This past weekend Graham and I headed back to Charlotte (again) to celebrate my birthday! Since it was my birthday, the weekend was all about me, presents (for me), and food. I hate that I was a boring eater for so long. Until my college boyfriend and I broke up I never stepped outside of the box. Our date nights consisted of dinners at Texas Roadhouse and Chili’s. We broke up in May 2008 and I started getting more adventurous. But in January 2011, I moved to Arkansas. So now, whenever I’m home, I like to make the most of Charlotte’s constantly growing food scene.
Of course, being in Charlotte means a trip to JJ’s Red Hots. I’m somewhat of a hot dog connoisseur, and it doesn’t get ANY better than JJ’s. I started my meal with pickled snacks: ginger carrots, spicy dills and okra. All were delicious. I think I need to try to recreate the carrots at home.
Graham had some type of a chicken sausage. He said it looked better than it was. I didn’t try it, so I can’t say. Their onion rings were perfect, as usual (and free with a Yelp check in!).
I had the Dog of the Week (the Surfs Up dog), and it was as wonderful as I hoped it would be. It had guacamole, pickled onions, sprouts, tomatoes, and ranch. I picked off the onions, since they were a little strong, but the rest of the flavors worked together really well. And as your resident hot dog connoisseur, I’ve decided that next to pimento cheese, guacamole is the perfect hot dog topping.
Mom & Dale were boring and went with the Char-Heel. I will never touch this dog. Ever. Everyone loves it. It’s Graham’s favorite way to eat a hot dog. But the combination of slaw, chili, mustard & raw onions just makes me want to gag a little.
Parked in JJ’s parking lot was the King of Pops cart. Graham had a banana pudding pop. I had blackberry mojito. It was perfect.
We went a little more upscale for my “birthday eve” dinner. Everyone and their brother recommended Fahrenheit, so I chose that for mine & Graham’s dinner. It also did not disappoint. The food was perfect, the service was excellent. But even if both had sucked, the view of our beautiful city would have helped make up for it.
Graham ordered beer, I had a cocktail. This was the ‘2nd Ward’ and was made of Muddy Rivers Rum, fresh pineapple juice, Rotham and Winter Orchard Apricot, & Kassatly Chtaura Orgeat, and it was delicious. It wasn’t overly strong or super sweet.
For an appetizer, we had the Ahi Tuna Wontons with pickled and candied Fresno peppers and peach. I loved this, Graham wasn’t as impressed. He said his bites didn’t have any flavor. I thought it was a wonderful combination of spicy and sweet; but it could have used a little more salt. He also picked his cilantro off and gave it to me, so I have no sympathy for him…
Some of the reviews for Fahrenheit complained about portion sizes, so I was a little concerned before we ordered. Portion sizes are always something I worry about. I don’t want a meal so huge I feel miserable, but I want more than one scallop, two mushrooms and a piece of asparagus (*ahem* Savoy 1620 *ahem*). When our meals came out, my fears were laid to rest. Both of our dinners were good sized portions
For my main course, I had the salmon (of course). This was King Salmon, with wasabi mashed potatoes, blood orange saikyo miso and pickled cucumbers and carrots. This was AMAZING. The salmon was huge and perfectly cooked. The potatoes had just a hint of wasabi, but not enough to be overwhelming. I gave Graham a bite, and all the flavors together reminded him of a sushi roll.
Graham had one of their specials: the tempura scallops. This came with asparagus, fennel and a tomato aioli and was just as delicious as my salmon. I’ve never had fried scallops before, but they were wonderful. The scallops were huge & perfectly cooked, and the aioli was the perfect compliment.
For dessert we walked over to the Ritz Carlton and sampled some desserts at Bar Cocoa. I had the coconut cake, Graham had a Key Lime tart. It’s the Ritz, so of course both were wonderful. The area inside is very small (you can’t eat in the steakhouse without a $20 minimum purchase), but luckily we found a table. Being back at the Ritz brought back wonderful memories for us, so it was the perfect way to end our evening.
We continued our weekend of 10 million calories at the Original Pancake House for my birthday breakfast. As a testament to how awesome this place is, there was a wait when we got there, and there was still a wait when we left. I hadn’t eaten there in years and Graham had never been, so I was excited when this place popped up on a quick “breakfast in Charlotte” google search. I had the strawberry pancakes. Six pancakes, fresh strawberries, warm strawberry syrup and whipped cream. And I ordered bacon on the side. These were amazing. Not as big as what you get at IHOP, but SO much better. They’re light, fluffy and just the best pancakes ever. I could only eat about half of this, so my sweet husband took one for the team and helped me eat them. We still didn’t finish them, but we made a good dent =)
For my actual birthday dinner, we went to Tupelo Honey Café. I had been to the one in Ashville, and remembered it being good. This dinner, however, was very mediocre. The patio brings back nice memories though =) It was 5 years ago that Graham & I reconnected on this patio. Back then it was a different restaurant, but it still brings back good memories. Except for the part where he got us all kicked out for going out & buying his own beer and bringing it back…
The “Southern Popcorn” (fried okra) was good. Too many little crumbly pieces of just fried dough, and not very many good pieces of okra.
The biscuits and blueberry jam were delicious. The biscuits were super moist, and I could have eaten about 10 of these.
I had the shrimp & grits (shoo mercy style) and while the shrimp mixture was delicious, the grits were pretty bad. They were advertised as goat cheese grits and had zero flavor. They also weren’t creamy at all and were just a congealed mass of flavorlessness.
Graham had the catfish and had the same issue with his grits: congealed with zero flavor. The salsa on top was also kind of odd. The catfish was spicy, so maybe it was supposed to calm it down, but it just didn’t work well with it. A salsa with more flavor would have been much better.
We had a party of 8, and no one LOVED their dinner. It was disappointing, but the excellent company made up for it. After dinner it was time for presents, so I was happy =)
It was a wonderful weekend and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off 31!