a thinly-veiled money-making scheme that ultimately asks Charlotteans to pay about $30 just to go to bars that are packed beyond the point of a normal night. It’s hard for a top-party-school-grown professional drinker like myself to see the advantages of paying that much money for a measly six hours of no cover access and hardly-special drink specials.

Fortunately, there is an alcohol-fueled journey available for upturned-nose, beer-snob hipsters like me who don’t see the upside in themed bar crawls that pack similarly dressed people into overly crowded bars, which honestly doesn’t sound all that different from a normal weekend night in Uptown.

Trolley Pub makes for an interesting alternative that allows you to make your own bar crawl. Participants chose their own route, drink their own beer and provide their own transportation for just $30 a pop. Yes, it’s the same price as the generic bar crawls but a quick look at its website shows the experience is more intimate, as you’re sharing the trolley with a small group of people. Perhaps most appealing is that fact that it’s BYOB, so the beer really is on special and there are no lines.
Everyone on the Trolley Pub brings their own sixer, sets it in the coolers and up to 14 drinkers start pedaling to the locations on the tour they chose. There are two different sets of tours — a Charlotte Uptown tour that includes locations Flight Beer Garden and Tilt on Trade, and a NoDa tour that includes Birdsong Brewing Co., Heist Brewery, Davidson Street Public House, Jack Beagles and other NoDa must-visits.

If you’re simply not interested in paying $30 to hit the bars in any fashion, there’s one last bar crawl option available: DIY. It’s pretty simple, just grab a few of your best drinking pals and hit up the finest breweries around town, making sure to try beers or cocktails you’ve never had or heard of.
There’s also the mythical game of beer golf, in which you and some friends find a dense bar district and attempt to drink a single beer at 18 different spots that serve. Drinking 18 beers in one night is not necessarily something that Creative Loafing condones, although it’s recently been said that we are an alcoholic city now, so I’m sure some of you can handle it.

But seriously, don’t be an idiot, drink responsibly. 

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Getaways in the Queen City

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 7:00 AM

This past week was emotionally draining to say the least. Reading about recent events across the United States on all of my social media platforms and favorite news outlets had left me feeling a combination of confused, angry and helpless. There’s nothing like real world drama to slap you back to the reality of how insignificant everyday complaints of having to go to work, finding a happy hour spot or being hungover really are.

Needless to say, I went to work on Friday overwhelmed with thoughts that teetered between making significant social change and finding ways to escape. As I slowly wrapped my mind around tackling the workday, I ran across an article about North Carolina waterfalls that are only a few hours away. I thought to myself, ‘What a great idea for getting away from the city and unplugging for a minute.’ But my boyfriend and I had already made plans for Saturday and Sunday, so I knew a last minute trip was going to be impossible.

Instead, I spent the entire weekend lusting for places unseen and dreaming about moving to a remote island and opening my own business. By Monday, I was officially yearning for some much needed rest and relaxation, so I decided to come up with a list of ways to escape, mentally and physically, in or around the Queen City.

1. Take a hike. No seriously. After walking in circles attempting to make it to the pinnacle of Crowders Mountain State Park, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a fan of the outdoors. But there’s something truly refreshing about taking a hike in a place you’ve never been, turning off your cell phone — except when you capture the moment once you’ve reached the top — and only focusing on your internal thoughts. Throw “where to hike near Charlotte, NC” into Google and plan your next hiking adventure.

2. Take a dip. If you’re at all like me, you may be terrified of the possibility that brain-eating amoebas are salivating every time you step into a body of water. But I must say, since I started dating my boyfriend, I’ve been obsessed with going to the lake. On the water, all you need is sun block and a case of beer to have a good time. Grab your suit and head to a local lake or river. No phone service necessary.

3. Treat yourself. I’ve racked up my fair share of gift certificates to local spas but haven’t set aside any time for myself. Dig through your gift card drawer, browse Groupon for deals and plan a day at the spa. Ballantyne Resort and The Ritz-Carlton are two of my favorite places to rejuvenate. Those two are pricey so make sure you do some research and price comparisons before you break the bank. And if you really want to make a day of it, live it up by booking a room for the night.

4. Plan a lunch date. While day drinking at Common Market or one of the many breweries popping up in the city can be a lot of fun, consider grabbing a bottle of wine and heading somewhere different for lunch. I’ve been meaning to plan a visit to Treehouse Vineyards, pack a lunch and rent a tree house for a couple hours. There’s also a ton of bed and breakfast spots in the area that will make for a quick lunchtime escape.

5. Organize a last minute trip. My friends love last minute trips to places like Asheville, where the booze, live music and nature are plenty. A four-hour round trip, you’ll be surprised how positive your perspective will be when you come back to the city after a day trip. Pack up your favorite snacks, hop in your car and head to a nearby city or beach for a change of scenery. Want to stay a night for cheap? Download Airbnb!

6. Join a volunteer group or organization. If you, too, find yourself feeling down or helpless when you look at the bigger picture called life, consider giving back to the community or joining an organization. Spend a day on a Habitat for Humanity project, or find a local group to become a part of. You’ll feel rewarded helping others or expressing yourself with likeminded individuals. As you can imagine, Charlotte has more than its fair share of ways to get involved and make a difference.

What do you do when you need to getaway in or around the Queen City? Share your ideas with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

July 4th in the Queen City

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 2:31 PM

As I stood in line on Friday afternoon waiting on Vic the Chili Man — my fave hot dog stand Uptown, and arguably all of Charlotte — I laughed as he prepared a patron for the side effects of his homemade hot mustard (a rough exit after digestion). I immediately thought ahead to my weekend of booze and July 4th celebrations and decided I should tell him to hold the spice.
This time last year, I was just getting settled in a new relationship with my current boyfriend and preparing for fireworks (wink, wink) on Lake Wylie as we made plans to a party on his friend’s pontoon boat. There was fun in the sun all day long.

It was my first time being on a boat since I almost drowned in Lake Norman at a Memorial Day outing in 2015, so I was bit nervous. Who wants to ask the person they’re dating for a life jacket when no one else is wearing one? Not to mention, I could tell from the looks on everyone’s faces as my cousin and I stepped on the boat —scantily clad — that we were going to stand out.

And to top it off? This black girl fulfills the stereotype of not liking to get her hair wet or get in water. That meant no bonding with new friends over a tube ride. Now, talk about awkward.
But the day and night went on without a hitch. As I prepared for not seeing fireworks, which my family makes an effort to see every year, we made our way across Lake Wylie to the perfect open viewing spot for catching the show put on by the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Date tip: fireworks under the stars makes for an unforgettable first date.

(Disclaimer: I’m writing this before the weekend has even started. Hence, the future thoughts in past tense.)

This year’s July 4th celebrations, on the other hand, were going to be interesting, to say the least. The weekend was going to be filled with juggling multiple friends and family — good friends, old roommates, old best friends, frenemies from college and my parents. Why you may ask? An old roommate was getting married and decided that all of these people needed to be in the same place at the same time. Lucky me.

I wasn’t looking forward to the fake smiles and awkward conversations combined with an open bar. I couldn’t even imagine what arguments were in store for me, especially if I decided to go on the limo party bus to Uptown on that Friday night for pre-wedding festivities.

I was, however, looking forward to taking my parents to pre-game for the wedding at Foxcroft Wine Co. in Dilworth. I had been craving a meat and cheese board after stalking the many Charlotte foodie Instagrams and my partner in crime had just tried it out on the previous weekend. She raved about her experience so much that I knew it would be the perfect place to unwind before the wedding.

I was also excited about the fact that my parents were finally going to go on my boyfriend’s boat. We’d already planned out the entire day, when my mom said, “Uh uh, I’m not getting in that water.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Outside of the fact that she was still traumatized by my almost-drowning on Lake Norman, she was also mortified by the recent death of the teenager who contracted a brain-eating amoeba after a visit. And I must say, that terrified me too. But after a lot of pursuit, we had convinced her that she still had to experience the boat ride, with or without actually getting in the water — in a bathing suit.

I was most looking forward to repeating last year’s feature: watching yet another fireworks show in the middle of Lake Wylie under the night sky. I thought about the fact that on that night last year, I was forced to get in the water to pee and how scared I was that a fish or alligator was going to devour my bottom half. This time, I was going to pace my drinking so I could avoid any pee breaks in the water, especially at night. I’m a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, though I had not (and still haven’t) read up on what exactly the deal was with amoeba.

Nevertheless, I knew one thing for sure — I didn’t have to go into work on Monday. That meant one less day sitting in the office, and one less day sitting in the office hungover!

How did you end up spending your Fourth of July weekend in the Queen City? Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Friday, July 1, 2016

From Disney to busy

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 1:40 PM

Last weekend I was out of town at Disney World with my family. And while that sounds awesome — especially given the marvelous wonder that is Harry Potter World — the truth is, I needed a vacation from vacation by the time I got back to the Queen City on Wednesday night. That’s why this past weekend, I was committed to having an all-about-me weekend. Not to mention, my boyfriend was going out of town for a tournament. 

While Thursday was my first official night all to myself, I opted out of Alive After Five festivities and dodged a volleyball game to sit at home and re-watch episodes of a favorite show until 1 a.m. On Friday morning, I was ecstatic to wake up refreshed and ready to tackle a short work day with my eyes focused on the prize: an epic weekend.

After work, I made my way to Sycamore Brewing in South End, a popular spot for beer lovers, dogs and humans with babies. I’ve always been a bit frustrated with the layout of the venue, especially on busy weekend nights. It’s almost impossible to find space at the bar and the bathroom lines are always lengthy. Plus, they close at 11 p.m., which always sneaks up on me. On top of that, since it was a Food Truck Friday night the congestion felt like it had tripled.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere was filled with those kind of warm summer vibes that consist of laughter and live music. By the time I finished off the first IPA — Sycamore’s Mango Grapefruit Imperium, weighing in at hefty 9.1 percent ABV — I’ve ever loved, I didn’t care that I had to wait for what seemed like forever to close my tab or that I had to use a Porta-Potty with only my phone as a guiding light. All in all, it was a pre-game success.

I hopped in an Uber to meet my partner in crime at her place Uptown. She lives less than a couple blocks away from Tilt on Trade, so it wasn’t long before we stumbled onto the patio. It’s not necessarily my favorite venue in the heart of the Queen City, but I must say I’m always “on tilt” when I leave. And after a couple drinks, I make line dancing a thing. (Yes, I wobbled and cupid shuffled.)
Saving myself time, money and an intense hangover the next day, I made a mad dash to Pita Pit at 1 a.m. for my usual — Philly steak with mayonnaise and honey mustard — before hopping in another Uber and heading home.

The next morning I woke up on the couch with my half eaten pita lying next to me. I warmed it up, and prepared for another fun-filled day. I kicked off the day at Rooftop 210 for Creative Loafing’s Margarita Wars. Even though the event started at the same time as a co-worker’s birthday party at VBGB Beer Hall & Garden, I couldn’t turn down trying an assortment of margaritas. I snagged the drink tickets and hopped in line. The sun was blaring, but I still managed to bare the heat long enough tp try two tasty margaritas before heading from EpiCentre to AvidXchange Music Factory.

After two beers and more time in the sun, I needed a nap. Somehow I managed to sneak in two hours and still make it back out that night — like I said, I was on a mission. I had promised one of my best friends that we would relive the cultural vibes of Su Casa at Petra’s in Plaza Midwood. And since they only do it once a month, I refused to miss out. If you haven’t given it a chance and you love the combination of Afrobeat and great vibrations, you’re missing out. I even got my face painted — twice, because the first piece was sabotaged by a hilarious man pretending he could paint after a few too many glasses of wine.

At 2 a.m. the music was turned off and the lights were turned up. That was my cue that I needed to turn down. I called an Uber, but instead of going home, I politely asked my driver to wait patiently while I grabbed something from Pita Pit again.

On Sunday morning my boyfriend was heading back to town. When he arrived complaining about being tired and missing out on brunch, I assumed it would be a short day spent on the couch. Not so. Instead Sunday turned into another fun day with a couple shots and double mimosas. The night ended with a makeshift Waffle House dinner and an exhausted party animal (yes, that’d be me).

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