Wednesday, July 1, 2015

5 Things to Eat in Charlotte

A trip to any southern state is a food trip, as far as I'm concerned. Sweet tea, grits, biscuits, and other fried selections are a must.  If you ever get to Charlotte, NC, here's a few things to try.

Shrimp and grits. This southern tradition is one of my favorites. Its a basic concept - a serving of grits and a serving of saucy shrimp on top.  And from there - it can go all kinds of ways. Every coastal and even not-so-coastal city seems to have their own favorite recipe and "best" variation.  Charlotte's no exception. I had a bowl at Mert's Heart & Soul, a soul food restaurant in downtown Charlotte, a few blocks and a short walk from the Convention Center. Mert's recipe is a brown sauce for the shrimp (I've usually had a red tomato sauce.) Its flavored with tomatoes, peppers, green onions, and a kick of hot-ness. The spiciness is a crucial ingredient for me, without it, there's a blandness to the whole thing. The grits were smooth and creamy.
Shrimp & Grits, Collard Greens at Mert's 
Biscuits & cornbread. You just can't go south and not get some fresh baked bread.  At Mert's, they serve hot mini-loaves of cornbread. Not hot as in warm to the touch, but hot as in steaming when you cut it open and slather it with sweet whipped butter.  We had biscuits at Tupelo Honey Cafe, served with honey and blueberry compote.  I don't usually put honey on my food, but this was a delicious combination.

Biscuits with honey & blueberry
Krispy Kreme. This is a North Carolina tradition and favorite, founded in Winston-Salem. Now, the signature "lights on" causes drooling for hot doughnuts in many cities outside of the Carolinas. Even still, it feels like a requirement to get a box of donuts when crossing the state line.

More grits and other toppings. Can we go back to the grits? Tupelo Honey Cafe, located a couple miles outside of downtown, in SouthEnd, offers a couple variations on the shrimp and grits, and then also a Veggie Bowl. Don't be confused because, for some reason it's listed under Salads on the menu and is served hot. This is essentially the "everything but the kitchen sink" of grits dishes. The base is a serving of smooth, goat cheese grits. It is then topped with black eyed peas (peppery), salsa, sautéed greens (the server said spinach, but I think it was actually kale), and fried okra. Yes - all of that in one big ole bowl. And I had them add shrimp, but really, everything else was more than enough. At first, it's worth it to taste each item to get the full individual flavor. And then, it's got to be eaten all together - the creamy grits, the sharp greens, the spicy black eyed peas, and the crunchy okra.  Delicious.

Then, wash it all down with moonshine or sweet tea - your choice.
Moonshine is a potent liquor, heralding from the days of Prohibition and apparently, one of the reasons NASCAR came to be. (You find out all kinds of things at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.) I had a tasting of Midnight Moon (gotta love the mason jars, right?) The strawberry and apple pie were pretty good. But it's not for the weak. Proceed with caution.
Try a shot of moonshine to complete your trip!
Sweet tea. Any southern state, you can find sweet tea almost easier than water. If you are a native northerner, you may not even understand fully what "sweet" means in this context. Trust me, it does not mean Splenda or any other artificial sweetener. Don't pass it up, whether at a local restaurant or Bojangles. Just be sure you get yourself a glass.
Mert's Heart & Soul
Tupelo Honey Cafe
Eat & enjoy Charlotte!

Join the conversation on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances

No comments: