Served with Love (in Charlotte): What to eat in Charlotte, NC

I travel usually once a year for work to attend a genetics educational conference.  This means I get to stay on top of my continuing education credits to continue to be certified but also that I get to try new restaurants in an often new city, which I love.

After a quick google of the “best restaurants in Charlotte” I found The Asbury.  From a quick look at the menu, it seemed like elevated Southern food which was exactly what I was wanting.  So I gave it a try and was not disappointed.

The chef, Matthew Krenz, won the NC Chef Showdown in 2017.  I am a sucker for young waiters being so excited to tell me things like this that I fall hook, line, and sinker in love with a place almost immediately.  I love that they seemed so proud to mention this about the place they work.  They are probably coached to do this because it works (case example: me).

When you enter The Asbury you are greeted with the kindness you expect in the South: people asking how your night is going and actually looking you in the eye like they care about your answer.  The hostess mentioned how they have a new spring menu.  When I asked what she recommended from it, she easily recommended her favorite from their dinner menu: Crispy Pork Cheek.

What I ordered:

  • Wine
  • Maw Maw’s Cast Iron Biscuits with Bacon jam
  • 2 oysters
  • Small Crispy Pork Cheek
  • Panna cotta
  • Asbury coffee

The run down:

The wine list wasn’t expansive but had great options of every type for every price range.  I was very happy with the glass I ordered.

Biscuits were good but maybe a little dry.  Bacon jam made them just right and I look forward to having my leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.

Oysters were small, creamy, and sweet.  As an oyster lover, I am often given the option of 6 or 12 oysters and depending on who I am dining with, that may work or be way to much.  I loved how you could order the exact amount you wanted.

The Crispy Pork Cheek was fabulous.  This dish tasted like spring and made me excited for my garden.  The ginger and carrot bisque was a perfect compliment to the crispy pork and perfectly cooked fresh peas and black eyed peas.  It felt fancy Southern and I would have licked my plate if it was socially acceptable.  Did the pork cheek need to be fried?  No, in short.  BUT, the light tempura batter gave it a nice crunch and texture and made it feel even more Southern so my opinion was that it was worth the calories.  Also, the seasonal entrees come in small and large portions so you are able to get a small and try more things (which is what I did).  I loved this and if my hubby was with me, we probably would have tried three small entrees just to get a good sampling of what they had to offer.IMG_6795

I told the waiter I was having a hard time deciding on dessert and the panna cotta was what he recommended.  It was divine.  Creamy custard topped with shaved fennel and I believe an apple gel.  I loved the little crunchy bites of the fennel with the creamy custard.  I’d order it again.  And again.  And again.IMG_6797

The Asbury coffee was simply good coffee and various liquours but it was good and came in decaf (my waiter swore this was true and was willing to give me his home number to call at 3 AM if that wasn’t the case).

The food was fabulous.  Ambience was good.  I did think it was a little weird having mainly rustic barn paintings on one side and almost all modern cow paintings on the other.  You usually associate that “look” with a coffee shop that has little price tags on all the paintings but that wasn’t the case here.  So the art, if there permanently, could be more cohesive but that is a minor criticism of a place with such fabulous food and service.

I would definitely recommend The Asbury and if I am ever back in Charlotte, I’ll be checking out what’s on their seasonal menu and likely booking a table again.

Served With Love (in Austin): What to do and eat in Austin/Waco

Beast and I just got back from a little getaway in Austin so I thought I would share some of the recommendations we received and the places we found on our own that were fabulous.  When the two of us visit a city together we pretty much always plan out our time the same way:  we find a place to stay that is within walking distance to some fun areas and then we make reservations for brunch and dinner each day.  The rest of the trip has a way of filling itself in naturally along the way.

Here’s our thoughts on what to do (and eat) in Austin/Waco:

Stay: North of 6th Street on the western end of the bar/music district.  We did not listen to this advice.  While we were very close to 6th Street and lots of great things, our walks home at night were maybe not as safe as they could have been if we were 4 blocks west.

Get in line for: Franklin BBQ.  It opens at 11 AM and most days you’ll need to be in line by then to make sure you get some of their now world-famous brisket.  We literally drove straight from the airport to get our spot in line.  The wait was 2 hours which sounds like a lot for BBQ but it really, really is worth it.  While you are waiting, they have lawn chairs you can sit in and move along the line.  You can also walk up to the counter to order drinks to enjoy while you wait.  Once you do get to the counter, make sure you get a mix of fatty and lean brisket (1 lb) at least and save a couple of slices for a late night snack.  We had some sausage, ribs, and beans as well but the star really is the brisket, which I will gladly wait in line for again.

     

Walk around: 6th Street.  Lots of bars and live music.  Food trucks galore.  We’re suckers for a piano bar and enjoyed a couple hours at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar.  Sit upstairs for a great view of the piano show and fabulous people-watching.

Fancy dining: Walk to wink restaurant.  They have a daily menu with new creations and 5 or 7 course pairing menus with the option of very reasonable wine pairings.  We were VERY happy with everything we tasted and would highly recommend the 5 course menu with the wine pairings.  The service was fabulous.  Since we were there celebrating our anniversary, our waitress took a copy of the menu they had printed with our names on it and had the chef sign it.  Sweet touch.

Casual, local flavor: Uber to Matt’s El Rancho.  This one came recommended to us by a colleague of mine who grew up in Austin.  It did not disappoint.  Margaritas were great as was their signature appetizer: The Bob Armstrong.

Walk around: The State Capitol and UT.  Wander around the capitol and when you see a tour going through, just start following them as long as you want to.

Hole-in-the-wall find: Arturo’s Underground Cafe for breakfast or lunch.  Beast loved the migas and I loved my The Works breakfast tacos.  The Texas Pecan coffee they had was delicious.  Go ahead and pay the extra dollar for bottomless coffee because you’ll want a refill.

Brewery: Uber to Lazarus Brewing.  This might be the find of the trip.  A place that sells coffee, tacos, and beer would intrigue us already but then you walk in this place and WOW.  It is gorgeous.  Deep, moody colors on the walls, cognac leather and natural wood everywhere, everything looking 100% curated and thought out.  Not the typical stainless steel and butcher block bar you see at 90% of the breweries we’re visited.  I kept telling Beast “This doesn’t look like a normal brewery.  I think a woman is involved in this somehow.”  And after we got talking to the incredibly friendly staff, we learned that yes, that is true.  A pastor and his wife started the brewery and she is the one behind the hospitality and coffee.  And their daughter is an apprentice brew master.  They clearly make a great team along with some other folks that help them brew and run the place.  They have only been open about a year and have already won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival.  They also have this cool crowd funding thing they did where they sold gorgeous glass beer steins for $1000 and then the “Patron Saint” who bought it gets their first drink free for life and keeps their special glass displayed at the brewery behind the bar.  A bunch of people apparently use this brewery (and their free wifi) as their home office so in the morning you’ll see a bar full of people with laptops drinking coffee and by 5 pm they’ve switched to beer.  Just a really cool place run by really cool people and definitely worth a stop if you are in Austin.

Bar: Across the street from Lazarus Brewing is an old granary-turned-bar called Whisler.  They only have two kinds of beer but they mix up some very tasty cocktails.  Candles are lit throughout the space making it a cozy, old find.  Out back is a well-known food truck called Thai Kun (from the same folks as East Side King), which we thoroughly enjoyed.  The panang curry left our mouths on fire, but Whisler’s “Root Down” cocktail with a piece of candied ginger was all we needed to get back on track.  We then went back over to Lazarus to have another new favorite to end the night.

Brunch: Uber to Stubb’s Gospel Brunch (Sunday).  The food was great and they bring in various gospel groups to sing while you’re eating.  I’d highly recommend the ticket with a “view of the band” so you get the full experience.

Drive to: This whole trip was planned by Beast so he could take me to Waco for Magnolia Market at the Silos.  I’ve been a fan of the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” for some time and think Chip and Joanna Gaines are just adorable.  The market was very fun and totally worth the trip to shop and enjoy the grounds.  The cupcakes from the Silos Bakery were delicious and also worth the short line we waited in.  The whole operation was a well-oiled machine with lots of friendly people making everything run super smoothly.  After we shopped and ate some samplings from the various food trucks, we took the free trolley around town.  It took 15 minutes and basically showed us the rest of the downtown area.  We then knew where we wanted to be dropped off on the next go around so we could visit other shops and the Farmer’s Market (Saturday).  I would say a half day in Waco was good for us but you could probably find enough to do to stretch it to a full day.  Staying in Austin and then renting a car for a day to drive there worked perfectly.

On the way back: Stop in Salado, TX.  We happened on this town trying to find a brewery and stumbled on “the best art town in Texas.”  There are lots of cute shops, art galleries, and then Barrow Brewing Co.  Beast and I played Trivial Pursuit at this brewery while sipping on their creations for at least 2 1/2 hours.  When we went it was the town Christmas Market and it felt like every person in town was out and about shopping and chatting.  It is a great place to stop right off I-35.

So there you have it!  If you’re visiting Austin, check out these spots!  If you’ve visited Austin before and have other favorite spots, please leave them in the comments.

Happy Traveling!

Mel