Two For One


Image result for venezuelan passport stamp

This was one of those weeks where things worked out a bit different than planned and actually that was OK.  When I was searching for someplace new to have breakfast a few weekends ago Ava’s Café popped up and I saw they billed themselves as a Venezuelan restaurant.  So while I didn’t go for breakfast I filed them away for as a potential blog candidate since I hadn’t done Venezuela.

This was the day I decided to try them out and off I went.  When I arrived where it was supposed to be, it’s not there.  I mean the building and everything was where it should have been but not Ava’s.  Where it should have been was another little eatery called Me-A-More Café.  I figured maybe it was just a name change since the sign said Café & Latin Street Cuisine so I might still get Venezuela out of this.

The place is small and well lit with 8 or 10 tables and was not very busy when I went in so I was promptly greeted and seated.  The menu did have an item specifically called Venezuelan Pabellon as well as several more Latin American sounding dishes.  I was still in business.  I ordered my dish and fired up my Kindle app to wait but they brought out a little appetizer to get me started.

Now my first thought was “That’s a skimpy bowl of chips, they must not be doing that well.”  Upon closer inspection I realized those were plantain chips and the dip was some kind of mayonnaise based dip with a herby tang to it and a little went a long way.  The combo was good since the slight tang of the sauce balanced the faintly sweet starchiness of the plantains.  Certainly it was something a different.

While I was chowing on the chips I learned some stuff through overheard conversations and direct communication with the staff.  First was they replaced Ava’s here but kept a large part of the menu from Ava’s.  The new owner is also the chef and is from the Dominican Republic and has added a some Dominican items (there’s my 2 for 1, I can come back for Dominican).  The young woman who waited on me was from Haiti.  The owner asks for feedback and actually accepts criticism with grace, seems to be appreciative of the feedback as a way to improve, and isn’t afraid to acknowledge it when she agrees.  I know this last because she spent several minutes talking to a guy who had suggestions for improvement on each of the items he had eaten and she was just as nice and smiley when she walked away as she was when to walked up.  Kudos to her.

The pabellon consisted of rice, black beans, fried ripe plantains and shredded beef.  Nothing fancy about this dish and there’s a lot of commonality with some of the other South American cuisines I’ve had since starting the blog.  The biggest differentiator was the shredded beef which was lightly seasoned and not at all spicy which I was expecting it to be, at least a little.  It all went well as filling comfort food.  In conversation I learned the Dominican version uses red beans, green plantains & shredded pork.

On the way out I decided I’d grab a snack for later and got a guava and cheese empanada.

Later has come and gone so I’ve tried it out and I’m a fan.  At first I thought the cheese was simply cream cheese but it’s something made in house apparently from some other soft white cheese that’s sweetened and has something a little tart added in.  The guava element was jam or preserves that were not too sweet and the empanada crust was soft and just a bit chewy.

Overall I’d say while the afternoon didn’t go as planned it was very successful.  The food was good and they had some nice changes of pace like the plantain chips plus everyone in the place was super friendly.  If you’re local here’s another chance to support a non-chain small business and get rewarded with good food and service.

Check out the Tell Me More page for more on Venezuela


A Taste of CLT


The Taste of Charlotte Festival  is a 3 day, 6 block long celebration of area eateries in uptown Charlotte.  In addition to the food tents there are vendors, entertainers on four stages and attractions for the kids.  I couldn’t let an opportunity like this slip through my fingers so I ventured forth to the trusty light rail and rode it to a stop just two blocks from the festival.

A couple of procedural notes for anyone planning to attend in the future.  The food, beverage and attraction vendors accept only festival coin of the realm.  There were several coin purchasing stations along the 6 blocks of Tryon that made up the festival venue.  They sold Large cups (15 coins) and Small cups (7 coins) for $20 & $10 respectively.  That was if you paid cash, if you paid by card I understand from some grumbling there was a $1.50 add on per cup so cash was the way to go.  As the mathletes among you have already calculated that works out to $1.33-$1.43 per coin.  The food items ranged from 2-4 coins with the majority being 3 coins or $4.00.  Beer & wine were 5 coins each and I didn’t pay any attention to sodas and water but they were likely in the 2-3 range.

I’d scoped out the list and figured I’d grab a couple of beers (10 coins) and at least 3 samples (9 coins) so a large and a small cup were right in the ballpark.  With my plan and cash in hand I walked to the coin location nearest one end, got my coins and began the stroll down Tryon in search of interesting food.

I didn’t have to go far before hitting Brazz Carvery & Steakhouse’s tent.  They had stuff wrapped in bacon so yeah I ponied up 3 coins for 2 pcs.  They had three options; filet wrapped in bacon, chicken wrapped in bacon or scallop wrapped in bacon.  They were grilling them on skewers in the tent so you got to see and smell them as you stood in line to order.  Most people were getting two of the same thing but I figured why not ask for two different ones and it confused the kid for a second but I got one piece of the filet and one scallop.  They came served with a sweet chimichuri sauce.

They were as good as they look.  Tender hunk of beef and a scallop cooked just right wrapped in bacon it was a nice way to start the festival.  I only made it a few steps before hitting American Burger Co’s tent and the lure of their jalepeno pimento cheese slider had me parting with 3 more coins. I grabbed the miniature burger and stepped into the shadier sidewalk to enjoy the treat.

It wasn’t very spicy but it did taste good and the slider was medium and still a little juicy.  My Leinenkugel summer shandy washed it down nicely.  Having parted with half my coins 10 minutes into the festival I figured I’d better pace myself and be more discriminating.  I passed up some good looking food and spent a few minutes checking out one of the bands at the center stage as they cranked out some good classic tunes.

After the musical interlude I spied the McCormick & Schmick tent and they had a blue crab dip for two coins that sounded like something I needed to pair with my newly purchased Pacifico IPA.  It turned out to be a good match.

Served with pita points the dip was good but less crabby than I expected.  Good but not great.  Four coins and a block to go.  Mert’s Heart & Soul pulled me in to try their Southern fried fish bites over rice at the perfect price of four coins.

This was the most substantial of the 4 items I tried with 3 chunks of salmon with a light deep fried coating.  There was a little seasoning plus the drizzle of the mustard based sauce with a hint of spice and sweet.  This sat on a bed of rice I’m not even sure with what it was seasoned but it was a little tangy and a lot tasty.  It turned out to be a nice wrap up to the festival.  I was at the last block  and the light rail terminus was just a couple of streets over.  I felt like my $30 was well spent this afternoon and my only regret was I hadn’t discovered this a few years earlier.

Fork Me

And Then There Were Cupcakes

I was minding my own business at work and decided to check my twitter feed and a food truck I haven’t checked out before tweeted they were at a location only a few miles away.  I chunked the lean pockets in the freezer and jumped in the car to check out the Roaming Fork food truck.

I found them parked in a busy office park along with a couple of other trucks.  I was hoping to try one of their fried deviled eggs but they weren’t on the menu so I kept it to their special of the day, Korean fried chicken plus a side and drink.

They had three choices for the side; something, something cauliflower, truffle fries and a fresh fruit cup.  The cauliflower was never in the running and the truffle fries just seemed a better match for the chicken.  In hindsight the fruit probably would have been a better choice.  The chicken was lightly coated with seasoned flour and drizzled with a honey Korean barbeque sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  I got two small wings and a breast in the meal so the portion was nothing to complain about.  The taste of the chicken was pretty good by itself but the drizzle of sauce did compliment it well.  My one gripe with it was that the breast was cold in the thickest part.  I don’t mean like not hot, room temperature kind of cold but a been in the cooler for a while and not heated long enough to drive out the chill kind of cold.  Fortunately I like cold fried chicken well enough to power through but it was disappointing.  The truffle fries were ok but not as good as I was hoping for. The flavors were good and I’d try something else from them without hesitating but this trip would only get 3 out of 5 forks from me.

On the other end of the scale was my happy discovery.  I noticed all three of the people in front of me ordered and then immediately walked over and ordered something from this blue van so it must have been some kind of rule right?  Turns out that little blue van was Cupcake Delirium.  Well since it was a rule I had to try one and as the gentleman running the window said I could save a bundle on the unit price if I bought 4.  Lord knows I like a deal so since they were out of the Red Velvet cupcakes I had to settle for; Pecan Pie, Death by Chocolate, Bourbon Caramel Bacon, & Nutterbutter Fluffernutter cupcakes.

Now lest you think to yourself “that boy don’t need all them cupcakes”, I did give half of them away, ate one at lunch and managed to save the other for an after dinner snack.  The one I had with lunch was the Pecan Pie cupcake and I have to tell you it was a very, very good cupcake.  In addition to the decorative pecan nestled atop some damn fine buttercream frosting drizzled with caramel the cupcake had a hunk of pecan pie baked in. You heard me, it had pecan pie in the cupcake.

Quite the tasty treat.  I have reports that the Bourbon Caramel Bacon had the best bacon ever tasted on it and the Nutterbutter Fluffernutter was the best cupcake ever.  Personal experience let’s me tell you the Death by Chocolate was not lethal but it killed any chance I had of losing weight that day.  In case you can’t tell I’m a fan of these folks and not just because of the awesome cupcakes but I like the way they operate.  When I got the 4 cupcakes the guy said if I brought the box back or took it to their store and bought more I’d get a free cupcake (a $3.00 value).  Plus the packaging for their cupcakes is a plastic cup turned upside down and the cupcake bottom fits perfectly in the lid rim.  Ingenious money saver!  If you make it to Pineville, NC look these folks up on Main St. or if you see them at a food truck rally make a point of grabbing a cupcake or four.



Mangiare a Milano


As promised last post this week is devoted to the food & drink from an overnight trip to Milano.  The trip was quick but we managed to have some great meals just by wandering into places we were passing by.

I was joined on the trip by friend and co-worker Levina and we decided to go towards the downtown area and start roaming around.  The cab ride made it quite clear there was at least one pizzeria per block so we walked only a little way before we found one that looked very inviting, Ristorante Pizzeria da Sasa.  The waiter was standing in the doorway smiling and waved us in to enjoy some pleasant outdoor dining.  His English was only slightly better than my Italian but we managed to get drinks ordered and an English menu.

The beer was a local draft that tasted like a lager and it was nice and cold.  We placed our orders and while we waited they provided us a wonderful eggplant appetizer with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese accompanied by a basket of fresh bread.  It whetted the appetite for our entrees.

The entrees we ordered were spaghetti with garlic oil and spicy peppers and the calzone Napoletano which had tomatoes, mozzarella, ricotta and spicy salami.  We shared the dishes so we could enjoy each.

The spaghetti was cooked just right and the simplicity of the garlic olive oil and peppers meant you didn’t have a ton of competing flavors and could enjoy those tastes.  The calzone was cooked in a real pizza oven with fire and everything, witness the slight char.  There is no substitute for a good wood or coal fired pizza oven.  The fillings weren’t as copious as they are in a lot of the calzones here in the States but the ingredients tasted fresh and the salami was spicy as advertised so it was quality over quantity.  Pizza & pasta, what more iconic first Italian meal could you ask for?  Well maybe an espresso to put the capper on the meal.  The staff was very friendly and inviting and I’d recommend this place to anyone.

From this leisurely lunch we walked, bussed and subwayed around Milano until we would up at the Duomo where we spent a little time gaping before deciding we’d really pay attention to that the next day and chose to stroll through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II next to it.  This place was loaded with high end shops and some nice restaurants as well so we stopped at one, Ristorante Galleria,  more for something to drink than a meal since lunch had been so substantial.

We settled on the cheese plate which came with five different cheeses with preserved figs and a basket of assorted rolls.

I’m not even sure what all the cheeses were except good.  The brie was obvious and there was parmesan and what I think was romano but it could have been some other hard cheese. It was mild and had a kind of nutty flavor to it.  The other really soft cheese was akin to bleu cheese but it was more finely veined and creamier and the last was a semi-soft cheese that had a bit of a tang to it that went well with the roll laced with pumpkin seeds.  So this was a light dinner but very tasty and filling.  Of course there’s always room for gelato.

I had hazelnut topped by mixed berry and as you can see it came with some crispy thin cookies that you had to eat just to gain proper access to the gelato.  Sacrifices must the made.  This was a nice place that matched the high end shops surrounding it in that it felt fancy but dress code wasn’t really that much of an issue if you could pay the bill.

When we got back to the hotel we relaxed and I had a darker local beer and Levina enjoyed a cappuccino.

The next day we had breakfast at the hotel which was not bad but not blog worthy either.  Lunch was at a restaurant off the Duomo’s square and was mostly notable for the lack of ability to communicate.  We ordered panini sandwiches and Levina asked if it was toasted and was told “No!  No toast!”  I tried to mime both pressing something and also closing a panini press but the answer was the same.  Of course we’re thinking “how is it a panini if it isn’t toasted?”  They arrived, pressed and toasted.  It was no better or worse than any other busy café next to an Italian landmark.

Great trip, good food, you should go.