Charlotte · Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Rooster’s Southpark

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If you haven’t been to Rooster’s in a while, do yourself a favor and get over there.  We decided to go after a chef friend recommended it so highly.  She told us that the Executive Chef, Zack Renner, was amazing and that they served her farm’s pork.  That’s all she had to say, we were there.

We reserved a table for 8 so they put us in a room that looked like it might once have been the hallway of a small strip mall.  BUT they’d doctored it up with pretty twinkle lights and a nice fountain in the middle.  And then there was this adorable pig door holder we were all entranced with…and we weren’t alone.  A few people stopped to take pictures of Porky.

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Our waitress was so kind and deftly handled our large(ish) group by giving us suggestions, fixing drinks when we weren’t satisfied and delivering the bad news about dessert.  The management also stopped by a time or two to make sure our night was going well..which it very much was.

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Cocktails are the best way to begin Girl Nosh.  Rooster’s has a fine selection of wine, brews and mixed drinks.  This one (I forget the name) was muddled cucumbers, raspberry and gin.  I have to admit it wasn’t for me, but others at the table found it refreshing and light.

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To soak up all of this alcohol, they brought us an assortment of delicious baked breads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread was hearty and delicious.  Very nutty.

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Housemade bresaola.  I didn’t try, but doesn’t it look great?

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The French Onion soup was not one of my favorite soups.  It was hearty, but not as flavorful as it should have been for such murky and dark broth.  I didn’t opt for it on my second visit.

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The salads were all so fresh and dressed perfectly.  This one was on their daily offerings page, meaning it was what was fresh at the farmer’s market:  Whole romaine leaves topped with walnuts, tangerine slices and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.  Perfect.

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The next salad was baby arugula, chopped pears and chevre cheese. Yum!

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My salad was a wedge.  I don’t know why I’m not more adventurous.  I just love a wedge.  And this one was perfect.  The cold, crispy iceberg lettuce topped with creamy, tangy blue cheese dressing is a comfort food.  This one had some pickled red onions on top that were both sweet and tart, and really gave the salad a punch!

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When you go to Rooster’s, you must have something that was wood-fired or wood-grilled.  Shannon got the salmon, and it was perfectly cooked…charred on the outside and tender on the inside.  She was so happy with her choice!

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Other dishes I didn’t try but were reported to be delicious:  Wood-Fired Joyce Farms Natural Chicken.  Laurie said it was tender, full of flavor and really juicy.  

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Anessa got roasted veal with mushrooms and blue potatoes.  It sat in a deliciously flavored jus and drizzled with aioli.  Perfection.

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One of the best dishes for the night was Jennifer’s braised beef short rib.  Tender as a a slow-roasted pot roast, but packed with flavor.  The meat just melted in your mouth!

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I have mixed feelings about my entree.  I got the fried oysters, and while they were perfectly delicious: crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside with a nice briny flavor, I’d come to a restaurant that has “wood-fired” in its name and didn’t get something from the grill.  Supremely stupid.  You can get oysters at a fish camp.  Stick with something with the taste of fire.

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Have you ever seen a cheeseburger that looked this yummy?  And shoestring onion rings to accompany.  That’s not even fair.

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Amazingly simple spaghetti.  Perfectly balanced and flavored.

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Buttery seared scallops.  Oh my.

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You know, sometimes side dishes are predictable or dialed in.  An afterthought.  At Rooster’s the sides are at center stage alongside the entrees.  All sides here are designed for two people, but are so good you may not want (or be able) to share.

The fried corn should be your first choice.  It’s real corn.  Not from a can.  And it is pan-fried with spices that make is lip-smacking good.

The stone ground grits are another perfect choice.  Little nuggets of corny goodness are buried in them and there is plenty of heavy cream to make them rich and velvety.

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One of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth was the wood-fired sunchoke.  It sure didn’t look like much more than a ginger root when it came to the table, but the taste was amazing.  When I saw the word “sunchoke” I immediately conjured images or the artichoke.  The sunchoke, however, is a tuber, like a potato.  It was creamy and had a little bit of sweetness to it.  The wood firing brought out a nuttiness in it as well.  Very complex for such a simple dish.  One of my favorites for the night!

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Another favorite is this mess 🙂  This is a mix of mushrooms, which is probably one of my favorite foods in the world.  The table agreed that these were a favorite.  They were lightly seasoned and gently cooked, so their true flavors shown through.

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Macaroni and cheese: soupy and creamy…yum!!

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By the time we were done eating, most of the tables around us were empty.  And they’d take our top dessert choice with them: the coconut cake.  We didn’t let that stop us, though.  We all ordered the back up dessert which was an apple tarte.  The waitress called it something else, but for the life of me, I cannot remember what that was.  To describe it I’d say it was dried apples (re-hydrated, of course) placed atop a buttery and light croissant crust.  It was accompanied by a scoop of vanilla bean gelato and a spill of rich caramel sauce.  Even though apples aren’t my favorite dessert fruit, this reminded me of the fried pies my grandmother used to make.  The apples had a tart but sweet taste and were very soft.  The crust wasn’t overly sweet, so it was perfect with the gelato and the caramel.  Decadent and delicious!

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Chocolate Milkshake:  Runny and chocolately, just like I like it.

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We at Girl Nosh all agreed that this was one of our favorite places we’d been to.  That’s saying something, because we’ve been to some fine restaurants.  You will need a reservation, but you can make them on OpenTable.com.  Go on and get that done now.  You are welcome.

Rooster's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Lincolnton · Restaurants

Food Junkee cooks for Girl Nosh!

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One of our Girl Nosh members is married to a chef.   We kept saying when I got the house ready, we were going to hire Food Junkee (aka Joe Byrd) to cook dinner for us in-house (instead of our usual fancy restaurants) so we could linger and enjoy each other’s company for a little longer than normal without getting the side eye.

Joe arrived about an hour early to set up.  He had most of the food prepared and ready to be served.  He did prepare some dishes on site and they were so so amazing.  Everything was.  And at the end of the night, all of my guests retired into the dining room to play a raucous card game and not worry about clean up.  Seriously best night of my life.

Dinner

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Here’s the spread…all spread out.  I wanted you to have a view of how lovely it all looks in the deep bowls, filled to the brim with goodness.  Each dish is described below.

Appetizers
Homemade Lime Tortilla Chips served with Pineapple Mango Salsa is what we first sampled as Joe set up the spread for my friends.  The crispy chips were freshly made, warm and dusted with salty lime flavors that were perfect against the sweet heat of the salsa.  I think we ate a gallon.  Seriously.

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Joe also had some leftover Spinach and Artichoke Dip from stuffing our chicken, so he brought that along to serve with the extra tortilla chips.  So creamy and tangy.  I could live on it.

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Filipino-style Pork Eggrolls with Spicy Apricot Dipping Sauce was the best-loved appetizer by the masses.  Assembled and fried on site, these little nuggets were filled with a spicy pork mixture and finely chopped vegetables.  Unlike your favorite take-out Chinese spot, these were FULL of meat, and not filler.  The apricot dipping sauce was sweet with just enough bite to make you come back for more. 

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Two of my favorite dishes rolled into one: Pan-Fried Spinach-n-Artichoke Dip Stuffed Chicken.  First, the chicken is stuffed with this creamy indulgence, then rolled in bread crumbs and delicately pan-fried.  The chicken was so tender and juicy and let’s just be honest: you can put that dip on anything and it will make it 100% better.  It’s my favorite thing in the world.

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The most vibrant side dish we enjoyed was the Honey Ginger Glazed Carrots with Pistachios.  These buttery little gems were fragrant and still had a little bite to them.  As you can see by the slight char on them, they were roasted first, which caramelized their natural sugars and deepened their flavors, if possible.  These were probably the most popular side of the night, not a single leftover!

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You don’t like peas?  You just haven’t tried Joe’s Indian Spiced Peas.  Spiked with Indian spices, diced onions and minced garlic; just perfectly matched the sweet peas with a little bit of heat.  How can I go back to Lesueur peas after this?

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The Asian Glazed Mushrooms were so flavorful and substantial that we didn’t even need a starch.  They were sautéed in butter and slowly allowed to simmer in that Asian glaze that was maddeningly delicious and just different enough to make you feel like you were experiencing this side for the first time.  Can you tell they were my favorites?

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Most people get one dessert.  Not us.  We got two.  And I can’t even tell you which one was better, they were both amazing and rich.  The first was a Chocolate Chip Kahlua Cheesecake.  This is kind of Joe’s signature dessert.  At least, the number of us who’d had it before requested (begged) him to bring it for Girl Nosh.  He doesn’t disappoint.  A chocolatey rich cake bottom topped with creamy and sweet cheesecake with tiny shards of chocolate chips, all accented by the Kahlua.  And look how pretty:

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The Cast Iron Apple Brown Betty with Homemade Almond Ice Cream was a special treat for all of us.  First of all, making a dessert in a cast iron skillet?  Too rustic, too cool.  We were all so enraptured.  Then Megan sprang her homespun ice cream (made right in my kitchen while the cobbler baked!) on us and we all ate until we were sick.  No regrets.  And that was the end to our perfect evening.

Now, for the plug.  Joe and Megan are my friends.  BUT I cannot recommend their services more highly.  Joe is a personal chef who not only caters events but also prepares meals for families on a weekly basis.  Seriously, it isn’t much more than Blue Apron per meal to do this and you get to pick EXACTLY what you want.  Just check them out.  You won’t be sorry!

Charlotte · Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Mert’s Heart and Soul

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Mert’s Heart & Soul is located in downtown Charlotte.  When you walk through the doors, however, you forget that fact.  You feel like you are in an out-of-the-way hole in the wall establishment.  I love it.  The walls are filled with personal pictures and other interesting memorabilia.

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Some of the criticisms we’ve heard of Mert’s is that the service is lacking. We found that not to be a concern at all. Our waiter, DJ, took care of our large party perfectly. He even posed for a picture with me!

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Sincerely, I should put these cornbread cakes down there in the desserts.  Especially when  you slather them with this amazing honey butter.  But, alas, they bring them before the appetizers, so I feel I must insert them here.  This is what everyone talks about.  These tender pones are just sweet enough to satisfy the Yankees, but still savory enough to tempt the Southerner.  (I don’t know about your family, but my people call yellow, sweet cornbread “Yankee” cornbread.)  Whatever you call it, it is glorious.
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Mert’s has a limited selection of appetizers.  Everything we tried was delicious, but my favorites were Mert’s Soul Rolls.  These egg rolls have a unique spin:  they are filled with seasoned rice, black-eyed peas, collard greens and chicken.  They are served with a spicy honey mustard sauce that has just enough punch to elevate this crunchy favorite.

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Every Southern/soul food place worth its salt has Fried Green Tomatoes on the menu and Mert’s is no different.  The tomatoes themselves were sliced perfectly (not too thick) and fried crisply.  The remoulade sauce that dressed them was tangy and a little spicy.  It was a good dish.  But honestly, it is one of those things, much like calamari, that is on every menu, and there isn’t enough variation in taste from one to the other to really justify getting it and forsaking the trying of a new dish.  But hey, I understand cravings.  If you are just jonesing for some FGT, then by all means, enjoy.  But branch out!

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For dinner I got the Fried Chicken Wings with Winston-Salem Sauce.  They were maybe the best pieces of fried chicken I’ve ever had.  Crispy, not greasy, and seasoned perfectly.  The sauce is merely hot sauce dowsing it, which was perfect.  The macaroni and cheese was perfection and the black-eyed peas were creamy and well seasoned.  I’d get that exact same plate if I went again.  So good.

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Laurie got the Fried Whiting on the recommendation of our waiter, DJ.  She said it was amazing!  The fish was crispy on the outside, tender and flaky on the inside.  The macaroni and cheese was the best any of us had ever eaten.  Cheesy and creamy with just enough crusty edges to add a little texture.  The collard greens were braised perfectly, and topped with fresh tomato and onion: mixed together to make a perfect bite!

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Erika got the Salmon Patties with macaroni and cheese and greens.  She said the patties were fine, but nothing special.  Next time she’d try something else.

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Anessa got the Fried Catfish and Fried Chicken Combo with Yams and Macaroni and Cheese.  The chicken and fish were fried and seasoned perfectly.  The yams were slow cooked in brown sugar and butter…how can that be bad?  And the macaroni.  Yeah, we’ve already talked about how life altering that is.

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The lemon pound cake was tangy and had a good flavor.  Anessa reported it was a little dry, so next time she might try another dessert.

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My peach cobbler came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.  It was decent cobbler, but my mom’s is better.  Not overly sweet, but not overly flavorful either.  The best dessert of the night was this:

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This is the banana pudding cake.  It was moist, cakey and full of banana flavor.  I never even thought I liked banana pudding all that much, but this cake…what a great twist on a classic.

Here’s the real deal:  No matter where we go, or what we eat, we always ALWAYS have a blast together!

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Mert's Heart and Soul Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Charlotte · Restaurants

Tupelo Honey – Girl Nosh

So I find myself in a separated state after 20 years of wedded bliss.  I gave myself a couple of days to wallow in misery and then got a plan together.  New job, new gym membership, new church…check.  The last piece of my happiness puzzle was surrounding myself with great friends.  Thus “Girl Nosh” was born.  We are a group of girls who enjoy going out to eat together and laughing our heads off.  We meet once a month and the only requirement is that everyone has to take a picture of their food for my blog and let me taste a tiny bite of what they got 🙂

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Our charter meeting was held at Tupelo Honey in Charlotte.  We had to call for reservations, since I had too many folks coming to use the online reservation scheduler.  No big deal, they were nice and efficient and had our reservation when we arrived.  Actually, we arrived early and they seated us very quickly.  Awesome!

OK, so I have one knock on the place.  It was smoking hot.  I mean, I never cooled down.  We were seated by the door and it kept opening with each new customer, totally screwing us out of cool air every time.  Every time.  If only they had a more “closed in” entryway, perhaps that could be avoided?  All I know is I was hot.  But, I did buy two drinks, so maybe there is a method to the madness?

The Bar

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Our table ordered white wine, Sangria (red) and a mixed drink called a Honeysuckle and Lavender Flip.  The Sangria was sweet and fruity and very refreshing.  The Flip…well…that was light and sweetly resplendent.  That’s right: resplendent.  It was made with Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka and a house made lavender sweet and sour mixed with soda water and a squeeze of lemon.  Served over cracked ice and a sprinkling of lavender buds on top, and you’ll hear an angel sing upon first sip.

Appetizers and Small Plates

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First up is a hearty appetizer: Fried Green Tomatoes.  Any southern restaurant worth its salt must have this on the menu.  But TH has their fried green maters on a bed of creamy goat cheese grits and that is nestled over the top of some brightly flavored red pepper coulis.  What a perfect combination.  The crispy, salty and sour fried green tomatoes was a perfect counter balance to the decadent grits.  The coulis added just enough spice to tie it all together.  A perfect dish that we had to order 2 plates of to share.

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The Jumbo Lump Crab Cake was another hit.  It might have been the best crab cake I’ve ever tasted!  Crispy on the outside and full of sweet large hunks of crab.  Seasoned just perfectly!  It came propped against a small salad a mixed dark greens dressed with a jalapeno aioli and tossed with sweetly sour baby tomatoes.  That salad had a bite to it!  Perfect addition to the simple goodness of the crab cake.

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The table also thoroughly enjoyed Warm Pimento Cheese, like a Southern cheese dip, served with house-made tortilla chips.  I looked around to see so many tables enjoying this simple, but unbeatably delicious, sharable appetizer.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it didn’t even need salsa.  It was that good.

Tupelo Honey biscuitThe humble Biscuit.  Handmade, fluffy, salty and tender.  Served with honey (of course) and blueberry preserves.  A.mazing.

Brunch

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Erika had a brunch item for dinner: Fried Chicken and Biscuits!  She couldn’t make up her mind what she wanted, everything looked so good, but the description of the basil gravy eventually won her over.  Let me set this dish up for you:  Huge bowl is filled with split house made biscuits.  Next, they place a perfectly fried buttermilk chicken breast patty.  Add crispy NC country ham and some basil and top all of that with a fried egg.  Which when Erika sank her fork in burst and gave a new level of richness to that gravy.  It was decadent and wonderful, and she could barely finish a third of her meal!

Dinner

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Laurie ordered Roasted Duck Breast.  It was topped with a cherry port wine sauce and served with cardamom ginger roasted carrots and a shaved Brussels sprout salad dressed with a honey vinaigrette.  Laurie said that the duck was cooked well, but the skin wasn’t seared enough, leaving it chewy.  She cut all of the skin off and ate the duck breast meat.  It was tasty, but she was disappointed with the skin.  The salad was so tangy and creamy, much like a cole slaw.

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Vickie got the Jumbo Fried Shrimp.  These big, juicy prawns were buttermilk fried and topped with a sticky cherry pepper lemon aioli.  Vickie reported them amazing!  She got hers with a side of asparagus and a side salad.

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I got the Hickory Nut Gap Farm Beef and Bacon Meatloaf.  I’m going to be honest here: I picked something that would go with the macaroni and cheese.  Because that’s what I was wanting.  If you are going to cheat on your diet, you should really go all out.  So, I picked fried okra, too.  NO REGRETS!  The meatloaf was so tender, and a nice brown color, unlike my gray offerings.  The gravy on top was a tomato rosemary shallot gravy that was zesty and packed with flavor.  I was dragging the macaroni and cheese through it, too.  The macaroni and cheese was gooey and cheesy.  I mean, even a bad mac and cheese tastes pretty good, but this one is yummy, no fear.  The fried okra was plump yet crispy.  Not that frozen mess you get at other places.  I was so happy.  Joyous, really.

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Kathy, the healthy one in the group, opted for the  Venerated Veggie Bowl.  We’ll never truly know how wonderful this was because Kathy refuses to share her food!  LOL  I can say that it looked amazing and she couldn’t eat it all.  Let me set it up for you:  On the bottom of the bowl there is a layer of SC Stone Ground Goat cheese grits and that is topped with salsa verde black-eyed peas.  They then pile on sauteed greens, fried okra and salsa.  I love meat, but this bowl looked amazing.

Lunch

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Lunch isn’t all that much different from dinner, but they do have more sandwiches.  My favorite is probably the Shoo Mercy Cheesy Grill.  A gooey mixture of Havarti and pimento cheese tops carmelized onions, crispy maple smoked bacon, salty smoked ham, fried green tomatoes and fresh basil all on wheat sourdough bread.  Sounds like a lot going on, but the combination is perfect.  Squishy, salty, creamy and crispy: it hits all the notes.

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I got my sammie with a bowl of their tomato soup.  Eh.  A little tangy.

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The Southern Fried Chicken BLT is another staple at Tupelo Honey.  I had one at lunch on another visit.  The chicken is seasoned perfectly, crispy crunchy and the bacon is smoky.  Perfect in its simplicity

Side Dishes

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You could make a meal on the side dishes.  Seriously.  Because they have a veggie plate where you can choose 3 or 4 for your meal.  But, if you just want a couple with your meat (do it!) you’ll be happy too.  Laurie got the Edamame, Pine Nut, Golden Raisin and Carrot Salad.  I was very suspicious of those healthy looking green beans, but I was pleasantly surprised at the sweet and tangy dressing, and the bite from the pine nuts.  Healthy never tasted so good.

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Another favorite of our table was the Benne Coated Asparagus.  Asparagus can’t go wrong as long as it isn’t over cooked.  These were perfectly cooked, still had a bit of a snap, and the benne (sesame seeds, right?) added a nuttiness.  Yum!

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You may also choose a side salad as one of your “vegetables.”  This one comes with mixed greens, grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, pickled onions and pine nuts.  The  pickled onions and pine nuts are tangy and crunch elements that are different from your run-of-the-mill side salad.

If you are looking for a delicious country meal that is a little on the upscale side, you have to give Tupelo Honey a try.  Just bring a fan.

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