Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Charlotte 500, Laps 87 - 90: Of Beef & Buns

My favorite way of exploring my adopted hometown is working my way through the various "best of" lists that appear in newspapers and on the internet.  The Charlotte Observer runs a food related Sweet 16 every year during March Madness.  Sixteen restaurants known for a specific food item - wings, pizza, burgers, fries - are selected for the competition, and the field is narrowed weekly by on line voting until a winner is crowned the Best of Charlotte.  In 2011, the competition was all about burgers, divided between old school and new school.  In the end, the two schools of burger proved to be so vastly different the Observer opted to crown co-champs.  Before I turn the intro into a post of its own....

Lap 87: Brooks' Sandwich House (2710 N Brevard St, just off North Davidson, NoDa) was the winner of the old school bracket of the Observer's burger challenge.  Brooks' isn't much to look at - a dirty old shack, with a semi trailer parked (abandoned?) in back, and a large gravel lot in an old don't go to Brooks' because you happen to be driving by, you have to know it's there.  I expected something great, but left decidedly disappointed in the food.  I had the cheeseburger "all the way" (because that's what you're supposed to get at Brooks'), the classic Carolina style.  I was lucky enough to visit Brooks' Sandwich House on a gorgeously sunny and warm November day with a great friend who happens to have a truck with a tailgate, which proved an ideal place to eat our burgers and fries while naming the biting flies that attempted to impose themselves on our meal - that made the experience one of the happiest days I've had in a long time. The tailgate was also perfectly suited for people watching the diverse group of patrons that came to Brooks' for lunch. Due to the glowing reviews of Brooks' I will definitely return to see if my burger let-down was a fluke.

Lap 88: The Liberty (1812 South Blvd, South End) was the new school burger champ, a decision hard to argue.  While there are other reasons to visit the Liberty - great food and a fine beer list among them - the burger is truly delicious.  Nice and meaty, wonderfully juicy without being greasy...well worth a taste or two.  Or three.  The blue cheese potato chips are also outstanding.

Lap 89: Zack's Hamburgers (4009 South Blvd, at Scaleybark) is what McDonalds claims to be: simple, old fashioned burgers and fries.  Order the Zack's Special - two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a toasted bun (has a familiar ring, doesn't it?) served with fries - and you won't be disappointed.  I can't wait to go back!

Lap 90: Pinky's Westside Grill (1600 W Morehead St) serves up a fun mix of burgers with an unusual variety of toppings, including hummus, sauerkraut, and artichokes. One of the more interesting burgers is the Ding Dong style burger which is topped with crunchy peanut butter, honey-cilantro slaw, and hot sriracha sauce.  Mine was a tad dry (virtually mandated by state law) but the flavors were wonderful.  The fried pickle chips are a nice warm up for the burger.  If nothing else, it's a fun trip just to see the patriotic Volkswagen on the roof.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Charlotte 500, Lap 86: Lift Off - The Overlook

Airplanes taking off.  Yes, that seems a good way to get the 500 soaring again. 

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is one of the few airports in the nation to designate a public viewing area - called the Overlook - nearly underneath the runways where you can watch airplanes take off into the wild blue.  Having grown up in a home with as close, if not a closer, view of the jets leaving O'Hare Airport, the thrill of liftoff wasn't nearly as exciting for me as it was for others, but, nonetheless, the Overlook is a fun way to enjoy a couple hours with friends.  My only recommendation is to choose a calm day...these pictures of blue, sunny skies belie the persistenly chilly wind blowing across the open spaces to make the day somewhat uncomfortable.

The Charlotte skyline in the distance.


Saturday, January 07, 2012

2011 Reading List

Since I'm having a difficult time refiring my writing engine, I thought I'd do something quick and simple by reviewing my reading for 2011.  This was, after all, intended to be a blog mainly about books when I first started.  Maybe some day I'll even post the two years I skipped.  Long gone are the years of reading 50 or more books; this year I managed only these 12:

1) Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America - Much more interesting than it sounds, but much too long to keep me interested.
2) Johann David Wyss - The Swiss Family Robinson - When Mr Rogers Neighborhood meets Survivor...  I nearly gagged on the optimism.
3) Stephen King - Duma Key - Enjoyable but not especially memorable.
4) Harry Sievers - Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier Warrior
5) Harry Sievers - Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier Statesman
6) Harry Sievers - Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier President - A very up and down biography; at times great, at times mediocre.  Sievers seemed more a cheerleader for a dead president than a historian.
7) Stephen King - Under the Dome - King's best in a long time.  Still, he has a knack for building up these wonderful worlds, then having no way to escape them without a decisive and sudden conclusion that is nearly always a disappointment.
8) Daniel Keyes - Flowers for Algernon - I liked the idea much more than the book.
9) Richard Hough - Captain James Cook, A Biography - Interesting, but really all Cook did was sail around the world making charts, which hardly makes for scintillating reading.  The most engrossing section was the narrative of Cook's death at the hands of the Hawaiians.
10) Pat Conroy - The Prince of Tides - I have been unnecessarily avoiding this book for years, but it was outstanding, and I'm glad to have read it on the suggestion of a friend.
11) Joseph J Ellis - Founding Brothers - Excellent history clearly written. 
12) Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen writes the same thing over and over, chapter after chapter, book after book.  A true one-trick pony.  It's a great trick, but....

My book of the year, narrowly edging out Founding Brothers. It got a boost in my mind for being recommended by a wonderful friend with whom I was able to discuss the book, which always makes reading more valuable and fun.