Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Good Times Roll in Queen City

"Laissez les bons temps rouler"

By Lynne Brandon and Doc Lawrence

Queen City Dining

CHARLOTTE, NC - It's where initiated locals, some calling themselves foodies use esoteric words like "nosh" to describe the ritual of eating. In other places, the vernacular might be "chowing down." But, this is Charlotte, a city with queen in its tourism promotions, where royalty uses words and phrases as it pleases. Elsewhere, to nosh might be yuppie-speak; here among Charlotte’s elite, this is the language of dining backed by divine right.

Commerce rules in Charlotte’s downtown where much of America’s banking calls home. Restaurants, as numerous and different as bank borrowers, beckon every palate. Carolina-style grits at “Zada Jane’s” are touted by critics, “Dish” serves up Southern deviled egg perched on the plate, “Intermezzo” has a Bruschetta variation, steaks at Sullivan’s give the best in Chicago a run, and great sushi is the star at Ru Sans and Nikko’s. Good drinks blend with the sights and sounds of a Southern city that makes a Herculean effort to satisfy all kinds of sensual desires.

Ru San's Sushi and Seafood is located in stylish Dilworth, a section of the city, where restaurants crowd up quickly on a Friday night. Ru Sans looks unassuming until you view the Sushi bar, beholding the edibles created at lightening speed. Firecracker rolls (tuna with fried exteriors) are popular choices as well as tried and true tuna and salmon rolls, shrimp dumplings and dragon rolls, appropriately consumed with sake.

Sullivan’s Steakhouse, another Dilworth landmark harkens to Charlotte in the 1940’s.Liive music during the week compliments the old-world ambience. Top of the line steaks are the draw but the appetizers are no slouch. Exhibits one and two: the Iceberg Lettuce Wedge and the Cheesesteak Egg rolls stimulate the appetite. “The Knockout,” a custom citrus martini earns a place in the local list of most ordered cocktails.

Before leaving Dilworth, my entourage drops into Nikko’s Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar on South Boulevard. Cool, hip and dimly lit, there are retro booths in the round. Diners enjoy dance tunes occasionally featuring entertainment by owner Joanna dancing while draped with her boa and cowboy hat. Sushi, named “Godzilla,” “Miami” and “Trust Me” is served, part of an eclectic never boring menu. Lucky diners might see Joanna doff her hat.

Leave Dilworth to enter bohemian Elizabeth for a stop at The Thirsty Beaver, a neighborhood watering hole. Johnny Cash, alive and well on the jukebox wails his classic “Folsom Prison Blues” to an unlikely mix of leather-clad bikers, students and MBA-like patrons seemingly spellbound by muted reruns of “Hee Haw” on an elevated TV. The small bar pours alcohol from beer to J├Ągermeister, a finale in a city with food and libations for all.

Diversity with equality? Charlotte is where NASCAR greats and groupies dine and drink in tandem with royalty and their minions. You get what you need here and with just a little extra effort, what you want finishes an evening. It’s higher living with a Southern accent.

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