East Coast Fall 2021 – Charlotte, Part One

October 29 – November 2

We took off that Friday morning for five nights in Charlotte that would pass by in a blur as we made a valiant effort to touch as many of our friends there as we could, for the most part 2-3 separate meet ups per day and.  Also, as the situation with Joanna’s Mom developed, we knew we’d be returning to Durham as she and Nicole continued to try and find a facility that would take her in. 

Durham to Charlotte by Way of Denver

We would take an altered route to Charlotte as we needed to deliver Joanna’s mom’s dog, Ginger, to sister Debi who lives and works near Lincolnton.  We met her outside of the Lowe’s in Denver and after securing Ginger in her pickup, decided to head to a nearby Showmars for a bite to eat.  This is a Charlotte based chain of Greek inspired menu items with, as they say, a southern and fresh emphasis.  I’ve eaten at one of the outlets a number of times and have always been impressed with the quality and price points of their offerings. 

Gyro Pita

I ordered a Gyro Pita (seasoned rotisserie gyro with tomato, onions & tzatziki pita sauce) and Joanna opted for the Chicken Souvlaki Skewer mini meal with a side of chili.  This would prove to be the right amount of food at the right time as we knew we’d be meeting up with the usual gang of suspects later at the Wine Vault, one of our favorite watering holes, near UNC Charlotte. 

Chicken Souvlaki Skewer

One of things I like about Showmars, besides the overall healthy nature of their menu, is the ability to get interesting sides, such as I did with some sauteed Zucchini and squash (wait, isn’t zucchini squash?).  It all went down easily and we later bade farewell to Debi, who we would not get to see again during this visit and made our way to Charlotte to arrive at Amber’s Place our Airbnb for the next five nights.

Amber’s Place

As mentioned in many prior posts, we’ve overall had a very positive experience with Airbnb and the options we’ve used, whether we rented just a room in a house to whole house rentals, like this one in Charlotte.  Not familiar with the location and not sure about how safe it might be, those initial fears were dispelled as soon as we arrived as it was situated in a neighborhood of well-kept houses on a cul-de-sac.  Sitting directly across from the freeway, the noise created by traffic couldn’t be heard inside thanks to double paned windows and good insulation. 

The only minor drawback to the place was the lack of a washer and dryer, often a desirable option when on the road but in this case as the places we were heading to and from both had that feature, our stay here wouldn’t suffer from the lack.  He unloaded the car and settled in for a brief rest and then made our way to our usual first night rendezvous in Charlotte, The Wine Vault to meet Jim and Diana, Keith and Dianne, and Doug and Ann.  Missing would be Katherine (who was babysitting her granddaughter in Raleigh) and John, who’d come down with the flu. 

The Usual Suspects at the Wine Vault

We’ve covered our many visits here in the past so won’t belabor this one any more than to say that meeting here with this group always starts off our stay in Charlotte in the best way possible.  The next day we drove over to the University area and stopped in for a brief visit at our long-time bike shop, Giant of University City (formerly Bike Line) to speak to Mark, the store’s manager, there for as long as we lived in Charlotte.  When we arrived, we were startled to see that almost one whole length of the store had a two deep two high stack of bikes in their boxes, the shop having waited for more than a year to get this back log of inventory. 

Giant University City (without the boxes of bikes)

From there we drove up Highway 49 to Harrisburg to meet with niece Kristen and her husband Brian (we attended their wedding here in 2019) at Sunflour Baking Company.  This local company with three other locations is familiar to us from stops we’ve made at their Elizabeth shop.  A family run donut shop before Sunflour’s takeover, we now had the option of eating very good sandwiches as well as delicious pastries. 

Joanna and I split a Ham and Gruyere Panini and a large berry danish style pasty that was as good as it looked.  Kristen and Brian are interested in traveling post pandemic and so we spent quite a bit of time discussing destinations, travel styles, and potential itineraries.  It was great to see these two in something other than our usual family gathering setting, allowing us all to get to know each other a little bit better.

That evening we met up again with Jim and Diana and Keith and Diane to celebrate our anniversary at the Cajun Queen in Elizabeth.  We’ve been here several times in the past and always found the food delicious and reasonably priced, and we’d not be disappointed that evening.  Indeed, one of the only drawbacks was seated in the upstairs dining room, it was very crowded, almost uncomfortably so and the addition of a three-piece combo made for very noisy conditions. 

Crowded and Noisy Upstairs

Keith, as usual, brought along his multi-bottle wine carrier and with a ridiculously low corkage fee, treated us all to a significant portion of top-quality wine.  Not to let wine get in the way of celebrating though, Joanna started with a 7th Street Stumbler, and I couldn’t resist ordering a Sazerac. 

A Fancy Drink

Knowing that the portions would be large and ordering appetizers complicated for this group, we plunged straight into our entrees, for me the French Cut Pork Chop (14 oz French-cut pork chop fire-grilled and basted with a Southwestern BBQ sauce and served with Cajun-spiced roasted potatoes and crisp steamed broccoli) while Joanna got the specialty fish of the day, in this case Blackened Catfish topped with Shrimp sautéed in a Romano Cheese Cream Sauce and served on a bed of creamy grits. 

The other drawback that night was the speed of service, a condition we all must deal with given staff shortages in the restaurant industry.  Our waiter was friendly and efficient but long periods elapsed in between our contact with him and this played out at the end of our meal.  We’d been there for well over two hours, all spent with folks we like, when the manager came up to us and asked if we’d join him in the bar for a drink if we’d give up the table.  As it turned out, none of us did take him up on the offer, but we found it funny that he was moving us along when in the end we weren’t the ones that had caused us to stay at the table for so long. And that would complete our first full day in Charlotte, with three more to come, all full of good friends and lots of food and drink.  We’ll try to wrap it all up in the next post. 

Joanna’s Turbo

Links

Showmars: https://showmars.com/

Amber’s Place: https://www.airbnb.com/trips/v1/b92d8068-c546-48f2-94e1-fb3b22a9f3de/ro/RESERVATION2_CHECKIN/HMHJAWPTEM

The Wine Vault: https://www.headwino.com/

North Carolina Wedding: https://3jmann.com/2019/12/04/north-carolina-wedding

Sunflour Baking Company: https://sunflourbakingcompany.com/pages/harrisburg-nc-bakery

Cajun Queen: https://www.cajunqueen.com/

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