February Nibbles and Sips

A quick post as we say goodbye to February and head into March of 2014, my way of sharing a taste or two of several of my favorite Nibbles and Sips  for your consideration, all making news in and around Charlotte, North Carolina 

NC's own soft drink, Cheerwine, marries Cackalacky,  NC's favorite sweet potato condiment to make a sweet hot sauce you are sure to love

NC’s own soft drink, Cheerwine, marries Cackalacky, NC’s favorite sweet potato condiment to make a sweet hot sauce you are sure to love

Its not wacky, its Cackalacky!

The creative and oh so, innovative, Page Skelton, creator of the Cackalacky brand,  first crafted his original zesty, award-winning Cackalacky condiment, dip, and topping from North Carolina-grown sweet potatoes and began to market it ten years ago. The  “famously original” Cacklacky Spice Sauce debuted in 2003.

In 2013, Skelton decided to give his zesty Cackalacky a softer side and so conceptualized a sweet version of his popular sauce.   It was important to Page to continue to keep his product all local.  “I wanted to keep it local and looked for a sweet North Carolina-made product to add to my original sauce – Cheerwine came to mind, and it was a no brainer from there,” Skelton explained.     Brad Porter of  Salisbury NC- based Cheerwine told me that, “It just seemed like a good idea that would really work.”

And work it has! The sweeter Cackalacky sauce has proven to be every bit as popular as the original brand and now starting Friday Feb 28, the sweet hot sauce that has taken North Carolina by storm will be available in the Charlotte market at Costco Wholesale in Charlotte. On Friday, Feb. 28 at 500 Tyvola
Road, Charlotte NC, shoppers can sample the product during regular business hours all weekend  through March 2. The introduction of the North Carolina-born condiment in Charlotte is a part of a statewide rollout of the new
condiment to all Costco locations throughout North Carolina.

Don’t live in North Carolina? Don’t worry – you can order all the wonderful Cackalacky products plus lots of fun Cackalacky swag, online at www.cackalacky.com

…And the new restaurants just keep on coming – French, Farm to Fork and Fahrenheit – just to name a few –

Charlotte is on a roll with new excellent chef -driven restaurants opening at every turn. For March, on your list of must tries must be…

lumiereLumiere French Kitchen -is the newest  culinary adventure by  Chef Tom Condron and Matthew Pera. These two long time Charlotte culinarians, owners of the very successful gastropub, The Liberty on South Blvd, have taken dining out in Charlotte up a notch.  Lumiere French Kitchen is located in the heart of Myers Park in Charlotte, NC at 1039 Providence Rd and brings modern French cuisine to the Queen City. Lumiere is open Tues-Sat from 5-10 for dinner. Reservations by calling 704.372.3335 or visit http://lumieremyerspark.com/ Lumiere on Urbanspoon

For more casual gastropub dining, with award winning, chef-driven American cuisine, a fabulous selection of beers  and more than 2 dozen wines by the glass. Turn to Lumiere’s sister restaurant, The Liberty, Charlotte’s first Gastropub,  1812 South Blvd, in Charlotte, NC; 704.332.8830. Open for Lunch and dinner and late night, too. For more information visit http://thelibertycharlotte.com/ The Liberty on Urbanspoon

heirloomHeirloom Restaurant – Its Farm to Fork in the Coulwood neighborhood of Charlotte.  Chef Clark Barlowe, a relatively recent graduate of Johnson & Wales with a ton of top notch creds, has a mission to serve hyper local cuisine as the focal point of his new restaurant Heirloom.

On the menu: a of North Carolina-driven theme as Barlow procures local ingredients from across the state. With Barlowe at the helm and  French trained Pastry chef Joselyn Perlmutter on the team – this food writer has high hopes for this  brand new all local spot. Heirloom is located at 8470 Bellhaven Boulevard Charlotte, NC; call 704-595-7710 for reservations or visit http://www.heirloomrestaurantnc.com/ Heirloom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

fahrenheitAnd finally, the much anticipated Fahrenheit Restaurant at SKYE Condominiums in Uptown Charlotte. Owned by Chef Rocco  Whalen, the Queen City sister restaurant to Whalen’s Cleveland, Ohio Fahrenheit will open in Charlotte NC on Monday, March 3  at 4pm.
The restaurant is located at 222 South Caldwell  Street, at the corner of Third and Caldwell  Streets, but you must look up from the entrance of the Hyatt Place Hotel to see Fahrenheit Charlotte, as it is located  on the rooftop of this unique mixed used  development.
The spacious 8,600 square foot restaurant  is beautifully dressed with distressed wood  tables, quartz columns and  ultra modern light  fixtures.  Private dining  facilities are fit with the latest technology, should a private lunch or dinner business meeting feel the need, and allow seating  for up to  60.

A spectacular ceiling mural of the  Fahrenheit logo greets guests as they step off the  elevator onto the 21st floor and glass walls surround the restaurant on all sides. The “walls” off the bar, open up to the roof area patios and herb gardens with 360 degree views of  Charlotte.  Fabulous outdoor linear fire pits  surrounding the restaurant add to the immediate experience of the truly incredible panoramic  view.

Chef Rocco Whalen

Chef Rocco Whalen

Not only is the Fahrenheit layout a must see, but Chef Whalen’s menu is a must try. I was fortunate to have a “First Bite” tasting several weeks ago, when the restaurant space was still under construction and Whalen’s way with flavor and his well-honed skill and technique  are spot on.   The menu focuses on  American regional cuisine, with Mediterranean and delightful unexpected  Asian accents which will keep your taste buds popping.  Whalen incorporates local, seasonal  and sustainable ingredients.  New to Charlotte and continually traveling back and forth from his Cleveland enterprises, Whalen has worked hard to develop relationships with many local North and South  Carolina purveyors.

Fahrenheit  Charlotte will be open daily for dinner and happy  hour beginning at 4pm starting March 3, and will  host many specialty events on location and  throughout the community.  Charlotte diners can look forward to everything from  Food Network Cookbook Dinners, where guests will  receive a signed s  cookbook to unique Food Truck events, featuring specialty recipes, celebrity guests and local food  purveyors. This April restaurant is participating in the  25th Anniversary of Charlotte Wine  & Food Weekend 2014 with a Vintner Dinner,  paired with Bure Family Wines on Thursday, April with the anticipation of everything Fahrenheit would bring to Charlotte,  this event is already a sell out!

For reservations at Fahrenheit call 980-237-6718 or visit http://www.chefroccowhalen.com/fahrenheit-charlotte for more information Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

home show promo2014 Southern Spring Show Cooking Stage –  Feb 28 -Mar 2 marks the second weekend of the Southern Spring Home and Garden show here in Charlotte at the Park Expo and Conference Center at 2500 East Independence Blvd.

I have had the pleasure of hosting the cooking stage for several years in a row and this year the line up of chefs with me on stage doing back to back cooking demonstrations every hour on the hour has been incredible.

Great fun, you should definitely plan on coming out and spending some time with us at the show this weekend.

This year, No more paper at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show cooking stage – or at least less paper – we’ve gone digital! This weekend’s cooking stage schedule and recipes from last weekend up online at CharlotteLiving.com! Just click on the photo of yours truly on the Charlotte Living magazine home page at www.CharlotteLiving.com! Links will take you to the complete schedule of chefs for this weekend and at the end of each day, to the recipes these talented chefs presented.

The recipes from the chefs who appeared onstage last weekend – Chef Paul Verica from Heritage Food and Drink, Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem, Chef Tim Groody from Fork!, Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill, Chef Greg Collier from The Yolk, Chef Ben Philpott from Block &Grinder, Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz-Carlton, Chef David Moore from the Gallery at Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge and more – are now up and available at CharlotteLiving.com –  Enjoy!

nada class and tom music 001Your Mom’s Donuts update –

Now you can enjoy the wonderful all local donuts I told you about months ago  at several locations around town. These truly  gourmet donuts are made with locally sourced ingredients, including organic, NC grown flour milled at Lindley Mill, grass fed dairy from Homeland creamery, pastured eggs from Bell’s Best Berries, and the donuts are fried in freshly rendered  leaf lard from The Naked Pig!

On  the weekends Your Mom’s Donuts are now a fixture on the breakfast and brunch menus at Chef Chris Coleman’s The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel and you can also get them on Saturday mornings a the Atherton Mill & market location of Not Just Coffee.

Starting in April, Courtney and Benjamin will also be selling their fresh made donuts every Saturday at the Matthews Community Farmers Market. Need a donut fix during the week? Your Mom’s Donuts delivers !!! You can place your order at yourmomsdonuts@hotmail.com and have them delivered to your door! The minimum  is 1 dozen and the cost is : 1 dozen $24; 2 dozen $45; 3 dozen $60; 4 or more $18/dozen

Let Courtney and Benjamin know by 4:00 the day before you want them as donuts are made every night fresh for delivery! Check out Your Mom’s Donuts Instagram or Twitter feeds – @yourmomsdonuts – for updated pictures and weekly flavors.

A Taste of Honey – Tupelo Honey Cafe gives back to the Charlotte community

Tupel Honey Cafe (Contributed)If you have been looking for an opportunity to try out Charlotte’sTupelo Honey Café NOW is the time. Today and tomorrow Tupelo Honey Café encourages Queen City diners to “Grab a bite and make a difference!”

The beautifully appointed and much anticipated restaurant, Tupelo Honey Cafe, opened its doors in December, and with the delicious food  and great service comes an investment in  the Charlotte community and a great partnership with the YWCA.

Tupelo Honey will bring nutritional education to the YWCA’s Families Together and Women in Transition programs, as well as our after-school and summer programs.

Tupelo’s Charlotte location will donate 20 percent of all restaurant proceeds from Monday, February 17 through Wednesday, February 19 to YWCA Central Carolinas in celebration of the 112th anniversary of the local organization. I encourage you to take advantage of these days, and enjoy a meal at Tupelo Honey’s amazing food….and these next few days its all for a great cause!

Tupelo's Southern Fried Chicken BLT

Tupelo’s Southern Fried Chicken BLT

This celebration will kick off Tupelo Honey’s long-term partnership with the YWCA. Tupelo Honey will routinely support programming for the YWCA’s Families Together, Women in Transition, Youth Afterschool and Youth Summer programs.

Tupelo Honey Café owner, Steve Frabitore

Tupelo Honey Café owner, Steve Frabitore

“The YWCA’s good work in Charlotte is magnified by the fact that they have been here for over a century,” said Tupelo Honey Cafe’s owner, Steve Frabitore. “They serve the community as its needs change, and we are happy to support them in their endeavors.”

“As we celebrate our 112th anniversary this month, we are thankful for a partner like Tupelo Honey and their support of the work we do to empower women and children in our community,” said Kirsten Sikkelee, YWCA Central Carolinas CEO. “We look forward to our ongoing partnership with them, as do our program participants who will get to sample some of Tupelo’s renowned recipes.”

Tupelo's signature Pecan Pie

Tupelo’s signature Pecan Pie

Tupelo Honey will host two community dinners this year for the residents of the Families Together and Women in Transition programs at YWCA’s Park Road location. Cooking demonstrations and educational nutritional programming at four YWCA Youth Learning Centers will also start in the spring of 2014.

Welcome to Charlotte, Tupelo! Love having you in town!

Charlotte’s Tupelo Honey Café is located at 1820 South Boulevard in SouthEnd. Hours are Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Friday 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Saturday 8:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sunday 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
The  bar is open until 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights.

For more information, menus, recipes, how to order Tupelo Honey Cafe’s cookbook  and more, visit the Cafe’s website at https://tupelohoneycafe.com/ Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon


I Heart You Happy Valentine’s Day

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIts a  little heart-shaped kiss of everyone’s favorite seasonal sweet…

Whether you are planning on saying “Be Mine” or “See Ya” to your sweetie this Valentine’s Day, there’s no easier way to put your thoughts together than through a few Conversation Hearts.

These heart-felt talkative treats are enjoyed by millions of Americans each year. In fact, Americans have been enjoying the candy we now call Conversation Hearts since the 1800s.

Made by several companies, the Sweethearts brand (my personal favorite) shares a history with another longtime favorite of mine,  the much loved NECCO Wafers. Daniel Chase created the idea for the first conversation hearts in 1866 by devising a machine that would press food dye letters onto the candy lozenges made famous by his brother and NECCO founder Oliver Chase. The Conversation Hearts we know and love today came to be in the early 1900s. hearts 2Today NECCO manufactures 8 billion Sweethearts year ’round to meet consumer demand.

From mid-February to January they produce about 100,000 pounds of the iconic candy hearts each day, which adds up to billions of candy hearts—more than enough for everyone in the world to have one. Through the years, the sayings on Conversation Hearts have been an edible reflection on how our culture has changed, but it is good to know that some of the original sayings are still in rotation, including “Be Mine,” “Be Good,” “Be True,” “Kiss Me.”

In honor of NECCO’s 150th anniversary, the original phrase “The One I Love” also reappeared in the mix. In the early 1990’s, NECCO’s then Vice President Walter Marshall began an initiative to update the sayings each year, retiring some while adding others. The first new phrase, in years was “Fax Me” which met with a bit of controversy from diehard Conversation Heart fans; but now you can find hearts that suggest a would be lover “email me”, “text me” and “tweet me”, too! ChocolateSweethearts

And they come in Chocolate and  are Gluten Free…Gotta Heart That!

While all Conversation Hearts have been certified Kosher and  gluten free from the beginning, the flavors have made changes with the times.  It all started with the original eight familiar flavors customers found in the company’s Necco wafers: orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen. Now there are just six different flavors of hearts in box.

dazzledsweetheartsWhile the classic flavors are mixed and boxed together, the Necco company also produces  separate boxes of chocolate Conversation Hearts,  and they are, like the rolls of chocolate NECCO wafers, this food writer’s personal favorite, as well.  But if you’d like something a little different, instead of enjoying the classics, you can also now buy sugar free Conversation Hearts and for those of you who really like to pucker up, enjoy the Dazzled tart Sweethearts in Pink Lemonade, Wild Berry Grape, Sour Apple, Watermelon, Extreme Tangerine and Blue Raspberry

Here’s how it rolls…

To make this sweet candy confection,  six simple ingredients -sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gum, colorings and flavoring –  are blended together into a mixing machine, one color and flavor at a time, until they turn into a soft dough.  The dough is fed into a machine that presses the dough until it is flat, a process called sheeting. The sheeted dough moves on to the cut and stamp station where  the sayings are applied on the dough and  a large machine cuts the dough into 100s of little  hearts. Next, the sheets of cut hearts go into a drying tunnel for about 30 – 45 minutes. The finished hearts are lightly dusted with cornstarch and moved to a drying area where they cool and harden during a twelve hour resting period. Once the hearts have cooled and dried, the starch is dusted off and flavors are mixed together to provide the assortment we find in each box or bag. Each year NECCO reports that they receive hundreds of saying suggestions from romantics, candy lovers and school kids, alike. 

Think you have a good conversation heart phrase to add to the collection?  Sweethearts NECCO is happy to accept suggestions for sayings from their consumers. Each saying can be no longer than two lines of four letters on the small hearts and two lines of six letters on the large motto hearts. You can either e-mail your suggestion to the company via their website at Necco.com,  or mail it to Sweethearts, NECCO, 135 American Legion Highway, Revere, MA 02151.

#TellThemHeidiSentYouWhy not surprise your sweetheart  or your best friend this Valentine’s Day with a box of conversation hearts and reservations at any one of my upcoming At Home with Heidi  cooking classes. The list is on the home page of my blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com – just shoot me an email  to make your reservation and I’ll be back in touch to confirm the delicious details.


Feeling Romantic? Six Sensational Spots to Dine with Your Valentine

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 - now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 – now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

As many of you know, each month I present a “where to dine” restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today program. Every 4-6 weeks the show’s producers and I select a topic or theme  and I choose 5-6 restaurants to chat about on air. As February is the month of hearts and flowers, this month’s challenge was to gather a group of Romantic restaurants to share with Charlotte Today viewers and this Blog’s readers.

There was a time in here in Charlotte  that gathering this many outstanding chef driven restaurants may have been a daunting task, but in 2014 there are lots of wonderful restaurants I could have put on this list – I chose the six that for me ( and my hubby Tom Billotto) have come to be the most romantic. For me, a part of that is that these are all chef-driven establishments, with chefs, sous chefs pastry chefs and line chefs who all cook from their hearts. That love and passion is conveyed in the cuisine, making dining out a true pleasure for the mind, body and soul.

No matter if you are just kindling or trying to respark the fire, Romance doesn’t just happen on Feb 14 – enjoy a romantic dinner any night of the week and know that  these fine dining establishments run wine tastings and dinners, special cooking classes and prix fixe menus at all different times of the year, as do many of Charlotte’s chef-driven and independent restaurants.  I’ve added notes about upcoming February events at each post as well as links to all of the restaurant websites at the end of this article, so start making plans now and plan  to try them all – There was never more wonderful time in the Queen City, with more possibilities  for  delighting in dining aux deux, than now…enjoy!

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

To enhance the video and the chat with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway, I ask restaurants to prepare a plate that I can pick up and assemble at the studio – its like having something special to share for show and tell.

Many thanks to all the featured restaurants chefs and sous chefs for helping me out with product for the February segment.  I wish I had taken more behind the scene shots this time. Chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs and restaurateurs gave me each component of the dish as well as a hand rendered drawing or quick tutorial at pick up as to how to assemble it all.

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

As this segment was on a Monday morning and most of these restaurants weren’t open on Sunday, chefs came in early Monday morning or prepped things for me late on Saturday night or actually came in on Sunday, to help it all come together.

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of their extra efforts to help me boast about the quality and high caliber that is now standard in the Charlotte restaurant arena . While these are not the only great restaurants in the Queen City, this group of six is great representation of all Charlotte has to brag about.

All of these restaurants are ranked at the top of lists of kudos, yielding recommendation’s not only from this food writer,  but from the likes of Zagat, AAA’s Four Diamond Awards in North and South Carolina, Open Table, the Wine Spectator, DiArona, The Food Network, AOL restaurant rankings, and more. Check individual websites for all the accolades.

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

To that end, it goes without saying that service, atmosphere and cuisine, too, are all spot on at each and every one of these places;  no such thing as a bad choice here.

Here is my short list of a half dozen of my favorite Romantic restaurants in Charlotte. The video from the Charlotte Today segment follows.

As I mentioned in the video, poet Ogden Nash wrote a little two line verse which said, “Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker!” take those two lines to heart and intertwine a dinner at any one of these restaurants and with a little help from Cupid, you’ll hit a home run for sure…

Bonterra logo

First on my list is Bonterra Dining and Wine Room. This may be the most romantic restaurant here for me because I met my husband Tom at a mutual friend’s wedding at Bonterra and my life has been a wonderfully romantic whirlwind every since. In fact, while we were married out of town, we had a big party after our wedding at Bonterra. Many couple in Charlotte have weddings, rehearsal dinners and big engagement parties at Bonterra. The historic building, refurbished and owned by John “JD” Duncan, was once an old church and simple has an air of romance about it. The dining room offers open seating at tables for 2 to 8 and can accommodate larger parties as well.

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra's hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra’s hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

Seating at the bar as well with over 200 outstanding wines offered by the bottle and by the glass. Its fun and romantic to each order a different by-the-glass pour and then share sips along with something from the bar bite menu or a cheese tray before dinner. The bottle of Robert Foley Petit Syrah is one of our favorites and I included it in the photo as a shout out to our good friend Bob Foley, winemaker extraordinaire!

With small tables au deux tucked in the alcoves, a  private balcony upstairs and a wine cellar downstairs for private dinners there are plenty of places to sit snuggled away from the main dining area if you would like a bit of privacy while you dine.

Coming soon at Bonterra – a “Girls Night Out” wine dinner on Wednesday Feb 5 featuring Ponzi Wines; regular bar specials each night; and a Thursday night wine dinner as a part of the upcoming Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend in April.

Bonterra Dining and Wine Room is located at 1829 Cleveland Ave. at East Worthington Ave.  Reservations: 704-333-WINE(9463).   Bar opens at 4:30 pm Monday-Saturday The Restaurant opens for dinner at 5:30 pm Monday-Saturday. For more info and to get on Bonterra’s newsletter list, visit www.BonterraDining.com  Bonterra on Urbanspoon

The McNinch House in Charlotte's historic Fourth Ward

The McNinch House in Charlotte’s historic Fourth Ward

Next up, for a romantic evening on the town, the McNinch House Restaurant. Located in Charlotte’s Historic Fourth Ward neighborhood, this Victorian-era house was originally home to  Charlotte Mayor Sam McNinch; now for the past 22 years it has been the McNinch House Restaurant.

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Beautifully appointed, the home is owned by Ellen Davis, a front runner on Charlotte’s ever growing culinary landscape. McNinch House recently won its 16th consecutive Four Diamond designation from AAA, is listed as one of the top “extraordinary” restaurants in America by Zagat’s Dining Guide. Davis was Charlotte’s original street vendor,  back in the late 1980’s early 1990’s as she sold hotdogs from a cart while the house was being renovated to become a restaurant on the main floor with her private residence on the floor above.

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto from McNinch's Chef William Parham

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto, one of McNinch’s most popular entrees, from McNinch’s Chef William Parham

There are no menus at the McNinch House. When you make a reservation, you order your entrée on the phone and then the rest of the meal is built around your selection using seasonal produce and proteins.

The restaurant offers several selections of prix fixe menus: A classic 7-course  menu which includes appetizer, soup, salad, sorbet, entrée, cheese and dessert for $99 per person ( plus beverages, tax and gratuity) or a 5-course  menu at $79 per person ++.

For Valentine’s they are offering an  all-inclusive package for two with a 6-course chef’s menu with wine pairings, for $450 per couple

McNinch House Restaurant is located in uptown Charlotte  at 511  N. Church St.  Phone:  704-332-6159. Open Tuesday – Saturday Reservations Required.  Seatings available  Tuesday-Thursday On the half-hour, 5:30 pm-8 pm;  Friday-Saturday On the Hour    5:30 pm-8 pm.  For more information visit, www.mcninchhouserestaurant.com McNinch House on Urbanspoon

Zebra 2My third suggestion for Valentine wining and dining is Zebra Restaurant in the SouthPark area.  Zebra offers fine continental cuisine with French influences. Since Inception, Zebra has been recognized with numerous honors and awards of distinction.  including OpenTable Diners Choice, Zagat Best Restaurant, Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence, and AAA Four Diamonds for eleven consecutive years.

With two adjacent dining rooms the restaurant also offers seating in a small intimate room off the bar  and when weather permits out on the beautiful, newly decorated patio. Owned by Chef Jim Alexander, Zebra serves breakfast lunch and dinner, is a great spot not only for romance but for the corporate breakfast and lunch crowd as well; and in addition Zebra is hosting several monthly wine dinners in the next several months. Zebra also offers on and off site catering for private parties and events – call the restaurant for details.

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

In the Charlotte Today  segment we featured Alexander’s signature salad at Zebra – a delightful presentation that will make your sweetie smile! Zebra sous chef Chris Wriggle gave me a quick tutorial on how to put it together and I believe I did Zebra proud. Local organic greens gathered in a tuille vase, dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette and  honey Dijon and finished with a garnish of local Tega Hills Farm’s micro greens. As delicious as it is beautiful.

Entertainment at Zebra – music always sets the mood for romance; so its nice to know that on most Friday nights in February, Zebra features live guitar music in the bar with a bar bites menu and tasty $12 wine flights. This month guitarist Harry Bell  performs on Friday Feb 7; and my favorite musician in town, Tom Billotto on guitar and vocals on Friday Feb 21 and Friday Feb 28 from 6-8 or 9 pm. if I am not working, I am usually in the crowd – the official groupie in the room – so I hope to see you there!

On Wednesday February 19, 2014 come to Zebra and enjoy a four course wine dinner featuring SCHWEIGER Vineyards.  The evening starts with an hors d’oeuvre reception followed by a four course dinner with wine pairings for just $75 per person ++.  RESERVATIONS REQUIRED, 704-442-9525

Zebra is located at 4521 Sharon Road, across from SouthPark Mall. For reservations and gift certificates, please call 704-442-9525. For more information visit www.zebrarestaurant.net Zebra Restaurant and Fine Catering on Urbanspoon

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

Fourth on my list of six is  a new restaurant run by a very talented long time Charlotte chef. After making a name for himself and honing is own sophisticated Southern style at The McNinch House,

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman is now the executive chef and director of food and beverage for The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel. Named in honor of Louis Asbury, Sr., the Charlotte architect who designed the Mayfair Manor—now The Dunhill Hotel—in 1929, The Asbury celebrates the best of what the South has to offer in ingredients, technique, creativity, and, of course, hospitality. The Asbury is a tribute to Chef Coleman’s southern roots and the culturally diverse community of the New South from which he draws inspiration.

Cheers to The Dunhill's bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

Cheers to The Dunhill’s bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

What could be more romantic? Its a fabulous hotel dining experience where you can whisk your Valentine away after dinner and maybe a nightcap a the bar to a hotel room right upstairs if you’ve got  a mind; and then go and enjoy the restaurant all over again with room service or breakfast downstairs in the morning. In fact, with a great baby sitter and tickets to a show or concert uptown  you could make it a one stop weekend for Valentine romance!

The Asbury boasts a wonderful little bar where bartender Pete Ladino  makes everyone feel right at home.  Go old school and enjoy a cocktail or  sip on a glass of wine and preview the cuisine with something from the bar bites offerings.  Once seated for dinner, you’ll be wowed with Chris’ eclectic Southern menu in the restaurant featuring as much local product as Chris can source.  And then be prepared to be blown away by the talent that is Asbury pastry chef Patty Greene.   Unable to select just one, I featured two of Patty’s desserts on the show – first a unique take on raspberry cheesecake and then a chocolate espresso cake, my oh my!

Patty Greene's chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene's raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

The Asbury serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.  In addition to the ground floor restaurant space, The Asbury caters unique, private dining experiences and hosts special events throughout its intimate second floor   Located in The Dunhill at 235 N. Tryon Street, the parking entrance for The Asbury and the hotel is just off 6th street. Call 704-342-1193 for dinner reservations or more info. For room reservations at The Dunhill call 704-332-4141 or visit www.TheDunhillHotel.com  The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Fifth up, another newbie for Charlotte diners from a much loved and admired chef – Bruce Moffett’s newest jewel in the Moffett Restaurant Group triple crown – Stagioni! After much success with Barringtons and Good Food on Montford Moffett opened Stagioni about a month ago now to rave reviews. The menu is decidedly Italian, with an all Italian wine list of delicious pours.  Moffett and his team lead by executive chef Larry Schreiber have kept true to traditional Italian recipes like porchetta, arrancini, homemade pasta, and wood-oven baked pizza but have  put their own little twist on things here and there.

A tray of Stagioni's snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

A tray of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

The menu at Stagioni – “four seasons of food”, is of course, seasonal; and as I have eaten my way through winter I cannot wait to see what’s in store for spring. For the Valentine segment, we features a board of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads, such as fava bean  spread, liver pate, puree of cauliflower with truffles, stuffed peppadew peppers, tapenade and more with flat bread toasts and delicious fried chicken skin “chips” – perfect for the two of you to share while you make your dinner choices.

The historic house was once home to  Blanche Reynolds-Gourmajenko who loved to entertain and the villa traditionally served as a grand place for people to gather at the parties and dinners Blanche hosted.  They say that Blanche loved the home so  much that she hasn’t left and her spirit haunts the estate.

Banche Reynolds -

Banche Reynolds-Gourmajenko

All I can say is that Blanche must be very happy having people gather round the tables in her home once again surrounded by good food and drink.  The softly lit small bar and dining room with open kitchen and seating in front of the wood burning pizza oven are all beautifully designed to keep the integrity of the original home, while offering a modern spin on dining out.

Stagioni is located at 715 Providence Rd. in the Eastover neighborhood. Call 704.372.8110 for reservations. For more information about the menu, the history of the home and links to Barrington’s and Good Food on Monford, Stagioni’s sister restaurants, visit http://stagioniclt.com/  Stagioni on Urbanspoon

passion 8Finally, the last of these six romantic dining spots, Passion 8 Bistro – the name says it all. A place that is passionate about local farms, food, and service. Owned by chef Luca Annunziata and his lovely wife Jessica, Passion 8 Bistro has plans to soon move from its tiny home in Ft. Mill to bigger newer but every bit as romantic, digs in Charlotte on Elizabeth Ave.  The group is still waiting for permits and construction to be finalized, but until the move Chef Luca and his culinary team Chef Matthew Krenz and chef Evan Micek, are still cooking up a storm in Ft. Mill, serving an all market menu every evening,  supporting nearly 50 local farms in North and South Carolina.

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

Get caught up in the passion this Valentine’s Day with a special prix fixe Valentine’s Day Dinner menu Friday, February 14th from 5:00pm to 10:00pm; 4 courses with choices for each course. $140 per couple. make your reservations now by calling 803-802-7455. For the Charlotte Today segment we shared one of the first plates from the Valentine menu – a perfectly seared scallop atop a rounded cake of grits, topped with a red cabbage slaw, crispy pancetta and Tega Hills Farm micro greens surrounded by a pool of Charon sauce – a béchamel flavored with tomato.

If you and your sweetheart enjoy cooking together, then start sharing the passion this weekend at a special Valentine’s cooking class at Passion 8 -Saturday, February 8th from 11:00am to 2:00pm  3 courses for $75 per couple with a champagne toast.

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

On the Charlotte Today segment I announced that Passion 8 would be featured on a new Food Network show  – Buy This Restaurant – to air Monday Feb 3. My mistake – the show premiered on Monday, but the Passion 8 segment actually airs on Wednesday, February 19th at 9:00pm on the Food Network    http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/buy-this-restaurant.html   Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, to make your reservations at Passion8 Bistro simply call the restaurant at 803-802-7455. Passion 8 is currently located at 3415 Hwy. 51 North – just three miles past the tiny historic downtown of Pineville, NC. For more information, visit http://www.passion8bistro.com/ Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Now, that you’ve read all about it,  click here to watch the video from my Valentine segment on Charlotte Today. I’ll be back for my monthly cooking segment on Charlotte Today on Thursday Feb 13, Channel 36 – 6 on cable –  with three great Valentine recipes for Fondue au Deux! See you then! Cheers!