Good Times at a Few Special Local Spots

Ashley and I had the weekend off together and spent some time enjoying some excellent local businesses. Offering some brief reviews in hopes you’ll also support your locally owned shops and restaurants.

Actually, a real highlight of the week came at the beginning of it. The anxiously awaited Kung Foo Noodle opened last Monday in the Birkdale Shopping Center in Huntersville. This is Tommy Tong’s new restaurant, and it is even more fantastic than his previous spot, Noodletasia. Noodletasia was our favorite Asian fusion restaurant, but I believe Tommy’s outdone his prior accomplishment now, giving us a new favorite. We didn’t go opening night, but did have dinner there the next evening. Every single thing about the experience was great.

The food was delicious, excellently prepared and presented. We shared a Lemongrass Hopper, then Ashley had the Budae Jjigae (fiesty, fiery, rich and complex broth, served with kimchi, kielbasa, bacon and shrimp) and I had the Curry Kick noodle soup (packed with chicken, herbs and string beans in a coconut curry broth).  Every bite was outstanding.

The service was also terrific, and the atmosphere and decor were exciting and comfortable.

Next to the food, though, Tommy is the star attraction, making every guest feel appreciated. He really knows what he’s doing, and I expect he will have incredible success with any and all of his projects.

Thursday we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in what has become out tradition, meeting up with friends at Sir Edmund Halley’s at the Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte. It was a good time, of course. Sir Ed’s is a treasure and has some of the best bar staff in the area. You know they’re extraordinary when they can keep up with everything on a crazy busy day like St. Pat’s and still let you know they’re glad you came. They’re well known for pouring a perfect Guinness, and the food has won several awards. They have a wonderful corned beef and cabbage dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, which Ashley had for lunch. Believe it or not, I forewent tradition and tried the blackened salmon wrap for dinner. Very tasty.

A new craft brewery, Cabarrus Brewing Company, opened in Concord Friday. Personally, I believe this area has enough (maybe too many) craft breweries already, and I’ve dramatically cut back on drinking, almost to the point of quitting completely. However, since we hadn’t visited a brewer in a while other than a short trip to Bayne Brewing a couple weeks back, and we had time off, checking out the new place, in a town we don’t often visit together, sounded like a fun change of pace. Well…

We expected the grand opening to draw a big crowd, but didn’t count on the entire county population being there trying to cram in the warehouse sized place. It was totally packed, extremely noisy, and, we figured, not worth trying to wait and squeeze in. The trip wasn’t a waste, though. We had also been interested in visiting High Branch Brewing for a while, and it conveniently shares a parking lot with Cabarrus Brewing.

A friend and coworker, Sandy, has been talking up High Branch since they opened last November. Ashley had their Late Addition stout at Lil’ Robert’s Place a week ago and raved about how good it was. I have to say, she was right!

High Branch is a smaller operation than Cabarrus Brewing, but for me smaller has always been my preference. They were packed Friday night too, benefiting from the overflow and excitement of their neighbor’s opening night, but we could at least get in and move around. Service was good and quick. I ordered the Southern Sour Blonde and Ashley got the stout. The sour was all right (I gave it 3.5 bottle caps on Untappd), tasting somewhat like a cross between a sour and a lager. Guess I didn’t read enough into the ‘blonde’ part of the name before ordering. Still very tasty, and exceptionally fresh.

Ashley let me try the stout, though, and it blew me away! Totally delicious, I believe it is my new favorite, edging out Bayne’s, which is also fabulous. We only had the one beer each there, the crowd and noise being what it was, but I sure look forward to getting back and having the Late Addition again.

We went to the Thai House in the University area for dinner after that. Great experience, as always. Curry for both of us, Ashley with the Panang and me with the trusty green curry. They were prepared a little spicier than expected, but so very yummy!

After working out Saturday (I’m so proud of us!) we picked up salads from Pinky’s. I think Pinky’s is well-known, but I’ll mention it to people sometimes and they’ve never heard of the restaurant. We go to the one in Huntersville most often, since it’s closer to home, but both locations are good, and the menu is the same.

I think Pinky’s is thought of as a burger and hot dog joint, and known for things like their fried pickles, Pimp’n Fries (covered with pimento cheese), and the outstanding Ding Dong Chicken sandwich (Thai inspired marinated chicken breast topped with crunchy peanut butter, sriracha, and honey-cilantro slaw), but they have THE BEST salads I’ve ever had. I’ve been trying to improve my diet, going for more salads than meat, and Pinky’s makes it easy to crave your greens and veggies.

My three favorites are the Tahini Salad (traditional falafel cakes on a bed of mixed greens, topped with red onion, cucumber, feta cheese, tomato, pepperoncini & toasted sesame seeds – served with a zesty tahini dressing), which is what I had Saturday; the Kinda Fried Turkey Salad (herb coated poached turkey on bed of mixed greens, topped with shredded provolone, red onion, tomato and arugula), which Ashley introduced me to, a very filling, tasty delight which she ordered; and the Spinach Salad (fresh spinach, roasted red pepper, feta cheese, artichokes, red onion & sunflower seeds). Pinky’s is generous with the ingredients and the salads are big and filling. If you haven’t tried them, I recommend you do!

We had a terrific experience at a place we hadn’t been before later that evening. I’d spotted Waterbean Coffee a month or two ago, and while we were on our way to Lowe’s for some things for the house casually pointed it out to Ashley. We decided to drop in once we got what we needed at Lowe’s, and I’m glad we did.

I loved the atmosphere at Waterbean. Spacious, quiet, and well-decorated, it was very inviting and calm. There weren’t many people there at the time; maybe it is busier and louder during the days. I can’t imagine it being too bustling, though.

After taking in the food and drink offerings, Ashley and I chose a couple coffee drinks. She got a cappuccino with toasted coconut and caramel flavorings and I had a regular drip coffee. My coffee was above par, but Ashley’s drink was really something special. After this experience and our time at High Branch, I think I should just let Ashley order for me for now on.

I thoroughly enjoyed our time sipping our drinks. It was one of the more relaxing times we’ve shared outside of home. I very much liked that our drinks were served in ceramic cups with saucers — Ashley’s even garnished with a chocolate covered espresso bean — rather than paper cups with our names misspelled on them, and brought to our table rather than someone yelling our name out. I love my rowdy hangouts, but for a nice, peaceful time with my honey, the environment at Waterbean felt a little special, even if it was just a coffee place in a shopping center. I expect we’ll be giving them more business.

The WHAMS Story

It just won’t let me go.


A couple of years ago I started an organization (of mainly just me) called WHAMS – We Have A Music Scene.  This was, admittedly, when I was actually part of the “scene,” being front man for a rock band and contributing regularly to the local music press.  The original idea was a little vague; primarily, I just wanted to help support local/regional music.  By support, I first meant to bring more attention to the good musical talent in the area, to get more people to shows or buying local product, to help the locals gain some recognition beyond the metro limits.  So it was publicity first, I guess.


Secondly, I had a notion that local music acts could band together — almost unionize — to help each other with practical things, like affording rehearsal space, equipment, and advertising, or trading gigs, or other activities.  Community, I guess you could call it.  This was the organizational part I kind of dreamed up.


In reality, forming the vague hopes of a music scene organization into concrete actions become difficult.  Sure, I had plenty of other things on my plate at the time, including trying to find a way to support myself and my son financially, working on the ever more demanding needs of the band, and trying to fix up and sell a piece of property I had unintentionally become responsible for, but I still thought I could (had to) make the time an find the energy to do some good for the ever deserving local music scene.  I could only do so much, so many of the ideas I had never became fully realized.  I helped with a couple of local festivals, set up a website with a large listing of local artists and venues, and promoted local shows through myspace.  Because I wound up working at Manifest Discs, the biggest independent music store Charlotte has ever had, I also helped the store and the local bands by building up the local consignments and booking shows for the store’s stage.  It may not sound like I accomplished a lot, but I was actually putting a LOT of time into the WHAMS idea, especially with all the networking and putting a lot into the website.


I always intended to recruit more help for WHAMS, and did have some enthusiastic volunteers, but we never got organized or developed specific strategies.  Always meant to, just never got around to getting everyone together.


Then I started to get discouraged.  The more I saw awesome bands get overlooked for lame, boring groups, talentless DJs and disappointing cover bands, the less confidence I had that the people in our area could recognize or appreciate real talent.  I believe I am being objective here, not simply applying my tastes.  The Charlotte Observer, the city’s daily newspaper, increasingly devoted less and less space to music, featuring more space on eating out and going to movies.  That editorial decision led me to believe that was how the Charlotte public felt regarding entertainment.  “Just give us our TV, restaurants, blockbuster movies and teen comedies, and meat market bars to rub against the opposite sex; forget local theatre and definitely keep us away from local music, which can’t possibly be good, since it’s not featured on Grey’s Anatomy.”  Wow.  That came out even more bitter than I expected.  But that’s how I felt.


The rest of the local press wasn’t much more encouraging.  Creative Loafing, the weekly ‘alternative’ paper, also lost perspective on local music.  Amps 11, a monthly music zine, changed management to become a tool for a Charlotte music company.


It was sad to see both local acts and adventurous national acts at terrific venues pull in less than 20 people per show, over and over.  I had been such an unwavering believer in the local music scene, envisioning a continuously vibrant future, but my faith started to, well, waver.


And then there were my personal issues.  The band had problems, and even though we seemed to be gaining some great momentum externally, internally things were rough and seemed to be pulling in different directions.  My son developed some behavioral issues and we began to grow apart suddenly.  I continued to get further behind in my bills, to the point where it was getting scary.  I didn’t have a job that could really sustain me.  And I think I was starting to feel like I was aging, and needed to get my act together quick or I’d wind up poor and unhappy.  I realize now some of those feelings were just effects of pressures working against each other.  But I was feeling a little overwhelmed, and knew I needed to come up with some solutions.  Quickly.


So I started methodically de-cluttering my activities and commitments.  I let go, one by one, of many of the distracting or demanding or unrewarding (at the time) or irritating things that were placing some pressure on me.  The trade off was going to be worth it since I would gain focus on the one or two projects that would make the greatest improvement on my situation.  So I stopped writing for Amps 11.  Left the band.  Dealt with my son’s decision to move out.  Stopped pursuing high effort/low payoff contracts in my consulting.  And totally gave up on doing any more work with WHAMS or local music.


Things did improve for me since then.  It certainly took — and continues to require — a great deal of effort.  I zeroed in on a professional path as a paralegal and put every minute, thought and action I could into getting my debt under control and fixing my finances.  Over many months I continued to release or conquer more and more of the pressures and tasks that had been sucking away at my time and attention.


Although I had made peace with giving up WHAMS, there was never a very long stretch of time before I would have ideas about reviving it.  Sometimes after seeing a local act or reading something I would get a little spark of inspiration.  Every couple of weeks I was jotting down some note to myself about things I could do to help the local music scene, or new ways I could contribute, or needs that just weren’t being met, or new approaches to some of the issues local bands and venues were facing.  I even restarted efforts to update the website.  I thought maybe just doing that one thing wouldn’t put too much on me, and would provide a useful resource for the scene.


Maybe I haven’t made it clear, but promoting and helping local musicians — as well as other local promoters and venues — was something I was passionate about.  Have been for a long while.  And doing something purposeful — helping people; contributing what I have to offer — has been a huge driver for me.  It was NOT EASY, at all, to just give up on the WHAMS stuff.  I felt like I needed to do it, though, and don’t regret it.


I worked on the website for a few days.  It was taking up a lot of time… again.  Afraid of getting bogged down and off track of the other high priorities I had, I gave up on it.


Still, I find myself reacting, especially after reading local media and being amazed at the amazing lack of press being given to the music.  I KNOW I can do better than that.  I KNOW I could make a difference.  I am a realist, in some ways, and know that it is just a sign of the times that popular music is just not as important to people as it has been.  I know not all local music deserves attention (actually and surprisingly, it is often the lackluster acts which seem to get press, while the true innovators are overlooked).  I know a lot of people just don’t care.  But there are SOME people who do care, and I believe they are being underserved.


So, like a weed that struggles and grows where it’s not supposed to, the WHAMS ideas keep coming up in my head.  I am not yet where I want to be in terms of my other goals, and don’t want to interfere with reaching them, but I have to wonder, if I continue to be drawn to it, is working with WHAMS possibly precisely the right thing I should pursue?  Am I denying my own initiative by not following through with some of the projects or ideas I have?  Can reviving WHAMS actually contribute to helping me succeed in my other goals?  Or am I just being seduced by a gigantic distraction?