Charlotte Weekend Getaway

The BF and I just got back from 3 days in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a really good weekend- and we got to explore a lot of the city (it’s pretty compact). We went with a big group of the BF’s coworkers and their plus one’s. One of my good friends from college, my sorority big, also lives there and it was her birthday weekend too! Can’t beat that timing.

We arrived super early Friday and explored the neighborhoods of NoDa and Plaza Midwood. NoDa is trying to be like SoHo- it’s Charlotte’s arts district with music venues and a few breweries. We got lunch at this unassuming bodega- but it had the most amazing sandwiches. We had heard about this London broil sandwich called the “G-Man G-Wich” which is only served on Fridays (lucky us!) and it did not disappoint.

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G-Man G-Wich with locally brewed kombucha (Lenny’s also brews beer!)

Then we walked around the neighborhood (which didn’t take very long) but it was kind of dead since most people were at work. We walked from the main drag down a little bit and stopped at the famous Amelie’s bakery for dessert- a pecan pie tartlet and salted caramel brownie. The cafe itself is pretty crazy- it’s a mash-up of vintage French and Parisian finds hung up all over the walls. Definitely a must-visit even if the line is too long to get anything.

Then we hopped over to the Plaza Midwood area and walked around for a bit- popping into some open places like Moxie Mercantile, Common Market, soon-to-open Legion Brewing, and Workman’s Friend, a new bar. It’s a little bit more established than the NoDa area. We finished up with a couple beers at Pint Central (which also apparently has awesome cocktails).

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A local watering hole

That evening our group headed to the South End neighborhood which is just a light rail ride away from Uptown (what they call their Downtown). We took a shuttle to the Sycamore Brewery, which was pretty cool- a bonfire, live music, and lots of dogs inside and out. Also, for 6:30 on a Friday it was crazy busy! Definitely a happening spot in that area. After some time there, we headed to dinner at The Liberty Restaurant. Despite my decent entree, the appetizers were less than appealing. I think we would only return to try their burger which apparently is one of the best in the city. Afterwards, we headed over to two cool bars in Plaza Midwood- Twenty-Two (which is an art gallery/wine bar combo and very chill) and Soul Gastrolounge (much more upbeat and trendy- and the food smelled divine). We will definitely be returning for dinner there in the future.

Saturday morning, we started the day with a bus tour around Charlotte and explored a lot of the upscale neighborhoods as well as all throughout Uptown. Later in the afternoon, we checked out a couple of the breweries in NoDa (Heist Brewery which was very energetic with lots of brunchers and sports fans and Free Range which was very chill).

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Aerial daytime view of Charlotte

That night we headed out for a fancy dinner at 5Church in Uptown. We didn’t get cocktails, which they’re known for, but we did have fantastic wine and a great meal- we snacked on black bean hummus with crisps and mini thin crust bacon pizzas with fromage blanc. My three course meal started with tomato soup topped with crispy fried goat cheese, then filet mignon with potatoes and a shallot jus, and ended with a s’mores trifle that had the most decadent chocolate brownie you can imagine. I couldn’t even finish my entree, let alone my dessert!

Despite being so full, we soldiered on to check out a couple other cocktail bars in the city. The first was The Punch Room on top of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, home of the #1 mixologist in Charlotte. As soon as you walk in the hotel, you’re stunned by the beauty and swankiness, then you head up to the 15th floor. The bar has only 37 seats and no standing is allowed. It reminds you of country club’s cigar room- all leather and modern shapes. They brought us cups of their gin-based “punch of the day” then we ordered cocktails- I got a Pisco Sour (I had dozens when I studied abroad in Chile) and it came out very well. I can’t say the BF was thrilled with his Old Fashioned but his old roommate who joined us enjoyed his boozy choice. I do have to say the costs of the drinks are prohibitively expensive- I lived in New York for over three years and I have been to maybe one bar there that was on par with these prices. It’s fun for the experience once, but I can’t say we will be returning again, mostly because of the cost.

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We headed over to the Hyatt for another rooftop cocktail bar- this one is called Fahrenheit. It was very crowded and due to a miscommunication between downstairs security and the bouncers upstairs, we waited for no reason down in the lobby for about 10 minutes. Once we finally got up there, it was a fight for the bartender’s attention. All three of us ordered cocktails, but he didn’t have all the ingredients to make the ones the guys had requested (strike 2). After we all had drinks in hand, we headed out to the terrace which gives a spectacular view of the skyline and also has a long gas fireplace strip to keep you warm.

We capped off the night meeting up with my old college friend who was having her birthday party at an Irish pub then headed over to Dandelion Market which apparently has good food, but eating was not on the agenda at that time. Avoid if you are averse to the college crowd and dancing like you’re back in high school, because that’s pretty much what that scene is. Even if you are out of your early 20s and composed, the bouncers and manager will still disrespect you like you are just another one of the rowdy post-grads.

Exhausted, we headed home. The next day we had time for brunch- a classic southern meal at The Asbury inside The Dunhill Hotel. We split homemade biscuits that came out in a little cast iron skillet and then I got the chicken and waffles and he got the chicken biscuit sandwich. We headed over to the other side of Uptown to check out his friend’s new apartment (which was awesome- the pool has private cabanas with TVs and refrigerators and overlooks the ballpark) then headed home!

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We capped off the weekend with one last splurge meal at Santorini Cafe in Austin. I’m always in the mood for Greek and their gyros are the best I’ve had. They have a ton of outdoor seating as well as a ping pong table, cornhole, and even plastic bikes and ride-along toys for kids. Definitely going to go back with a group and get some wine to relax and hang out.

All in all, I definitely recommend checking out Charlotte- and since it’s such a growing city it’ll only get better with time. It can be easily explored in a few days and if you have longer you can venture outside the city limits to the mountains or beach. It was also a great time of year because we liked experiencing the fall foliage- something we don’t really get down here in Austin 🙂 Did I miss anything that we have to check out the next time we’re there? Let me know!

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The 1st visitor!

Another awesome thing about Austin is that now that it’s become such a tourist hot-spot all my friends are eager to visit. The only problem is scheduling them all! Over my time in Austin, I’m going to catalog what I do with each guest to give you all ideas of what to do and where to take out-of-towners!

Besides a brief visit from my friend Rachel who was in town for work (happy hour at Licha’s Cantina), one of my very best friends from home was the first to visit. Her name is Kristen and we have gone to school together from kindergarten through high school and still remain extremely close.

Kristen arrived late Thursday night and we hit Dirty 6th Street like college kids. We started however at Firehouse Lounge, a classy hidden (behind a bookshelf!) cocktail bar in the Firehouse Hostel. The bartenders there are awesome and the music was total throwback which was perfect for us because it brought back all kinds of middle and high school memories. Then we ended up at Nook to dance and drink.

On Friday, we explored the South Congress area. But first- breakfast tacos (and queso!) from Torchy’s. Then we fueled up with delicious coffee at Jo’s (home of the “I love you so much” wall). For a great weekend splurge, you have to try their Iced Turbo or Belgian Bomber coffee (but only if you like sweet)! We worked our way down South Congress hitting up all the good stores- even if it was just to browse. Maya and The Impeccable Pig are two of my favorite boutiques in the area but Uncommon Objects is a fun place to get lost in.

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Torchy’s breakfast tacos

After being fully exhausted from shopping, we stopped for a quick drink at South Congress Cafe and then got lunch and margs at Hopdoddy’s (one of the best burgers in the area). Then we relaxed for a little at home. Unfortunately the weather was a little iffy the entire weekend so it rained on and off, blunting some of our outdoor plans. It cleared up by Friday night, and I introduced Kristen to the East Side, starting at Whisler’s and barhopping west until we hit home. We ended at Violet Crown Social which meant we HAD to get Via313  (genuine Detroit style pizza out of a truck, which if you don’t know what Detroit style is- it’s like Chicago deep dish but with a thin, buttery, and flaky crust). The Cadillac is the way to go hands down. Hey, we hadn’t had a proper dinner!

Cocktails at Whisler's
Cocktails at Whisler’s

On Saturday, we fueled up with Mexican coffees (the best thing ever) at Tamale House East (also has very good breakfast!). But we had other things to consider than migas and breakfast tacos that day. We were tackling BBQ! The rain was back but that was not going to dissuade us- we stood in line for the famous La Barbecue (thankfully under tents). Brisket, pulled pork, potato salad, coleslaw- it was all so good. And the guy cutting our meat gave us a taste of the brisket RIGHT out of the smoker- simply melts in your mouth. We brought it all home and devoured the spread at home. I don’t even normally like sides (unless it’s mac and cheese) but the potato salad was more like smashed potatoes and the coleslaw was super spicy. I would give it an A rating.

The La Barbecue truck
The La Barbecue truck

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After that gluttonous display, we pretty much lazed on the couch and watched television all day. Nothing wrong with that! Got to have time to re-energize so you’re ready for the next activity. Which was more food-clearly the main focus of this weekend’s agenda. We finished the Texas food trifecta and got Tex-Mex (BBQ and breakfast tacos are the others in case you were wondering). Fajitas and flautas and margaritas at Polvos- filling, yummy, and fairly inexpensive. Then a night out on Rainey Street, which because of the rain was restricted to just Bungalow (probably my most visited bar here).

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Finally to cap off the weekend, we had brunch at Hightower. We originally wanted to go to Josephine House but because of the rain, their seating was cut by 2/3 so without a reservation we were SOL. If you don’t get the chicken and waffles at Hightower, you’re just doing life wrong.

Plus a side of Build Your Own Bloody Mary
Plus a side of Build Your Own Bloody Mary

And then off she went to the airport! It was bittersweet but I can’t wait to be home for Christmas to see all my friends. My next visitor is in a week so stay tuned to see what we do then. Now, I’m off to Charlotte for the weekend, so will come back with a full report. I love exploring new (to me) cities!

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Odd Duck Brunch Review

One thing Austin isn’t lacking in is brunches. From breakfast tacos to high-end fare, it has you covered. A couple of weeks ago the BF and I decided to go the high-end route and try Odd Duck’s brunch. We had gone there for dinner on Valentine’s Day and still talk about how amazing the meal was.

What sets Odd Duck apart from most brunches is that it’s small plates- thereby it is more expensive than your usual brunch. Whereas you would normally need around 5-6 plates at dinner to fill you, at brunch 3-4 will do it. They do plate their dishes so nicely though you at want to order extra just to admire.

We made a reservation (definitely a must-do) and ended up getting seated in the same spot we did for Valentine’s Day- at the bar with a prime view of the kitchen. We think it’s the best seat in the house but it’s also kind of distracting- our conversation rotated a lot around what they were doing so if you’re trying to have a real serious conversation, maybe opt for outside on their beautiful patio. There’s lots of oohing and aahing and “oh we should have gotten that!”s when you look into the bustling kitchen. I also may have picked up a cooking technique or two.

We each got a pastry from the tray they carry around (shameless upsell by them) but then we really got started with their raisin toast topped with pork belly, peanut butter and jelly, a fried egg, a sprinkling of chunky blue cheese and what I believe was apple or pear slices. It was out of this world. I am a huge proponent of putting peanut butter on basically everything- burgers, ice cream, you name it. So this twist on a classic open faced egg sandwich had me raving.

Get in my (pork) belly
Get in my (pork) belly

Then we had a hash with a perfectly poached duck egg and cornbread plus some jalepeno for a little spice. We followed that with grilled quail accompanied by a fig relish and chile hollandaise. All superb. We rounded out the meal with something sweet- their vanilla bean French toast (soaked in coconut milk) with brown sugar syrup, a coconut crumble and a scoop of butternut ice cream. I don’t even like coconut (something about the texture gets me) and I loved every bit of this dish.

Perfectly poached
Perfectly poached
Quail- it's what's for breakfast
Quail- it’s what’s for breakfast

Sweet goodness

We hated it.
We hated it.

We pretty much can’t stop raving about this meal now either. If you have a special occasion to celebrate, do it at Odd Duck. If you just can afford to splurge on a good meal, do it at Odd Duck. We want to go back and get everything we didn’t get on the brunch menu now. Our waistlines and wallets, be damned.