Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 9: Pssghetti's

Pssghetti's, located off Sam Furr Rd (NC 73), in Huntersville was a wonderful surprise. Nestled among the stores, like Blockbuster, you'd expect in a Target/Lowes strip mall, we expected Pssghetti's to be a pseudo fast food Italian restaurant along the lines of Pasta Makers. As soon as we walked in the front door, we knew we had the wrong idea. Beautifully decorated, with loads of copper along the walls and ceiling, Pssghetti's carried a typical Italian menu - chicken parmigiana, ravioli, lasagna, etc. Starting with the bread and butter, continuing with the salad, and through the main entrees, everything was fantastic. Tiffany and I split a plate of chicken scallopini with cuscus, while we both had a taste of her dad's chicken parmigiana. All of it was great. We'll be back soon. Or at least as soon as I have a job. The service, friendly and informative, was just as good as the food. I put both my thumbs up for Pssghetti's.

Pssghetti's also has a location in Blowing Rock, NC, up in the mountains, and is opening soon in Clearwater, FL.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 8: Hendrick Motor Sports

Located in Concord, just outside the Charlotte city limits, Hendrick Motor Sports is home to reigning NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson (Tiffany's favorite) and four-time champ Jeff Gordon (if the rules hadn't been changed three years ago, Gordon would be eight races away from his sixth championship). In 2008, Hendrick will also be home to the most popular driver, if not the most popular athlete in the country, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (That will be an interesting combination since Gordon and Earnhardt fans carry on a rivalry that makes Cubs vs. Cards or Yankees vs. Red Sox look like a Quaker picnic, and now they're teammates.) In total, HMS has won over 160 races, including five Daytona 500s, six Winston/Nextel Cup championships, three Craftsman truck championships, and one Busch series championship.

HMS is also the former home of my favorite driver, Kenny Schrader. Schrader has only four career victories, all coming while he drove for Hendrick from 1988-95. Unfortunately, the most attention he gets at the museum is the display of the car he was driving when he was wrecked by Gordon, his teammate, at Talladega in 1995.
Other drivers who have driven for HMS include Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, and Terry Labonte.
The HMS museum and garages are free to visit, so even if you're not a race fan, you might enjoy a quick visit. If nothing else, it is amazing to see the size of the complex; the major teams easily take up more space than an NFL stadium. The garages are stunningly clean, and you can view the work areas, which was somewhat interesting, even for someone like me who doesn't care much for the mechanical end of the sport. The museum contains a couple dozen cars, hundreds of trophies, pictures, videos, and a gift shop, of course. Here are a few pictures from our recent visit.

And because it's NASCAR, even the landscaping is sponsored.

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The Charlotte 500, Lap 7: Sonic

I know Sonic isn't a Charlotte thing, but I'm including it here for three reasons: 1) It's close to the next stop on the Charlotte 500; 2) They still have a roller skating server, Sheri by name, who delivers your food; 3) I became inordinately excited when I saw they had numerous flavorings to jazz up your soda. Plus, I don't remember ever eating at Sonic before.
We had a coupon for extra long coney dogs, which are hot dogs topped with chili and a cheese whiz type substance, so that's what we ate, along with their version of tater tots. I was pleasantly surprised; it was a tasty, satisfying lunch. I also had a blue-coconut-coke and a chocolate-strawberry-coke. You can get any one, or a combination, of about ten flavorings in any of their soft drinks, so it would take a long time to try every possible variation - over 400 years if you drank one per day, according to the calculation printed on the cup (this is a list it would be wise not to start). Flavored cokes are one of the joys of life, so this discovery was good news indeed. This particular Sonic was only minutes from Lowes Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports, and NASCAR Speedpark (more about those later), and since I'm married to a racing fanatic, I'm sure we'll be back.

Here's an action photo of me slurping the chocolate-strawbery coke.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 6: Brooklyn South

After watching boats at Blythe Landing, a short drive up Catawba Avenue will bring you to Brooklyn South pizza in Cornelius.

A large number of New Yorkers have migrated to Charlotte and they've brought along their pizza. So Brooklyn South is bound to be only the first of several New York pizzerias on the Charlotte 500.

Tiffany and I decided New York pizza really was better than plain old thin crust when we were in NY last summer. While Brooklyn South was very good pizza, it didn't quite measure up to what you can find in New York City itself (the crust was too chewy). Since we were picking up pizza for our neighbors, we couldn't eat in, but took our pizza home - and maybe that made the difference in the crust. We were able to view the ovens, though, and the NYC subway t-shirts hanging over the counter. As you would expect, the walls are adorned with mementos of Brooklyn, including a cool picture of Ebbets Field. They also carried an interesting looking stuffed pizza that looked like a mammoth calzone. I have a feeling we'll be back to try it.
I didn't think to take a picture of our pizza, so use your imagination.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 5: Sittin' on the Dock of the Lake

Lake Norman is one of the biggest attractions in the Charlotte area. Formed when the Catawba River was dammed, Lake Norman has over 500 miles of shoreline. There aren't many better ways to spend a relaxing hour or two on a beautiful sunny day than to sit on the dock watching boats. Okay, maybe it's not my favorite thing, but, for Tiffany at least, this is about as good as it gets. On Lake Norman, a good place to watch boats is Blythe Landing, a public boat landing on the south end of the lake.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Charlotte 500, Lap 4: What a Drive In

I've been to Whataburger before - they're all over Texas - but I had never seen the old drive in style like the one in Mooresville. Since the official Whataburger website says they don't have any stores in North Carolina, there might be a good reason for that; I just don't know what it is.

Anyway, this particular Whataburger had the same good burgers I remember, maybe a litte greasier. Plus they had all the necessary artery-hardening sides, including hush puppies. Best of all, they had Sundrop, both regular and cherry lemon, on the soda fountain. If you're in Mooresville and you want a good fast food burger, while staying away from the usual suspects like McDonalds and Burger King, the Whataburger drive-in of Mooresville is a good choice.

And I even got my own personal table service from a gorgeous server.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Concert Review: Alison Krauss and Union Station

A couple weeks ago, I attended the Alison Krauss and Union Station concert at Bobcat's Arena in uptown (the local name for downtown) Charlotte. Along with the Who and Sara Groves, Alison Krauss is probably my favorite recording artist/band. Union Station is, by all accounts, a band of bluegrass superstars, but I'm not an authority on such things. I just like Alison's voice, which to me is the embodiment of "the high lonesome sound." (I know calling her by her first name seems a bit presumptuous, but calling her Krauss just sounds ugly. "Krauss" is the name of one of those chubby beer-guzzlin' frat boys you'd see in a movie like Animal House.)

As far as major concerts go, I've seen The Who twice and that's been it (I don't count the Amy Grant Christmas extravaganza). So, it was quite a change to see this show. The Who, in their younger days, were the loudest rock and roll band in the world, and at a rock and roll show, particularly The Who, the audience is expected to participate by contributing noise of their own. Bluegrass, on the other hand, has, for some reason, become a Respectable musical form and the audience too often sits quietly as if they're watching a symphony orchestra. Only when the band broke into the up-tempo bluegrass numbers did the audience liven up a little. The crowd just seemed too quiet. It didn't help that the album the band was promoting, A Hundred Miles or More, is a moody collection of mostly somber and depressing tunes.
But the band was great. If it's possible, the band is too talented. Most of the songs were performed record-perfect. One of the joys of live performance is to hear the improvisational talents of the musicians and the rough edge live music is supposed to contain. If the songs sound just like the record, then what's the point? Still, AK&US put on a really good show, and I enjoyed the playful interaction between band members.
For me, the highlights of the evening were the dobro solo by Jerry Douglas, "Jacob's Dream" - a mournful song from the new album, a lively rendition of Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'", and, of course, "Man of Constant Sorrow" with vocals by Dan Tyminski. I think that last song, from O Brother, Where Are Thou?, has become the band's golden albatross. It earned them popular attention, but they'll never be able to do another concert without performing that song, even if they're around another 40 years.
There were only two disappointments to the show. One was the very brief encore, which consisted only of one song - "When You Say Nothing at All." That's the song that put Alison Krauss on the map, and she performed it to perfection. The second disappointment was that "A Living Prayer" was not in the set list. It's an outstanding song that puts Alison's wonderful voice on display. There's a nice little homemade video of the song on YouTube you can watch by clicking here: "A Living Prayer".
Overall, the concert was great, even if it was a bit quiet. And having seen today's most popular bluegrass band somehow makes me feel like I'm a bit more of a true North Carolinian than I was before.