Foodie Travels: Pike’s Soda Shop, Charlotte, N.C.

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When we occasionally visit Uptown Charlotte, we like to eliminate the stress of navigating parking and one-way streets by using the high-speed rail service to travel into the city. And sitting right off one of the rail line’s stops, in the South End district of Charlotte, is Pike’s Soda Shop.

Pike’s is the fusion of an old-school soda shop and a new-age American diner, offering everything from burgers and fries to delicious home poked meat-and-side plates. You can also get a variety of milk shakes and delicious desserts. This place is actually responsible for Molly and I developing an affinity for Toll House Pie.

Nostalgia covers the walls, and the first thing you see when you walk inside is an old-fashioned soda counter. It’s the kind of atmosphere that immediately tells you that you’re in for a treat.

For us, that treat usually involves a good cheeseburger. I know what you’re thinking: “Matthew, you always try the burger.” Yes I do, but this is one of those places where you can build your own juicy, unique burger with a variety of toppings.

If the burger’s not your item of choice, try one of the home style plates. Whatever you get will fill you up. But if you have room for dessert afterward, opt for a milkshake or the pie. Your meal will be made.

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Molly and I enjoy a mint chocolate chip ice cream milk shake at Pike’s.

Pike’s gets a $ on my $ (very affordable), $$ (middle of the road), $$$ expensive dining cost scale. That’s especially true if you plan to eat a simple sandwich and side. It’s up to you, of course, whether you want to add more to your meal. Two people can easily have a simple meal here for $20 with just the basics, and that’s often my benchmark for a reasonable place to get a good meal.

A #FoodieScore tip: The light rail method is a great way to eliminate the hassle out of driving around and parking in Charlotte altogether. We like to park at the Woodlawn station and then ride the train to South End to eat, then get back on the train to go into uptown for a Hornets game, a cultural event or to just explore. HOWEVER, a friendly stranger tipped us off once that parking around Pike’s is free during a certain time period on weekdays and on weekends. If you drive, be sure you have to pay before you drop coins in those parking meters.

Pike’s Soda Shop

1930 Camden Road, Charlotte

Pikessodashop.net

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Foodie Travels: Superior Seafood, New Orleans, La.

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Superior Seafood’s profiteroles

In the culinary haven of New Orleans, which delights foodies with specialties ranging from gumbo to beignets, Molly and I were fortunate to stumble upon a restaurant that serves up a number of those classics, all in one place.

Superior Seafood, located in the city’s historic uptown, has that traditional New Orleans atmosphere feel to it and just enough parking to allow us to snag a spot on a weekday afternoon. We discovered this restaurant by searching online for a good option for lunch while driving through Louisiana on a road trip from Texas to North Carolina.

Our meal started with a fresh loaf of French bread and fresh butter. You get the whole loaf and have the pleasure of slicing off pieces yourself.

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Superior’s gumbo

Among the choices of a large variety of entrees, we opted for a few Southern classics. Molly savored a bowl of fresh shrimp over creamy grits. I enjoyed a po boy with fresh crispy, fried shrimp and a cup of seasoned gumbo. 

Satisfied but intrigued by desserts we’d seen on an adjoining table, perhaps our best part of the meal was dessert. For Molly, it was a flavorful, spiced bread pudding. For me, it was a pair of profiteroles, delicious small pastry-puff sandwich with fresh cream and ice cream. Each dessert was more than enough for one person, and each was $2. How many nice sit-down restaurants offer a specially made dessert for $2?

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The shrimp po boy

Along with the jazz music you’d expect as the ambiance accompaniment to delicious food in New Orleans, Superior Seafood’s dining rooms almost felt like the scene of a step back in time to a slice of America in the 1940s and 1950s. The Southern charm of the restaurant and its staff certainly added to our experience.

Superior Seafood

4338 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, La.

SuperiorSeafoodNOLA.com

$$ (on a scale of $ most affordable, $$ middle of the road, $$$ expensive)

Foodie Travels: Sunny’s Donuts, Gaffney, S.C.

Pay careful attention as you near the intersection of Granard, Logan and Yale streets in Gaffney, S.C. You don’t want to miss this.

It looks like a convenience store and gas station, and it is. But Sunny’s Quik Stop offers so much more on one corner of the shop.

Look for the blue and orange-yellow sign that announces “Sunny’s Donuts.” It’s flanked on each side by “Voted Best Donut Shop in South Carolina” signs. And you know you’re in South Carolina because one of those signs offers University of South Carolina Gamecocks colors and the other Clemson University Tigers colors.

Most importantly, inside you’ll find a donut display case that offers a plethora of tasty treats. There’s everything from basic donuts to bear claws to peach fritters and more. If I had to liken the donuts to something familiar for everyone, I’d say they’re more Dunkin’ than Krispy Kreme. But don’t let that deter you if you have a hard allegiance to a brand and product. This place is special, and with all of the establishments you’ll find on #FoodieScore it’s all about the one-of-a-kind angle.

The shop and its owners have a unique story behind them. You can read more about that here.

There is a convenience store in the other part of the building, but the Donut wing is what makes this a destination more than just a stop on the highway.

Many of the treats you choose will provide more than you’re able to eat in one sitting. So bring the family or a group of friends, prepare to take some home and go ahead and make plans to come back when you get to Gaffney.

Unique donut shops and bakeries are commonplace in big cities, but they’re somewhat of a rare breed these days in some small towns in the South. Don’t pass this one.

Sunny’s Donuts

720 S. Granard St., Gaffney, S.C.

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Simple Crockpot Apple Butter

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Imagine the scent of apples and autumn. When Matthew and I made apple butter (twice!) over the past few weeks, our home smelled gloriously like fall, cinnamon, apples and allspice. After a visit to the Lincoln County Apple Festival, we found ourselves in possession of a peck of apples. With nearly 40 on our hands, we decided to try a recipe for crockpot apple butter. An old Methodist cookbook provided us with a fantastic recipe. (We only tweaked a few things – removing cloves, for instance.) It was simple enough: peel and chop the apples to fill the crockpot, cook, measure, add other ingredients and continue to cook. The total cooking time was over 12 hours, but using the crockpot made it easy. We only had to check it from time to time. When we were finally done with both batches, we had 6 full jars (half-pint-size) of apple butter. One batch we made with green apples – the other with red. Both resulted in delicious, smooth, spreadable, sweet apple butter. If you ever find yourself with a peck of apples, we encourage you to try this recipe, too. Don’t forget to share!

Crockpot Apple Butter

Ingredients
8 cups cooked apples (takes about 15 uncooked apples)
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice

Directions
1. Peel and chop enough apples to fill the crockpot. (We found we needed at least 15.)
2. Cook on high for several hours until the apples begin to cook into pieces.
3. Measure the cooked apples and put 8 cups back in the crockpot. Mix in all other ingredients and stir.
4. Cook on high until hot, then turn down to low and cook for 8-12 hours.
5. Remove the lid and cook just until the mixture is of spreading consistency.
6. Jar and enjoy! Apple butter is delectable on a bagel, croissant, biscuit, toast and more!

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Foodie Travels: The Flying Pig, Shelby, N.C.

In any part of American barbecue country, announcing a favorite produces instant disagreement among supporters of other choices. Here in Cleveland County, N.C., the frontrunning favorites are a pair of legendary Bridges-named establishments that have successfully served customers for decades. And as much as both of those restaurants deliver unique meat, side and atmosphere experiences, I believe I have a different favorite than most of my neighbors.

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The Flying Pig on N.C. 150 between Shelby and Boiling Springs sits in a small, unassuming building across from the local airport. It’s part of the landscape enough that some people pass it not realizing it serves up delicious barbecued pork, chicken, brisket, red slaw and some of the meatiest ribs I’ve ever eaten.

When you drive past Flying Pig during the morning hours, you see smoke rising from the back of the joint. If you come back at lunchtime, there’s often a big enough crowd in the parking lot and in the dining room that your choices for spaces are limited. Don’t be fearful or fooled though: the service here is always fast, even at the busiest times. And if you do have a bit of a wait, it’s absolutely worth it, and here’s why.

A few things that set The Flying Pig apart from the local and regional competition. One, it’s all about the delicious flavor of the meat. You won’t get a meat drenched and swimming in sauce when it comes to your plate. You get a pure, flavorful meat, no matter which you choose.

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Two, you get plenty of sauce in the form of three individual and unique choices that come in cups to your table. You can enjoy sweet, sour or spicy. My favorite is the sweet, which reminds me of a reddish, transparent sauce you’d find alongside chicken in a Japanese restaurant.

And three, this eatery maintains a bit of “best kept secret” off the beaten path.

The first time I visited The Flying Pig, I entered at an “off time,” later than the early dinner crowd and on a weeknight. The owner gave me the royal dining treatment, explaining how everything is freshly made, sharing the specifics of the different sauce choices and even offering a chance to look through a barbecue book that chronicles some of the most unique and celebrated BBQ restaurants in the region.

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I’ve recommended The Flying Pig to colleagues at multiple employers, to old friends coming through Cleveland County and wanting to know where to get the best barbecue, and to people who find out just how much I love food and want to know where I like to eat. I highly recommend The Flying Pig to you, too.

While the “big boys” on the local “Q” scene are certainly purveyors of delicious meats, sides, sweet tea, desserts and a hometown restaurant scene, there’s nothing that beats walking into this place, biting into plentiful, flavorful meat, getting a greeting from the owner and always being encouraged to come back again. And you get all of these treats for about the cost you would expect for barbecue (less than what you would expect to pay for expertly crafted brisket and ribs).

There are a lot of places in our part of the world that serve outstanding barbecue, but there’s not one that does it any better than The Flying Pig.

The Flying Pig

901 College Ave., Shelby, N.C.

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