When in Rome

Here in Charlotte Spring has sprung. The skies are an inviting, bright Carolina blue. They are begging to be watched from a horizontal position spread across a blanket. All is green, budding, lush and lavish in our wonderful city. Last week we cranked up the grill only to discover that the flame was not catching. Naturally, we were defeated but also anticipatory about the upcoming search for a new one. Well, not so fast. Matthew's brother-in-law had a similar issue and the gentleman at one of the stores frequented by men said to turn the side burner off. He did and they enjoyed steaks that very night. We followed suit and ogled over grilled organic bone-in chops yesterday afternoon. While I do like to bake, roast, sauté and braise, there is nothing better than meat and produce hot off the grill. When the weather turns nice, we use our grill at every opportunity. One of my favorites these days is hanger steak. Quick and easy, the grill adds an extraordinary sear and we are in business.

So now that our grill is back to working, I look forward to using it this week. Not tonight however as I have a 3.80 pound engagement chicken in the fridge waiting to be stuffed, prodded, rubbed and popped in the oven for just shy of two hours under very high heat. While on the topic of heat, our house is hot as Hades. Well, this is not entirely true. So long as the fans are running in every room and the windows are open, it is manageable. Returning home to a shut up house however, not a picnic. The thermostat read 80 degrees late this afternoon. A certain master of the house thinks it too early to turn the AC on. Thank my stars we have fans. We bumped into friends at the grocer yesterday who said they turned their fan attic on and what a game changer it was. We did the same. I waited for birds to drop through the grates (chirping originating from somewhere above begins daily circa 4.00 am at ours). No birds touch wood, just a loud vacuum that deliciously cooled the house in minutes. So if someone in your home is adverse to turning on the AC at this moment in time, join my club. Perhaps you too can exercise the attic fan. Honestly, I never even knew such a thing existed. In fact, I always wondered what the random switch on the wall controlled. Now I know and knowing is half the battle.

This past Friday night, we gave the Charlotte food truck scene in historic Southend Charlotte a gander. What an event! We quickly learned that the trucks invite terrific conversation with strangers. It seemed to me that everyone was open to conversation and making new friends. I was in my element. We were real urbanites and traveled via the Lynx light rail. This was my second time taking public transport in the Queen City and it was a quick-lived albeit entertaining adventure. Back in Germany, I lived on public transport. I took the Strassenbhan (street car) to work, the U-bahn (underground train) around town and the ICE (bullet fast train) to visit my folks in Wiesbaden and travel within Deutschland. In NYC, I also prefer the subway to cabs, which often times make me carsick. In fact, whenever I visit a city that has a public train line, I take it. If it is how the locals get around why would I do anything differently? 

One of my very favorite pastimes is riding the bus around London. I like to pick it up at Sloane Square, rest my laurels, buzz past the Dorcester Hotel and admire the city from a comfortable position. The train line in Charlotte is quite accessible and getting from A to B is a breeze.  Our destination was less than four stops from where we embarked. Definitely cheaper than an Uber ride. Prior to going, I did a bit of due diligence and learned that one need arrive early (so as to avoid lines) and the rules of the game. Upon arrival, we excitedly assessed the scene, did a walk around of food trucks to ascertain who served what and headed to the Common Market to pick up spirits for the night. A bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for me and a six pack of Tsingtao for Matthew. Tsingtao is China's second largest brewery, founded by German settlers in 1903. It is light, refreshing and reminiscent of a German Pils. I am finicky about which beers I drink and I endorse this one. In fact, it is our go-to when we eat Vietnamese grub in the city.

We were fortunate to find a coveted picnic table and together we enjoyed our first drink. Our neighbors, self-advertised foodies, were tucking into pastel colored donuts, sliders and fried sandwiches. I inquired as to his grub and he told us that they frequent this spot every Friday. He outlined his favorites, those that he suggested giving a miss and highlighted a couple that were not there that evening. We thanked him greatly for his expertise and began our culinary quest. We started with The Tin Kitchen. Matthew and I are committed Food Network fans and regularly watch Guy Fieri stand guard in kitchens as chefs construct pleasing dishes for his consideration. We had seen the Tin Kitchen folks prepare an Indian inspired vegetarian taco on the show and both ogled accordingly. So naturally, this was stop number one. We started small. We ordered the pork belly taco (a cut of meat with which we are both consumed). It arrived crispy and covered with their signature 30-minute kimchi and hoisin glaze. We also opted for one of the specials of the day, a lamb burger with roasted red peppers and goat cheese. Both outstanding, they were devoured in minutes. Next time, I plan to try their nachos, BBQ beef brisket tacos with chipotle slaw and buffalo cauliflower sliders. Prices are competitive too. 

After some humming and hawing, next up was Papi Queso, a gourmet grilled cheese truck. Who doesn't love grilled cheese? Dairy hates me but when in Rome. Everyone and their brother appeared to order the Pig Mac. A curious sandwich complete with roasted pork shoulder, macaroni and cheese and bourbon glazed onions. Someone in the line recommended adding sliced cumin pickles. Served perfectly grilled on buttery bread with tiny chopped chives, we put it away in less than two minutes. Eating in silence is always a good sign in my household. Superb. I gather many others had our very same idea as the truck officially sold out that night. I had a strong hankering for a maple bacon donut but by this point the grounds were becoming quite populated so we decided to call it a night. But not before grabbing some yakitori or meat on sticks - chicken thighs and a second order of pork belly. We enjoyed these while sitting in the shade on a small patch of green. It was wonderful. Our takeaways: next time we will pack a blanket, a proper bag to facilitate the transport of drinks and procure the beef ribs. By the time we realized what a hot ticket they were, a densely populated line snaked around the grounds. Time to bid adieu.

After the food trucks we ventured to a fantastic bar, Gin Mill, a true neighborhood establishment. What I love about this place is their old fashioned popcorn machine serving freshly popped kernels, which are salted to perfection. After our grub and some beers, yes this would do. We took our drinks upstairs, where they have one of the most amazing roof decks I have come across in the city. The streets below us were lively and packed with people running in a race. The magnificent view paired with the cold drinks, salty popcorn and friendly scene were the cat's meow. Circa 8 something, the sun was setting and it was time for us to get on our ponies back home. We will be at Quail Hollow next Friday but the Friday following, you will again find me in Southend perusing the trucks and making friends. Either that or on our back deck grilling. The below pairs beautifully with any main. To all you mothers out there, I hope you enjoyed a magnificent Mother's Day and were overindulged accordingly. Oh how I love the Queen City. 

Elizabeth's Caesar Salad 

For the Dressing

3 anchovies packed in oil - chopped (keep anchovies in the fridge, they add pizazz to everything)
2 cloves of garlic - chopped
2 egg yolks
The juice of 1/2 lemon
1 TBS Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worchestire sauce
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
5 TBS of Parmesan or Romano cheese
Pinch or two of kosher salt
Lots and lots of fresh cracked pepper

Put everything in a food processor, blender or Cuisinart and mix. Sample and season to taste.

Garbanzo Bean Croutons

1 can of garbanzo beans - drained
2 TBS coconut oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
Kosher salt

Mix the garbanzo beans with coconut oil, cumin and paprika. Spread out evening across a cooking pan. Roast at 400 to 450 for 30 to 40 minutes. They should be nice and crispy once finished. Finish off with a generous pinch or two of kosher salt.

Peel the leaves from two heads of washed, crisp romaine lettuce. Drizzle the dressing on top. Finish off with the garbanzo bean croutons. If you are really feeling saucy, you can grate some more cheese on top and a couple of cracks of fresh pepper.

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