Sunday, October 11, 2009

Charlotte, North Bear-alina...this one's for you...this one's for us us...

Betty and I took a last minute trip to Hilton Head last month and stopped in to visit some fam and friends in Charlotte, NC on the way. We had some good eats and the highlight of the trip was getting some quality time with our friends and family whom we don't get to visit with often. We kicked off opening night at a Mexican restaurant which of course I was eager to try. Our friend took us to Azteca. I must admit the location of the restaurant was slightly seedy as it was connected to a hotel but there was a warm vibe in the air which included a Mariachi band and folks who would stop by your table and make fresh guacamole.

chips & salsa w/ an interesting cabbage salad/salsa/slaw?

$8 guacamole made fresh in front of you

carnitas de puerca aka pork tacos.

sopapilla-esque dessert with fruit topping

Overall I was pleased with the meal, the vibe and the great conversation during dinner. There was perhaps slightly a bit of ADD in the air with all the music and action happening in the restaurant but it was fun none-the-less. The chips and salsa were standard. The cabbage dip was intriguing though not my favorite. I asked for hot sauce and hot salsa and was underwhelmed with both options that were brought out. The $8 guac tasted more like $5.75 guac but was still decent. The highlight of my meal was my carnitas taco dinner. The pork was extremely delicious and cooked tender topped with my favorite veggie red onions. Does it really get any better than this? I thoroughly enjoyed my tacos. Dessert was very delicious and a palette cleanser to change up everything we had been eating all evening.

The next morning I noted there was a Bojangles nearby our friend's place so I had to let Betty experience the guilty fried indulgence that is Bojangles.

biscuits & gravy to the left to the left & a spicy chicken biscuit with taters to the right to the right...

The biscuits and gravy were sinfully delicious. I really need to find a recipe for biscuits and gravy because I really love and crave them. I know Bojangles is fast food -- but their biscuit and gravy gives all the other dine-in joints up north a run for their money. The chicken biscuit was very good too. The potato wedges were a'ight but not anything too exciting. We also ordered a blue berry biscuit from them which was excessively rich and buttery but also delicious. It was fun to share this Southern fast food tradition with Betty though you really only need to eat Bojangles once every 2-3 years.

Betty and her bear-friend went to get their paws done at the bear-lon so I decided to stop by and visit my aunt and uncle. I was treated to some fantastic-ly fresh and tasty Indian food.

my aunt's Indian falafel

These were great. The meal was a take on Greek falafel but consisted of chick peas and lentils in the batter. The balls were rolled, deep fried and then served with a pita with some very tasty cilantro cream chutney. Talking to my aunt about how she made the Indian falafel made me want to revisit the process of deep frying foods. Betty got me a fry daddy when we still lived in the Short North but I was always scared to use it.

Up next was my aunt's golgappa a true Indian delicacy:

golgappa covered with seasoned yogurt, tamarind chutney, cilantro and chick peas

When I ate this yummy dish I couldn't help but reflect on how my tastebuds have evolved since I was a bitty bear. I never liked this dish as a cub -- i think mostly because the sweet and sourness confused me -- but now being somewhat older my taste buds have matured or something and this dish hit the spot. For those not familiar with golgappa -- it is essentially deep-fried mini crispy bread shells topped with chick peas, onions and usually a mix of yogurt and sweet-and-spicy chutneys.

In the evening Betty and I visited my cousin and her husband in the heart of downtown Charlotte. My cousin prepared for us an organic vegetarian Mexican dish of chili verde enchiladas. Not pictured were some tasty appetizers of guacamole and a cheesy bean dip.

chili verde vegetable enchilada stack

The enchiladas were fresh, simple and pretty tasty. A little light on the spice for my tastes but all in all a good meal. During dinner Betty and I had great discussion with my cousin and her hubs about the China Study, the challenges of maintaining an organic lifestyle and bear-ituality. Good times indeed.

The next day we caught up with more fam and hit up Big Daddy's Burger Bar which is a burger joint that prides itself on grass-fed hormone free burgers. Since I was down in the South I figured I should try their Classic Southern Burger:

Classic Southern Burger: burger topped with chili, American cheese, relish, mustard and slaw along & french fries fried in duck fat.

This burger was fresh and tasty but a bit of a mess. I suppose you get what you order right? The duck fat fries were good but I couldn't really distinguish the taste of the duck fat from the usual french fry preparation except for the fact they tasted firmer and were a little on the salty side. No worries because this place specialized in soft serve for dessert which was the perfect way to end the meal.

ultra sweet-soft serve with sprinkles

I forgot to take a picture of our last home cooked meal with my cousins and aunt but it was a delicious meal of cholay and dal. Betty and I had a lot of fun in Charlotte. I was impressed with all the yummy home cooked meals my family shared with us and really the best part was getting to visit with everyone and seeing our family and friends. I was happy to learn of similar cooking and diet interests with my cousins -- and hopefully next time we visit I'll get to share with them some of my ck freestylings in the kitchen. Word is bear-log!

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