Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Restaurant Review: Halcyon Flavors from the Earth

Over the holidays, I was incredibly lucky to be treated to a meal at Halcyon, a restaurant in uptown Charlotte that uses primarily local ingredients. Though a smidge on the spendy side, their menu is comprehensive, seasonal and absolutely delicious. They source about 85% of their ingredients from within 100 miles making the restaurant a truly unique dining experience.

I went to the restaurant with four people so I was able to sample several of their current dishes. We started with warm brie and crackers which were served with honey and apples. All the ingredients were local and the cheese was especially delicious. We also ordered a mixed green salad which I didn’t try but was told was exceptional.

For our entrees, I ordered their warm root vegetable salad which consisted of apples, turnips and a flash-fried oyster in a warm vinegar sauce. Other entrees ordered at the table were their Harvest Basket which consisted of a sweet potato cake with hominy, tomatoes, collards and a poached egg and the Campfire Trout which was served over a bed of a corn bread puree with cherry tomatoes and local greens.

All in all, the food was amazing and the setting is really special. The restaurant is located within the Mint Museum of Craft and Design and looks out over not only the Levine arts campus but most of the uptown skyline. I would strongly suggest this restaurant for a special occasion or just to sample the amazing produce of the Charlotte region.

Monday: 11am-3pm
Tuesday-Saturday: 11am-10pm
Sunday: 11am-5pm
500 S. Tryon St.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Local Holiday Dish Alternatives

Season's Greetings!

I hope all of you are having a peaceful December leading up to one of our biggest eating holidays. This past weekend I hosted my annual Fall Feast for my wonderful Charlotte friends and wanted to share some recipes that I made or have made in the past that can be great, local-sourced substitutes for your traditional holiday fare.

Of course, many places in North Carolina sell locally raised, organic turkeys. I took a different tack and got a rare large-cut pork shoulder from Windy Hill that easily fed 15 people. I used a large roasting pan and first sauteed the meat with only a minimal amount of olive oil on all sides till brown. I then emptied about 3 Uncle Scott's Root Beers into the pan, covered with tin foil, and cooked at 300 degrees for about 5 hours. The pork came out tender and juicy and was very easy to slice and serve! 

Side items:
I have reported many times on my famous Butternut Squash Soup which I made again on Saturday. This is one of the simplest soups out there, is full of great vitamins and is totally vegan and gluten free. Some other sides that my friends brought were maple syrup butter-cooked sweet potatoes and skillet corn bread, both of which can be made local with the right ingredients. Broccoli and cauliflower have been prominent at the markets recently too; the Lomax Farm and Houston Farms  sell them from week to week. One fun way to make these gems is to steam them just a little so they're not raw then sautee in minced garlic and olive oil, both you can get locally at Atherton Market.

I also tried some great new goat cheeses from Cheval Farmstead who just began attending the Saturday Atherton Market. She has several flavors of which I purchased salmon blend and an herb medley. Both were delicious on Duke's sea salt rosemary bread.

I have written about local pumpkin pie but here's a recipe for sweet potato pie. Sweet potatoes are all over the markets and will be through January so this a fun substitute for your standard holiday pies.

Sweet Potato Pie (v, LPO)
1 1/3 cup sweet potatoes - steamed till flaky with forked and food processed for 30 seconds
4 eggs
1 cup dairy - any combination of heavy cream, milky, condensed milk or half and half
1/2 teaspoon of each of the following: nutmeg, cinnamon, ground cloves and salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 9 inch pie crust
  1. Whisk the eggs, sugar and melted butter
  2. Fold in the sweet potatoes
  3. Mix in the dairy and seasonings
  4. Turn mixture into the crust. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes then lower the temperature to 325 and bake until crust is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.
My local dishes as well as those made by my friends. Quite a spread!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Adventures in Local Food: Roanoke, VA

I usually like to have a guest writer do the first blog post of the month either on an area of their specialty or local food options in their hometown. This month, however, you all get to listen to (read?) me again. I recently made a trip back to Roanoke, VA, where I attended college and was lucky enough to eat at an excellent local restaurant.

I admit that while I was in college, I did not take advantage of the copious local food options in Roanoke. When all your meals are paid for, you tend to not venture out to find other food. On trips back to Roanoke, I have been introduced to not only some great farmers markets (one of which is downtown every Saturday all year round) but also a phenomenal locally-sourced restaurant, Local Roots.

The downtown market runs every Saturday until about 2pm and features local produce and meat products as well as crafts. There are several soap makers and potters among the plethora of produce vendors. The market is a permanent fixture in the center of downtown called Center in the Square which is also home to restaurants and art galleries. Altogether, the market is an integral part of the downtown area.

The real gem of Roanoke local food though is Local Roots. Though not 100% locally sourced, they use as many ingredients as possible from local farms to create a true farm-to-table experience for diners. I went there for brunch and the highlights of their menu included the largest order of French toast imaginable served with sautéed local potatoes and spinach frittatas. I visited in mid-Fall and the restaurant made excellent use of the produce available this time of year.

This just goes to show that in a medium sized metropolitan area, locally-sourced restaurants can not only exist but flourish using little more than what can be found in their area.