out & about

cast iron waffles (south park): charlotte, nc
rating: 4.5 out of 5 

Cast Iron Waffles just opened their second location at Piedmont Row in South Park and I am so glad they did! I went to their first location in Ballantyne last year and have to say, the waffles are good but not drive 20 miles out of your way good. When I first heard about Cast Iron Waffles, I pictured a restaurant with lots of waffle options varying from sweet to savory (think chicken and waffles). What I quickly learned when I walked in, it's a full service cafe with fair trade coffee, teas and smoothies that also serves up Liege waffles. The waffles are much smaller than I had anticipated but it's because they are so sweet and rich that they definitely qualify as dessert and not a meal (unless you order a few of them...).  Cast Iron gives you a menu full of waffle options, all sweet, ranging from toppings such as fresh whipped cream or Nutella to speciality menu items like what you see pictured above, the Slowberry Cobbler Deluxe Waffle (cost $4.50). To describe this waffle in one word, heavenly. I already have a slight obsession with berry cobbler so taking a warm mixed berry compote and spreading it over a crispy, sweet waffle and topping it with fresh whip cream is perfection! Cast Iron's waffles aren't light and fluffy (in this case, that's a good thing)  like the waffles most of us are used to eating. Instead, the waffles are made with twice raised Brioche style dough (you can taste the yeast in them) and a special Belgian pearl sugar that caramelizes with direct heat, making them one of a kind and super decadent.

Now that Cast Iron Waffles opened a location in South Park, this will be one of my go-to dessert spots (along with cannoli's at Nova's and milkshakes from Cook-Out). They also offer fresh or frozen waffles to go, if you want to enjoy them at home.

Cast Iron Waffles on Urbanspoon

MONDAY, JUNE 17 2013
nova's bakery (southend): charlotte, nc
rating: 5 out of 5 

Oh Nova's, I kinda wish I had never discovered you because I can't stop thinking about cannoli's ever since. The fact that Nova's on South Blvd in Southend is walking distance from my apartment (and open 24 hours!) is dangerous. My boyfriend and I have walked there at least once every week for the past month. And while I haven't had that many cannoli's in my life, I do know what tastes good and these are absolutely amazing. When you order cannoli's at Nova's, you have the choice of large or small size and chocolate dipped or regular. The ones pictured above are the regular size and I always leave wishing I had more. When you place your cannoli order, they pipe the filling into the cannoli shell right in front of you and sprinkle them with cinnamon and powdered sugar. The filling is so creamy and has little pieces of chocolate throughout and the shell is fried to perfection! I can't say enough good things about this treat, go try one for yourself...just make sure they are filled fresh.

Side note: I tried the lemon bar and a few of the small pastries from the glass window and was not impressed. But that won't stop me from going back for cannoli's and I do really want to try the rosemary garlic foccacia bread next time I'm there.

Nova's Bakery on Urbanspoon

pho real: charlotte, nc
rating: 3 out of 5 
Pho Real (best restaurant name ever) is a vietnamese restaurant in University area. It seems like there are lots of vietnamese restaurants in Charlotte but this is one of the only ones I've tried because it is consistently good. While pho isn't the only thing on their menu, it is the most popular for good reason. I can't say pho is my favorite meal but it is a light, fresh, flavorful meal that leaves me feeling satisfied. My boyfriend always orders his pho with thick rice noodles and meatballs in a beef broth topped with bean sprouts, basil, lime and jalapenos (pictured). I usually get the same thing but sub the meatballs for shrimp and sweet potatoes. Besides the pho, I've also tried the chicken curry soup and the hu tien mi soup which is similar to pho but is made with chicken broth instead of beef broth. Everything I've had at Pho Real has been good and it is a great change from the usual calorie packed meals you usually get when you go out to dinner. If you are looking for a good, quick meal then try Pho Real.

Pho Real Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

carpe diem: charlotte, nc
rating: 4 out of 5 
Carpe Diem just outside of Uptown Charlotte is a perfect spot for date night with it's intimate atmosphere and elegant decor. We started dinner with the calamari and beef carpaccio appetizers. The calamari was lightly battered (just the way I like it) and served with a mustard aioli which was a good change from the usual marinara based sauce you are served at many restaurants. The beef carpaccio was my favorite of the two appetizers with thinly sliced beef, capers, micro greens and salty ciabatta bread it was the perfect balance of flavors. After eating through these two appetizers and a basket of fresh, warm bread Kavel & I decided to split an entree and a salad for the rest of dinner. I ordered the warm goat cheese salad which was one of the best salads I have had in a long time. This mixed green salad was topped with warm hazelnut crusted goat cheese rounds, wine poached red onions and apricot jalapeno vinaigrette. The apricot jalapeno vinaigrette was the perfect balance of sweet and spicy which you don't find too often in salad dressings. For dinner we ordered one of the daily specials, a perfectly tender steak topped with a goat cheese souffle, a coriander carrot cooli (no idea how that is spelled but this is exactly how the server described it), yukon gold mashed potatoes and asparagus. We both weren't fans of the slightly bland goat cheese souffle but the rest of the dish was fantastic. And what's date night without dessert! We ordered the apple pie for dessert which had a thick, flaky crust and a brittle that was really the highlight of the dish. As if the food wasn't enough to bring me back, I loved that the staff didn't rush you one bit. The food, service, atmosphere and cocktail list make Carpe Diem a restaurant worth trying. 

Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers on Urbanspoon

mellow mushroom: charlotte, nc
rating: 5 out of 5
Good beer, delicious pizza and cinnamon-sugar dessert pretzels makes Mellow Mushroom one of my favorite restaurants. I have a hard time giving any restaurant a 5 rating because I am always on a mission to find something better. However, no matter how many slices of pizza I try and restaurants I visit, I know Mellow Mushroom will always leave me feeling totally satisfied and happy. Pizza, beer and cinnamon-sugar all in one meal will never leave me disappointed. Mellow Mushroom has been one of my favorite restaurants since college because there was one right down the street from where I lived and coincidentally my college roommate worked there. Talk about a roomie match made in heaven, 1/2 off the best pizza in the world and discounted pizza dough to bake my own creations (I promise that wasn't the only reason we we lived together). Lucky for me, Charlotte's first (well second, the first one closed because of legal drama) Mellow Mushroom opened in Myers Park last October. 

I love the hippy, laid back vibe at Mellow Mushroom and being seated in a school bus fitted with booths in the middle of the restaurant just added to the fun atmosphere. They have a decent sized outside patio and a bar with over 30 draft beers. We started dinner with a pitcher of Purple Haze, a wheat beer that is comparable to Blue Moon but usually much harder to find on draft. The capri salad was delicious with ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, huge basil leaves and a small salad all drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Then the mellowterranean pizza came out, an olive oil and garlic base with mozzarella cheese, onions, roasted red peppers, chicken and side of tzatkiki sauce makes this pizza a must-try. The kosmic karma and gourmet white are my other favorite pizza choices. Whatever pizza you decide on, the pizza crust will be perfectly thick, chewy and slightly sweet. And no matter how full I am, I can always make room for a cinnamon sugar dessert pretzel. These pretzels are made with their pizza dough, baked until golden and covered in honey and cinnamon sugar. Pretty much my cinnamon heaven and they make a great breakfast the next morning. Mellow Mushroom is definitely worth a try, just be prepared to wait because it always seems to be busy. 

Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon

vida mexican kitchen y cantina: charlotte, nc
rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 
Vida Mexican Kitchen y Cantina in Uptown Charlotte adds a contemporary twist to many classic mexican dishes. I went with my roomie for lunch on a Saturday afternoon and sat outside on their small outdoor patio. After looking over the menu for a good fifteen minutes, I was having a hard time deciding between the grilled shrimp tacos (served with jalapeno bacon!!!) and the pork green chile stew. After asking the server what menu item he suggested, I was sold on the pork green chile stew after his rave review of the dish. I figured this stew with slow cooked pork simmered with mexican green chiles, served with avocado slices and a warm tortilla would be the perfect dish to deliver that mexican twist. For my side, grilled corn with queso fresco. When the stew arrived at our table it smelled fantastic, if only the taste lived up to the smell. The stew was good but it didn't blow me away with flavor like I was hoping and honestly, expecting. The pork was very tender and infused with mexican flavor but the bulk of the dish, the broth, didn't have enough flavor to make this dish memorable. The grilled corn I ordered as a side was served cut off the cob, with no grill flavor or marks and was hardly warm. To put it nicely, the only reason I ate it was to get my veggies in. I wouldn't mind visiting Vida again to try the grilled shrimp tacos but in the mean time I will stick with one of my favorite 'cheap' mexican restaurants, 1900 Mexican.

Vida Mexican Kitchen Y Cantina on Urbanspoon

pio pio: charlotte, nc
rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 
Pio Pio in Dilworth is one of Charlotte's best kept secrets. This tiny Latin American restaurant is hidden behind Outback Steakhouse and Brixx Pizza off East Blvd but is worth searching out. If you have ever bought a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and liked it then you will love Pio Pio. The juicy rotisserie chicken, fried green plantains, rice and beans is my favorite dinner combo on their menu. Not that I have anything else to compare it to because in the fifteen plus times I have eaten at Pio Pio I have ordered this combo, the #1 on their menu, every time. The chicken is perfectly seasoned and tender, the green plantains are crispy and chewy but the rice and beans have very little flavor until you add the sauces and a sprinkle of salt. Before the food arrives to the table they bring out two sauces, one is white and the other is green. I think the reason I go back to Pio Pio again and again is to figure out what goes into these sauces. I can't describe either sauce well enough to do them justice but here goes my awful attempt... the white sauce is tangy and the green sauce is really spicy, both are absolutely delicious. It makes me sad I can't give you a better description but maybe next visit it will hit me and I will update you! Pio Pio won't blow your mind but the service is great and it is consistently good. Just don't go on a Sunday because they are closed, found that out the hard way. 

Pio Pio on Urbanspoon

SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2011
cowfish: charlotte, nc
rating: 4 out of 5

The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar has a huge, sometimes overwhelming menu of fresh and innovative dishes. The sushi dishes are inspired by their sister restaurant, eeZ Fusion & Sushi at Lake Norman and the burgers are unique creations large enough to satisfy a hungry football player. 

I have visited Cowfish for lunch and dinner and every time I go it has been a relaxed atmosphere that makes the perfect spot for family dinner, girl's night out or date night. It has a long bar that showcases actual cowfish swimming in a large tank. If you can't get a table, grab a seat at the sushi bar where you can play games or order dinner on a touch screen computer built into the actual bar. Or if it's not too hot for you outside, check out their back patio because nothing beats eating good food outside on a clear, summer day.

On past visits, I have tried the tuna sashimi salad, seared ahi tuna burger, the green monster burger, the bib burger, what's shakin' tuna bacon sandwich and a few of their fusion sushi rolls. This time around my boyfriend and I went for lunch and started with the caribbean summer rolls and the filet mignon pinwheels as appetizers. The caribbean summer rolls were very small but fresh; the peanut dipping sauce was good with the shrimp, lettuce, mango and mint filled spring rolls. The filet mignon pinwheels are just as described; thinly sliced strips of medium-rare filet wrapped around a sliver of jalapeño, topped with a cream cheese mixture and baked to perfection. I'll pass on the summer rolls next time but the pinwheels are definitely worth a try.

Now onto my favorite dish, the fusion specialty bento box is what Cowfish describes as "burgushi." This box is perfect for an indecisive person like me that can't decide between a burger or sushi. Of course when the box arrives, I can never decide if I should eat the burger/sweet potato fries or cucumber/edamame/sushi combo first?! The mini burger in this box features a rotating 'specialty' burger of the week and this week's burger was topped with fontina cheese, basil and roasted red peppers. After finishing the two-bite burger and the perfectly cooked sweet potato fries I moved onto the sushi, edamame and cucumbers. For the sushi portion of the box, you have the option between four pieces of a speciality roll or three pieces of nigiri. After eating my three pieces of fresh tuna I dug into the salted edamame and cucumbers sitting in a sweet and spicy vinaigrette. This box is the perfect balance of sweet and salty, definitely a must try! My boyfriend, Kavel, ordered the spicy crunchy (shrimp) sushi roll and the two-time sushi roll that was thinly sliced cucumber rolled around yellowfin tuna and topped with seared tuna. Both of his sushi rolls were fresh and flavorful, the two-time roll's cucumber outside was a surprising change to the usual seaweed/rice sushi wrap.

Whenever I have friends or family come visit Charlotte, I usually take them to to Cowfish because everyone can find something they like with all the menu options. It's a great place to take beginner sushi eaters because they allow you to build your own sushi so you can pick and choose individual fillings for your roll. I can't say enough good things about Cowfish and considering how packed the place is at all times of day I would say there are a lot of people that would agree.

The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

rooster's wood-fired kitchen: charlotte, nc
rating: 2 1/2 out of 5

Rooster's Wood Fired Kitchen in Southpark is known for their open kitchen, dozens of stuffed rooster's on the wall and a simple menu that showcases fresh, seasonal ingredients. The menu is a la carte and there are no detailed descriptions for menu items so you have to inquire yourself or take a chance on each dish. The atmosphere is the perfect combination of casual and upscale with low lighting, comfy booths and an open kitchen in the middle of the restaurant. 

With my mom in town this past weekend, we had a great meal on Friday night at Aria in uptown Charlotte. I didn't make a reservation for Saturday ahead of time, so I knew we had to decide on a restaurant that wasn't participating in restaurant week because those reservations seem to be taken weeks in advance. Luckily, Rooster's had an available reservation when I called Saturday afternoon. Last fall, my mom and I had a great meal at rooster's so we decided to go back and try their summer menu.  As much as I love having friends and family visit, I always get a little anxious about where to take them to eat in Charlotte. It's the same feeling I get when I go on vacation and have to pick a restaurant. If the restaurant sucks then you know you missed out on a great meal somewhere else!

On my last visit to rooster's I had the best sweet potato soup, buttery corn and a juicy, perfectly cooked short rib. This visit, my mom & I started with the beef carpaccio (pictured). The thinly sliced raw beef was topped with spicy stone-ground mustard, arugula and parmesan cheese. My mom and I both agreed this was the best dish of the night, by far. I don't eat red meat that often but I considered ordering another beef carpaccio for myself and calling it a night! After the carpaccio, my mom ordered the iceberg, bacon, blue cheese salad and I ordered the tomato basil bisque. The salad was nothing special, it didn't have a bit of blue cheese flavor and there wasn't enough bacon in it to make up for the lack of flavor. However, my tomato soup had more cream in it then tomato or basil, so of course I liked it. We decided to share the basil gnocchi with fisher farms sungold tomatoes and the mac & cheese for our entrees (healthy, I know). The basil gnocchi would have stood a chance if it had been cooked correctly. After having house-made, caramelized gnocchi from Aria the night before, the rooster's gnocchi tasted like undercooked dough balls. However, the mac & cheese was so creamy and rich that I couldn't put my spoon down. The table next to us said dessert was a must-try but we had a brand new ice cream maker to try at home so we passed.

While I was disappointed with this visit to Rooster's, I know how good their food can be. The one thing that never disappoints at rooster's is the staff. They are consistently professional, knowledgeable and friendly. The perfect example is when my mom & I ordered wine, we were debating between a cabernet sauvignon and a zinfandel but finally ordered the cabernet. Instead of bringing us only the cabernet, our server brought us both to try so we could decide from there. Thanks to our waiter and his great service, we decided we liked the zinfandel more. With all that said, I'll consider visiting Rooster's again in the fall with the hope that their sweet potato soup is back on the menu! 

See what other people are saying on urbanspoon:
Rooster's Wood-Fired Kitchen on Urbanspoon

TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2011
my life when I'm not in the kitchen 

As much as I enjoy cooking and baking in my own kitchen, I love eating out too. I've lived in Charlotte for over three years now and have tried more restaurants than I would like to admit. But the thing about Charlotte is there are always new places to eat and a few spots where I will visit over and over again. I don't consider myself an expert on all things food but I know what tastes good and I want to share my eats outside of my kitchen with you! I am a fan of rating food because it puts the entire meal in perspective so I'm going to rate each restaurant on a scale of 1 to 5:

1: Won't go back
2: Just ok
3: Good
4: Very good
5: Absolutely delicious, a must try


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