Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Two suggestions for getting involved

If you’re new to town and looking to get involved, here are two suggestions coming up soon:

1) If you’re new to gardening in the South, you can learn the basics of site selection, soil preparation and more at a gardening class coming up at 10 a.m. on Saturday March 10 at Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary in Myers Park, 248 Ridgewood Ave. Cost is $15. 704-331-0664;

2) Interested in contributing to community philanthropy? If you live and/or work in the Charlotte region and you’re between ages 25 and 45, you can apply for the Foundation For The Carolinas’ Impact Fund for Emerging Philanthropists. The deadline is this Friday.

Here’s how it works: You make a tax-deductible contribution of $500 to a gift fund managed by the foundation. With matching funds from the foundation, a total of $30,000 will be available for distribution to charitable causes. You attend meetings and educational sessions over an eight-month program running May-December. You review grant applications and decide how to distribute the money.

More info: (click here), or contact Nikki DeVillers:, 704-973-4539.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New sports bar in uptown Charlotte

Many bars and restaurants seem to be thriving in uptown Charlotte, but there’s one spot that’s been a revolving door for failed restaurants. Last night I visited to see if its latest incarnation might be the one that finally sticks around.

It’s called Daddy’s American Bar & Grill, and it’s in the multi-level spot at the corner of Church and Fifth streets, in the back of the Ivey’s building. If you’ve been around a while, you may recall it has previously been home to restaurants called Twist, City Tavern, Palladian and Quasimodo’s, among others.

Daddy’s is a straight-up sports bar, with wings, burgers, pizza, flatscreen TVs and video games in the back. (Southern touches included spicy pimento cheese melted onto the chicken wings and fried dill pickles on the burgers). It’s the least upscale concept of any of its predecessors, and it has two things going for it that none of them had:

First, its owner is Stefan Latorre, who’s proven his ability to keep uptown spots open (In addition to Latorre’s Latin Cuisine Restaurant, he owns Aquavina and its neighboring wine bar, Menage nightclub and Belle’s BBQ). Since three of his other properties are in the same block of Fifth Street, he’s got some chances for synergy.

And second is the upcoming opening of the Avenue condo project next door. The residents of its 386 units will no doubt consider Daddy’s their neighborhood joint when they start moving in later this year.

It wouldn’t be the first stop I’d recommend to anyone checking out the restaurant scene in uptown. But for those looking for a sports bar, it can certainly hold its own against comparable nearby spots Stool Pigeons, Graduate and Fox & Hound.

No doubt the VIPs in attendance for last night’s grand opening celebration, including Charlotte Center City Partners honcho Michael Smith and several county commissioners, hope Daddy’s hangs in there so they won’t have to contend with a prominent blank spot in uptown’s landscape.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Fat Tuesday!

If you’re still looking for ways to observe some Mardi Gras/carnival traditions, here are some tips – thanks to those who responded to my inquiry yesterday.

For king cake, the traditional good-luck pastry, try Monti Belle’s at 4740-B Old Pineville Road in Charlotte.
Or, try Cajun Yard Dog in the Arboretum shopping center, 8036 Providence Rd.

For a taste of New Orleans, check out Boudreaux’s Louisiana Kitchen restaurant in NoDa (501 E. 36th St.,, or Cajun Queen in Elizabeth (1800 E. 7th St.,

CANS bar is hosting a Fat Tuesday party tonight (Tuesday) from 5-11 p.m. featuring costumes, prize giveaways, and food and drink specials (500 W. 5th St.,

And this Friday, Charlotte Outdoor Adventures ( – it’s a good group for newcomers) is sponsoring a Mardi Gras bar crawl that begins at Dixie’s Tavern, 301 E. 7th St. in uptown, at 6 p.m. The festivities are open to non-members; find details here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Seeking Mardi Gras/carnival traditions

Attention transplants: What are your traditions when it comes to observing carnival and/or Mardi Gras?

I’m sure former Louisianans will have the most to tell me, but this season is tradition-filled in many other parts of the country too.

When I was growing up in Charlotte, it never seemed to be a very big deal here in the 70s and 80s. Bars might hand out a few beads as a gimmick, but that was it.

Until about 10 years ago I had never heard of king cake, a traditional pastry containing a charm inside (typically a small toy baby or a nut) bringing good luck for whoever finds it. But yesterday my church served a king cake after the service – one more piece of evidence that transplants are bringing their traditions here.

If I hear from enough folks, I might put together a quick article for the Observer, so please e-mail me at with your contact information.


Here’s a link to today’s report with news partner WCNC-TV about a newcomer program for women offered at several area churches. Check the national Web site to find locations in this region.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tip: 20 free things to do

Newcomers frequently ask about affordable activities in Charlotte. Here are 20 ideas for free things to do around town, courtesy of the Arts & Science Council. Know of others? Please post them here or e-mail me.

1. The Mint Museum of Art is FREE on Tuesdays from 5 pm-10pm.
2730 Randolph Road, 704-337-2000,
Hours: Tuesday 10:00am – 10:00pm, Wednesday – Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00pm, Sunday 12:00pm – 5:00pm, Closed Mondays and major holidays

2. The Mint Museum of Craft + Design is FREE on Tuesdays from 10 am-
2 pm and the third Thursday of the month from 5-8 pm.
220 North Tryon Street, 704-337-2000,
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:00am – 5:00pm, Third Thursday 10:00am – 8:00pm, Sunday 12:00 – 5:00pm, Closed Mondays and major holidays

3. The McColl Center for Visual Art is always FREE.
721 North Tryon Street, 704-332-5535,
Contact for individual or group tours.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11:00am – 4:00pm. Closed Sunday – Monday.

4. The Afro-American Cultural Center is always FREE.
401 North Myers Street, 704-374-1565,
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:00am – 6:00pm, Sunday 1:00pm – 5:00pm

5. The Light Factory galleries in Spirit Square are always FREE.
345 North College Street, 704-333-9755,
Hours: Monday – Friday 9:00am – 6:00pm, Saturday 12:00pm – 6:00pm
Sunday 1:00pm – 5:00pm

6. ImaginOn is always FREE.
300 East Seventh Street, 704-973-2780,
Hours: Monday – Thursday 9:00am – 9:00pm, Friday – Saturday 9:00am – 6:00pm Sunday 1:00pm – 6:00pm

7. Wing Haven Gardens & Bird Sanctuary is always FREE.
248 Ridgewood Avenue, 704-331-0664,
Hours: Sunday 2:00pm – 5:00pm, Tuesday 3:00pm – 5:00pm,
Wednesday 10:00am - noon

8. Chamber Music At St. Peters First Tuesday Concerts are FREE at
12:10pm and 5:30pm the first Tuesday of each month at St. Peter's
Episcopal Church in Uptown.
115 West Seventh Street, 704-335-0009,

9. Take a FREE Public Art Walking Tour around uptown Charlotte.
Contact: Jean Greer, Vice President of Public Art, Arts & Science Council, 704-333-2272

10.Enjoy FREE Family Day Sundays at The Charlotte Museum of History.
3500 Shamrock Drive, 704-568-1774,
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:00am – 5:00pm, Sunday 1:00pm – 5:00pm

11.The Charlotte Symphony offers FREE Symphony 101 talks at the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Libraries on the second Monday of each
Matthews Branch Library, 230 Matthews Station Street at 9:00am, 704-847-6691; Main Branch, 310 North Tryon Street at 12:15pm, 704-336-2725
Guests who attend the talks will receive a 10 percent off coupon for any upcoming Charlotte Symphony Friday Classics Concerts.

12.North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center offers FREE tours
the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month from 11:00am – 2:00pm.
130 North Tryon Street, 704-379-1378,

13.NoDa Gallery Crawls are FREE and are held on the 1st and 3rd Fridays
of the month.

14.Historic South End Gallery Crawls are FREE and are held on the 1st
Friday of the month.

15.Concerts on the Green in Davidson are FREE on Sundays April -
Located at Downtown Davidson's Town Green from 6:00pm – 8:00pm

16.Summer Concerts with the Charlotte Symphony are FREE on Sundays in June at Symphony Park by SouthPark Mall.
Concerts begin at 8:15pm with preludes at 7:00pm

Enjoy FREE Holiday Festivals throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg including:

17.Matthews Alive – Labor Day Festival

18.The International Festival at UNC-Charlotte

19.Select Charlotte Shout! Events

20.Festival in the Park

Monday, February 12, 2007

More on neighborhood hangouts

Here's a link to today's report with news partner WCNC on the best neighborhood hangouts in the Charlotte area: Click here. Thanks to all who contributed to the earlier post on the subject.

This report focuses on some spots in NoDa, the trendy neighborhood along north Charlotte's North Davidson street. For more on NoDa and the other streetcar suburbs ringing uptown Charlotte, click here to see our article on the subject in Living Here magazine.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Mecklenburg's new courthouse

I hesitate to suggest the new Mecklenburg courthouse as a good place for newcomers or out-of-towners to visit.

After all, a center city should have plenty more exciting places to visit than a courthouse – and Charlotte does. (Please hold off on the sniping – I’ve written lots before about our uptown museums, restaurants, bars, festivals, the historic Fourth Ward neighborhood and other fun options).

But if you’re a local taxpayer, you helped shell out the $148 million for the place. And if you stop by next time you have free time uptown, you might like some of what you see.

Outside and inside the building at Fourth and McDowell streets, look for the quotes carved into the limestone and marble of the structure – they’re thought-provoking phrases from the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and other sources. I spent Friday’s dedication near pillars inscribed with "The rights of the individual" and "Power in the people vested."

And in the atrium is the kinetic artwork, "Persistence of Vision," recently detailed in my colleague Richard Maschal’s fascinating story. The moving work is made up of small sculptures of human heads – created from images of real local residents, and designed to reflect our diversity – suspended from the ceiling in a formation that moves to resemble a human face, then periodically dissipates. The best spot, of course, is to walk out directly under it and look up. (Check out the multimedia presentation on the artwork here).

Another good stop: Go up to the second floor and check out the exhibit on one wall of historic images depicting Mecklenburg’s eight previous courthouses, from 1766 to the present.

Those images make it evident that while this new courthouse isn’t Mecklenburg’s most picturesque or elegant, it is certainly one of its most imposing – and it sure looks good up against its immediate predecessors, the two virtually featureless boxes still standing nearby.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Newcomer tip: Young Affiliates of the Mint

Last night I checked out a happy hour thrown by Young Affiliates of the Mint – a group long known as a way for people ages 21-45 to network, make new friends and get involved in the community.

When my friend and I walked in to Brio Tuscan Grille, a new spot on Piedmont Row near SouthPark, we saw a massive group of people surrounding the bar and spilling out onto the outdoor patio under heat lamps. It took us a little while to figure out that the Young Affiliates were primarily the people on the patio.

This was my second event with this group, and I have found that it’s difficult to meet new people at these things unless you are willing to go up to someone, introduce yourself and insert yourself into their conversation. That can be daunting, so newcomers would probably be most comfortable attending these events with a friend. Look for the nametags – those are the officers, and it’s an easy conversation-starter to ask them to tell you more about how the group works.

Shaun Kruse, the group's incoming president, pointed out that another way to meet people is to start volunteering on the group’s committees who plan the wine tastings, art events, parties and more. That's how he got started, he said.

Membership in the group costs $60 for individuals or $90 for households, and benefits include free or reduced admission to the group’s events, free admission to the Mint Museums, invitations to special events, a newsletter, museum shop discounts and more.

But you don’t have to be a member to check out one of the happy hours and see what you think – the next one is March 14, 6 p.m. at Mimosa Grille, 327 S. Tryon St. in uptown.

Monday, February 05, 2007

More on New York pizza places

One effect of the wave of Northeastern transplants to our area is a proliferation of New York-style pizza parlors. I was surprised to receive votes for more than 45 places in response to my recent queries in my blog and column. My article in today's paper listed the top 10 most popular vote-getters; for those who didn't see it, they were:

Tony’s Pizza in Hickory, Mooresville, Huntersville and Ballantyne (Huntersville was the one most often recommended); Brooklyn South in Cornelius, Brooklyn Boys in Mooresville and Brooklyn Pizza Parlor in Charlotte (same ownership); Luigi’s Pizza, tucked behind the Wal-Mart at Interstate 485 and South Tryon, which earned the most testimonials from recent New York transplants for its authenticity; Big Guys Pizza near Mint Hill; Carmella’s Pizza in south Charlotte; Portofino’s Italian Restaurant, with three Charlotte locations plus Gastonia; Mama’s Pizza, Pasta & Seafood of New York in Mint Hill; Due Amici near University City in Charlotte; Paluso’s Pizzeria in south Charlotte and Luisa’s Brick Oven Pizzeria near Park Road Shopping Center.

Read on for a more complete list containing most of readers' selections.

Personally, I made it to Luigi’s, Luisa’s and Portofino’s over the past week (I’ve had previous experience with several of the others). No complaints so far - and I’m looking forward to working my way through more of these.

Amalfi’s Pasta 'n Pizza, 8542 University City Blvd.
Anzi Pizza-n-Pasta, 7308 E. Independence Blvd., 7828 Rea Rd.
Avanti’s Italian Specialties, 8128 Providence Rd.
Big Guys Pizza, 6914 Matthews-Mint Hill Rd.
Brooklyn Pizza Parlor, 7725 Colony Rd.
Capriccio Pizza & Italian Restaurant, 9611 Brookdale Dr.
Carmella’s Pizza, 6654 Carmel Rd.
Da Vinci’s, 8511 Davis Lake Parkway.
Due Amici Pizza & Pasta, 5346 Prosperity Church Rd.
Fuel Pizza, 1501 Central Avenue and five other locations in Charlotte, Davidson and Gastonia (
Gourmet Pizza &Wings, 4450 The Plaza.
Hawthorne's NY Pizza and Bar, 1701 E 7th St.
Juliana Pizza, 9808 Monroe Rd.
Luigi’s Pizza, 8170 S. Tryon St.
Luisa’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, 1730 Abbey Place.
Mio Posto, Pineville-Matthews Road at Tower Place.
Palone’s Pizza, 8133 Ardrey Kell Rd.
Paluso’s Pizzeria, 10106 Johnston Road, south Charlotte.
Paventi’s Pizzeria, 6434 W Sugar Creek Rd.
Pizza & More, 7008-2 E. Harris Blvd.
Portofino’s Italian Restaurant, has three Charlotte locations plus Gastonia, but the most votes came for 3124 Eastway Drive.
Riccio’s Pizza Villa, 2212 Park Rd.
Rotelli Pizza & Pasta, 9211 N Tryon St.
Tony’s, locations in Hickory, Mooresville, Huntersville and Ballantyne (Huntersville, 9548 Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd., was the one most often recommended).
Zio Authentic Italian, 116 Middleton Drive.

Brooklyn Pizzeria, 3481 US Highway 601 S.
Romano’s Pizza, 349 Copperfield Blvd.
Rosario’s Pizza, 5303 Poplar Tent Rd.

Brooklyn South, 19400 Jetton Road.

Fort Mill:
Village Pizza & Italian Restaurant, 773 Crossroads Plaza.

Laroma's Italian Restaurant & Pizza, 12058 University City Blvd.
Richie's NYPD Pizza, 5084 Highway 49 S.

A Taste of Buffalo, Shops on Statesville across from Northcross Lanes on Statesville Rd.

Indian Trail:
Mona Lisa More Than Pizza, 5850 Highway 74.
New York Pizza and Pasta, 624 Indian Trail Rd S.

Fontanella’s Italian Restaurant, 10412 E. Independence Blvd.
Mario’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant, 3016 Weddington Rd.

Mint Hill:
Mama’s Pizza, Pasta & Seafood of New York, 7106 Brighton Park Drive.

Brooklyn Boys, 119 Market Place.
Pomodoro's Italian American, 350 W Plaza Dr.

Upstate Pizza, 9101 Pineville Matthews Rd.

Marino’s Philly Pizzeria and Grill, 3909 Providence Rd.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Where's your neighborhood hangout?

Several newcomers have told me that they didn’t truly like their new homes here in the Charlotte region until they found their neighborhood’s hangout.

Often it’s a small restaurant or bar. Those who go often enough learn to greet other regulars by name and don’t have to look at the menu to know what to order.

For a column in Sunday’s paper, I’m writing about how a newcomer has taken over one Charlotte-area hangout, Providence Sundries, with a goal of preserving its neighborhood feel. It’s been a gathering spot in Myers Park, on Providence Road about three miles south of uptown, since 1933.

I’m asking readers to give me their suggestions of other neighborhood hangouts around the region – and it doesn’t have to be a bar or restaurant. Maybe it’s a pool or a park or a corner drugstore. Anywhere that makes you feel at home, and provides a gathering spot for you and your neighbors, qualifies.

If I can compile a list for some of our neighborhoods, maybe it’ll help other newcomers who are trying to get settled in.

Please post names of spots, and the neighborhood they're in, here or drop me a line at