Typically, pizza and Chinese food are staples of the takeout trade, but a year into a pandemic that’s kept most folks out of restaurants well after they’ve reopened with restrictions, takeout has become a do-or-die for almost anyone in the Charlotte food industry.
Of course, not all foods lend themselves to a lengthy drive before digging in. Fried food is a dicey proposition; the longer your ride, the greasier your food is likely to be. I had a favorite haunt in Chicago that had a great hot dog with fries, but as with most spots, the fries weren’t so great if you faced anything more than a five-minute drive home from the location.
I am currently preparing to begin the vaccination process and can’t wait to get out and explore more of Charlotte’s food scene in person. In the meantime, I got impatient and tried a couple spots that I had heard a lot about and decided to see how they’re handling their takeout game a year into the pandemic. Regardless of how I found each meal, I look forward to visiting both again in person, because there’s nothing like the experience of eating out.
I selected a sandwich as well as an entrée from this popular Dilworth eatery (located at, gasp, 300 East Boulevard) to share with my wife for dinner. For the entrée, I went with the grilled hanger steak for $22.50. It came with an onion marmalade, horseradish sauce and potato cake, as well as a choice of vegetables of the day.
It came out a perfect medium-rare, just the way I like it. There’s nothing better than cutting into a steak and watching some blood ooze out to signify it has been cooked properly. Aside from having to cut through a bit of sinew, the steak had a nice meaty flavor and was well-seasoned.
The vegetable of the day happened to be garlic Brussels sprouts and it combined both sweet and savory. If your kids don’t like vegetables, after eating this, they might change their tune. I don’t remember Brussel sprouts tasting like this when I was a kid. The caramelized onions tasted like they had a balsamic bath, and that’s some top-notch bathwater.
Another treat on the plate was the potato cake. It tasted like a potato knish, which is like a dumpling. It had a flaky crust, and the potatoes in the center provided a bit of a kick when you swallowed.
For the sandwich, I ordered the avocado BLT for $9.50, which came with one side. I felt like I was stealing — this was such a deal! The creamy avocado spread upped the taste ante, adding to the perfectly cooked Heritage Farms smoky bacon. Topped with leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo, the sandwich was gently caressed by the toasted whole wheat sourdough for a satisfying bite.
The only letdown was the sautéed kale I ordered as a side. It was a bit watery and lacking in flavor, but there are plenty of other sides to choose from. I just made the wrong choice. There’s definitely value here, as well as giving your taste buds a run for the money. On a recent Saturday night, I was told my order would take about 20 minutes and it was ready right on time.
I see now why 300 East was previously featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This one was a winner! I will definitely be back!
Not wanting to cook on New Year’s Eve, one of my favorite things to do in Chicago on that day was to order takeout from the Italian restaurant down the street. That in mind, I decided to finally try Mama Ricotta’s, as I had previously eaten at sister restaurant Little Mama’s and loved it.
Everyone must have been thinking like me, as I couldn’t get through on the phone line. Not living too far away, I decided to drive over to place my order.
I went with an appetizer and two entrees. I was hoping to order the mussels, as the description of grilled sourdough bread to soak up the flavors sounded inviting, but unfortunately, they were out.
Instead I opted for the calamari “Rhode Island style” — which translates to having been tossed in garlic — along with spicy cherry and pepperoncini peppers for 12 bucks. The person I ordered from warned that they were better in-house, but she thought they would hold up for my short drive home. They weren’t bad, but a bit soggy. I should have taken my own advice and not ordered fried food to go.
For the main course, I went with the Chianti-braised short rib, described as a 12-hour, slow-braised short rib over potato gnocchi along with cippolini onions and local kale. The short ribs were fork-tender — I didn’t need a knife — but I would have liked more depth of flavor for the $26 I was dishing out.
I didn’t even notice the Chianti, and if it was included, perhaps a better choice would have been a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Pinot Noir. More seasoning would have also been nice. Taste was definitely in short supply with this dish. The gnocchi that came with were doughy, lacking the melt-in-your-mouth flavor I was used to from dishes in the past.
Fortunately, the penne alla vodka saved the day. The pasta was tossed with sautéed pancetta in a pepper vodka, spicy cream sauce. It came in individual size for $16 and family for $27. Wanting leftovers for the next day, I ordered the family size.
The sauce was nice and creamy, with a good amount of spicy goodness, and the pancetta added the flavor of bacon with a nice salty texture. It was a good dish and easily the most memorable of the night.
It didn’t remind me of the New Year’s Eve feasts I enjoyed in Chicago, but this wasn’t your average year, and at least I wasn’t freezing walking from the car to pick up the food. There are always trade-offs.
If I could only pick one between the two, the choice here is fairly obvious, but you have to take what you can get in a pandemic, and I’ll be back to both once I’ve got my two-shot superpowers fully implemented.
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