HousingFest is THIS WEEKEND!

HousingFest is happening on May 28th with the goal of bringing people together to end homelessness through the power of music. Each ticket costs $39 and is the same cost as keeping a person in permanent, supportive housing for one day.

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Charlotte has a goal of ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2016 and HousingFest gives you a chance to help the city reach that goal – while listening to some pretty fantastic music – including local band, Matrimony.  The rest of the lineup includes: Josh Ritter, Lindi Ortega, Nikki Hill Band, Jim Lauderdale and Justin Fedor.

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HousingFest began in 2014 and has only continued to grow raising funds for our community’s most vulnerable homeless neighbors. This year’s show is expected to be a sell out with 2,000 people in attendance at the Fillmore. Urban Ministry Center is one of my favorite non-profits in Charlotte (see: 5 things I Learned While Volunteering at Urban Ministry Center), and they are the geniuses behind HousingFest – with the help of a group of sponsors.

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It’s not too late to get your ticket to listen to good music and do a good thing for the community at the same time.

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Vinyl All Day Long

Lunchbox Records moved into their new space on Central Avenue and it is fantastic.

IMG_2710Much larger than the old spot which means more room for records. There’s also more room for DJs or bands to perform in the new location.

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Out of all the Charlotte record stores, Lunchbox is my favorite. They have the best finds and the best prices.

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You could literally spend hours in Lunchbox Records perusing through all of the titles and collections they have. I love that everything is organized in a logical way (new, genre and alphabetical order, used, genre and alphabetical order). It makes it that much easier if you have something specific you are searching for in the store.

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I recommend going during the week, as the parking lot gets quite packed on the weekends. However, since the space is larger, once you’re inside, you won’t have to worry about squeezing by other patrons as you browse.

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And just in case you’re wondering, anyone can use the bathroom there. High five to you, Lunchbox Records.

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Salad Stories

I’ve always been a big fan of salads. I was that weird person in college who wanted a salad after a night of drinking instead of greasy food. Thankfully, eating salads carried over into my adult life whereas binge drinking did not. I work from home now and occasionally just want to get out for lunch. Zoe’s Kitchen was my quick, go-to spot until I had a series of bad experiences at the mid-town location (incorrect orders, slow service, ordering online and still having to wait 25 minutes after arriving… ), so I sought out on a journey to find the best lunch salads in Charlotte.

First up, Chopt:

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I have a mild obsession with Chopt (as in, I would eat it for every meal if I could). I love that you can choose from any of their creative salads or you can build your own. I would advise going right at lunch time because the line gets QUITE long, but I still put myself through the torture of it because the salads are that good. Pictured here is the Braised Greek (with added tomatoes and cucumbers) which is my go-to at Chopt.

Next we have Earl’s Grocery:

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The Mediterranean salad at Earl’s is small but full of flavor. Definitely a good pick for a fast, cheap lunch – and healthy, too! The food and service at Earl’s is amazing, plus, you can work there which is always an added bonus!

As I’m writing this, I realize that I have a tendency to order Greek salads wherever I go. So maybe I should change the title of this to “Where to find the best Greek salad in Charlotte.”

Anyway, next on the list is Pure Pizza.

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Yes, I realize getting salad at a pizza place is almost taboo but hey, summer isn’t that far away and everything Pure Pizza makes is delicious. I love the local ingredients they include and frankly, it was a pretty filling salad.

And continuing with the salad at pizza places, I also ordered a salad at Revolution Ale House:

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And it was also tasty. I LOVE their dressing. Plus they use huge chunks of feta.

I go back and forth at Bad Daddy’s between the Texican Chicken Salad and Stella’s Greek Salad. They’re both delicious and always so full of ingredients!

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The Stella’s is a little lighter, especially the dressing. But I don’t think I could say one is my favorite over the other. Try both and decide for yourself.

I’m a big fan of the build your own salad at Hickory Tavern:

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I usually go with spinach, red onion, red pepper, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, avocado and top it with fried chicken tossed in medium buffalo sauce. It’s literally the PERFECT combo.

Last but not least, in Steele Creek is Harry’s. I added steak to their salad and it blew my mind.

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Usually, I just go for a salad on the side of my burger (which is their specialty), but getting a dinner salad was a nice way to switch it up.

I’m glad to have options outside of Zoe’s Kitchen; although I did like their order online option. Let me know if you have a salad or restaurant that I missed and should add to my list!

#HashtagLunchbagCLT

Have you heard of HashtagLunchbag? It’s a movement that’s not unique to Charlotte, but fortunately has been adopted here. A group of volunteers meets at Triple C brewery each month and swiftly puts together hundreds of lunch bags that contain a sandwich, a cookie, a piece of fruit, a granola bar and a bottle of water… and an inspirational note.

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I went for the first time in March and was amazed at how quickly this group worked to fill the bags and handwrite notes of hope and love for Charlotte’s homeless neighbors.

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After the lunches are all packed, the volunteers box them up and head into the streets of Charlotte to deliver them to those in need.

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As a first timer, I was grateful to have Danielle and Jacinda swoop in and give us the scoop on how the morning would go. All of the volunteers were pleasant and helpful as well and truly worked together as a team.

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Once we signed in and made our donation (volunteers are asked to bring $10 to help with food costs), we were added to one of the sandwich making tables. After all of the sandwiches were made, I moved over to the note making station and eventually moved into the box-packing group.

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There are several prime locations to hand out these lunches which are identified before leaving the brewery. Everyone goes in groups and for safety reasons, it is recommended to have a male in each group. That being said, I never felt unsafe while delivering the bags.

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At the men’s shelter, we started approaching the neighbors and handing out bags but were quickly told that we couldn’t do that. We either had to donate the bags to the facility or stand outside of the gates to distribute. One gentleman kept following us and asking for a bag (I wanted to give him the whole box) but we had already been told to move off the premises. Once we made it outside the gate, we were able to distribute the bags freely. We also stopped at Urban Ministry Center and were able to donate a ton of bags to them and also hand out many more to the neighbors who were already lined up waiting to get in.

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It took our group 35 minutes to make 275 lunch bags and pack them all up to be distributed. We started at 8 A.M and were home by 10 A.M. My heart was so full after those two hours. There are many volunteer roles where you’re working in the background and know you’re doing good but with #HashtagLunchbagCLT, you are on the front lines. You’re not only doing the pre-work but you’re actually engaging with those in Charlotte who need a hand up.

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Starting in April, there will be two opportunities to volunteer. #HashtagLunchbagCLT will meet on April 2nd and April 16th at 8 A.M. at Triple C. The goal would be to have sessions weekly and keep Charlotte from going hungry. Let’s make it happen. Go, volunteer, do something good for your community. Email lunchbagclt (at) gmail (dot) com to let Danielle know you’re coming. And I’ll see you there!

*If you’re not in Charlotte, check out the website to find opportunities in your area!

CO Pho

Okay, I know pho is actually pronounced “fuh” but it’s fun to pretend it rhymes with the name of this new, delicious restaurant in Park Road shopping center.

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The first time I tried to go to CO was at 6 PM on a Friday night. The wait was an hour and ten minutes. The hangry person in me was bound to come out if I waited that long to eat so I had to pass. But my craving was still there so we returned for lunch the next day and were promptly seated.

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I get hangry a lot so I immediately ordered an appetizer: the fresh summer rolls with shrimp and pork. I’ve never had them with pork so this was an exciting twist. They were very tasty, especially with the burst of mint in every other bite.

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I ordered the Beef Pho and my date selected the Vietnamese Ramen. I added jalapenos to my pho because the menu did not state that they were included, but boy did they load me up with jalapenos! I also asked for extra sriracha as they bring a bowl that is half sriracha and half hoisin sauce and I like my food kind of spicy.

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We were seated quickly, our appetizer and entrees came out timely and overall the service was great. I sat for a few minutes with an empty water glass after possibly adding too much sriracha to my broth but it wasn’t an unbearable amount of time.

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I loved the modern décor inside of the restaurant and they also have a fun outdoor area (which I won’t be using until it’s at least 40 degrees warmer than today!). I’ve long been a fan of one of the most authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Charlotte (Viet Thai Noodle House) but will certainly be back at CO. CO puts a modern twist on the best Asian dishes – and also has fun cocktails. If you haven’t checked it out, or been over to Park Road Shopping Center lately, you should swing by. You won’t be disappointed, pho sure. (See what I did there?)

Beer & Donuts

Last night, I went to Salud Beer Shop in NoDa to try some beers and stuff my face with Joe’s Doughs donuts. Central Coffee was also there to provide coffee along side the beer.

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We got to sample four beers, all stouts and porters from Stone Brewing Company, Highland Brewing, Bells Brewery and Founders Brewing. As you can see, they were pretty small pours – similar to what you’d get in a flight at a local brewery (maybe even less).

Donuts were passed around and we each got ONE. Now, it was delicious because everything Joe makes is completely amazing but I was prepared to fill up on donuts. Actually, I kind of thought that since it was a “pairing” that we’d get either a small donut to try with each beer or pieces of donuts and not just one regular sized donut to ration out though the tasting (you don’t ration with Joe’s. You gobble.).

Central Coffee provided a cup for everyone and there was plenty for seconds. The event started at 7 PM though, so I wasn’t really trying to get hopped up on caffeine just to try to go to sleep in three hours. I sipped about half of mine and left the rest. The part I drank was very good. If I lived in Plaza Midwood, I’d go there often. There are also several local breweries that use Central Coffee’s coffee in their specialty brews.

The beer, coffee and donuts were all delicious. I was a little surprised that the event cost $10 to get those four small pours and just one donut. I think moving to an actual pairing type event would make it better in the future, especially if they could get mini-donuts from Joe’s to accompany the beers. Otherwise, I say buy your own milk stouts and stake out the next time Joe is doing a pop-up and grab your donuts then.

If you haven’t checked out Salud and Fud at Salud, you should. The beer selection is abundant and the food is quick and tasty. While last night’s event was fun but somewhat disappointing, I’d definitely give it another shot.

Run Thunder Road!

While on any given weekend, you can find a handful of 5ks, 10ks and half-marathon races, Thunder Road is Charlotte’s only full-marathon. This year’s race is scheduled for November 14. Last year’s race drew 960 runners for the marathon, 99 more than 2013’s race. Masashi Shirotake won for the males and overall with a time of 2:31:07. Meghan Hovis was the female winner with a time of 2:56:37.  In addition to the full-marathon, a half-marathon and 5k are also offered. The full and half marathon races both start promptly at 7:30 AM.

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The 26.2 mile race winds through uptown, Dilworth, Plaza Midwood and Noda, giving you the most scenic (and sweaty) tour of Charlotte. The course has live bands playing throughout to keep you moving, and not to mention, plenty of friends and family cheering runners along.

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Not a runner? There’s a course cheer contest which places cheer groups along the course at various mile markers to cheer along the runners. The winning groups will have money donated in their honor to a charity of their choice! The music and cheering continues once you cross the finish line with more music and expo booths to explore as you recover.

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If you’re considering running the full or the half marathon, you should be aware of the time limits. The full has a time limit of 6 hours and the half 3 hours. Not to worry, Run for Your Life offers training sessions to get you up to speed no matter what distance you’re aiming to run. Training sessions are offered through Run For Your Life locations in Piper Glen, Midtown and University. Now that Fall is just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get started with a running group.

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If you want to get your kids involved in running and help fight childhood obesity, check out the Chick-Fil-A Thunder Kids Marathon Program. Kids will run 26.2 miles over a 5-9 week period and get a finisher’s medal at the Thunder Road Finish Line! Hurry, registration closed October 9 for the kids program.

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As of 9/1, the price for the full marathon is $115. You can register up until the expo and packet pick up, the day before the race (but the price is $135 that day!), but it’s best to get your entry in early to secure a spot and have time to mentally prepare. While the weather can be tricky to predict in November, it’s most likely to be mild in the morning, giving you cool air for the start of the race. The mean temperature for race day is 46 degrees Fahrenheit. The race will go on rain or shine.

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Stay up to date with Thunder Road on Facebook and Twitter for details on bands, weather, and inspirational stories leading up to the big day!