Charlotte · Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Big Ben Pub in Charlotte, NC

I wrapped up restaurant week with a visit to Big Ben’s with a couple of friends.  Man do these restaurants get busy during this week and the servers really hustle! We had a pleasant time and it’s a cool place to come to watch a soccer game.

Parking is intense here, few spots and lots of folks going in and out, swinging around other cars, so be careful.  I did see a Valet, but did not use.  There was no one at the stand so I can assume he was parking or fetching another car.  There were a few cars in line to use him, so everyone was swinging around them to get in and out.

When you walk in, it really has the air of a British pub…or at least what I imagine one looks and feels like.  There are flags hanging from the ceiling, a bar and television sets everywhere.  The atmosphere was cool and lively.

We were seated at our table which had to be bussed first, so we hung around the hostess station while that happened.  I had reservations, but it was no big deal as they were crowded and busy.  After being seated it took a minute for our server to acknowledge us and he was clipped and curt.  Still, not a huge deal, but did dim the experience a bit.  Our drinks were brought out and the sweet tea was really good.  My friends had a mixed drink and a chardonnay.

For starters I ordered the Ploughman’s Platter off of the regular menu.  That was the biggest disappointment of the night.  A few cubes of cheese, crackers, big pile of lettuce in the middle of the plate with a spoonful of cole slaw, a pickle and 2 spoonfuls of relish along with a boule of brown bread.  It felt like stuff I’d grab out of the fridge to feed popcorn visitors!  Don’t waste your money on that, it was truly ridiculous.

We also tried the sausage rolls and those were delicious.  These are kielbasa sausage wrapped in puffed pastry and served with spicy mustard and their house-made relish.

Jennifer was trying to be healthy and ordered a garden salad.  It was fine.  I thought the dressing was good.  She gave me some to eat with my lettuce on the ploughman’s platter.

Our entrees arrived swiftly…too swiftly.  We were still trying to eat our appetizers and had to shift things around awkwardly. The meals were good. We sampled Haddock and Chips, which was a HUGE amount of food!  Very impressive looking. The fish was well cooked, it simply lacked seasoning.

I had the Cornish Pasty which was a puff pastry filled with ground beef, onions, gravy, peas, carrots and potatoes.  It was so darned good!  I truly enjoyed it, very flavorful and seasoned perfectly.  It was served with delicious mashed potatoes and they poured more of that brown gravy on top of them and the pasty.  The only problem was that the gravy and mashed potatoes were cold on top and barely warm on the bottom.  I guess mine had been sitting in the window awhile.  Also accompanying was mixed veggies, which were barely cooked and not seasoned at all.  I LOVE veggies, and first dove into the squash and zucchini only to find it terribly bland.  So disappointing.

We also had the Steak Diane, and it was good.  Nothing special but very good.  It was a well cooked steak with a creamy sauce, accompanied by roasted potatoes and those same flavorless veggies.  I had a bite of the steak and determined it was nicely grilled and cooked to temperature.

The Queen’s Feast came with dessert, so my friends chose the Sherry Trifle and the Bread and Butter Pudding.  The waiter actually brought the apple crisp (you couldn’t tell because the thing was covered with so much stuff).  By the time we realized the mistake, we didn’t see the waiter again to ask him to correct the mistake.  The one bite I had of each was enough for me.  Both were sub par, lacking flavor and finesse.  They were both topped with Cool Whip and it kind of ruined the dessert.

While I was not wowed by the restaurant, I do think it is a good representation of an English pub.  I think if you go there expecting pub food, you will be pleasantly surprised, especially if you are drinking 🙂

Concord · Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Basilico Italian in Concord NC

Photo credit: adrixipali

Restaurant Week is cause for celebration!  Basilico is on the list and one that I’ve had on my list for a good long while to try.  I should tell you we didn’t order off of the Restaurant Week menu while we were there, but their offerings were amazing.  They just didn’t have the salad and dessert I wanted.  Even ordering individually, we came out just as well or better by ordering individually.

When we arrived, the place was packed.  They seated us right next to the singer for the night, and I was apprehensive. I was concerned that it would be too much, I wouldn’t be able to hear my partner and frankly lots of different noises at once is distracting.  And it did get a tiny bit much at times, with customers coming up to sing with the singer, but this place had such a family vibe I didn’t even mind, and actually enjoyed it!  We all sang happy birthday to 3 different people that night, and you could see in their faces they loved it.

Our server was great!  She earned her money too, because this place was full!  She took our drink orders quickly and checked on us frequently.  Other servers jumped in when necessary to help, too.  Love that family atmosphere.

Complimentary Rolls with Marinara for dipping

They bring you complimentary rolls with marinara sauce to begin your meal.  These might have been my favorite part of the meal!  They are just amazing!  Warm, crusty on the outside but so tender inside.  They are dusted with Parmesan cheese which makes them just a little bit salty.  A perfect foil for that tangy marinara sauce.

The Wedge: Crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with tomato, red onion, bleu cheese dressing and crumbled bleu cheese and crispy bacon bits.

We both had the Wedge salad.  I don’t know what it is about the wedge, but I love its simplicity. This was a great example of a Wedge, not too much blue cheese, plenty of bacon, very fresh.  On this occasion my wedge of lettuce did have the core still in it, but I swiftly removed the offending piece and proceeded to enjoy.

Chicken Marsala:
Baby bello mushrooms in a traditional Marsala wine reductions over linguine.

Our entrees were just amazing.  My Chicken Marsala was so tender and juicy!  I asked for a little side of the marinara to eat my noodles with and mixed with that sweet Marsala sauce for a perfect bite!  My friend had the linguine with clams and it was equally delicious!

Signature Zeppoli:
Fried sweet dough tossed with powdered sugar.

Even though we were so stuffed we ordered the famous zeppoli.  This fried dough with powdered sugar sprinkled on top comes with two dipping sauces: chocolate and caramel.  It was so darn good, people were looking and pointing and the table next to us asked us what it was!  I gave her one to try and she ordered one for her table, too.  It was just a comforting delight.

This restaurant is high on atmosphere and fun and the food is really great, solid Italian fare.  I know I’ll be back!

Charlotte · Restaurants

Fiamma Restaurant in Charlotte, NC

Restaurant Week Winter 2018!!  I’ve managed to hit 3 (or will) this week.  Chillfire in Denver, The Foundry in Denver and Fiamma in Charlotte.  Oh be still my heart!  Fiamma was so worth the wait.  I’ve had it on my wish list forever!  It is authentically Italian, probably some of the best I’ve had in this area.  Their fish is flown in daily from Europe and they hand make all of their pasta.

Fiamma is also open for lunch Monday through Saturday, so you can try it during the day if you can’t make it for Restaurant week or forget to make reservations at night.  You can easily make reservations online through Open Table, though, so don’t forget.  This place is hopping!

The service here is top-notch.  I found all of the staff to be kind, knowledgeable and prompt.  I felt cared for, but never bothered.  This is a true accomplishment during harried Restaurant week!

Let’s talk about the food.  YUMMM!

When you sit down, they bring out a plate of fresh bread and crunchy bread sticks to dip in this luscious and tangy pesto.  If I had a big bowl of that pesto and a hunk of bread, I think I’d be happy.  It was so good!

St. Germain Coctail: Prosecco, St. Germain liquor, on the rocks with lemon and lime.

Refreshing and crisp, this is my favorite cocktail ever.  Reminds me of a sweeter mojito.


Burratta – fresh creamy buffalo cheese served with arugula, roasted red pepper, grilled eggplant, and prosciutto di Parma

Calamari al Salto – sautéed fresh calamari, tomato, avocado in a white wine sauce

This was a perfect hearty warm salad.  The calamari was tender and not rubbery and provided a perfect canvas for the avocado and tomato to give it such flavor.  The girls were mostly impressed with the party hat on the lemon, though.

Delizia Del Contadina – mixed greens tossed with walnuts, pears, and Tuscan Pecorino cheese in a light balsamic dressing.

This was my first course, and it was lovely!  A basic salad, but sometimes that’s just exactly what I want, a simple salad, with fresh ingredients that are all perfect.  This hit all of the marks.

Then came this palate cleanser: orange sherbet.  I was charmed 🙂


Veal Ossobuco (Fiamma’s Specialty) – braised veal shank served with a side of saffron risotto

This was the best dish of the night.  The veal was so tender it fell apart with a touch of the fork.  The sauce it was simmered in was so flavorful and rich, you could tell it had reduced for hours.  The one blight on the meal was the saffron risotto.  It was so salty, it was inedible.  No, we didn’t send it back.  Restaurant week is super busy and we were seriously enjoying everything else so much it became an afterthought.

Branzino – Mediterranean fish stuffed with fresh seafood and served with spinach, potatoes, and asparagus

Tagliolini alla Scoglio – homemade pasta sautéed with fresh seafood in garlic, red pepper flakes, white wine sauce

This was my selection.  It was incredibly hardy.  I couldn’t believe how much seafood it had, especially during restaurant week!  They truly don’t skimp on portions.  The wine sauce was light and really let the homemade pasta and seafood stand out as the stars.  I took most of it home and it was even better the next day.

Fussili Al Toscanaccio – sautéed with chicken, mushrooms, served in a vodka pink sauce with sundried tomatoes

I tasted a tiny bite of this dish, and it was packed with flavor and the chew on the pasta was perfect!  I rank it the second best dish of the night!


Panna Cotta – cold Italian custard served with mixed berries

Tiramisu – layered coffee-soaked ladyfingers topped off with a mascarpone cream and cocoa

This dessert was creamy and light, not with an overwhelming coffee flavor.  I thought it was perfect, but my dining partner wanted the coffee to be more prevalent.

Cheesecake – ricotta and mascarpone blended cheesecake, served with berry sauce and vanilla ice cream

So light and creamy, and not too sweet.  perfect with the berry drizzle.

Crema Tostada – warm vanilla custard topped with torched sugar, served with fresh berries
 This was my dessert, and despite the name, as you can see it is Creme Brulee.  Not very imaginative of me, but so good 🙂
Anessa’s Cappuccino


Standard Oyster Company in Hickory

Girl Nosh July was Standard Oyster Company.  We picked it because it is RESTAURANT WEEK and they were close.  And I think I’ve found a new favorite place.

The whole place is a bar.  But kind of upscale.  There are bar stools only!  So, if you have issues that might be effected by that, be aware.  Still, so cool.  The place was a little warm in there, but you know…it’s summer.  I admit though I was hot to the point of being miserable and the wait staff was sweating buckets.  Hopefully just an HVAC issue and not the way they normally keep it.

We all started with a cocktail, of course.  The best of the evening was this Bloody Beast.  That’s a kicked up Bloody Mary made with Tito’s Vodka and garnished with a couple of tiger shrimp, some bacon, olives, pickles and pickled okra and a lime.  Oh, and there was some light salt on the rim.  So so so delish!  Maybe the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had.

For my first course, I chose the half dozen oysters on the half shell.  These were small and perfect, briny and fresh!  My preference for oysters are smaller, and not those huge ones that lop over the cracker. These were served with a tart mignonette, but I still had to have my cocktail sauce.  Perfect.

Other second courses that my friends got but I didn’t taste: Kale Salad and Seafood Gumbo.  All were pronounced delicious.

We had a limited choice of main dishes, of course, for restaurant week.  All were outstanding, though.  I chose the Seafood Risotto.  It was topped with Tiger Shrimp and Scallops and had spinach studding the risotto.  This was the best risotto I’ve ever had…at a raw bar!

This one was the catch of the day, chargrilled.  It was swordfish, served with their grit cake and sautéed greens.  It was delicious.

The Queen’s feast came with dessert, or I don’t think we’d have indulged.  We were so full!  I chose the Key Lime Pie.  I took one bite at the restaurant and it was so tangy and sweet that my cheeks puckered!  I took the rest home, and might have had it for breakfast.  The crust was homemade and it was really delicious.  The restaurant was warm, as I mentioned, and it was very melty there.  Once I had it in the fridge, it firmed right back up and was perfect.

Kathy and Sienna got the Bananas Foster.  They both said it was delicious.  I could smell the liquor on them, though.  Totally didn’t burn off..they didn’t seem to mind.

Wrap up: This new discovery is a game changer for me.  I crave fresh seafood, prepared in other ways besides frying.  This is a perfect addition to the Hickory restaurant scene.  They execute every part of their craft perfectly.  Crank that A/C down to 72 and you’ve got a fan for life 😉


Restaurants · Statesville

Twisted Oak Bar & Grill in Statesville, NC

Restaurant Week is probably my favorite two weeks of the year.  I mean, I love Christmas, but Restaurant Week allows me to have a fabulous meal that someone else cooks and cleans up after.  That’s love.

This year I had the most handsome date on the planet…my sweet son, Ty.  We went to Twisted Oak Bar & Grill in Statesville.  It is located in Statesville’s charming downtown area, and in a factory-esque building.  It is not facing the road, the front entrance is on the side.  When you come up the ramp you’ll see a nice outdoor area with a fireplace and several seats around.  Very cozy!  The interior is spacious and homey with exposed brick and minimalist decor.  I loved it.  Also, on this night, they had live music.

Twisted Oak serves breakfast Monday – Thursday and the pictures I saw looked amazing.  If I am ever near Statesville early in the morning, that will be my first stop.  Lunch and Dinner are served Monday through Saturday.

As you know, Restaurant Week has a limited menu…3 courses for $30 each.  What a deal!  We both skipped the wine they offered at the beginning of the meal and opted for tea and water.  The first course was a great start to a terrific meal.  I got a delicious garden salad with a tangy and creamy homemade Ranch dressing.  I love some salad.  Ty got Peirogies.  If you aren’t sure what that is, it’s a potato dumpling that is pan fried and tossed with caramelized onion and andouille sausage and topped with sour cream and cheddar cheese.  Ty hit the jackpot with these.  A HUGE plateful and they were the best peirogies I’ve ever tried.  The outside was crispy and chewy and the inside was soft and creamy.  I would order this and my salad for my meal next time!


For his entree, Ty opted for the Pimento Burger.  It was a 1/2 pound Angus beef, cooked to medium atop a toasted bun slathered with melted pimento cheese, fried onion, bacon, lettuce and tomato (he opted out of that) and served with French fries.  He said the burger was very good and the fries were homemade and perfect.


I got a special selection that was made just for Restaurant week: Beef Short Rib Lasagna.  Tender bits of slow roasted short ribs in between pasta sheets with cheese, mushrooms and topped with a tangy and robust tomato gravy, Bechamel sauce and mozzarella cheese.  So decadent, I had to take home half of it so I could enjoy dessert!


Our dessert choice was the 5 Layer Chocolate Cake.  It was a huge slice of moist chocolate cake with plenty of rich, fudgy frosting.  Satisfying to any chocolate lover!


We gave this comforting restaurant two thumbs up and will be dining there again very soon!


Click to add a blog post for Twisted Oak American Bar & Grill on Zomato


Alton’s in Cornelius, NC

Well, we capped off another Restaurant Week in style.  We visited Alton’s Kitchen and Cocktails in Cornelius at the recommendation of one of our clients and we were not disappointed.  Alton’s is located in what was once Charleston Chops, and the building is updated, but still richly appointed.  It has, most notably two flowing staircases at either end of the restaurant, which while beautiful, did become tiresome watching harried servers race up and down all night.  Maybe a dumbwaiter and a server or two just stationed upstairs?

Restaurant week is a lot like Valentine’s Day.  Super busy, with a prix fixe menu for the masses.  It isn’t really fair to judge a restaurant by normal standards during these times, but if that is when you visit, well…you gotta report.  Alton’s did pretty well.  We had some issues with timing and a hide-and-seek server who let our drinks get low, but other staff made up for these few snafus.  When we needed a fork, another server was glad to retrieve it.  Same with the drinks.  BUT, I despise having to flag down a server to get what is obvious to the eye if you’d simply walk by a time or two.  Another irritant was that our dessert was brought out perhaps 15 minutes later than our dining companions, despite my having ordered my bread pudding with my meal (the prix fixe menu).  Just as we were getting restless, the chef came to the table to explain that they had run out of bread puddings, and had to bake more fresh.  She offered to bring us something while we waited and to just pack our bread pudding up for us to take home.  We opted for the ice cream sandwich, which was delicious.  I appreciated the chef meeting the problem head-on and offering us a workable solution so our companions didn’t have to sit there and wait longer than necessary.

I digress.  When we were seated, a waiter immediately greeted us and brought us a carafe of water and took our drink orders.  They actually had “sweet tea” which I commend them for because many nicer restaurants only offer unsweetened tea.  The only comment I can make that may leave room for improvement is that the water could use some ice.

Our appetizers were delicious.  We ordered Lobster bisque, tuna poke and shrimp cocktail.  I had the shrimp cocktail, and it was truly one of the better ones.  They used Jumbo Shrimp, and they were perfectly poached, not too chewy.  They served it with two sauces, a typical cocktail sauce and a tartar sauce.  They were both tart and tangy, but I preferred the typical cocktail sauce.  Both my diners proclaimed their appetizers to be delicious.

Tuna Poke
Tuna Poke
Shrimp Cocktail
Shrimp Cocktail
Lobster Bisque
Lobster Bisque

Update March 2016: I visited with my Girls Nosh group and we had a much better experience.  Everything was delicious!  The Prime Rib Stuffed Mushrooms were my favorites, I think.  They were really huge and juicy!  The stuffing had a hint of horseradish and cheese making it very creamy and rich.  Divine!

altonsstuffedmsuhrooms (2)

This is not an appetizers, per se, but my friend and I wanted to share it for our appetizer, so the restaurant kindly split it onto two plates for us.  This is the Crab and Shrimp Louie.  Tender seafood atop mesclun adorned with sliced avocado, tomatoes and topped with a homemade creamy and tangy 1000 Island dressing.  It was delicate, but very satisfying.  And very fresh.



For our entrees we all got something a little different.  Robert got the Slow-cooked Baby Back Ribs served with chili lime grilled corn and creamy cole slaw.  The spicy and smoky sauce on the tender ribs had a wonderful kick.  The corn was also wonderful, with a tang from the lime and a deep savoriness from the grilling.  Harry ordered a Crispy Chicken Salad.  It was loaded with fresh avocado, rich eggs, bacon and draped with a creamy thick homemade Ranch dressing.  Dustin got the seared ahi tuna.  It was seared lightly and crusted with sesame seeds.    I got the grilled swordfish on cheese grits with lobster gravy.  Honestly, the fish was really firm and not my favorite texture, but that wasn’t the chef’s fault.  That is just the nature of the swordfish.  It had a nice chargrilled flavor.  What I LOVED was the cheesy, creamy grits that this fish rested on.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had better grits, even in Charleston.  The lobster gravy was lighter than you’d think, but still creamy and flavorful.  No chunks of lobster, though, which did disappoint me somewhat.  Laid across the top as a garnish were grilled asparagus spears, and they were wonderful, just cooked enough.  I made a meal off of the grits and asparagus.

Crispy Chicken Salad
Crispy Chicken Salad
Seared Tuna
Seared Tuna
Baby Back Ribs
Baby Back Ribs
Grilled Swordfish with Creamy Cheese Grits and Lobster Gravy
Grilled Swordfish with Creamy Cheese Grits and Lobster Gravy

Update: On our recent visit, we sampled the filet mignon served with a twice baked potato.  The filet was tender and flavorful and the twice baked potato was cheesy and rich.  Perfect!


On another trip during Restaurant week they featured Lobster Tail and Filet Kabob.  Heaven.

Jumbo Shrimp Pasta was another favorite.  Big pink shrimp drenched in lemon butter and tossed with baby spinach, pine nuts and sauteed mushrooms made for a beautiful and scrumptious dish.


Megan had the special of the night: Grilled Bone-in Pork Chop.  The pork chop was flavorful, but Megan said it was a little undercooked at the bone.  The mashed potatoes were creamy and perfect and the grilled asparagus still had a nice snap to it.


Erika ordered the Pittsburgh Salad for her meal.  This salad is a bowl of mixed greens topped with char-grilled filet mignon, bacon, tomatoes, blue cheese and….french fries!  Erika said it was the best salad she’s ever eaten!


I don’t know what got into me on this night, because I normally default to seafood or beef, but on this night I got Parmesan Crusted Chicken and I’m so glad I did.  I mean, when something is fried with cheese, you just can’t go wrong.  This was no exception.  The chicken was crispy and seasoned well and the lemony sauce atop it was perfect with the salty capers and the sweet tomatoes.  The creamy spinach served on the side was smooth and a perfect compliment for the crispy chicken.


Dessert, as I mentioned, was a bit of a fiasco.  We enjoyed homemade Oreo ice cream sandwiches and bread pudding.  The cookie sandwiches were delicious, topped with chocolate sauce and best eaten with a spoon instead of picking it up with your fingers.  My bread pudding was merely ok.  Nothing special, I’d opt for something different next time.

Bread Pudding
Bread Pudding
Oreo Cookie Sandwich
Oreo Cookie Sandwich

Updated to add that the Pecan Pie a la mode is the bomb.


And these little gem’s were Restaurant Week offerings.  Delish!

Alton’s, we all agreed, was a success.  It isn’t among the best places I’ve eaten in the area, but it was good enough to visit again.
Alton's Kitchen & Cocktails on Urbanspoon

Charlotte · Restaurants

Sullivan’s Steakhouse

Sullivan's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Another Charlotte Restaurant Week comes to a close and we celebrated by going to Sullivan’s Steakhouse.  We brought our friends Jeri and Robert Walton to dine with us, and we all ended up getting nearly the same thing.  But, you know, it’s Restaurant Week and you only get a certain amount of choices, so duplications are an inevitability.  We left our home early, anticipating trouble from yesterday’s ice storm, and arrived at our destination without incident, happily, and 30 minutes early.  As we sat down to wait, we were seated within 5 minutes!  Score!

Our server was prompt and thorough.  We never wanted for anything.  For our first course my husband and I had the Caesar Salad.  It was really large for a simple side dish, and the dressing was creamy and delicious.  Nothing fancy, but decent.  Our friends tried the Lobster and Shrimp Bisque and the Wedge Salad, which came with blue cheese crumbles, fresh diced tomatoes and blue cheese dressing.

For our second course, we all chose the filet mignon with grilled jumbo shrimp.  It was served atop a pile of horseradish mashed potatoes and alongside a tumble of grilled vegetables.  The filet was fine, though 2 of our steaks were switched.  We didn’t discover until we dug in, then there was the awkward figuring out who had who’s steak and switching among ourselves.  The shrimp were delicious, cleaned well (huge plus) but everything was heavily spiced with pepper.  There was nothing wrong with my filet, but I’ve had the same flavor at home on our grill.  So, yes, nothing special.  I loved the creamy horseradish potatoes most, but they can keep those under-grilled and under-seasoned veggies that were limply sitting on the side of our steak.

Our last course, dessert, was for me the best course.  We had the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with vanilla ice cream.  It was so yummy!  Sweet and creamy and not too banana-y.  It was amazing.  Our friend had the chocolate mousse, bless his heart.

In the end, I have to give Sullivan’s a thumbs down, only because nothing I had was over the top delicious.  You can get a better steak at many other Charlotte restaurants: Beef and Bottle, Firebirds or Morton’s.

Wedge Salad
Wedge Salad
Caesar Salad
Caesar Salad
Filet and Shrimp
Filet and Shrimp
Bananas Foster Bread Pudding
Bananas Foster Bread Pudding
Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Mousse