Wednesday, November 23, 2016

From Eritrean cuisine in Elizabeth to slot machines in South Carolina

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 11:23 AM

I have a new secret spot and it’s only three minutes away from my condo. When I first moved to Elizabeth, my mom was dead set on finding a place to get my curtains washed. She ended up going to a laundromat down the street with a sign that read: “Laundry Lavanderia.” Specific enough? I think so. Next door, was another straight-to-the-point sign over a storefront that read: East African Cuisine. I immediately became curious. Would I love East African food as much as I loved West African cuisine? In her usual conservative, play-it-safe fashion, my mom warned against trying new food and my anxiety took over.

A few months later, one of my Q.C. besties started working at a bar in the area called Oya Lounge — name subject to change in the coming months. “You know where the Bojangles’ is by your house?” she asked. I did, but I still couldn’t figure out where this lounge may be. One night, I was bored and decided to meet her there and grab a couple drinks. To my surprise, the lounge was connected to East African Cuisine, the restaurant I’d been eyeballing.

I walked through the restaurant door and followed my bestie into the lounge area. A full bar, private booths, a raised DJ booth, hookah, multiple TVs and a spacious back patio. The best part? You can order food from the restaurant pretty much all night long! With my friend behind the bar and temporarily filling the role of DJ, the night couldn’t have gone better. And on top of that, I’ve managed to make friends with some pretty hilarious characters during my visits.

Did I mention I tried the food? Since my first visit just a couple weeks ago, I’ve eaten vegetarian dumplings (samosas), honey-Sriracha chicken wings and a traditional Eritrean dish featuring beef and injera — a soft, stretchy, spongy sourdough-risen flatbread. And let me tell you, everything I’ve tried has been amazing.

After spending Thursday and Friday night at Oya Lounge, a couple of my old co-workers decided it was time to get out of Charlotte for a minute. Spontaneous trips are my jam! The last time I stepped outside of the Q.C. for a quick drive to anywhere other than my hometown, I ended up stopping in Little River, South Carolina for a night before checking in at an Airbnb on Oak Island the following day.

During my stay, I ventured to a couple waterfront bars, The Pilot House and Key West Crazy Waterfront Restaurant & Bar. While there, I’d noticed signs for The Big “M” Casino, a ship featuring Las Vegas-style gaming. So I knew exactly what some old co-workers were talking about once they suggested boarding a cruise called The Big “M” outside of Myrtle Beach and I was down for the cause!

We left the Queen City around 12 p.m. on Saturday and, even though I was running on two hours of sleep, the excitement of spontaneity carried me through the first two and half hours of the ride. Coincidentally, one of my old co-workers reserved the same hotel I’d stayed in the last time I was in Little River. We pre-gamed at the Key West Crazy (KWC), which was right next to the dock where ships I and II (smoking and non-smoking) were docked — talk about convenience.

We’d already purchased our boarding passes ($25 each, but you can snag a voucher when you book your stay at a local hotel) so after a couple RBVs, we walked right out of KWC and onto the boat. We pestered one of the employees on how the process worked as far as getting a player’s card, starting to play and what to play, then we were good to go.

My eyes lit up with dollar signs the moment we started exploring two full floors of slot machines, blackjack, poker and craps tables. We had to cruise for about 45 minutes before we could legally gamble, so we decided to hit the third deck bar. Drinks were super cheap and just as strong, a dangerous combo for a gambler — especially a gambler who tends to get motion sickness.

The run down? We had a blast! No one threw up. I managed to lose only $100 on slot machines and one of my old co-workers won $250. If you’re searching for a good time and trying to get “lucky” somewhere other than Dandelion Market, The Big “M” Casino is only a three-hour drive and a night’s stay away.

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