Patio Picks – Do it Dining al Fresco

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODDining al fresco – the art of eating outdoors is a pleasure that combines casual atmosphere, fresh air, cool breezes and great food and beverage. The venue can range from family style BBQ and picnic tables or even your car at places like BBQ King on Wilkinson Blvd. or Brooks Sandwich House on North Brevard Street to a setting with comfy patio furniture seating at places such as Osso Restaurant and Lounge at the Music Factory and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Dilworth.

Lots of restaurants with patios offer opportunities for dining al fresco throughout the year, but late spring, summer and on into early fall is the time we want to enjoy the out of doors as much as we can. So lap up the sunshine or sit in the cool comfort of the summer shade. Join your kids in a game of shuffleboard at the patio at Zada Jane’s in Plaza Midwood while you wait for a table at breakfast or brunch; take in the splendor of our city’s skyline from the highest heights atop the patio at Chef Rocco Whalen’s Fahrenheit Restaurant  at the Hyatt Place Hotel uptown; or enjoy food, wine and occasional music at several eateries or wine shops with outdoor dining and tastings such as Napa on Providence in Eastover; and Vin Masters in SouthEnd.

Alfresco dining in the Queen City can range from large venues, such as the patio at Mimosa Grill, Uptown that over looks the plaza and a bustling sections of Tryon Street to small, much like the patio at Fenwicks on Providence Road,  with just a few tables on the front porch of this neighborhood gathering spot

Great patios to see and be seen abound at local breweries in NoDa; bars and restaurants surrounding the Music Factory; and in shopping “villages” around town where several restaurants might have patios grouped together off a main courtyard as at Ballantyne Village where patios from Mellow Mushroom, Terrace Cafe and Villa Antonio meet; or off South Main Street in Davidson where the back porch patio of the Pickled Peach looks over the patio behind Summit Coffee nestled up to an adjacent playground – on Saturday mornings this “common area” is home to the Davidson Farmers’ market where locavores can enjoy combine their morning coffee al fresco with a little fresh from the farm shopping trip.

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Tis the season, indeed, and so my June restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway features five of my favorite places to dine al fresco with some of my favorite summer menu selections as well… enjoy!

toscana logoWe’ll start with what I have always thought to be one of the most romantic patios in town, Toscana, located in Shops on the Park across from SouthPark, 6401 Morrison Blvd. 704.367.1808. Like all of Augusto Conte’s magical restaurants, the menu at Toscana offer high quality fresh made Italian fare and the patio is like sitting off a small village side street in Tuscany. Comfortable seating surrounded by a shrub lined fencing keeps it tight and cozy, A beautiful fountain offers the cool comfort and pleasant sounds of a water feature and  large pots of herbs define the heritage.  In the evenings the open sky view add the romance of moonlight and the stars. One of our favorite dishes at Toscana is the gnocchi, tender potato pillows bathed in a light fresh tomato sauce touched with basil and mozzarella – add a bottle from the well appointed wine list – perfecto! Toscana on Urbanspoon
Wp white logoNot far from Toscana, is Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza bar located in the Phillips Place shopping center 704.295.0101 Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers  a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. The patio is off to the side of the restaurant, away from parking and much foot traffic and offers a cozy comfortable place to great place to getaway from it all.  Perfect for business meetings, ladies who lunch or a midday tete-a-tete.  While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven.  While Wolfgang himself does occasionally make appearances at the restaurant, day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful  and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. We now enjoy WP as our go to after the movies spot and our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for the two of us to share. Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar on Urbanspoon

Tupel Honey Cafe (Contributed)Next, Tupelo Honey at 1820 South Blvd. 980-225-9167. The restaurant and patio are located on the second level of the historic SouthEnd Building,  take the stairs or the elevator up and the fun begins. The restaurant is full of action and a buzz most of the time, so the patio offers a lovely slightly quieter dining option. Great for families or dinners for two, big overhead fans keep the climate cool and in case of inclement weather their are outdoor curtains drawn to keep the rain away. The vibe at Tupelo is reconstructed Southern and it is exceptionally well done from soup to nuts. Great service and an assortment of wonderful craft cocktails and local beers round out the experience. Must tries this season include the sweet potato pancakes ( breakfast is served whenever you want it at Tupelo), the black bean burger and tofu wings (three cheers for some great vegetarian options), the fabulous Southern Popcorn ( aka fried okra) and the Carolina Mountain Trout with Goat cheese grits – shooo mercy! and Tupelo’s own Brown Butter Pecan Pie.  Look for bar specials on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday ( the least crowded days and nights to dine at this Charlotte favorite); and while you are there shop for cookbooks, Tupelo’s biscuit mix and of course, jars of Tupelo Honey. Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

summit logoThe Summit Room at 1531 East Blvd. 980.237.2227 is one of Charlotte’s newest places to dine al fresco. In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening.

Several years ago the Dilworth Communtiy made it a mission to  drive neighborhood foot traffic with more pedestrian friendly streetside dining. As a result,  many neighborhood places on the boulevard offer patio dining but not many do it better than this. Rocking chairs with side tables on the porch, patio tables in the sun or under umbrellas –  its a great place for everything from power lunches to a glass of wine or tea – with two very different dining concepts. At  The Summit Room, Chef Martin doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible and  my new favorite – a quenelle (or oval shaped scoop) of chicken liver mousse atop a house made waffle with candied and pickled fruit and microgreens is a real winner! The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

va de vie logo

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Finally, the newest patio on our list for today, at just a month old, is to be found in the unlikeliest of locations: the center of the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot!  This free standing building  with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond,  pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato at Va da Vie Gelato, 4203 Park Road 980.201.9159  … owners John and Wendy Paglia use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts –  no chemicals or preservatives.  As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment.  During the heat of the  day enjoy the cool marble-lined comfort inside; and  in the evening mix and mingle on the patio with friends and neighbors of all ages, comparing flavors and deciding which one you will order next. Va da Vie Gelato on Urbanspoon

 

To watch the restaurant segment that  inspired this blog post and originally aired on WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today, simply click on the  caption of the photo of Toscana’s beautiful Italian Patio, then go out and enjoy al fresco dining in Charlotte for yourself.

 

 

Squash ‘N Swine: Its the semi finals round one between Chef Phil Barnes of Roosters and Chef Brent Martin of The Peculiar Rabbit. The closest match up yet, Barnes slides into the finals by a .29 of a point spread!

It was Battle Pope & Son Farms ‘Winter Squash & Cheshire Pork Butts and Loins

Strategy session for team Roosters

Strategy session for team Roosters

Strategy session for Team Peculiar Rabbit

Strategy session for Team Peculiar Rabbit

It was the first night of the Fire in the City Competition Dining semifinals and now with only two more nights in the series; it all seems as if  this past month and half since it all started has just flown by.

The evening of October 14 found chef Phil Barnes and his team Zach Renner and Ryan Daugherty from Rooster’s in the kitchen up against Chef Brent Martin and his team Geoffrey Frederick Bragg and Andrew Melton from The Peculiar Rabbit – A Jackalopes Restaurant.

I knew from the get go that it would be a close battle as these chef all had their A game going and more.

The secret ingredients (plural) were North Carolina’s seasonal winter squash from NC’s Pope & Sons Farms – acorn, spaghetti and butternut squash to be more specific…

Pope & Sons butternut squash

Pope & Sons butternut squash

Pope & Sons Acorn Squash

Pope & Sons Acorn Squash

Pope & Sons Spaghetti Squash

Pope & Sons Spaghetti Squash

chesireporkLOGO3And, as is the case in many Competition Dining dinners – the announcement of this first secret ingredient this night was  followed with the phrase…but, that’s not all.
This night NC Cheshire Pork pork tenderloin and pork butt were also in the list of secret ingredients.

So, here were the rules for the chefs from Roosters  and The Peculiar Rabbit this evening – every dish had to include at least one squash and a minimum of two of each team’s dishes needed to include pork.

Area sales staff from Southern Foods - from left Todd, Robert, Jon and GT

Area sales staff from Southern Foods – from left Todd, Robert, Jon and GT – join the chefs each morning before the competition.

The infamous Mobile Pantry

The infamous Mobile Pantry

The area sales staff from Southern Foods was there for the noontime chefs meeting to lend their support as they have been for each and every Competition Dining dinner.

Pate Dawson – Southern Foods is the title sponsor for the competition providing all the condiments, produce and product in the Competition’s now well-known mobile pantry.

One of the rules of the game is that chefs must only work with the produce and product stocked fresh for  each battle direct form Pate Dawson – Southern Foods to  the mobile pantry.  Each team of three chefs arrive early to check out what the pantry may hold this day and to refresh themselves with the layout of the Bonterra Dining and Wine Room kitchen.

In the true spirit of Competition Dining, all six chefs help to plate all six plates during service

In the true spirit of Competition Dining, all six chefs help to plate all six plates during service

The chefs had a ton of fun and joked around a bit at the start of this the first of the semi final battles, but took the task at hand very seriously and cooked like they have never cooked before.
In the end the spread was by less than a third of a point – .29 to be exact – the tightest battle in the competition so far. The win went to Phil, Zach and Ryan.

Chef Phil Barnes from Rooster’s goes to the finals of Fire in the City on Monday October 21 up against Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill. Can’t wait! But first lets recap this the first of the semi final battles.

Herein lies this night’s tale of squash and swine…

Course one for the team at The Peculiar Rabbit

Course one for the team at The Peculiar Rabbit

Course 1 was from Chef Brent Martin – a small pool of Pope & Son Farms Butternut Crema, slightly sweet, topped with a savory rich Pumpkin Ale Braised Cheshire Pork Butt and Apple & Red Cabbage Choucroute or sauerkraut. A nice way to start.

Course Two from Chef Phil Barnes

Course Two from Chef Phil Barnes

Course 2 from Chef Phil Barnes looked similar to course one in terms of presentation but yielded a totally different flavor. The pork choice here was a Wood Grilled Smoked Cheshire Pork Loin nicely done and served sliced over a Pope & Son Farms Butternut Squash Agrodulce ( a sauce or side with a sweet and sour flavor) with Acorn Squash Puree, Watercress and a lovely crunch of Fried Parsnips on top.

Course three from Chef Brent Martin

Course three from Chef Brent Martin

In Course 3, Chef Brent Martin moved from pork butt to pork loin and in this dish used the Cheshire Pork Belly to stuff the Pork Loin. The roulade of pork sat atop some delicious Chorizo Collards
Pope & Son Farms Acorn Squash Custard, Beet Reduction
Sweet Pepper & Cherry Agrodulce, Crispy Spaghetti Squash on top –  hard to pick just one this night but this was perhaps my favorite plate of the evening and  high scorer for Chef Martin.

Course Four from Chef Phil Barnes

Course Four from Chef Phil Barnes

Course 4 from Chef Phil Barnes was a heartier course, a Cheshire Pork and Pumpkin Ale Sugo (or Romanesco Tomato sauce) with
Pope & Son Farms Spaghetti Squash Pasta, Roasted Red Peppers and  Pickled Apples – a clever play on a pasta & sauce and a favorite of many diners in attendance.

Course five from Brent Martin

Course five a dessert plate  from Brent Martin

Course 5 was the dessert from Chef Brent Martin. As chefs this evening were not required to include pork in all three dishes, Martin elected to do without for dessert and instead focus on incorporating the squash. His cheesecake was delicious, but the way-too-much gelatin in the chocolate and butternut squash mix which wrapped the round of cheesecake was a disaster. Pro judges at my table agreed that the dish would have been so much better had he left the chocolate off and somehow incorporated the squash in the cheesecake. The plate was finished with a tasty Blackberry Compote, a Strawberry Coulis,  and round of crunch in the “Biscuitti” which topped the plate.

The dessert plate from Chef Phil Barnes

The dessert plate from Chef Phil Barnes

Chef Ref  Billy Seay portions out the rum

Always there to help when they can, Chef Ref Billy Seay portions out the rum

In Course Six, Chef Phil Barnes and the Roosters’ team decided to press themselves and include both secret ingredients – pork and squash in their final dish. Barnes’ Pope & Son Farms Butternut Squash Semifreddo worked will with a side tart of Baba Au Rhum, topped with a fabulous Cheshire Pork Cherry Apple Jam – I could have eaten a bowlful of this porkcentric condiment alone.

The plate was finished with a Acorn Squash Coulis

Jimmy Crippens interviews Chef Phil Barnes after the first semi final  of squash and swine

Jimmy Crippen interviews Chef Phil Barnes after the first semi final of squash and swine

Ending scores were so close it could have been anyone’s game right up until the end when Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen announced the final scores- Chef  Phil Barnes – 19.402 and Chef Brent Martin 19.114! Congrats and Kudos to all six chefs for a great evening of fun and fabulous food!

int he house for the first of the semi final battles of Competition Dining's Fire in the City from left - Art Gallagher from J&W university, official blogger, Heidi Billotto and Roosters' own Chef Jim Nobles

In the  house for the first of the semi final battles of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City from left – Art Gallagher from J&W University; official blogger, Heidi Billotto and Roosters’ own Chef Jim Nobles

In the house this night – Professional Judges  for the evening, Art Gallagher, President of Johnson & Wales University, Chef Marc Jacksina of the soon to be open Nan and Byron’s on South Blvd. and  foodie Amy Rogers of WFAEeats, with special celebrity guest Michelle Boudin of WCNC. – A pleasure to see  all them in attendance.

For more information on Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen, located at 6601 Morrison Blvd, Charlotte; 704.366.8688 with a sister restaurant Roosters Uptown at 150 N College St, Charlotte; 704.370.7667, visit www.RoostersKitchen.com  Rooster's Wood-Fired Kitchen on Urbanspoon

For more information on The Peculiar Rabbit (celebrating its one year anniversary this month), and located at 1212 Pecan Ave  Charlotte; 704.333.9197, visit  www.ThePeculiarRabbit.com

Competition Dining T-shirts available at every dinner and online for all shapes and sizes!

Competition Dining T-shirts available at every dinner and online for all shapes and sizes!

the Official Competition Dining T-Shirt - get yours today!

the Official Competition Dining T-Shirt – get yours today!

For information on purchasing your very own Competition Dining North Carolina grown and manufactured T-shirt, visit competitiondining.com

Battle Lusty Monk Mustard finds Chef Nicholas Daniels, Wooden Vine up against Chef Brent Martin, Peculiar Rabbit. Robust Mustards for the Passionate palate lead Chef Brent Martin to a spot in the semi finals

and the secret ingredient for this battle was Lusty Monk Mustard

…and the secret ingredient for this battle was Lusty Monk Mustard

nc comp diningThe month of October kicked off with the last three battles of the Quarter Finals of  the inaugural season of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City…here is  recap of the action from Tuesday Oct 1, 2013.

It was a  brawny battle between Chef Nicholas Daniels and his team from Wooden Vine vs Chef Brent Martin and his team from  Peculiar Rabbit; and the secret ingredient for this second night of quarter final action – mustard!

Indulge, repent, repeat…. is the tag line for Lusty Monk Mustard; and so it goes and so it was at Competition Dining’s Battle Lusty Monk Mustard.

These diners toast to a fun evening of Competition Dining - Charlotte's newest team sport!

These diners toast to a fun evening of Competition Dining – Charlotte’s newest team sport!

125 or so lucky diners feasted on six fine courses of fare, each centered around the sweet, spicy hot flavors of NC’s own Lusty Monk Mustard. The question on each individual diner’s mind was how well did each chef incorporate the unique taste  of this mustard into each of their three required dishes for the competition.

Lusty Monk Mustards are fresh-ground, hand-crafted, and full of fire but full of flavor as well which made them a perfect secret ingredient for this night of the quarter finals of Fire in the City Competition Dining between teams from the Wooden Vine led by chef Nicholas Daniels and The Peculiar Rabbit led by Chef Brent Martin.

Lusty Monk is a family-owned, quality-conscious company, devoted to the idea that condiments should never be boring. They lovingly craft the mustard in small batches, and the company encourages their collective brethren to slow down and savor each bite.

Chef Nicholas Daniels from The Wooden Vine comes up with plan for the evening

Chef Nicholas Daniels from The Wooden Vine comes up with plan for the evening

All six chefs worked to plate each of the six courses for the evening

All six chefs worked to plate each of the six courses for the evening

While Quarter final Competition Diners did just that and enjoyed the fare immensely;  the action in the kitchen was anything by slow – what these guys turned out was terrific and the scores were very close. With a half point spread, Martin and the team from Peculiar Rabbit had what it took to really cut the mustard and took the lead.

Chef Martin and team Peculiar Rabbit move into the semi finals to battle Chef Phil Barnes and the Roosters team on Monday Oct 14. Here is how the evening played out….

Course One from team Wooden Vine

Course One from team Wooden Vine

Course one started the evening with a roulade of NC Flounder Stuffed with Burn In Hell Maple Leaf Farms Duck Chorizo &  a Farro and Duck Crackling Hash with a Confit of Orange Salad with Asparagus, all finished with an Altar Boy Serrano Beurre Blanc
This was the first plate out for Chef Daniels and while flavors were good, the fish was slightly over cooked – a tough break right out of the gate.

Course Two from Team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Two from Team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Two was Chef Martin’s first course of the evening. The Arugula Salad with Confit of Manchester Farms Quail was nice, but for me the star of the plate was the innovative Crispy Fingerling Chips made with a leaf of sage sandwich in between two thin slices of potato (more please!)

These unique fingerling  and herb potato chips topped the salad in course two

These unique fingerling and herb potato chips topped the salad in course two

The salad was finished with a tremendous Pickled Radish Original Sin & Bacon Vinaigrette Oyster Mushroom Confit – a great use of this night’s secret ingredient and Martin’s scores on this dish reflected that!

Course Three from Chef Brent Martin

Course Three from Chef Brent Martin

Course 3 was also from Chef Brent Martin and like the first course featured  NC Flounder but this time scallop stuffed and served  with a fabulous Crawfish & Maine Lobster Beignet in a Golden Beet & Sweet Pepper Reduction and a Burn In Hell Chipotle Mustard Aioli – all topped with a smooth and delicious Scallop Mousse with Brunoise Tomato – a high scoring plate for team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Four from Team Wooden Vine

Course Four from Team Wooden Vine

Course 4 went back to Chef Nicolas Daniels and centered around a Sundried Tomato & Original Sin Stone Ground Mustard Rubbed Veal Tenderloin with a side of Altar Boy Honey Mustard Ravioli stuffed with a House Made Ricotta-Arugula Pesto sauced with an Apple Mustard Soubise (a béchamel with an oniony base) and a bit of Charred Swiss Chard. The ravioli here, on my plate slightly undercooked,  proved a hard call for Chef Daniels although the combination of the home made ricotta and the mustard was brilliant. The veal, though, was sadly tough and this was  likely the plate that took Daniels down.

Mustard for dessert? But of course, and interestingly, the fine flavors in the trio of Lusty Monk Mustards available to the chefs made a sweet course very workable.

Course Five from Team Wooden Vine

Course Five from Team Wooden Vine

Course Five came from chef Nicholas Daniels and was comprised of a Chocolate Brownie topped  with a Burn In Hell Chipotle Mustard & Almond Brittle which was indeed the star of the plate!  A side of Bourbon Ice Cream with Root Beer Caramel & Citrus Blackberry Gastrique finished the dessert.  Daniels had me at the brittle – he could box and sell it if he had a mind.

Our second dessert of the evening was the night’s final course. Don’t you just love Competition Dining – the edible sport where one dessert isn’t enough – but I digress…

Course Six from Team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Six from Team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Six was a Altar Boy Honey Mustard Buttermilk Panna Cotta from Chef Martin dressed with a Recuerdo Malbec Gelee, and  Walnut Biscotti Crumble. The plate was finished with a
Prickly Pear Gastrique and Poached Asian Pear

The scores were close and it could have been anyone’s game. While congratulations go to both teams for a dinner well played, it was Chef Brent Martin and team Peculiar Rabbit who would continue on to cook another day.

Quarter Final Battle Mustard Champion, Chef Brent Martin from Peculiar Rabbit

Quarter Final Battle Mustard Champion, Chef Brent Martin from Peculiar Rabbit

Making a surprise guest appearance this night was this food writer's husband, Tom Billotto- Cheers!

Making a surprise guest appearance this night was this food writer’s husband, Tom Billotto- Cheers!

For more information on The Peculiar Rabbit located at 1212 Pecan Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205; 704.333.9197, visit www.thepeculiarrabbit.com

For more information on The Wooden Vine, located at 231 N Tryon St  Charlotte, NC 28202;
704.376.8463, visit www.thewoodenvine.com  

For more information on Lusty Monk Mustard, visit www.lustymonk.com

For more photos from Battle Lusty Monk Mustard and all the Competition Dining Fire in the City Dinner – visit and “Like” Competition Dining on Facebook!

Battle A. B. Vannoy Hams with Chef Brent Martin from The Peculiar Rabbit and Chef Tom Dyrness from Upstream Seafood. Martin edged Dyrness by just over 1 point!

Last night’s Battle A. B. Vannoy Country Hams was a close one.  It came down to the scoring of the last dish before it was clear that Chef Brent Martin from The Peculiar Rabbit would take this win.

The team from The Peculiar Rabbitt

The team from The Peculiar Rabbit

Cooking for team Peculiar Rabbit along with Chef Martin, were Chefs Geoff Bragg and Andrew Melton; cooking for team Upstream Seafood was Chef Tom Dyrness with Chefs Sean Anderson and Brian Williams. 

The team from Upstream Seafood

The team from Upstream Seafood

I was there for the noon welcome to the chefs and the presentation of the  secret ingredient.

Prior to that, chefs had already some time to look around the kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room, a neutral ground and beautiful “battlefield” for each of these Fire in the City Competition Dining dinners.  The chefs were given time to explore the mobile pantry, provided by the Competition’s title sponsor Pate Dawson – Southern Foods and  stocked full of fresh and shelf stable items with which to cook. They also were encouraged to  take inventory of ingredients and equipment and get a feel for the set up.

I asked chefs for any first impressions of the day – they were all excited, ready to begin and eagerly anticipating the presentation of the secret ingredient. ” It will either be pure joy or shear terror,” said Chef Williams from team Upstream Seafood.

As Competition Dining creator, Jimmy Crippen announced that the secret ingredient this day was Country Ham, all six chefs on both of the teams  looked  pleased. Chef Brent Martin from Peculiar Rabbit told me he was happy, but that the idea of including  country ham in each dish, had thrown his dessert idea out the window – “But, we’ll regroup,” he told me. And regroup they did – more about that in a bit.

Nancy Jordon in t he Curing room with country hams from A.B. Vannoy Hams

Nancy Jordon in t he Curing room with country hams from A.B. Vannoy Hams

from left - Byron Jordon, Tom Dyrness, Nancy Jordon and Brent Martin

from left – Byron Jordon, Tom Dyrness, Nancy Jordon and Brent Martin

A Ham so good, it’ll….

It is no wonder that the chefs were pleased with the secret ingredient. Cured and distributed from A.B. Vannoy in West Jefferson, NC, these hams are slow-cured to insure a quality product. Each ham is hand rubbed with what owners Byron and Nancy Jordon deem to be just the right blend of salt and  brown sugar  then  are hung on racks to complete a 9-month curing process.   Unlike other country hams  there are no chemicals, preservatives, nitrates, or nitrites involved in the process at all. Just salt, brown sugar, fresh mountain air and time.

Gotta love it!  And Rick Stapleton, VP and General Manager – Greensboro for Pate Dawson – Southern Foods does! What does Rick think of this particular Secret Ingredient?

Heidi Billotto, official blogger for Fire in the City, with Pate Dawson-Southern Foods' Rick Stapleton and Bryon and Nancy Jordon ( seated.

Heidi Billotto, official blogger for Fire in the City, with Pate Dawson-Southern Foods’ Rick Stapleton and Bryon and Nancy Jordon ( seated)

I tweeted this quote  out last night during dinner, but in case you missed it, Rick says, ” This country ham is so good, it’ll make your tongue slap your brains out!”

Maybe, Rick; but as good as each individual NC grown product turned secret ingredient is – it is what the competing chefs do with the product that matters in these culinary battles.

Each of the six chefs from The Peculiar Rabbit and Upstream seafood worked the line to get everything plated and out to 120 hungry diners.

Each of the six chefs from The Peculiar Rabbit and Upstream seafood worked the line to get everything plated and out to 120 hungry diners.

This group of six chefs worked hard to bring out the nuances of the ham and make it work with a combination of good-tasting ingredients.

If your singular country ham experience has been on a biscuit for breakfast – you are in for a wild ride as you read the descriptives below. Each bite of each dish was full of flavor and while some dishes highlighted the ham more than others, each dish enjoyed high scores.

While chef teams prepped and cooked individually during the fast moving 6 hours prior to the dinner, they all helped each other plate and serve 120 hungry diners who enjoyed each innovative course.

While it is a competition, its also a time for chefs to work together and get to know each other. Of course, everyone wants the win, but  it’s nice to know that these chefs do have fun in the process.

Davyee Sutton from WCNC-TV covering all the action

Dayvee Sutton from WCNC-TV covering all the action

And the crowd had fun too – while everyone in attendance get to vote, there are a group of three professional judges invited each evening  and  their vote is slightly weighted. Among the “Pro” judges this night were Owner and Executive Chef of Zebra Restaurant, Chef Jim Alexander;  Linda Seligman of Charlotte Epicurean Magazine and Craig Utt of Axis Marketing. All were impressed with the venue, the concept and the culinary results.

WCNC-TV’s Dayvee Sutton was also on hand with photographer Matt taping all the action for a spot to run later this week or next on WCNC’s midday program, Charlotte Today.

Plates Please Collective Palates

Tom Dyrness' Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

Tom Dyrness’ Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

The evening started with a light and delicious plate from Team Upstream seafood and chef Tom Dyrness –  the broth was quite flavorful and while it was a simple presentation, the ham wrapped shrimp sealed the flavor deal for me.

Course 1 Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp, Country Ham Corn Pudding, Chili Oil, Curled Chives from Chef Brent Martin

Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp, Country Ham Corn Pudding, Chili Oil, Curled Chives from Chef Brent Martin

Course 2 – Interestingly this was also a shrimp and corn creation but this time by Chef Brent Martin and the Peculiar Rabbit team, The dish was comprised of  Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp atop Country Ham Corn Pudding with  Chili Oil and fun Curled Chives. This dish garnered high marks from the judges and the crowd both in taste and presentation and with that melt-in-your-mouth Country Ham Corn Pudding its no wonder – more please!

Palmetto Quail & Country Ham Roulade  with a NC White BBQ Sauce and a puree of Apple & Rutabaga

Palmetto Quail & Country Ham Roulade with a NC White BBQ Sauce and a puree of Apple & Rutabaga

Course 3 was from Chef Tom Dyrness and was the other high scoring plate of the evening  and another of this food writer’s faves-  a clever Palmetto Quail and  Country Ham Roulade sat front and center on the plate atop of round of braised leek. The roulade was finished with a NC White BBQ Sauce alongside a puree of Apple & Rutabaga – intricate, innovative and delicious, too!

Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust,  Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree

Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust, Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree

Course 4 from Chef Brent Martin – A Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust,  Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree. Honestly, too much on this plate for me and the tang of the mustard overpowered the taste of the country ham.  While the dish scored well, it was Martin’s lowest scoring plate of the evening.

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…And then there were desserts! Yes desserts, each made with  the A.B. Vannoy Country Ham. Nancy and Bryon Jordon were blown away  with these two incarnations of their hand rubbed and slow cured pork and so was  everyone else! 

Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream

Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream

Course 5 – From Tom Dyrness of Upstream Seafood –  Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream –  Yes country ham ice cream…for me it was the mix of sweet and salty that made it all work

 

Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham

Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham

In Course 6 from Chef Brent Martin – an Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham scored just point higher than Dyrness’ dessert and helped him capture the win.  If  you are asking, I think it was the oh, so, clever sparkling cider Jell-O shots that nailed it.

At Evening’s end the win went to Chef Brent Martin  and the team from Peculiar Rabbit. Congrats, Brent!!    They will go on to compete in the quarter finals on October 5 against the team from Wooden Vine.

Ticket Sales and T-Shirts

the Official Competition Dining T-Shirt - get yours today!

The Official Competition Dining T-Shirt – get yours today!

As the word is spreading, the tickets for each night are selling fast. Tickets are still available for most of the quarter final rounds and a few other nights as well. To make your reservations and secure a place at the table for more good things to come – visit the NC Competition Dining – Fire in the City page on this blog and click the links to reserve your space. Do it now – you don’t want to miss out!

And in support of the competition by sure to order your own official Competition Dining T-Shirt! These made in NC tees come in two colors and a variety of men’s and women’s sizes.

The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series is teaming up with TS Designs in Burlington, NC to bring you our 100% North Carolina-born-and-raised apparel. Our shirts are made with TS Designs’ “Cotton of the Carolinas.” The cotton is produced “dirt-to-shirt” right here in the state, and the company supports 500 jobs within a 600-mile radius.

Competition Dining T-shirts available at every dinner and online for all shapes and sizes!

Competition Dining T-shirts available at every dinner and online for all shapes and sizes!

Visit cottonofthecarolinas.com to trace the supply chain and meet fellow North Carolinians behind all nine steps of the manufacturing process, from growing to ginning to dying.

We are all a community of chefs, farmers, or diners. Support your neighbors and wear the shirt!

For more information on The Peculiar Rabbit located at 1212 Pecan Ave in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, 704.333.9197, visit www.ThePeculiarRabbit.com

For more information on Upstream Seafood located at 6902 Phillips Pl Ct., 704.556.7730, visit http://www.harpersgroup.com/upstream.asp

For more information on those delicious slow cured country hams – visit www.abvannoyhams.com