A Facebook friend recently posted a list of his top 5 favorite things about living in Charlotte, North Carolina. I decided to do my own list… but 5 became 10, 10 became 15, and 15 became 20. You know how it goes.
And so, without further ado… my 20 favorite things about Charlotte!
20) RICHARDS’ BP – OK, so a “good mechanic” isn’t just a Charlotte thing. But here in Belmont we’ve got this independent little garage that’s AWESOME. If there’s a problem with your car, and one fix costs $20 and the other $200, they’ll ALWAYS go the $20 route, unless there’s a good reason not to. They also trust us: “just drive it for a few days and see if the fix we tried works. If not, come back and we’ll try something else. If it does, stop by and pay us whenever”. I’ve been to dozens of repair shops in my life, and this truly is the only one I’ve ever trusted.
19) PRICE’S CHICKEN COOP (link) – No joke: it’s the best fried chicken in the whole world. There are a couple of downsides though. The main one is that it’s take-out only. If you want the hottest, freshest chicken goodness, you have to eat it in your car… especially if you like the potato rounds they give you as a side; they’re not very good after they cool off. Also, they’re cash-only, which is weird in 2014, especially since this place seems to be so big on feeding entire offices.
18) BRING BACK THE BUZZ (link) – The people of Charlotte loved the Hornets… but they really didn’t like the owner, George Shinn. So there were mixed emotions when Shinn moved the Hornets to New Orleans. But then Charlotte got a new NBA team, the Bobcats. But their owner, Bob Johnson, was kind of a jerk, too. Fans wanted the old team back… they wanted the Hornets. So a small but passionate group of fans began a campaign to bring back the name (and if you wonder why Charlotte loves the “Hornets” name so much, read this story on my History Blog). They Facebooked and Tweeted. They hassled the local media about it and made themselves hoarse by going to Bobcats games and chanting “CHAR-LOTTE HOR-NETS!” as loud as they could for as long as they could. And, in the end, they won.
17) MIDWOOD SMOKEHOUSE (link) – There’s this “thing” about barbecue places: fans are always looking for “authentic”, and in the case of barbecue that often means an 80 year-old lean-to located well away from a city, preferably run by an old black man named Gus who’s ornery as hell and only open two days a week. But if you want a normal barbecue restaurant, this is the place. The pork’s pretty good, but the brisket’s divine. The bacon wrapped smoked jalapenos might be the best appetizer I’ve ever eaten, and this is the one place where I always get dessert: warm pecan cobbler! They also have lots of local beers and not a lot of attitude: you don’t have to be “this cool” to eat there.
16) ACCENTS – Heel or Hill? Still or Steel? Pen or Pin? I lived here for two years before I found out that a city in the western part of the state is “Blowing Rock”, not “Boiling Rock”.
15) LOCAL BREWERIES – Truth be told, I’m growing weary of bars with beer menus the size of phone books, or beers that take longer for the waitress to describe than for me to actually drink. But a healthy local brewing scene is good for everybody. I really like NoDa Brewing and Birdsong… but in a lot of cases, I Just need a Guinness or a Natty Greene to be happy.
14) NODA (link) – Not the NoDa neighborhood itself. I mean, NoDa is cool and all, and it reminds me of a slightly rough around the edges Virginia Highland circa 1984. But what I really mean is “Sunday Funday in NoDa”: hanging out with my friends… eating tots at Solstice… playing games at The Blind Pig before all the douchebags show up. It’s a great day!
13) THE GERMAN BURGER AT SOLSTICE TAVERN – Truly the most underrated burger in the city. It’s Solstice’s standard beef patty, topped with bacon, sauerkraut and a homemade beer cheese sauce, and served on a pretzel bun. Now if you don’t like that sort of thing, you’re not going to like this. But if what I just described sounds delicious… yes, yes it is! Add some tots on the side and you’ve got a hell of a meal!
12) JERRY’S – It’s just a convenience store a couple miles down the road. Unlike, say, QuikTrip, they don’t have a massive drink fountain with a couple dozen choices, nor do they have hot snacks. But as long as I’ve lived here they’ve almost always had Mallo Cups in stock. It sounds silly, but having your favorite (admittedly obscure) candy nearby is really important. Plus, the same bunch of people have worked there since I moved here in 2003. I don’t know their names, but it’s nice to see the same people after all these years.
11) CHEERWINE (link) – I don’t LOVE it, and it will never replace Coke or Dr Pepper in my heart… and I still think it tastes a little weird. But I’ve gained a grudging respect for that odd little drink from Salisbury. Coke and Pepsi might have taken over the world, but here’s Cheerwine, still doing its thing 97 years later. And for that, I tip my hat to you, good sirs.
10) CHARLOTTE CHECKERS (link) – The Checkers are a minor-league hockey team. I’ll admit that I’ve only been to a few games, and just ONE since the team moved to the Time Warner Cable Arena. But I really like the idea of the minor leagues. It’s a real, live sporting event that a father can take his family to without breaking the bank. Heck, for the price of one Panthers (NFL) ticket, one can get a Checkers ticket and pay for parking, a couple of hot dogs and three beers! While Charlotte has other minor league teams – the Charlotte Knights, the Gastonia Grizzlies, the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Lake Norman Copperheads and the Carolina Stingers – I feel a special connection with the Checkers ‘cos I was a HUGE fan of the Atlanta Knights IHL team. My best friend and I used to buy the cheapest available tickets but sat in the exact same seats in The Omni (Section 127, Row J, seats 11 & 12) the entire time the Knights existed; when I moved here, I found that my friends did the exact same thing. Cool.
9) SNOW – It actually snows here! Atlanta usually only gets 1-2″ of snow, which melts and freezes into a sheet of ice overnight, and we all know how THAT turns out. It usually only snows once or twice a year here – which is good – but there’s always this POSSIBILITY of getting 2 feet of snow, which kind of hangs over your head like the Sword of Damocles… which is cool.
8) THE UNC-DUKE RIVALRY – I couldn’t possibly care less about either of these teams… but every time they play each other it’s all kinds of awesome. It’s like God and Satan are meeting on the basketball court: the earth stops spinning, the wind stops blowing, and everyone in Heaven and Hell holds their breath for two hours. I especially love reading my Facebook news feed during the games, as people go completely bonkers. I don’t know if it’s because the GT-uGA rivalry has gotten so one-sided, or if it’s because UNC and Duke are in the same conference, or are just 8 miles apart or what… but boy is it fun.
7) EAST CAROLINA BARBECUE SAUCE – Every time someone asks me about barbecue sauce – which, I’ll admit, isn’t very often – I feel like I’m in the one of those country churches that meet in a tent. Because ladies and gentlemen, Brother Jim will TESTIFY for the One True Barbecue Sauce! And, brothers and sisters, I will SMITE those FILTHY HEATHENS in Kansas City for the BLASPHEMOUS mixture of ketchup and molasses they call “sauce”. That “sauce”, friends, is nothing more than the work of SATAN HIMSELF! CAN I GET AN AMEN? GOD GAVE US VINEGAR, SALT, AND BLACK AND RED PEPPER, AND THAT’S ALL ANY GOOD BELIEVER NEEDS! TESTIFY!
6) AYRSLEY GRAND CINEMA (link) – Yep, it’s just a movie theater. It doesn’t have a bar, restaurant, or even leather seats. But it’s always clean, the employees are super-friendly, the projection always looks great, and the theater often has artsy films or film festivals. And they manage to do all that for about a third less than AMC and the other chains. Sweet!
5) DOWNTOWN BELMONT – Cute lil’ shops selling cute lil’ things. Bars and pubs. An independent coffee shop. Moms pushing strollers through Stowe Park. Life’s good in lil’ Belmont. When I first moved here it SO reminded me of Duluth circa 1985. But now Belmont is totally its own thing in my mind. And I like it. A lot.
4) SIR EDMOND HALLEY’S RESTAURANT & FREEHOUSE (link) – I’m 43 years-old. You know what *I* want in a bar? For you to sit down and shut up. I don’t want to have the latest hip-hop or eurotrance pumping at 110 decibels. I don’t want some 20 year-old plastic-looking girl in a tight shirt offering me Sysco wings or mozzarella sticks and bad domestic beer. And I sure as hell don’t EVER want to see a frozen drink machine… or dudes in fraternity hats. I just want a place where I can hang out and BE. Maybe watch a sporting event at a reasonable volume level. Maybe chat with friends. Drink manly drinks like Guinness and Jameson. A place where playing Top 40 on the jukebox is grounds for your ejection. No pretentiousness. Just, you know, a fuckin’ pub already.
3) FRIED PICKLES – Sure, fried pickles can be had in many places. The Carolinas don’t own the patent on the fried pickle. But you’re not gonna find better ones anywhere in the world. The Diamond, Pinky’s… wherever you go in this city, it’s all good!
2) THE ANNUAL PLAZA MIDWOOD CHANTILLY CHILI COOK-OFF – I don’t love it as much as I used to. I’ve “heard things” about the cook-off, like how sponsors can get away with minor cheating and how easily the “People’s Choice” award can be bought. But still, it’s all for a great cause, and I wake up every Chili Cook-Off morning like a kid at Christmas. No really, I drive Lisa crazy: “CHILI! CHILI! CHILI! I GET TO EAT THE CHILI TODAY!” And yes, I glutton myself with all the chili one human being can consume. I also like being a critic for a day: “Eh, too much cumin. How tragic.” or “venison and wild boar chili? Isn’t that just a BIT ambitious?” Plus there’s beer. Always beer.
1) BROOKS’ SANDWICH HOUSE – This isn’t the “best restaurant in Charlotte”… it’s THE GREATEST THING HUMANITY HAS EVER DONE, EVER. Putting men on the moon? That’s nice. Ridding the world of smallpox? Sure, that’s cool. Re-configuring the NTSC signal to include color information with no increase in bandwidth *and* making it fully compatible with existing black and white TV sets? That’s a neat engineering trick, almost as good as the Kalka to Shimla rail line in India, which was built in the 1860s and goes up 5,082 feet into the Himalayas, crossing 864 bridges and going through 102 tunnels. But man, Brooks’ chili… that’s THE STUFF, my friend. You can have your smallpox-free world and your color TV sets and your amazing Victorian engineering… I’ve have a Brooks’ cheeseburger all that way, thank you very much.