Don’t Miss These September & October Nibbles and Sips

Tons of fun Food & Drink-centric Events In and Around Charlotte – Don’t Miss a single one!

Do you find yourself in transition from the carefree vacation-full season of summer to what can become a more hectic, more scheduled back-to-school season that starts with September and October and before you know it its November?  Whoa! Let me help you put on the breaks for just a second…

Make + A + Reservation

It’s time to make some plans to keep the fun stuff going. So today I offer you a list of ” and Sips”, a round up of 17 different food and drink events you can attend in the next two months.  Save the dates, Call Your Friends, Make your Reservations, Have Fun this Fall and keep checking  back for more Nibbles and Sips as new fun food-centric events hit the calendar! 

 Don’t forget to #TellThemHeidiSentYou….

imagesSeptember is North Carolina Wine Month!! So plan to spend September sipping, stomping and celebrating North Carolina’s many outstanding wineries and vineyards. With an entire month dedicated to tasting our wine, it’s the perfect time to pair your winery or vineyard visit with harvest festivals, grape stomps, special wine tasting tours and more. There are events at wineries across the state – too many to individually list here, but you will find a list of fun festivals on the NC Wine website here

4462defff12cf8d1eea3160c6d7ffbb0Thursday – Sunday, Sept 7-10 – The 2017 Yiasou Greek Festival, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox cathedral, 600 Eat Blvd. in Charlotte.  Charlotte’s Yiasou Greek Festival began in 1978 and since then has become one of Charlotte’s largest cultural events. It is eagerly anticipated by the Charlotte community each year. The Yiasou (the Greek word for Hello, Goodbye and Cheers) Greek Festival features Hellenic cultural exhibits, authentic Greek cuisine and homemade pastries, entertainment, live music and dancing, wine tastings, art, shopping and more. Experience the sights and sounds of Greece when you visit the 40th Annual Yiasou Greek Festival. It’s a time of the year when everyone can be Greek! Hours: Thurs., 11am – 9 pm; Fri/Sat., 11am- 10 pm; Sun., Noon-8pm For more info…

Order-Fire_S3E1-poster-663x1024Sunday Sept. 10th, noon  – The season premiere of Order/fire at Free Range Brewing – Chef Matthew Krenz of The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel is hot off of his NCRLA NC Chef Showdown Chef of the Year award, is the focus of Order/fire’s Season 3 premiere. These events are always a blast – Free Range offers a cash bar with beer and my friend, farmer and local producer Jamie Swofford’s non-alcoholic shrubs; while chef Matthew is making Krenz Ranch beef tacos – my oh my! The doors open at noon, the social hour begins at 1 pm and the screening starts at 2. No admission fee but there is a great raffle to enter, if you would like – generally $10 a ticket, $$ goes to a charity important to Chef Krenz.

downloadSeptember 13, 2017, 6:30 pm – Portuguese Wine Dinner – Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen, SouthPark. Chef Jim Noble and his team always do it right!  Look for this special evening to start with passed hors d’oeuvres followed by four courses of food paired with fabulous Portuguese wines. Cost $70 per person. Call 704.366.8688 to make a reservation. Seating is limited.

084d0ca7-3d20-4ff0-935b-3a307d095763

 

September 17, 2017, 6:30-9:30 pm – 5 course Mushroom menu at Heirloom Restaurant –   In celebration of the health department approved foraged mushroom consumption in a restaurant setting, Chef Clark Barlowe has prepared a 5 course tasting menu featuring some of his favorite finds and mushroom farming friends. Click here to reserve your seats

21034608_1541902652497378_4269546947028118295_n13091953_1344016235612340_6126695405623522528_nMonday September 18, 6:30-9:30 pm – Southern Beer + Southern Food –  The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel and Chef Matthew Krenz welcome Sean Lilly Wilson, owner and chief executive optimist at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC and Chef Kyle McKnight, Fullsteam’s Director of Food Operations all reunite once again to bring you a fabulous dinner of food and beer. I attended the dinner this talented trio did last year ( see the photo on the right with Sean and my friend Susan Dosier) and even though I am not a beer drinker ( with apologies to Sean), I had a fabulous time! This year  Raleigh entrepreneur and founder Steve Mangano of CurEat joins in the fun. CurEat is  the new restaurant-finding app you will all want to download to find out where your favorite chefs and foodies are eating out!

Cost of this Southern food and beer extravaganza is $65 per person. For reservations, call The Asbury at 704.342.1193

TOD46q6_

 

Sept 21 -24 in Greenville, SC Its time for another big annual gathering of foodies – Euphoria 2017!! Founded in 2006 by platinum-selling singer/songwriter Edwin McCain and restaurateur Carl Sobocinski, euphoria educates, entices, enlightens and entertains. The four-day event includes exclusive tasting events, intimate musical experiences, cooking demonstrations and wine seminars, as well as multi-course dinners and live music concerts and many  Charlotte area chefs such as Amy Fortes, Ashley Boyd, Blake Hartwick, Bruce Moffett, Scott Hollingsworth, Thomas Marlow, Clark Barlowe,  Matthew Krenz,  and more are taking part! Dedicated to excellence, euphoria features domestic and international wines, award-winning chefs, master sommeliers and renowned singer/songwriters. For more info, tickets, etc…

db_logo116sSunday September 24 , 2-5 pm – Heidi Billotto’s Hands-On On the Farm cooking class at Dancing Bees Farm in Monroe, NC.    Just Follow the Buzz and learn all about the Business of Local Bees with Master Beekeeper Jeff Knight. Robin Knight will be there, too, to share with us how she makes all the wonderful bees wax candles, lotions, bath scrubs and more. 5 honey-centric courses perfect for family dinners and entertaining too, make this class extra sweet. Assorted Table Wine Shop will be on hand to provide a wine pairing with each course.  Can’t wait to see you there!  Cost $85 Simply Email Heidi to make your reservations 

17098240_1659386481022112_7978105722794810790_nTuesday, September 26 at 6 PM – 9 PM –  A Caribbean Voyage –  Soul food sessions CLT – a dinner series featuring a group of very talented African American chefs and mixologists in Charlotte, Including Greg Collier, Michael Bowling, Sam Dotse, Jamie Barnes and DiSean Lamar Burns, just to name a few. Their goals are “to promote minorities in the hospitality industry, reclaim the ingredients of our heritage by redefining “soul food”, and donate to charities that help causes that directly affect our communities”   This Soul Food inspired dinner  will be  a progressive culinary journey to the Caribbean with 6 courses  The evening will be coupled with amazing beverage pairings and fantastic music! All of the proceeds from this dinner (like all Soul Food Sessions) will be donated to a local Non Profit that is making a positive impact in our community. This evening’s event will benefit Project 658 and their efforts in serving the refuge, immigrant, and poor of our City. Check out www.project658.com to find out  more. Cost is $80 per person. Link to get your tickets here. For more info visit the Soul Food Sessions CLT page on Facebook.

.

TOTN LOGO-1Wednesday, September 27, 2017 – Charlotte’s 22nd Taste of the Nation® for No Kid Hungry 2017 will  at the Fillmore Charlotte, 820 Hamilton Street.  Ensure that no kid goes hungry, whether in Charlotte or across the nation, by joining the city’s finest chefs, sommeliers and mixologists for a remarkable night of dining in support of No Kid Hungry’s work to end childhood hunger in America.   for the fourth year running, guests will have the opportunity to purchase a $20 raffle ticket which will correspond to one of over 100 bottles of wine!  The Wine Grab – always a popular part of this annual event – will be set-up in the bar closest to the Fillmore’s front doors so stop by when you first arrive because these bottles will go quickly!  Each donated bottle of wine ranges in retail value from $20 to over $100!  At the event itself,  mix, mingle, and enjoy food and drink prepared by more than 30 of Charlotte’s top chefs and mixologists.

VIP Admission : $120,  6:00pm – 9:30pm.  General Admission : $85, 7:00pm – 9:30pm  For more information, visit the website and follow Taste of the Nation Clt on all of their social media.

 

8112e840-ea24-4e43-8e44-1237232945f0September 29 & 30, 2017 – Time for a road trip to enjoy a great annual festival – The Carolina Jubilee, a two-day music festival in Harmony, North Carolina at VanHoy Farms.  The fun features local and national music acts, celebrity chefs including Executive Chef Clark Barlowe from Heirloom Restaurant, Carolina breweries, wineries and distilleries.   This is a family friendly event with kid’s activities provided by Discovery Place Kids and the option to camp on-site at VanHoy Farms. There is an a 5k and 10k the morning of September 30.      Tickets to one day of the festival are $35. Both days are $55. Both days and camping is $65. Children under 12 are free. Parking will be $10/car and cannot be paid in advance. Proceeds from the event benefit the Carolina Farm Trust. For more info…

HRG_ChefSaturday, September 30, 4pm-10pm – 25th Anniversary Bash at Harpers’ Restaurant, SouthPark Location. Seems just like yesterday I was writing that the doors opened at Harpers’ Restaurant and now it seems that 25 years have flown by! The restaurant is celebrating all month long with lots of specials you’ll enjoy, but don’t miss the fun when they throw their 25th Anniversary Bash on the 30th on Harper’s outdoor patio. There will be plenty of food and drink specials, like 25% off Bar Bites ALL day and a Tap Takeover by Winston Salem’s Foothills Brewery. Look for some of Foothill’s best sellers, such as Torch Pilsner, Jade IPA, Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout 2015 & 2016, plus a couple other surprises. Larkin & Gary Dodgen will supply live music from 4pm-7pm and Scott Smith will continue with entertainment on the patio, 7:30pm-10pm. Party-goers will be treated to gift card giveaways and great door prizes from Foothills Brewery. 

226b3d29fe926aabe2042398dc54bd4b_750x600
Thursday, October 5, 2017, 3PM “Outstanding in the Field” regional dinner at Renfrow Farms in Matthews
Host Farmer: Pressly Williams, Renfrow Farms, Matthews, NC (Charlotte)
Guest Chef: Adam Reed, Santé of Matthews, Matthews, NC

Adam Reed is one of farmer Pressly Williams’ favorite chefs and a longtime friend. That relationship bodes well for eaters in the field. Chef Reed’s Santé restaurant is across the street from Renfrow Hardware (est. 1900), and has been in the same spot since Adam answered an ad in the New York Times placed by a North Carolina lady looking to hire someone to run her restaurant. Adam moved his family down from NYC and changed the local food scene for good. The rest is accolades and good times. Before we sit down, Pressly will show us around her fields filled with okra and chard, figs and radishes, flowers and happy honeybees. Cost $215 per person Click here for reservations

upStreamFriday Oct 6, 6:30 pm – Upstream Restaurant’s 9th Annual Oyster Bash  Half-shell connoisseurs can reserve tickets now for this all-you-can-eat party that includes oysters from  around the world and pairs them with fabulous, interesting wines and sparklers.  Here’s what’s on the menu: raw oysters paired with incredible wines; Live entertainment; Fire roasted oysters—prepared New Orleans-style; A chance to Win a case of wine in a raffle to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry. Tickets:  $125 per person, inclusive. Reservations are limited and pre-payment for the event is required. Make your reservation online here.   For more info:  704.556.7730

first harvest of baby ginger - Windcrest farmSaturday Oct 7, 2017 – Heidi Billotto’s Hands-On On the Farm  Ginger harvest cooking class at Windcrest Farm in Monroe, NC, 3-6 pm – This class kicks off with an ginger-centric appetizer and aperitif and a toast to the season of all things ginger! Then the group is off on a walking tour of Windcrest Farm as we explore the lay of the land and visit all the greenhouses to see what is growing for the season. Most of our focus will be in the greenhouse filled with rows of ready to be dug ginger and turmeric. Class participants will learn how to harvest their own and can try a hand at digging if they would like.  Once we learn the farming and harvesting side of this year’s ginger season, we’ll head back to the garden shed where I will have a makeshift kitchen  all set up for all of use to work together to prepare 4 courses of  “Ginger-liciousness” with all of Windcrest’s fine local, USDA certified organic produce and the local protein and products of other producers as well. our friends at Assorted Table wine shop will provide wine pairings for each course.  Cost of the class is $85 per person. Simply email Heidi at Heidi@HeidiCooks.com to make your reservations.

90a40f2d-b135-4501-b4b7-64c102593be3Sunday Oct 8, 2-5 pm – At Home with Heidi Cooking Class – Gluten Free Gourmet – If you are tired of not being able to eat the pizza crust or pie crust, or the stuffing or the bread, then be tired no more. In this hands-on cooking class, we’ll work together prepare an entire meal – all of it gluten free from the appetizers right down to dessert and the bread in the bread basket. As always its as hands on as you would like to be – or if you want to watch, take it all in and eat and enjoy that’s fine too! Assorted Table Wine Shop will provide our wine pairings for each and every course. Cost is $75 per person Email Heidi at Heidi@Heidicooks.com to make your reservations. 

WineandTapasWeek-just-charlotteOct 13- 22, 2017 – Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week – Fall Edition . The first Charlotte Wine & Tapas week took place last spring and was a huge success – you can read about it in an article I wrote for Charlotte Living Magazine – The concept is a delicious one, its all about little plates, sharing and pairing food and wine. Many Charlotte restaurants participate with special menus and for $30 or $35 you get a trio of little plates to enjoy on your own or share with your friends. You’ll be hearing more from me as the event gets closer – just pencil these dates on your calendar so you won’t miss a single bite!

DI_wEiCWsAIweIjMonday October 16, 2017 at Heirloom Restaurant. My friends photographer Peter Taylor and Chef Marc Jacksina have done it again… Don’t Miss, Order/fire’s first ever ordertogether dinner!  Tickets are $125 each and includes a 7 course dinner from 14 of Charlotte’s best chefs and beer pairings from Free Range Brewing. Plus the promise of other special guests in the kitchen! The evening also includes a silent auction, a grand raffle and the sharing of some great stories.

 

download-1October 18-21, 2017 – Terra Vita Food & Drink Festival  in Chapel Hill, NC – The Chapel Hill, NC-based nationally noted festival of food & drink, now in its eighth year, offers exceptional dinners, tasting events, after parties, chef demos as well as the “Sustainable Classroom” – educational experiences featuring renowned chefs, authors & national media. Many Charlotte chefs and food-centric folk are involved including Clark Barlowe, Matthew Krenz, Joe Kindred, Keia Mastrianni and Bruce Moffett just to name a few. Detail on all the dinners, workshops, and seminars as well as reservation links are all on the very informative Terra Vita website.

https-cdn.evbuc.comimages348776111395543578761originalSaturday Oct. 21, 3-6 pm – The annual Carved event sponsored by the Piedmont Culinary Guild.  This is an annual pumpkin carving extravaganza with lots of local chefs and food-centric folks in the mix! Its a family-friendly fall festival and pig pickin’ and included in the $20 ticket purchase price , you will enjoy a delicious plate of locally sourced food, created by Piedmont Culinary Guild chefs, a beverage from Lenny Boy Brewing Co. ( with the option to buy more), entry into the public pumpkin carving competition, and more. For more Info and tickets… 

cropped-heidi-billotto-food-blog-logo-not-compressed

Save the dates, Call Your Friends, Make your Reservations, Have Fun this Fall and keep checking  back for more Nibbles and Sips as new fun food-centric events hit my calendar! 

Craving a Competition? I Got What You Need!

PrintAs many of you know I freelance in the culinary world, which means I have irons in many fires. I’m a food writer and blogger, I work with chefs and restaurants to fine tune and manage their social media,  I teach cooking classes, I share stories in print and on television about local products and take my readers on virtual food and drink-centric three day weekends.

In addition to all of that I am most pleased to be working with the team at the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association – NCRLA as the organizer/coordinator, writer of blog posts and host of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown event to be held in Raleigh on August 21, 2017!  I did the 2016 NC Chef Showdown as well, the inaugural year for this now annual event, but this year promise to be even bigger and better.

Sixteen chefs from across the state will compete for the titles of 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year and 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year... and I’ll be there to bring it all to you bite by bite!
Just take a look at the stellar line up of chefs and restaurants who will be participating in this year’s evening of competition. They will be there preparing dish which represents them and their restaurant.  I am thrilled to be instrumental in helping them tell their story –  getting to know these chefs from across the state of North Carolina,  writing about them and their restaurants, inns and hotels and sharing with each of my readers, followers and fans what this talented group of North Carolina chefs does so well – can’t wait to see what fabulous sweets and savories they will  bring to the table!  

IMG_2670Just this morning I wrote a blog post similar to this one for the NC Chef Showdown Website & Blog announcing the list of chefs recently selected to participate in the 2017 NC Chef Showdown competition, and just in case you missed it -I wanted to share it here with you as well.

With nearly 40 talented applicants from across the state applying to compete, and only 16 spots to fill, the competition was fierce and the decision of the selection committee, a formidable one.

In all, 16 of North Carolina’s top culinarians will be competing on the evening of August 21, 2017.  The event will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina at 214 Martin Street and Market Hall Raleigh’s historic downtown City Market and the presenting sponsor is the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Cooking for a crowd of 300 plus, competing chefs will each have a station representing their restaurant or culinary outlet. Chefs will serve tasting-size portions to guests and plated tapas-sized portions to a panel of six culinary judges.

The presentation of the plates to the judges will be done live on stage in front of the crowd throughout the course of the evening. Chefs will have an opportunity to introduce themselves to the judges and the crowd and will share the concept of the dish they have each created for the evening.

This year’s event will see the following talented chefs on the savory side of the table competing for the title of the 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year. If you just can’t wait to see what these talented chefs will be cooking in August, spend this summer visiting their restaurants and eat with them now! You can visit all of their websites here – be sure to #TellThemHeidiSentYou !

And competing with dishes to satisfy the collective sweet tooth of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown crowd will be the following four North Carolina Pastry chefs all going for the title of 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year.

All 16 chefs will be judged on the look and taste of the dish as well as the best use and number of local North Carolina ingredients including on each plate.

The judging panel of industry professionals will offer the top honors of 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year and 2017 Pastry Chef of the Year, in addition to  awards for  competitors in both the sweet and savory categories for the “Best Use of a North Carolina Product” and the “Most Creative Presentation”

092836adcfb3f147e9ddba652c15f755New in 2017, the NCRLA will also crown a 2017 NCRLA Mixologist of the Year, as six NC distilleries will be featured with hand-picked bartenders slinging their spirits.  Look for the announcement of competing teams of distilleries and mixologists to come in the weeks ahead.

Attendees to the 2017 NC Chef Showdown will also get a say in the matter as each guest will get one vote in each category to determine the People’s Choice winners for Best Savory Dish, 2017 Best Pastry Dish and 2017 Best Cocktail.

The 2017 Chef Showdown will take place after the first day of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Expo at the Raleigh Convention Center. Centrally located in the state’s capital city, this is an event that offers members of North Carolina’s hospitality industry two back to back days of meetings and seminars as well as a trade show.

static1.squarespaceTickets for  the 2017 NC Chef Showdown are priced at $125 per person. The event takes place on August 21, 2017 from 6-9 pm.

Your ticket price includes unlimited tasting sized portions from all 16 of these talented chefs, tasting sized cocktails from six North Carolina distilleries represented by six of the state’s talented mixologists, a chance to vote in the evening’s People’s Choice awards,  a selection of wine or beer, a gift bag to take home and an evening of fun, live music and more! Don’t wait, Get Your Tickets Now!

 

Those of you who have a business that caters to the hospitality industry may be interested in  playing a slightly bigger role in the 2017 NC Chef Showdown event. if you are interested in being a sponsor at any number of levels, please contact Mindy Wharton at the NCRLA  with any questions or to work out all the details: 919.277.8585 or mwharton@ncrla.org.

Questions about becoming a member of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association, visit the NCRLA website here.

#TellThemHeidiSentYou

To keep up with all the details of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown and to learn more about each of the competing chefs and their restaurants – go to the NCChefShowdown website and follow that blog just as you do this one.

 

Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week: Delicious Tastes to Sip & Savor

Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Runs Now till April 30, 2017

I always love it when Charlotte chefs and restaurants pull together to put on a food event.  Throughout the year there are many such collaborative events, wine dinners and themed promotions, and I have loved them all. But for me, some of the best events stretch out over a week or two, giving the dining out public the chance to explore, taste and experience at several different venues.

WineandTapasWeek-just-charlotteThe all new, first ever, Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week is just such an event, and it runs NOW through April 30. This eight day long event ( it all started Friday April 21) is about little plates, sharing and tasting – a great way to dine out with friends; and you still have lots of time to participate!  The more than 30 of Charlotte restaurants  are taking part with special menus offered for the eight evening stretch of this Springtime extravaganza.  CWTW founder Phong Luong, owner of Zen Asian Fusion in Dilworth  came up with the clever concept.

IMG_1155

Heidi Billotto with Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Creator Phong Luong of Zen Asian Fusion on East Blvd.

I caught up with Phong at the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week kick off event, held in The Bottle Shop in the lobby of the Center City Marriott, just outside Stoke Restaurant.  He explained the reasoning behind the dedicated week –   “Everyone loves tasting new flavors in food & wine and its always fun to share! Little plates are a great way to try just a taste.”  The concept is  a clever approach and an easy, reasonably priced way to get new and repeat customers in to try out a restaurant where they have never eaten,  or perhaps haven’t eaten at for some time..

IMG_1170

Chefs Rodrigo Velazco, Evoke; Chef Chris Coleman, Stoke; Chef Ryan Daugherty, Dogwood Southern Table all cooked at the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week Kickoff

This CWTW affords customers a change to mix and match and taste a variety of tapas and wines.  Chef Ryan Daugherty from Dogwood Southern Table and chef Rodrigo Velazco from Evoke restaurant were at the CWTW Kick off and joined Stoke’s Chef Chris Coleman to share tastes of the tapas and wine they will be serving at their own restaurants so that kick off attendees could see how the concept would work.

While a few of the participating restaurants have planned seasonal menus just for the promotion, many are featuring tapas or small plates regularly featured as appetizers, sides or salads on their current Spring menus.

IMG_1142For the stretch of Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week, each participating establishment is offering a pre-selected menu of wine and tapas. $30 or $35 dollars ( depending on the restaurant) buys you two glasses of wine and  two tapas offerings. The really cool part is that you can order a CWFW package for yourself, or you can share one order with friends. It makes for a wonderful game of mix and match which helps to  make this culinary adventure even more fun.  Enjoy your Wine & Tapas offering as a start to a meal, or as an opportunity to just  meet for a drink and a quick  bite. You don’t need to specify when you make your reservations that you’d like to order the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week plates; not everyone in your party has to participate, and you can change it up and order off the restaurants regular menu as well – but only the specific Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week menu items qualify for the special $30-$35 pricing.

IMG_1096The week before the kick off my husband Tom Billotto and I were invited to come by several of the participating restaurants for a taste of what would be on their menus. And then I tasted more at the kick off event. There are lots of big flavors on these little plates and the wine pairings are nothing to scoff at – as always, Charlotte restaurants and chefs are putting their best plates out there for you to enjoy – take advantage, sip and savor your way through the remaining days of April,  hitting as many of the participating restaurants as you can – you’re going to love it!

The list of participating chefs/restaurants is up  on the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week website as are the detailed menus and wine lists at each venue; and if you would like, there are reservation links here as well.  Check them all out, and eat at as many as you can,  but first  take a look at this quick preview from a trio of the participating restaurants we tried and then make your plans. 

 

LUCA MODERN ITALIAN KITCHEN

For those of you who don’t know, Jessica and Luca Annunziata, Proprietress and Chef, formerly of Passion 8 restaurant here in Charlotte decided just after the first of the year to change Passion 8’s name and concept. The new Luca Modern Italian Kitchen  was born and is still located on Elizabeth Ave. in Charlotte.

IMG_1055The menu and wine list is now decidedly authentic Italian cuisine. You simply cannot wait another minute to go in and check it out. Lots of nightly specials like Tuesday’s Bottomless Bowl of mussels for just $18 and Wednesdays all you can eat pasta night for $30.  You can certainly sit anywhere you’d like in this beautiful restaurant, but truth be told, when it is just the two of us, we love sitting up at the bar. They mix many a creative craft cocktail at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen and will come up with any kind of spirited elixir your would like to try.  While wine comes with the Charlotte Wine & Tapas package, you might just have to start your evening at Luca with a cocktail first.  

Like many of the participating CWTW restaurants, Chef Luca is  featuring some of the regular items from their all Italian menu and all of the wines on the are all spectacular Italian pours. This is the food Chef  Luca was born to cook, literally – its the food he grew up eating and each and every bite of the four dishes we tried – plus the soup and the dessert we decided to add on  was nothing short of spectacular. 

IMG_1063

Pasta e Fagiole at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen. 

We started, as I suggested with cocktails and with a little bite before our tapas  & wine pairings because we simply love Luca’s Pasta e Fagiole, a thick and delicious bean soup with fresh homemade noodles and enjoyed a side of the restaurant’s homemade foccacia on the side.  

Then we made an evening of it and each ordered  the two tapas and two wine package. It was more than enough to make a meal and there was more than enough to share..

IMG_1066

Baked Eggs in Tomato Broth at Luca ModerItalian Kitchen

Among our little plates this evening,  this iron skillet of baked eggs in a savory tomato broth, Parmesan and grilled bread,  or as they say in Italian, Zuppetta di uovo pomodoro    con Parmigiano e pane alla griglia.

We simply had to order pasta, as it is all made in house, so the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – a hot casserole full of fresh made gnocchi was the perfect next plate.  These soft fluffy little pillows of pasta came baked with a sauce from San Marzano tomatoes topped with mozzarella – ahhhh!

IMG_1082

Tender Grilled Octopus at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen

While the gnocchi was divine and we could have simply ordered more and been quite happy, I decided to beef it up a bit with Luca’s  Polpettine di Bisonte  – these bison meat balls are served with local Urban Gourmet Farms mushrooms and a creamy Parmesan fondue – perfect with the 2015 Scarletto Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo pairing Jessica Annunziata had suggested.  Tom ordered and very much enjoyed  Luca’s tender Polpo alla Griglia (grilled octopus), a favorite on many local restaurant menus this time of year, but served here with a warm potato salad, celery, olives and a bright lemon emulsion,  few do it better than chef Luca and the team at Luca Modern Italian Kitchen.

We ended our meal at Luca with a two servings of Gelato  – a blood orange for Tom  and a coffee for me. Luca and Jessica bring in this perfectly Italian gelato from a company in Greensboro. The name is Gnam, Gnam Gelato and believe me it is nom, nom.  For More info …

EVOKE RESTAURANT AT LE MERIDIEN HOTEL

IMG_0951With a new chef on the team and some major menu development in progress look for big things to be happening at Evoke Restaurant in the Le Meridien Hotel on McDowell Street in  Uptown. Chefs Rodrigo Velazco in the kitchen at Evoke and Chef Oscar La Fuente, the hotel’s executive chef, certainly have plans to take things up a notch, so the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week affords them the opportunity to stretch their culinary wings a bit and offer some really cool special plates. We had a delicious evening, tasting our way through several plates of tapas. As this is the restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel, Evoke regularly serves breakfast lunch and dinner and the bar is open during those hours.

IMG_0956

A Trio of Trios Marinated Stuffed Olive Plate at Evoke at Le Meridien Hotel 

We tasted several Wine & Tapas pairings at Evoke – The first a clever trio of olives presented three ways – Olives stuffed with Marcona almonds, Dolce Gorgonzola and Fig jam are skewered and dressed in three different combos of oil and vinegar – my fave was the 20 yer old white balsamic with Pumpkin seed oil, but you will love the mix of tasting them all.  Use Evoke’s signature foccacia also on the plate for dipping up the remaining oil after the olives are gone!

IMG_0972

Taste of Spring Grilled Vegetable Platter at Evoke Restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel

The “Taste of Spring”  vegetable plate combines seasonal grilled, sauteed, pickled and raw veggies and was another seasonal winner and a delightful alternative to a simple salad.

At the CWTW kick off, I also tasted Chef Rodrigo’s Middle Ground Farms’ Rabbit Scarpinocc ( a stuffed pasta much like half moon ravioli) served with Sherry jus and manchego; and his delicious fresh Cobia Crudo, a tartar of sorts dressed with aji  rocoto ( a small Peruvian chile) and corn nuts. Sad to say, my photos didn’t come out well, but don’t let that stop you from ordering – both selections are  on Evoke’s  Tapas week menu and worthy of your consideration!

IMG_0967

Corn Soup from Evoke Restaurant in Le Meridien Hotel

As we did at all of these stops, we complimented our taste of the CWTW menu at Evoke with a few extra bites from the restaurant’s  seasonal menu. Chef Rodrigo offered us a sample sized portion of his delicious corn soup served in a tiny saucepan;  and we ended with a a wonderful not too sweet finish from Evoke’s talented pastry chef. On the plate Green Matcha tea mousse with raspberry cream inside, a raspberry puree, and black sesame tuille. Its enough for two of you to share, but you’ll want to order on all your own!

For More Info…  

 

 

THE ASBURY AT THE DUNHILL HOTEL

If its been a while since you have been to The Asbury restaurant in the Dunhill Hotel, its time to get back Uptown and prepare to be wowed. Chef Matthew Krenz’s spring menu has got it going on. If you like what you taste from the Spring menu ( and you will) you’ll want to come back for more. Be sure and check out the detail and make reservations for the one or more of the upcoming  collaborative chef dinners   held monthly from now till the end of they year – Chef Matthew teams with another chef from around the city or across the state and they plan a whole chefs tasting menu dinner around a certain theme –  these dinners are a blast and you’ll want to be sure and make reservations. the next one takes place on May 25 with Chef Greg Collier of The Yolk!

But I digress… all of the Asbury’s Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week offerings are also featured on the Spring menu and you won’t want to miss a single one.  Start your evening  with two of The Asbury’s signature items: the deviled eggs, prepared a different way every evening and the savory sticky buns – yum!!

IMG_1110Each of The Asbury’s  tapas plates is its own little ode to Spring. Take for example the peas bathed in uni butter alongside a pea emulsion with mint and cilantro topped with toasted coconut and springtime blossoms. This is peas like you have never had them before, but this is how you are always going to want then from here on out! See what you’ve started, Chef Krenz!?

IMG_1106

Fried Oysters at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

The fried oysters, dusted with cornmeal and cleverly plated in the shell with onion jam, Cajun-spiced aioli and baby cress are another winner – there are four on the plate – just delicious and beautifully presented.

Heartier Tapas from Chef Matthew include the melt-in-your-mouth Pan-fried Lamb Sweetbreads, that come to the table almost looking like a salad of sorts – the sweetbreads are dressed with  local mustard green and with the made-in-house carrot BBQ sauce the slightly spicy greens are the perfect  foil to the rich taste and texture of the sweetbreads.

IMG_1114

Fermented Chili-glazed Pork belly at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

It is not often that I order pork belly. Those of  you who know me know that I am just waaay over the “everythings-better-with-bacon”, but never say never as there is always the exception to the rule. The Asbury’s tapas of Fermented Chili-Glazed Pork Belly is it. Its tender, and moist and served the way pork belly was meant to be, atop a cornbread puree, braised greens with local turnips and radish

IMG_1113

Pea and ricotta tortellini at The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Finally ( well sort of) I’d like to recommend the pea and ricotta tortellini as a tapas plate to consider. It’s scrumptious! Stuffed with local Uno Alla Volta ricotta and peas, topped with asparagus & crispy ham,  the thin melt-in-your-mouth pasta is bathed in a white wine butter sauce – oh my!

IMG_1132When the tapas and wine pairings were done, we found ourselves totally satisfied, but its always nice to end on a sweet note and Chef Matthew did more that oblige the craving.

Spring in Charlotte means strawberries and in total tribute Chef Matthew has created a spectacular take on a Southern fave – strawberry shortcake. Here macerated local strawberries and blueberries are bedded atop a fresh baked biscuit and then topped with an incredible strawberry mousse with  lightly whipped cream. Nuff Said!   For More Info….

#TellThemHeidiSentYouIf you’d like to try a taste and sip and savor your way through these and other area restaurants participating in the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Weekend, its easy and you still have till the end of the evening on April 30. Visit the CWTW website and scroll down through the entire list of logos so you won’t miss a single on of the 30 + excellent options. Click on the individual restaurant logo. This will take you to the restaurant’s page on the site (I’ve already provide those for the restaurants I highlighted here.) Here you will read a bit more about the restaurant , see the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week menu and can even use the link provided to make reservations if you would like.

Print

Post your photos on social media and be sure to tag me in the posts on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter – I will be happy to share. Enjoy! Have fun! Now go forth to Sip and Savor your way through the Charlotte Wine & Tapas Week line up…Cheers!

 

 

 

Heidi Billotto Live: from The Matthews Community Farmers’ Market

PrintWe interrupt the regularly scheduled series of blog posts to bring you a brand new series of social media videos – all LIVE from local area farmers’ markets.

I generally hit 2-3 area markets on any given Saturday morning. Its my Saturday morning thing to do. It’s not just about what I need to pick up for that week’s cooking classes, catering jobs or what Tom and I will eat during the week; for me a farmers’ market trip is about seeing what’s growing, visiting with all the farmers and being there to support what they do. The fact that I can buy all the local produce, proteins and product that I need and know where it all came from and what went into the food that I eat and serve to others is a bonus. Someone commented on the Facebook feed that they were amazed that I knew everyone’s name.

That’s what shopping local is all about: Knowing your local farmers and producers; Shaking the hands that feed you and resting assure that the food you eat was grown and nurtured with love and care, not pesticides and hormones.

This new video series started as a way for me to help the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market promote their opening day last week. I was going to write a blog post about the new additions to the market and the list of new vendors, but alas as it was all new I didn’t have any of these photos to include in the post.

So instead, I decided to hit the market early on their opening day April 15, 2017 and film my very first Facebook Live video. I had a blast! I have always loved spreading the word of all our local farmers bring to the table and this was a fun way to do it in real time. It appears that lots of Facebook friends and fans loved it too. To date that first FBLive video has enjoyed over 1.6K views! I am over the moon!

And you will be, too, when you go to shop at the Matthews Community Farmers market this Saturday and any or every Saturday hereafter, Spring and Summer hours are now officially in effect.

The market, located at 188 N Trade Street right in the heart of downtown, Matthews, is open every Saturday from 8 till noon. Matthews is a “growers only” market and  each of the farms represented by the farmers themselves are located within 50 miles of downtown Matthews.

Currently the Matthews Market is hosting a strawberry fundraiser with fresh delicious berries from Cody Strawberry Farms and new to the market this year is the addition of a food truck or two. Both of these trucks are preparing breakfast items using the local product you’ll find available at the market each week. Last weekend I enjoyed a killer Farmhouse Croissant from Carolina Smash Truck. The savory breakfast sandwich was prepared with Maitake Mushrooms, green onion, egg, and white cheddar – just what I needed to go with that delicious cup of Good Cup Cappuccino I was enjoying after I posted my video.

You can check out all the names of all the participating vendors, and sign up for the Matthews’ Market’s email newsletter by visiting their website 

Each week the market features a different chef presenting a 9 am cooking demo; and a different local musician  there to provide a little music to enjoy as you shop from and visit with each of the market vendors.

Last weekend, Chef Luca Annunziata wowed the crowds with a taste of his traditional Italian cuisine now featured on the menu at his restaurant Luca Modern Italian Kitchen ( formally called Passion 8). This Saturday, April 22 at 9 am chef Adam Reed from Sante Restaurant in Matthews will be cooking  up a storm for the market crowds to  sample and enjoy after they watch his entertaining demo.

And there is so much more, from compost to King of Pops, local honey, chicken, eggs, pork, beef, fresh from the Carolina Coast seafood,  fresh flowers, plants for you to grow and produce for you to cook and eat; From Water Buffalo cheese to locally made cottage cheese and ricotta; From Beeswax candles to Breads, pastries, frozen casseroles and pizzas made from local ingredients, baskets, pottery… whew! Just take a look at the video here and check it all out for yourself… then stay tuned.

Coming up  in a day or so, a post I filmed yesterday Wed April 19  which  features my  Facebook Live Video with market vendor details from the brand new Wednesday afternoon Selwyn Avenue Market in the parking lot of the Mouzon United Methodist Church from 3-7 on Wednesday afternoons.

This Saturday, April 22, I am teaching one of my On the Farm cooking classes at New Town Farms, but before hand I  will be at the Waxhaw Farmers’ Market at 208 N Church St, Waxhaw, NC 28173, open from 9 till noon,  to bring you a FBLIve video of everything from the market there. You can join me on my HeidiBillottoCooks Facebook page to watch the video live – probably around 9:30 -10 or so ( I’ll post a social media heads up about 5 minutes ahead of time), or you can catch it later on my personal Heidi Billotto Facebook page. Or if you are not on Facebook you can view it here in the next farmers’ market blog post.

My plan is to film from a local market once or twice a week  over the course of the next several months – so get ready for your close ups Atherton Farmers’ Market, Mecklenburg County Market, Noda Farmers’ Market, Davidson Farmers’ Market and more! If you know of a market selling local product that I am leaving out or one I might not be aware of – please post a comment here,  let me know and I’ll add it to my list.

My purpose is instead of just offering a list of local markets, you can really have the opportunity to see for yourself, virtually meet the farmers and producers and then make plans to go and shop local so you can eat local, too!

And don’t forget, what ever farmers’ market you shop at this weekend, be sure to #TellThemHeidiSentYou

First Taste of Spring at The SavorNC Cooking Stage

4452defe-d5bd-4fc1-9cc8-2289ed2d4211Tomorrow Friday Feb 23, 2017 marks the first day of all the food flavor and fun at the SavorNC Cooking Stage at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show at the Park Expo in Charlotte NC. The show runs for 6 full days – this weekend of Feb 23-26 and then again the weekend of March 3-5. Attendance at the SavorNc Cooking Stage is free with your ticket to the show and we will be located right by the show entrance, so you can’t miss us!

 

savorncI happily play the part of host of the cooking stage and have invited over 40 restaurant chefs, private chefs, caterers, farmers and other food-centric folk to be on stage with me cooking with tons of local produce, proteins and products.  The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has come on as the title sponsor of the stage, so we are the SavorNC Cooking Stage and each day we have a different local day sponsor involved in all the action.

agriculture%20(stacked)

The cooking demos each day start at 10:30 am and run every hour on the half hour. Chefs will be cooking, sharing technique, tips about buying local and handing out complimentary samples at each and every demonstration.

At the end of each demo, we’ll ask a couple of fun trivia questions pertaining to what each chef said, and where ingredients might have come from and the winners will get great prizes which will include gift  bags of swag from the NC Department of Agriculture, gift certificates from the participating restaurants and special samples and or coupons from our day sponsors.

Recipes from each day of demos and a photo recap of the day will be posted on these blog pages each evening of the show, so stay tuned for the word on lots of local eats and how to make them in your kitchen over the next ten days. Consider these two weekends a first taste of Spring with all the wonderful local ingredients this, my favorite season of the year, brings.

Here is the line up of chefs for each day  and a little bit about our GotToBeNC Day Sponsors for this first weekend of the 2017 Southern Spring Show… Look for a similar article next week on the line up of all the action for the March 3-5 weekend or check here for a link to the complete list of participating chefs

img_7229Goodnight Brothers Country Ham from Boone North Carolina kicks off our list of day sponsors this year on Friday February 24, 2017. Throughout the day chefs will be hamming it up with Goodnight’s all natural line of thin sliced dry cured ham (I like to call it North Carolina’s answer to  Italian prosciutto) as well as Goodnight’s classic Country Ham. Goodnight Brothers has sent me two HUGE boxes of  sample sized packages of ham to hand out to the crowd and at 12:30 I will be on stage with Bill Goodnight of Goodnight Brothers, cooking with both varieties of this locally cured ham and talking about the history of this family owned company and how they do what they do.  if you have ever eaten a ham biscuit at Bojangles, then you know how wonderful Goodnight Brothers Ham really is – take this opportunity to come to the Spring Show on Friday, to try, taste and learn more about it.

Cooking onstage with me Friday February 24, 2017 –

10:30 am
Springtime Favorites

Chef Blake Hartwick, Bonterra Dining & Wine Room

11:30 am
WCCB Everyday Eats Hamming It Up

Chef Troy Gagliardo
WCCB Charlotte

12:30 pm
Cooking with Goodnight Brothers Country Ham
Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto and Bill Goodnight from Goodnight Brothers Country Ham

1:30 pm
The Sweet & Savory Sides of Eating Local
Chef Paul Verica and Chef Ashley Boyd, Heritage Food Drink, Waxhaw NC

2:30 pm
It’s Cookin’ at The Cowfish

Chef David Lucarelli, The Cowfish Sushi & Burger Bar

3:30 pm
Charcuterie and Cooking with Beer 

Chef Terra Ciotta and Chef Philip Lloyd, The Art Institute

4:30 pm
Dinner from the Springtime Garden

Chef Michael Rayfield, U.S. National Whitewater Center

5:30 pm
Gluten Free Vegan and Vegetarian

Chef Beverly McLaughlin, Beverly’s Gourmet Foods

img_7234On Saturday February 25, 2017 Parla Pasta from High Point North Carolina is our day sponsor and you won’t believe all the delicious Pastabilities we’ll have on hand. Simone Drake from Parla’s parent company Drake’s Pasta will be with us all day and is bringing a wonderful pasta salad for show goers to snack on between demos as well as plenty of coupons to hand out, so everyone can go and buy their favorite variety of Parla Pasta from their grocer’s freezer case after begin inspired by the culinary action onstage. Again, chefs will be cooking with the different varieties of Parla Pasta throughout the day and at 12:30 Simone and I will take the stage together to cook and talk pasta. Parla Pasta is available at grocery stores across Charlotte – find it in the freezer section at your favorite locations of Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, Publix, Ingles, and Lowes Foods.

And here is who will be cooking onstage with me for Saturday February 25, 2017:

10:30 am
Little Plates, Big Flavor with Stoke Restaurant’s infamous Pork Ragu

Chef Chris Coleman, Stoke at the Marriott

11:30 am
Sweet Springtime Dreams

Chef Ashley Boyd and Chef Miranda Brown, 300 East

12:30 pm
Ah, The Parla Pastabilities

Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto with SImone Drake of Parla Post

1:30 pm
It’s Got to Be NC!

Clark Barlow, Heirloom Restaurant

2:30 pm
Kale Yeah!

Heidi Billotto cooks with the Greens that Grow at Tega Hill Farms

3:30 pm
Entertaining on the Fly: From Zero to Party in under and Hour
Susan Murray Innkeeper and Cookbook Author, Carolina B&B, Asheville

4:30 pm
Pasta and Prosciutto with Springtime Style
Chef George DiPaolo from the Community Culinary School of Charlotte

5:30 pm
Risotto From the Springtime Garden
Chef Geoff Bragg from the Community Culinary School of Charlotte

cloister-honeyOn Sunday February 26, 2017, our friends Randall York and Joanne di la Rionda from Cloister Honey are in the house with their entire line of sweet and savory locally raised honey. Cloister Honey will be available to sample and purchase throughout the day right at the cooking stage. Many chefs will be incorporating the line of Cloister Honey into their recipes and  in the 12:30 time slot this day, I’ll be cooking with Cloister and Randall and Joanne will join me onstage to talk about raising bees, how they came to build a hobby into a company and we might even get  Joanne to share her secrets ( well some of them) on how she develops her delicious honey blends and flavor infused varieties. Cloister will be giving away samples as a part of each prize package during each of the chefs demos throughout the day  – its going to be a sweet way to wind up this first weekend of fun and local flavor on the SavorNC Cooking Stage at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show.

On the SavorNC Cooking Stage Sunday, February 26, 2017:  

10:30 am
Sunday Brunch Fresh from the Farm

Chef Kevin Woods cooks with  Two Moons Family Farms

11:30 am
The Art of Japanese Cuisine From Yama, Yama Izakaya and Baku Restaurants

Chef and Sake Specialist Birdie Yang

12:30 pm
Catch the Buzz – Cooking with Cloister Honey

Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto with Cloister’s Randall York and Joanna de la Rionda

1:30 pm
Jamie’s Favorite Top Chef Recipes

Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church and Top Chef Charleston contestant

2:30 pm
Donuts: Not Just for Breakfast
Courtney Buckley, Your Mom’s Donuts

3:30 pm
Wine Pairings with Local Favorites 
Josh Villapando, Assorted Table Wine Shop

So Many great local GotToBeNc products to feature on the Savor NC Cooking Stage this first weekend of the show, and so many chefs to help create the show. I’m proud to say we have a truly great line up of award winning and nationally recognized chefs here in Charlotte and our surrounding areas and  I am thrilled to promote them on the SavorNC Cooking Stage this weekend and next.

charlotte-living-winter-2017-coverIn addition to recipes and samples and all the fun you’ll have at the Savor NC Cooking Stage, remember to also pick up a copy of the new issue of Charlotte Living Magazine. That beautiful dish on the cover was prepared by Chef Thomas Marlow of Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte.

As many of you know, In addition to this blog, I also am the food editor at Charlotte Living and this first issue of the year is our annual food issue. So excited to see my “100 + Restaurants Worth Your While Restaurant Guide” finally done and printed up in living color. A TEN-PAGE spread of great places to eat in Charlotte and a word or two about many chefs who make this such a wonderful food-centric city. Pick up a copy of the magazine at the SavorNC Cooking Stage and enjoy the guide, articles on Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte and Highland Avenue Restaurant in Hickory as well as a piece on local Moorseville woodworker Jeffrey Mathews of Old World Moulding Company who creates incredible cutting boards for chefs around the world; and  a section on 6 ways to open a package, box, bottle or jar to Eat Local and more. Can’t wait – you can check out the Restaurant Guide and some of these other articles online at CharlotteLiving.com

 

 

 

Weekend Eats Atlanta: Restaurants to Put on Your Radar

2-where-to-eat-in-atlantatellthemheidisentyouAtlanta has a lot of great restaurants  – and, not to pick sides this close to the Superbowl, one pretty good football team.   And its just a three to four hour drive from the Queen City – in fact, many say its faster to drive to Atlanta than it is to fly down, once you consider negotiating the parking and TSA wait time. Can you say Three Day Weekend? 

fox-theatre-altantaLots of reasons to head south and visit this bustling city, football not withstanding of course. Plan to check out the High Art Museum, The Fox Theatre, Centennial Park, and the World of Coca-Cola. Tour CNN headquarters, stroll through the Atlanta Botanical gardens and visit the historic birthplace of Martin Luther King.

And then, there are  all the places to eat. Impossible to cover them all in a weekend or just one blog post. Tom and I made a quick 3 day jaunt down a week or so ago with friends  to check out what’s new at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart and Gift Show and made it a point to go in search of some good eats.  The result? This quick little restaurant round up of several great places to eat in Atlanta, places you simply should not miss.   

img_5982

Heidi Billotto and Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church in Charlotte,  Charleston and Atlanta

Of course there is 5 Church. Atlanta was the group’s third home away from home and executive chef Chef Jamie Lynch, now of Top Chef fame, oversees the operation in Atlanta as he does in Charleston and Charlotte. But honestly, if you are going to eat at 5 Church – and you should – go in Charlotte to the  first and original location in Uptown at the corner of Church and Tryon, where we have bragging rites and  can say, we knew  him first.  Enjoy the great bar – even better food and open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

img_5990

Butternut Squash Agnolotti from 5 Church Charlotte

 

 

 

On the dinner menu, we love the Autumn salad, the charred octopus and the tuna poke to start – or combine several for a dinner of apps. Favorite entrees include the butternut squash agnolotti, the lamb burger and the herb and citrus encrusted whole fish.  In Charlotte  you’ll find all the detes and reservation info at  5 Church at 5churchcharlotte.com; and just in case, in Atlanta, look them up at 5churchatlanta.com.

Now back to Atlanta, First and foremost you must stop for drinks in the  bar in the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Its warm and charming and the service is spot on. With a recent buy-out, things may change but I am hoping not.  Word has it the hotel is undergoing a 5 million dollar upgrade to the bar area and putting in a cafe as well. Only time will tell, but for now its one of our go-to’s to unwind from the day and start the evening off, for sure.

img_8279Also in Buckhead, a stone’s throw from the Ritz, don’t miss St. Cecilia. Enter the lobby for the Pinnacle Building and you’ll be greeting by a beautiful glass Chihuly sculpture hanging in the lobby. The restaurant is the anchor tenant just off the lobby and its massive dining room is  gorgeous. Despite the size and the oh, so high ceilings, the restaurant has a warmth that makes you feel welcome. Look for wonderful Italian fare, an excellent wine list and if you are in town for the weekend, be sure to book reservations for Sunday Brunch.

img_8287

Cauliflower Soup at St Cecelia

Our favorites: Well, we couldn’t resist starting with an order of Crispy Punched Potatoes for the table to share – dressed with a cacio e pepe aioli and fresh grated parmigiano cheese it was the perfect pairing with the Italian red wine. We were so intrigued by the starters and pasta, that we didn’t get to the fish and beef entrees this time, but will most certainly come back for more of Chef Craig Richards fine food on the next trip. For now, the cobia tartar with salt & vinegar chips, lemon  puree and trout roe was a great way to start the evening as was the Cauliflower soup; ditto for the wood grilled octopus with brown butter, pickled onions and a hint of citrus. The cacio e pepe – homemade pasta with pepper and parmigiano was every bite as good as we remember from a trip to Italy several years ago and we loved the gnudi bathed in hazelnut brown butter as well. For more info, check it all out on their website at stceciliaatl.com

img_8229

Cheers to Centro Storico, Atlanta’s own Little Italia

Next , more Italian but this time a bit more – well, a lot more laid back, bring your own wine and enjoy Antico-Pizza Napoletana . This is the best pizza around and when the dough is gone, they are done for the night and there is no making a reservation,  so plan to go by early in the evening. All pizzas come well done and slightly charred and therein lies their beauty. The restaurant with its tiny counter and large dining room with family style tables is  smack dab in the middle of its own 4 building little Italia called Centro Storico on Hemphill Avenue –  for dessert check out the gelato and coffee across the street, at Cafe Antico Gelateria and Pasticceria;  in season the open air Bar Amalfi  and don’t miss  the Maccheroni Naoletani or the chicken dishes right next door at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano as well!  

img_8232

Spicy Maccheroni Arrabbiata at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano

Gio’s may win the award for the most for less – pasta and salad and bread for two – with enough to share or take home for lunch the next day was just $14 per person for the maccheroni or $17 per person for the chicken. Fantastico! The one website, highlight in this paragraph include info on all the restaurants and bars I mentioned.

 

For some of the best vegan/Asian food yu might ever have – don’t miss Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen located at 565 Peachtree St. NE in Midtown.  

img_8302

Steamed Buns at Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen

The restaurant is huge with several private rooms upstairs and an adjacent bar and lounge. The menu all looked so good when we went for lunch, that we relied on our server’s suggestions and ,as she promised when she said, “Just trust me”, she didn’t steer us wrong.  Tom and I ordered several dishes and shared and it was the way to eat here – after all its always much more fun when you get to taste a bit of everything, don’t you think?  

img_8305

Sticky Rice with Shiitakes at Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen

We’re talking  a creamy rich Organic White Bean, Root Vegetable and Pumpkin Bouillon;  Sweet Pea Ravioli inCurry Jus with Leeks & Assorted Mushrooms; Crispy Purple Yam Cakes; Steamed Buns with crispy Soy Duck, Cucumber & Cilantro; Sticky Rice fused with Shiitake Mushrooms and Taro; Sesame Ginger Soy Chicken & Shiitake Kebabs; and Aburaage (the same flat fried tofu used to wrap inari sushi) stuffed with radish, cucumber, tomato and seaweed noodles.  I cannot begin to desrcibe the deliciousness. For anyone who thinks vegan means uninteresting or lacking in flavor, add Atlanta’s Herban Vegan Fix Kitchen to your Must-Eat-Here list and allow the chefs here to prove you wrong.

 

img_8323

Warm chips and Salsa – a great way to start the evening

Mexican seems to be a hard find in Atlanta. We asked several locals, Uber drivers and the people at our hotel for suggestions and everyone seemed to come up “sin pan ni pedazo” (a Spanish expression which means empty-handed.) Finally we did as any good tourist would do and turned to the magazine in the hotel, it was an advertisement but it seemed worth a shot – winner of the “Best of Atlanta” Awards since 1992  and promising the “Salsa that ends your search” we decided to give Nuevo Laredo Cantina a try.  Located at 1495 Chattahoochee Avenue NW, it is definitely off the beaten path and as we had expectations of margarita’s and cerveza with our tacos and tamales, we opted to Uber.

img_8326Nuevo Laredo is a charming cantina pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The place is hustling and bustling and again no reservations, so you can sometimes expect to wait. We went early in the evening and were seated within a few minutes and immediately presented with warm chips ( yes!) and salsas that did not disappoint. My plan was to order the Chile Relleno, that was until I saw this: Holy Tacos or Tacos Sagrado, served 2 to a platter, these are white corn tortillas stuffed with mashed potatoes, white cheese, onion and cabbage and topped with a green sauce. The menu says these are “as sold on the corner of Igelsia del Santo Nino, Ocampo y Victoria, Nuevo Lareda, Tamps, Mexico”

img_8330

Holy Tacos at Nuevo Laredo Cantina

How could we not? What the steaming hot platter lacked in color – white potatoes, white cheese, white flour tortillas – you get it; the dish more than made up for in flavor. If a mashed potato taco isn’t your bag, there are  about 100 other offerings including chicken, beef  and seafood specials, and the expected assortment of enchiladas, faijtas, tacos and tortillas all of which we will try on our next road trip down – I’ve since read the lobster tacos are life changing… I’ll keep you posted, until then suffice to say, the menu offerings are authentic, simply prepared and worth the drive. For more information visit nuevolaredocantina.com


img_7806Feeling Hungry?
If this post as whet your palate for more why not subscribe to my  blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com and each post will come directly to your in box as soon as I hit the “Publish” button. I post about restaurants in Charlotte, across the Carolinas and as in the case of this post in food-centric travel blogs as well. As always, remember to #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Don’t Miss my great new series of Cooking Classes !! If you’d rather cook yourself than eat out – check out my all new list of 2017 February and March cooking classes – now on the home page of this blog and under the Cooking Class tab as well. Registration is easy – just email me with the class or classes you’d like to attend and I’ll email you right back to secure payment and confirm your reservations. 

Charlotte NC Chefs head to James Beard House in NYC

james-beard-dinnersCharlotte, North Carolina chefs continue to take the James Beard house in NYC by storm and 2017 kicks off with several big dinners featuring Queen City-based culinary talent. Last night it was my pleasure to be a guest at a practice run of a collaboration dinner between 2 of Charlotte’s finest, Chefs Luca Annunziata of Passion 8 on Elizabeth Avenue and Chef Sylvain Rivet of Renaissance Patisserie on South Blvd.

While I love seeing and tasting what chefs do in their restaurants on a regular basis, it is always nice to take advantage and attend special dinners like this to see what happens when chefs think outside the box. I particularly enjoy collaborative dinners  – there are lots on the calendar in Charlotte. I suggest you take advantage and make reservations as you see them pop up!  It is always a fun and unique experience every time.  No matter the chefs involved, their culinary talents challenge each other and play off of one another to truly bring it to the table.

 

img_8402

From left, The Butcher, chef Marc Pauvert; The Baker, chef Sylvain Rivet; and The Chef, chef Luca Annunziata

The Charlotte chef and the pastry chef were joined in the kitchen last evening as they will be next week in NYC by Baltimore based Master Butcher, chef Marc Pauvert of the Four Seasons Hotel.

01-27-haddad-philippe-photo-credit-heidi-geldhauser-resized-1

Chef Philippe Haddad

Rounding out the culinary team in New York will also be Atlanta-based chef Philippe Haddad of the Cape Dutch Restaurant in Atlanta. Haddad was unable to attend the dinner in Charlotte last night, but his contributions will only add to the excitement in New York. Also lending a helping hand at the New York event ,the Carolina’s own chef Joe Bonaparte of the Myrtle Beach Culinary Arts Institute.

 So, a butcher, a baker, and a chef  (or two) walk into the Beard House kitchen—but as was experienced by a supportive and happy crowd last night, this dinner is no joke.  In New York, these culinary compatriots will demonstrate the exceptional art of whole-animal butchery in a collaborative French–Italian feast celebrating their combined heritages and crafts.

The  trial run, if you will, evening in Charlotte started with a round of passed hors d’oeuvres – creamy chicken liver pate profiteroles with berry coulis, savory beef short ribs, skewered a la plancha, spherical chicken croquettes in bamboo boats and crispy dirty rice arancini with tomato jam.

img_8355
And for me, a “HoneyBunny” and orange/vodka/honey infused craft cocktail from the Passion 8 bar.

An assortment of fresh baked rolls hit as soon as we  were seated – nothing better to me than a course of delicious bread and butter and I was glad it arrived first with time to enjoy.

img_8381

Dinner  officially started with a beautiful plate of dinner co-sponsor Springer Mountain Farms Chicken in a duo of savory bites: a tender and delicious chicken porchetta with fennel salad, extra virgin olive oil powder, and  a drizzle of vincotto; paired with a melt-in-your-mouth braised chicken scarpariello topped with shishito peppers and  house-made pork sausage – things were off to a fabulous start….

 

img_8386Next course, a charcuterie platter of sorts – duck three ways or in French, Canard Trois Facons.  On the plate, a “Yes, please I believe I will”  foie gras torchon with onion jam;  a scrumptious duck confit with apple–frisée salad; and sliced duck prosciutto with a small round of made-in-house burrata and a crisp toasted slice of fresh baked pan de mie.

 

img_8388

With such a wonderful Italian chef on the team it stood to reason there would be a pasta course. This night the small plate of tiny but tender gnocchetti verdi  ( small green gnocchi) were tossed into a tomato-y rich lamb ragù. The crunch of fried Rappahannock oysters, added texture and a thin slice of Parmigiano-Reggiano served as the perfect slightly salty finish.

 

img_8390

All of this led to the beef course where the French butcher showed his chops. So tender and perfectly grilled grass fed beef tournedos, cut from the tenderloin of beef served atop a celery root puree, garnished with  with brussels sprout leaves, and finished with a grilled half of Charlotte’s own Urban Gourmet Farms king trumpet mushrooms, and au jus – perfect!

And then there was dessert – two courses of dessert, in fact, and a take home box as well – gotta love having a French pastry chef on the team!

img_8396For me the blood orange crème brûlée echoed the cocktail I had enjoyed at the start of the evening. It was sweet but not too sweet and creamy enough to provide the perfect finish after the course of rich savory beef. The surprise here was the accompanying tuille – made  with crispy almonds and believe it or not, bacon fat..,

 

img_8399

img_8406Then, for the table (and as this photo shows, the chefs to share) a  secondary dessert course of  three types of wonderful petits fours:  miniature chocolate brownie bomb; popcorn macaroons; and petit Grand Marnier–vanilla puffs – Yes!  And as a take-home for  the-day-after-dinner breakfast ( or to eat in the car on the drive back home) a chocolate truffle and two sweet bite-sized cakes. what a fabulous finish!

 

And then this happened….Big News from Passion 8

jessicaandlucaTalk last night after dinner was not just about the Beard House ,but of some big changes to come to Passion 8 as well. In February, look for the husband and wife team of Luca and Jessica Annunziata to take their passion for all things Italian to a whole new level. Passion 8 will be changing names and styles and while Jessica and Luca will remain at the helm and the Elizabeth Avenue location will remain the same, the new restaurant name and concept will be LUCA, Modern Italian Kitchen. This talented couple will still offer a menu that is locally inspired with a focus on Farm-to-fork product, but recipes and menu features will all hail from Chef Luca’s Italian heritage.  I am proud to say I was the first food writer to ever write about Passion 8, when the restaurant was located on HWY 51 in Ft Mill and I’ve kept you up to date on everything this talented couple has done since – stay tuned… I can’t wait to tell you about it all as the new menu is revealed and name changes occurs, so that you can make your reservations at LUCA soon and, in the process, #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Want to go to the Beard House or at least see it for yourself?

img_8414The  dinner last night, billed as practice round, gave the guests an opportunity to give feed back, so that the team of chefs can tweak as needed before the big dance in New York.  Its no small production – Luca will load up all the local product and drive to Baltimore two days before the dinner. He and Marc will prep in Baltimore the day before then drive to New York for a day of cooking in the infamous Beard House kitchen the day of the dinner. Thanks to the magic of digital technology, you can follow each of the chefs involved on their individual social media streams and the night of the dinner, Friday January 27, you can stream the action from the kitchen live via the James Beard Kitchen Cam – check it out on the Beard House website 

If you’ve a mind to go, see, taste and enjoy it all in person, tickets for the Butcher, Baker & Chef dinner in NYC are still available – make your reservations here.  

charles-grill-678x1024Mark your calendars as more Charlotte-based chefs participate in upcoming Beard House dinners as well.  Chef Charles Semail of Chef Charles Catering in Charlotte will also cook at the James Beard House the end of this week, in fact,  at a separate dinner with a team of five other chefs. Chef Charles dinner will focus on The Art of Charcuterie. The dinner in New York is on Jan 20. If you can’t get to NYC for the dinner Chef Charles is participating in, then head to the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market on Saturday to buy and for a taste what Chef Charles Catering does so well.

jamie-lynch-top-chef

Then, save the date in February as Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church in Charlotte, Charleston and Atlanta (and Top Chef fame) present a “Take Me To Church” dinner on Feb 5, 2017.  

 

 

heidi head shot 1 -Heidi Cooks | Heidi Writes | Heidi Teaches

If this post about some of our fabulous Charlotte-based chefs inspired you – I want to know where you are eating and what you are cooking. Remember  Charlotte, Queen’s Feast: Charlotte Restaurant Week  kicks off on Friday Jan 20 – where are you going to eat?

Post  your photos and then tag me on your social media posts – @HeidiBillotto and @HeidiBillottoCooks on Facebook; @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram   Food is always so much better when you share it with friends!

Consider me your go-to-gal for info on chefs, restaurants, recipes, cooking tips, trends and food-centric travel.

I invite you to join me in all my culinary adventures, by signing up to follow this blog. You’ll get my recipes, reviews and articles as soon as they  post, directly to your in-box.

Almost here, Stay Tuned…my list of Jan, Feb and March 2017 hands-on cooking classes posts on Monday January 22, 2017 – can’t  wait!