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!

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#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!

SweetCakes Cupcakes

If you’re headed North of Charlotte, or have a sugar craving, you should plan to visit Cornelius. I stopped in SweetCakes to get a cupcake for my niece’s first birthday and walked out with a whole box full, half large and half mini cupcakes. I felt I would have been doing myself a disservice to not try more than just the one that I had initially planned to purchase. I justified ordering so many because some of them were mini cupcakes and they don’t have all the calories that the full size ones do.

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I stand by my decision because these were some of the best cupcakes I’ve had in my entire life. My favorite, and the best seller per the owner’s admission, was the Salted Caramel cupcake. Mocha, hummingbird cake and red velvet all tied for second. My husband said the Peanut Butter Truffle was his favorite. And my niece, who doesn’t talk yet, demonstrated that she enjoyed the vanilla cupcake with sprinkles by devouring the whole full-size cupcake.

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Brenda Lord and her daughter, Heather Allen co-own and operate SweetCakes. They started in 2008, baking in their home and have grown into their current location and also have a cupcake truck known as “Dottie.” Dottie visits various events, the Huntersville Business Park and food truck rallies in the area including Cabarrus and Southend. They even do weddings!

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Everything is homemade in the shop daily, from the cake to the icing to the candy on top of the cupcakes. Unique flavor options such as maple bacon, blackberry wine, orange creamsicle and strawberry lemonade will have you drooling. Large cupcakes are $3.25 and the mini cupcakes are $1.25.

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SweetCakes Bakery is located in The Shops at The Fresh Market at 20601 Torrence Chapel Rd, Suite 106, Cornelius, NC, and can most easily be accessed off exit 28 from I77.

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I highly recommend checking out this sweet spot and satisfying any and all cravings you have with their sweet, salty, and rich flavors.

King of Pops

There have been at least 10 occasions this summer where I’ve claimed I *need* a popsicle to get me through another day of this North Carolina heat… and King of Pops has saved me from the brink of dehydration every time… quite possibly saving my life. Okay, maybe that’s a tad extreme but this heat has been unbearable at times and King of Pops happens to make incredibly refreshing popsicles and is conveniently available in areas that I frequent.

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King of Pops is actually a chain and can be found in many cities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia (just in case you’re dying of heat in a city other than Charlotte). Three brothers started the company years ago after falling for popsicles while vacationing. I am so thankful they took that vacation!

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The pops are either milk based or fruit based. I tend to go to for the fruit based ones since I limit my dairy intake, but I must say, the Chocolate Sea Salt one is INCREDIBLE. You can check out all the flavors here, and see which ones are made with your favorite flavors (and which are gluten free!).

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Business is obviously booming as more and more carts are “popping” up around town. They’re always in NoDa and Plaza Midwood, but more recently, they’ve been seen in Ballantyne at the corporate park.

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The pops are all natural and made with the freshest ingredients, their website even says you can catch the owners shopping at local farmers markets for fruits and herbs! For sweetening, they use organic cane sugar, honey and agave.

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If you don’t want to drive around town to find a cart, you can visit their shop in Noda, just behind Noda Brewing and Birdsong’s old building. They have a storefront there with a nice porch where you can enjoy your pops. Prices have jumped around a bit, last summer they were $2.50, I’ve paid $3.00 for most of mine this summer, but did go up to $3.50 at the NC Music Factory during a show. Still, for fresh, quality ingredients and a cold popsicle, it’s totally worth it.

Free Range Brewing: Let your taste buds roam

Saturday seemed like the perfect day to check out Noda’s newest brewery: Free Range Brewing.

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Doors opened at 5 PM and the place was pretty packed by 5:30. They offer half pints, which is a great way to try each of their eight brews without having to drink eight beers, I mean, unless of course you want to drink eight beers.

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Jenny Bought a Farm and Pure Intentions were my favorites, while I felt the Caroliner was lacking a bit in taste. It’s nice that they also offer non-alcoholic drinking options.

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The space was well utilized inside. There’s plenty of seating, a long bar, and you can see up close where they brew the beer. There’s also a good amount of standing room outside on the patio.

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While this may be one of the smaller breweries, they actually have a pretty good space for starting out. And if you remember, OMB, NoDa and Birdsong all had smaller first spaces and have moved or are moving into larger facilities. It’s exciting to have a new brewery in the area since Birdsong moved earlier this year farther down N. Davidson and NoDa Brewing plans to move in the near future.

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It’s worth checking out this new spot next time you’re in the neighborhood. Grab a bite to eat from the food truck outside, grab a pint or three inside and take a break from this heat.

High five, Free Range! See you again soon!

Queen City Helicopters: Birds Eye View

Everytime I log into Instagram, I see tons of pictures posted of Charlotte’s skyline. No shame there. It is a pretty skyline. The sunsets have been magnificent lately, only making it prettier.

The only thing better than staring at the skyline from your balcony, is taking a gander of it from above.

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Last week, I took a tour with Queen City Helicopters and got to see Charlotte from a totally different perspective. We took a 20-minute ride around the 277 loop and saw the top of the Duke Energy building, down into the Panthers and Knights stadiums, and even got a good look at the pool on top of the ‘Pink Building.’

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While the ground-view shots of the skyline are nice, you can see miles beyond that from inside the helicopter. You can see all the way to Crowders Mountain!

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I was in the helicopter that fits two passengers plus the pilot (they have bigger ones if you have more passengers!). While small, it was completely comfortable. At first, I was a little nervous because there were no doors (don’t worry, Mom, I wore a seatbelt), that quickly went away. Going up in a helicopter is about a million times more smooth than going up in an airpane.

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The company is run by a father/son duo. The son was our pilot and was incredibly informative as we flew over the city. Everything seemed so professional, yet casual, which is exactly how it should feel.

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In addition to aerial tours of the city, they offer charters to get you to and from where you need to be in the city, aerial filming and even flight training if you want to be the pilot!

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This was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had since living in Charlotte. If you want to get a new perspective on the city, live on the edge a little (no doors!), or surprise your other half with a special adventure, give Queen City Helicopters a call: (704) 629-4677. I guarantee you’ll be talking about it for months to come after you get back on the ground. If you mention that you saw the article in When In Charlotte, you’ll get 10% off of your aerial tour! There’s no other place you’ll have views this good of the Queen City!

At the Summit

In my best Chris Traeger voice, I literally loved everything about The Summit Room. We arrived 45 minutes early for our reservations and decided to grab a drink at the bar.

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That quickly turned into two drinks because they were so smooth.

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The Summit Room’s Cucumber Collins is the ONLY gin drink that I have ever liked. And by liked, I mean, I downed this drink in a matter of minutes. Then I had this Mango-Strawberry Splash which included a prosecco topper. Always say “yes” to prosecco toppers.

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My husband went with the Chocolate Old Fashion, but he assured me it was not like dessert, and I would not like it. He, however, liked it so much that he got the same thing twice.

IMG_5412To keep us from getting tipsy before dinner, we decided to order an appetizer to accompany our drinks. My husband, the expert food selector, picked the grilled zucchini flat bread. Definitely one of the more filling appetizers you could order but it was so delicious that I think we could have ordered a few more and called it a night.

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Because the first appetizer was so amazing, we ordered a second. Both the bartender and our waitress recommended the BBQ Shrimp, so we figured they had to be good.

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And boy, were they good! The shrimp were served over a corn pudding cake and were DEFINITELY a good choice.

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We got a quaint corner seat inside, and even though there was a big party sitting close by, it was still quiet enough for us to enjoy ourselves and to hear each other over dinner. There’s also a darling outdoor seating area and the cutest rocking chairs on the porch.

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My husband ordered the duck for dinner and it came with delicious blueberry grits and spinach. I had the salmon, which was thick but cooked perfectly.

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Since we over-indulged in appetizers, cocktails and our entrees, we decided to skip dessert, but not before at least taking a peek at the dessert menu. We decided then and there that we’re going back for drinks and dessert very soon.

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If you’re looking for a fun and semi-fancy place for dinner, I definitely recommend The Summit Room. They have a cool backstory and their tables were created from local landmarks. Plus, the cocktails… amazing… smooth… yum.