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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Charlotte: A Few of My Favorite Things

Charlotte is a delightful place to live year-round, but this city really rocks during the spring. And, honestly, I feel like spring came super-early this year.

New York had snow last week. Charlotte had bright blue skies and perfect, sunny 70-degree days. I've been savoring the scent of the lilies I got from the lady who picked up my sewing machine.

Anyway, I've been collecting dining tips for a friend of a friend who's new to town, and that made me get a nostalgic for all the things I'll miss doing (and, um, eating) in the Queen City. My friend Elyse put together a great city guide on her blog a few months back, but I decided to make a little list of my own favorite spots and favorite memories -- in no particular order.
  1. Sandwiches from Laurel Market. Curried tuna salad, BLTs, turkey and avocado. And the sides. And the cake!
  2. Muller's Sandwich Shop on a sunny day, when Betty is your waitress and makes you feel like her favorite customer, insisting you taste her cucumber salad and bringing you extra banana pudding. 
  3. Asian sea bass at Upstream. It's been ages since I've had it, but I still remember it as one of the best things I've ever eaten--probably a knock-off of Nobu's black cod with miso, but it was new to me.
  4. Tony's in Gastonia for homemade ice cream and burgers. I just love local places that have been around forever. A perfect evening trip last summer in LA's convertible!
  5. Hiking Crowders Mountain.
  6. Discovering Boone and Blowing Rock. As a girl who grew up expecting it to take all day to drive to the mountains (would we ever get out of Georgia?), I still can't believe I can get there in under two hours.
  7. Owen's Bagels and their quirky list of uniquely titled sandwiches. I cannot remember what clever name they have for their tuna melt, but I crave it all the time.
  8. The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Seriously, our library ROCKS. Leigh Ann and I are its biggest fans. You can order books online, to be delivered to the location of your choice. And you can return books to any location. Blockbuster could have learned a thing or two from the PLCMC.
  9. Cardio Funk with Andre at Myers Park Presbyterian Church. I could kick myself for not discovering this class sooner. It is one of the most diverse and inspiring exercise experiences I can imagine--all shapes and sizes getting down to Andre's clever choreography. Exercise should always be this much fun.
  10. Amelie's Salted Caramel Brownies. A two-toned brown square of heaven.
  11. Foodie Field Trips with my friend Anne, from the Matthews Farmers' Market to the Bradford Store in Huntersville.
  12. Something Classic. Mid-day sandwich runs at the uptown location (how will I survive without the turkey avocado wrap with that secret sauce?). Picking up some comfort food at the mini-Teeter on my way home from work (sherry poached chicken with wild rice, I love you!). Spending $75 on picnic provisions (too many good dips to pair with the herbed pita crisps).
  13. Pops in the Park, Shakespeare on the Green, Verizon Amphitheater. Memories of watching Jimmy Buffet in the pouring rain one summer night.
  14. Tres leches cake, stuffed eggplant, patatas bravas and tortilla espanola at Sole. I am so sad this place closed but thankful I got in one last birthday dinner before it did. My friends always laughed at the way I'd make them go for tapas whenever I visited New York, Boston or D.C. I was so happy when I finally had a tapas restaurant in my own city.
  15. Restaurant Week at Sonoma or Aria. Pierre Bader knows how to do Restaurant Week--unlike some of the chintzy restaurant owners in this city. He puts his full menu on the three-course special. Pierre is also Lebanese, which makes him even cooler.
  16. The Manor Theatre and Park Road Terrace. Having grown up in a town without a movie theater, I still cannot believe I can get to one in less than five minutes, and I love it that the two theaters closest to me specialize in the artsy or subtitled flicks I like best.
  17. Shopping at Goodness Gracious, the gift shop at my church, staffed by volunteers with all profits dedicated to missions. I've found so many cute things there over the years, especially for baby showers. And I made some of my best friends working the register.
  18. Sitting outside at Nolen Kitchen or Selwyn Pub -- and the fact I can walk to either when the weather is nice. (Being able to walk somewhere is still such a novelty...flashbacks to Quincy when the only place Ranie and I could walk was the fro yo/ice cream counter at Movie Time.)  Bonus points when Reinaldo is playing live Brazilian music at Nolen.
  19. Eating a spinach chimichanga at La Paz in South End. It wasn't on the regular menu, but I had it once in 2004 as a lunch special. I typically have a rule against ordering the same thing in a restaurant, but this was an exception. They always made it for me when I asked. 
  20. Drills at tennis clinic on Saturday mornings with Pat and Sam. And, a special shout-out to my first tennis coach in Charlotte, Aaron. Thanks to all three of them for showing me that one's hand-eye coordination improves remarkably after age 15.
  21. Walking to church for an evening program and knowing I would see someone who wouldn't mind giving me a ride back home.
  22. Sitting on my porch on sunny days and working from home with the windows open.
  23. Trading leftovers with Leigh Ann. "I left some chicken pasta for you in the fridge on your floor," she'd ping me from her office seven floors below my cube. "It's in a blue bowl."
  24. The Common Market in Plaza-Midwood--tasty sandwiches and an amazing beer and wine selection.
  25. Grilling out, especially pork chops. Something tells me this will not be a frequent occurrence in my new digs.
  26. Finding bargains at the South End Exchange, a consignment shop for home furnishings.
  27. Bunny rancheros for brunch at Zada Jane's.
  28. The awesome selection and -- even better -- informed staff at Blackhawk Hardware. My favorite staffer is Sloan, who acted as if he cared as much about my paint colors as I did.
  29. The Wednesday food section of the Charlotte Observer. Pages of recipes...what a mid-week treat!
  30. Meeting Peggy for Thursday 6 a.m. spinning at the Y...and her endless patience with me when I bailed. 
  31. Buying my meat from Bucky at Reids -- and the fact he would give me a discount for singing a jingle. Never again will I find a butcher who took such a wholesome and well-intentioned interest in my love life!
  32. Discovering the delight that is Vietnamese food at Lang Vanh.
  33. The best caipirinhas and pao de queijo at Chima. I can't speak for the expensive beef buffet, but the bar sure does rock!
  34. Not having to travel for holidays like Thanksgiving because I'm blessed to live near so many family members -- and extended, extended family -- here in town. I'll put this one last but certainly not least, as it's likely what I will miss most of all.


Neil said...

Reading "spring came super-early this year" was like a knife in the back!

It's supposed to snow today. :(

But the city will be so much warmer in two days when you get here!!

Dee Stephens said...

Great list. It's so sad that Sole, La Paz and the Uptown Reids(with Chuck, the owner), are all gone :(

Have fun in NYC!!