Culinary Corner for June 15

by Charles Jenkin

Spotlight on talent: Toscana is one of Charlotte’s Top Ten Restaurants rated by Zagat in 2011. Located in Specialty Shops on the Par, this is a south Charlotte icon of great Italian fare. Mezzanotte, on Providence Road, offers authentic ingredient Neapolitan-style pizza baked in a strictly wood-fired oven, providing us with some of the best pies in south Charlotte. And then there’s Luce and Malabar uptown, and now Trattoria Antica in Waxhaw, just south of us on Providence Road. These are the current successes of Augusto Conte. Augusto was born in Naples and worked in restaurants in Italy from the age of 10. In his early 20s he moved to Connecticut where he worked for an Italian restaurant. In 1993 he met his wife, Christine – they were married in 1995 and they moved to Charlotte to open his first restaurant, Conte’s.

In 1998, Augusto had the opportunity to move his restaurant to a more desirable location, so he closed Conte’s and opened Toscana. Augusto’s approach to his restaurants is to offer quality food and great service in an inviting environment. He rarely advertises; his restaurants have gained popularity through word of mouth and with the right people, like the tremendous talents of Gabriele Grigolon. Gabriele is executive chef for the Conte Restaurant Group who also was raised in Italy. Augusto has opened eight restaurants over time in the Charlotte area, with five currently operating, all very successfully. He finds it important to always be changing and evolving – since the world around us is always changing – and in order to stay relevant his restaurants must do the same. Learn more at www.­conterestaurantgroup.com.

Looking for something tasty and healthy for lunch? Check out Crunch in the SouthPark Mall food court. There’s 13 salads on the menu, along with a bunch of other picks. Photo courtesy of Crunch

Newer to the Neighborhood

One PB&J Sushi Roll please? The birth of Crunch Salads began with entrepreneur Manoj “Mo” Pandoria’s desire for convenient healthy meal options. Pandoria craved healthier alternatives when he had to make frequent visits to monitor his business The Brow Bar, located inside SouthPark Mall. Pandoria enlisted his good friend Scott Cline, who first made his mark in the Charlotte scene as a chef at Toscana (that name sounds familiar), to make this project a reality. The two have partnered on Crunch, which is now open in the SouthPark Mall food court.

“We have spent close to a year developing our menu and believe Charlotte will embrace our concept and the delicious, nutritious options we offer,” Pandoria said. Cline added, “We’re not taking any shortcuts with Crunch. Our menu features top-notch ingredients and fresh produce.”

The extensive menu boasts 13 salads, seven unique wraps and five flatbread options and is designed to meet the needs of diners wanting convenient, quality, nutritious options including vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. Patrons also can create their own salads by picking four ingredients with the option of adding additional premium toppings (edamame, portobello mushrooms and avocado) and proteins (chicken, turkey, pork, shrimp or tilapia).

The children’s portion of the menu includes a PB&J Sushi Roll (peanut butter and jelly spread on a whole-wheat tortilla; rolled, sliced and served); Nutella Berry (Nutella hazelnut spread and fresh strawberries spread on a whole-wheat tortilla, sliced and served); Baked chicken strips (all white-meat chicken strips baked to golden brown) and Mexican Grilled Cheese (fresh whole-wheat tortilla grilled with cheese). The entire menu can be seen at www.­crunchsalads.com.

Culinary Calendar

Dine Out For Kids: Communities In Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CIS) will hold its 13th annual Dine Out For Kids on Tuesday, June 19.  Dine Out For Kids is a community-wide event that offers area restaurants and their patrons an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to helping at-risk children stay in school and achieve in life. Last year, 99 percent of students enrolled in the CIS program stayed in school. Participating restaurants will donate a portion of the day’s gross sales on June 19 to Communities In Schools. With more than 75 restaurant locations joining the event this year, Dine Out For Kids is on track to dish up great food and fun for the many local restaurant patrons who will be dining all day to benefit children in need within our community. Many of the eateries are right here in south Charlotte; for example: Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar; Brio Tuscan Grille; Harper’s Restaurant; McAlister’s Deli; Paco’s Tacos & Tequila; Pewter Rose Bistro;  Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q and Zink. The full list is posted at www.­cischarlotte.org.

Draw me some butter! At The Palm, until Aug. 31, you can delight in these succulent lobster dinner choices featuring a 4-pound Jumbo Nova Scotia Lobster with melted butter and lemon. Lobster for You is Surf and Turf for one (single cut Filet Mignon and 6-ounce Nova Scotia lobster tail) or a half 4-pound Jumbo Nova Scotia Lobster with choice of starter & side for $54.90. Lobster for two is a 4-pound Jumbo Nova Scotia Lobster, split for two with choice of two starters and two sides. Starters include Classic Caesar Salad, Lobster Bisque or Baby Arugula Salad. Sides include a Signature Individual Vegetable or Potato Sides. It’s all for two for $99. Make reservations at www.thepalm.com.

Romarsi Pesto is something you’ll hopefully soon be able to buy at the Whole Foods near SouthPark. It’s worth the trip. Photo courtesy of Romarsi Pesto

Presto! It’s Pesto!! Mix a scrumptious authentic family recipe with a long-time dream and good old-fashioned hard work, and what do you get? The fast-growing gourmet pesto company Romarsi. Like her mother before her, Mary has been whipping up the family’s secret pesto recipe with garden-fresh basil for years. Her children, family and friends would always ask for seconds! In November 2007, Mary and Bob Silvestri officially launched Romarsi Pesto in New Jersey and began selling the product at farmers markets; and soon thereafter, local grocers such as Whole Foods. Next to its savory, authentic flavor, what makes Romarsi extraordinary in the pesto market is that it is sold frozen. That way you are getting completely natural ingredients – no preservatives, no artificial anything! This is some of the best pesto you’ll taste; far superior to the product in jars. I’ve tried the Romarsi Pesto on pasta, and on homemade pizza; it is really superb. Even worth sending for via the website. Hopefully, the soon-to-open south Charlotte Whole Foods will stock the pesto. For more information on Romarsi Pesto and store locations visit www.romarsi.com. Containers can be purchased online and shipped anywhere in the U.S.

Culinary Correspondence

I recently received the following email: “Hello! In quickly reading through the Culinary Corner in the May 18-24 issue of South Charlotte Weekly, I couldn’t help but notice that two very common menu items were spelled incorrectly: “Cesar” salad instead of Caesar and “Rueben” instead of Reuben. It’s annoying and sad when words are mis-spelled in menus (which happens too often), but these mistakes shouldn’t have been made in a restaurant column. A bit more copy editing/proof-reading, please! Sincerely, Linda”

Linda did inform me in a subsequent email that she does freelance copy editing and proofreading as a sideline. This was my email reply: Linda, Thanks very much for taking the time to read the Culinary Corner, and especially for the email. You are absolutely right and I take full responsibility. I agree that regardless of the restaurants mistakes, the Culinary Corner should be free of such errors. I can promise you I will be more diligent going forward. So all of you restaurateurs serving the infamous sandwich or salad; check those menus! One more thing; according to Webster.com, the word is spelled “misspelled.”

Questions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings and food news, email ­culinary@thecharlotteweekly.com.

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