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My Labor Day weekend visit to Charlotte - fried green tomatoes!

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My Labor Day weekend visit to Charlotte - fried green tomatoes!

Owen O'Neill | Sep 3, 2003 01:10 PM

Another jaunt to visit my GF who is now living Charlotte, my future (if all goes well) home. We browsed around town on Friday after some mighty tasty ham and pepper jack cheese omelettes I cooked up at home (not to mention my home roasted Sumatra Mandheling coffee beans, which had been waiting in the freezer for my return).

NoDa - checked out the Smelly Cat coffeehouse. Cute little place with a nice atmosphere but the guy behind the counter was clueless about espresso. Asked for a ristretto (restricted pull - more syrupy and intense than a regular espresso and achieved by using a finer grind) but he had no idea what I meant. When I explained it, he told me the grinder "has only one setting" (NOT!) - I settled for a regular double - ended up with a styrofoam (yuck!) cup containing about 5 oz of black liquid. A good double espresso typically has no more than 2 - 2.5 ounces of fluid. I took a few sips and left it. In his defense, he offered a refund but they just need to get a clue - Jackson's Java is still the odds-on favorite in my Charlotte area espresso contest (new entrants welcomed).

Boudreaux' Cajun restaurant on the corner of Davidson and 36th looked interesting but wasn't open. We peeked in the window at The Evening Muse, a "listening room" that features folk music, singer songwriters, acoustic blues etc. A gal named Sarah who was prepping for the upcoming evening spotted us looking in and invited us on in to look around. They have a tiny kitchen with an appealing menu of eclectic pub/Mediterrean influenced grub, a nice little bar and according to her, the best sound in Charlotte (the owner is a professional sound engineer - I tend to believe her).

Driving home to the appealing but vapid suburban environs of University Park, I nearly went off the road when I spotted the "Fried Green Tomatoes" sign at Chicken Box Cafe (3726 North Tryon). I'd often spotted a guy walking the corner wearing a sandwich board sign for the "3 pc dark w/2 sides at $5.45" special but never thought to try this place. It's spotlessly clean, has a drive-up window(for call-ahead orders only) and appears to prepare each order to order - it's slow fast food and worth the wait. Rumor has it that a new owner took over not too long back and their attention to detail shows. Five slice order of fried green tomatoes, a fried whiting sandwich and a giant sweet tea (or lemonade) and the order was about $7 w/tax. The tomatoes were just right - succulent, tangy yet slightly sweet and perfectly crispy. The oil is nice and clean and the batter was just about perfect on the spicy/peppery ratio. I've always had these with corn meal before but they were very good cooked this way.

Next day saw us returning. They were out of collards (boo hiss - the primary reason for our return trip!). Got banana pudding (okay for storebought but not like home-made), more fried green tomatoes (still good but sliced too thin this time), the "whiting snack" (an extra piece of whiting more than the sandwich offers and a few overcooked hushpuppies thrown in but at $3.99 vs. $1.99 for the sandwich.... stick to the sandwich). Pinto beans were very good..... cabbage was just okay (sorry soul food lovers - give me Jamaican style cabbage and carrots any day of the week). The fried chicken was as good as it gets outside of select sitdown restaurants and certain home cooking. Maybe a 7 out of 10 and that's pretty good. I'll go here again for sure.

Tried to check out the Millennium Restaurant - it's on 26th or 28th just off North Tryon. The owners are African and I thought they were going to serve African food but it was kind of a weird vibe. I went in at lunch time on Saturday - there was one patron and a woman (I presume an owner) stepped into the vestibule when I approached and said "we don't have much food right now - just a few things". I asked for a menu and got the takeout menu. It had the usual burgers, fries, fried chicken and wings at cheap prices and then showed one African special each day. I"m guessing Ghanian or some other sub Saharan origin as the dishes were all stews and gravies with rice or fu-fu but it's a guess. They weren't too hospitable but maybe I looked like a cop or a health inspector. I'll give them another try on some future visit.

Now..... on my next visit I'm all set to try out the Cuban place near the Eastland Mall. My GF will go along with this but I have to go with her to the Melting Pot to offset the ethnic dining. It's not a maybe - I know I have to go. Are we best off to get of the three course fondue offerings or should I stick to a conventional entree and just get a cheese fondue appetizer or chocolate fondue dessert? Please don't respond teling me it's terrible - she's determined to go and I'm determined to keep an open mind because I'm obligated to go. Suggestions/comments will be appreciated.

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