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Whether it's a trip to the city or into the wilderness you don't have to travel far from Knoxville to find it! Come explore the region (and more) with me, because no matter what day it is, it's always "trip time."

Unique dining destinations in Charlotte

Unique dining destinations in Charlotte

Whenever we find ourselves in a city we don’t know well, we often have a difficult time deciding where to eat.  That’s especially true if we have our children with us.  However, on a recent visit to Charlotte, we were without the kids and already had a couple of places on our dining agenda, so there weren't too many tough dining decisions to make. 

Fuel up on New York Style Pizza

 Fuel Pizza was born when a couple of New Yorkers living in Charlotte were tired of not being able to find New York Style pizza in the city. 

Fuel Pizza was born when a couple of New Yorkers living in Charlotte were tired of not being able to find New York Style pizza in the city. 

On Saturday we walked around Uptown and spent a couple of hours at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  Before we headed back to the Dunhill Hotel where we were staying, we decided to grab some lunch, but weren't sure exactly where to go.  On another visit to Charlotte I remember grabbing lunch at a spot along The Green, a cool literary themed park near the Charlotte Convention Center, but could only remember it had a service station theme and served pizza.

Well, it wasn't difficult to find Fuel Pizza and after looking at the specials on the board outside, it was an easy choice to make.  Little did we know Fuel Pizza had a cool story to go with it.  Turns out, a couple of New York guys were disappointed they couldn’t find a good slice of pizza in the city, so they bought an 1930’s era service station on Central Avenue and opened up the first Fuel Pizza. 

Now there are several locations in North Carolina and even some in DC.  Slices of pizza are exactly what we ordered along with some melt in your mouth garlic knots and sweet cinnamon and sugar-coated knots.  The service was fast, the pizza provided more than enough fuel for the rest of the day and best of all, it was all reasonably priced. Needless to say, this is a great pit stop after you’ve spent a couple of hours making your way through the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

 Amelie's French Bakery has several locations in Charlotte. 

Amelie's French Bakery has several locations in Charlotte. 

Having filled up with a great lunch, we headed back toward the Dunhill Hotel where we were staying.  We made a stop at Amelie’s French Bakery on College Street.   While we didn’t order anything, this place was packed with both people and lots of charm.  All decked out in whimsical French décor, the star attraction is behind the glass windows surrounding the kitchen where the pastry chefs were busy trying to refill a case up front that was filled with empty spots.  This is definitely a place we’ll visit again  on our next visit.

The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Asbury Dunhill Charlotte

Our Saturday evening in Charlotte ended with dinner at The Dunhill Hotel’s restaurant, The Asbury.  You could say that architecture takes on a few different meanings here.  The restaurant’s name comes from the architect of the building housing the Dunhill Hotel, Louis Asbury, Sr.   However,  the architect of the cuisine here is also building a lasting legacy.  Executive Chef Matthew Krenz is focused on taking regional dishes and turning them into something truly memorable.  In a city where restaurant competition is fierce, the modern, Southern creations from Chef Krenz’s kitchen definitely leave diners wanting to come back for more.

 The Krenz Burger at The Asbury in Charlotte is made from North Carolina beef that comes from the Chef's family farm. 

The Krenz Burger at The Asbury in Charlotte is made from North Carolina beef that comes from the Chef's family farm. 

While we didn’t get a chance to sample much from the menu, we had read through it many times while preparing for the trip and still had a difficult time deciding on what to order. In the end we both ordered the Krenz Ranch Burger, mine a double and my wife’s a single.  Now, you might ask, why order a burger when there is so much more on the menu like BBQ Scallops & Octopus, Cornbread encrusted trout and deviled crawfish?

It may have been a safe bet to order the burger, but I must admit, this was perhaps the best burger EVER!  The beef comes from the Krenz family ranch in North Carolina, a choice that speaks volumes about the benefits of locally sourced beef.  The burger was topped with caramelized onions, pickle and herb rouille and perhaps the thing that had us really impressed was the griddled cheddar cheese. In fact, that topping came up in a conversation with a couple of others dining at the Asbury that night when we saw them out in front of the hotel waiting for their ride. We all thought  “how can we make this at home?”.  (By the way, you can also get roasted mushrooms, a topping my wife loves, but me, not so much.)  

 The Cast Iron Mac & Cheese at The Asbury  Restaurant in Charlotte is listed as a side, but truthfully you could order a couple of these and be satisfied for days. 

The Cast Iron Mac & Cheese at The Asbury  Restaurant in Charlotte is listed as a side, but truthfully you could order a couple of these and be satisfied for days. 

While the Krenz Ranch Burger could have been the star of the meal, it paled in comparison to what is perhaps the greatest twist on a popular Southern comfort food.  The Cast Iron Mac & Cheese is bubbling when the server brings it to your table in an old fashioned cast iron skillet.   Made with cheddar cheese, the center of the skillet is filled with Goat Gournay Cheese and the whole dish is topped with grilled piquillo peppers and country ham (which I mistakenly thought was bacon).   This melt in your mouth side had us wondering if maybe we should have just ordered up a few skillets of this and called it a night.  Yes, the hotel has a bar, but the sheer delight you get from this dish may be all you really need to ease the stress of a rough day.  Just posting the picture of the Cast Iron Mac & Cheese on social media, resulted in a collection of responses from friends and followers wanting to make sure we got the recipe before we left, which we did not.  

A little taste of Sweden

After another delicious hotel breakfast of bacon, eggs, fruit and tea, we headed out to explore a little more of Uptown including the area around the Charlotte Knight’s stadium and the Bank of America Stadium where the Carolina Panthers play.  Eventually, after exploring a little more of Charlotte we made our way to Ikea, a place many people don’t see as a dining destination.  However, when we travel to a city with an Ikea stores, we generally stop to eat as the meals are reasonably priced and delicious. 

 The Swedish Meatballs at the IKEA cafe are one of the restaurants signature dishes.   The meal goes great with a glass (or two) of Lingonberry Soda. 

The Swedish Meatballs at the IKEA cafe are one of the restaurants signature dishes.   The meal goes great with a glass (or two) of Lingonberry Soda. 

This time around, I chose to get the Swedish Meatballs, mashed potatoes and vegetables, even having them give me some extra Meatballs for a dollar more. I also added a slice of DAIM cake, which was really more like a piece of pie layered with butterscotch and chocolate.  And of course, no trip to IKEA would be complete without a glass (or two or three) of the Lingonberry soda, which is really hard for me to describe, but when you have unlimited refills, you really need to know how to stop yourself from drinking too much!

(Hint: If you are a member of the IKEA Family rewards program, you get a free Swedish Meatball meal and a slice of cake for your birthday.)

Check out more on the restaurants mentioned here by visiting:

fuelpizza.com

ameliesfrenchbakery.com

dunhillhotel.com

theasbury.com

ikea.com

An almost forgotten story - The Clinton 12

An almost forgotten story - The Clinton 12

Finding treasures in Uptown Charlotte

Finding treasures in Uptown Charlotte