Thursday, May 26, 2011

On an Evening in Charlotte

Like most people, LA and I are creatures of habit.  We go to the Liberty East, we go to Las Margaritas.  Occasionally we venture out to a new place.  In this case, we ventured out to FedEx Office (which I usually still refer to as "Kinko's").  Our trip to FedEx Office paid off in unexpected ways.

LA needed to print out some documents on a day on which the library was closed.  The next best place to print something?  FedEx Office.  We went there on a Tuesday around lunchtime.  By the time the documents were printed, we were starving.  We could go to Chipotle.  Who doesn't love Chipotle?  I used to eat there when there was only one in the whole country.  (Speaking of, you still owe me $5 for that bet, Scott.)  Mexican was a little tired for us, since we'd recently been to the aforementioned Las Margaritas.  Our other options were bagels or pizza.  LA chose pizza, and I readily agreed.

When we walked into MezzaNotte, I was expecting a regular corner pizza joint.  Red-checked tablecloths, a counter at which we'd place our order, even some parmesan shakers sitting on the table.  Boy, was I wrong!  MezzaNotte is a very cozy and upscale place, with white cotton tablecloths, dark wood panelling, and a wood-fired pizza oven behind the bar.  On a side note, who puts the pizza oven behind the bar?  I consider it to be a small question and not one that detracts from the overall atmosphere of MezzaNotte.

The sign outside MezzaNotte states that their Lunch Express Menu is $9.95.  For lunch?  I'm used to the Dollar Menu.  But we hoped we'd get our money's worth.  The Lunch Express includes a soup or salad, a slice of pizza, and an entree, as well as iced tea.  Ok, maybe the price isn't as bad as we initially thought.

Based on the recommendation of our server, Iesha, LA ordered the tomato goat cheese soup, a slice of cheese pizza, and the Rigatoni Buttera.  I asked what was involved in the MezzaNotte salad.  Iesha wasn't sure, but she knew it had iceberg, onions, and blue cheese dressing.  I'll have that, but hold the onions!  I also ordered a slice of margherita pizza, as well as the Rigatoni Buttera. 

LA's soup was delicious.  Excellent recommendation!  Very tomatoey and acidic, but with the tang and creaminess of goat cheese.  The MezzaNotte salad is, in reality, a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuces, with cherry tomatoes, red onion, artichoke hearts, diced ham, and black olives, in the housemade blue cheese dressing.  My salad arrived with a small slice of easily-removed red onion.  The pantry cook was a little heavy-handed with the salad dressing, but I didn't mind.  Their dressing is reminiscent of Caesar dressing, but with the addition of blue cheese.  They should bottle and sell it!

Next arrived the pizza.  The "slice" is actually half of a small pizza.  LA had the standard American cheese pizza.  It was good, but tasted like every other slice of cheese pizza that I've ever had.  The margherita pizza was covered in a tangy tomato sauce, with gooey fresh mozzarella and spicy basil.  LA thought mine was too spicy, but I thought it was perfect.  The wood-fired oven gives the crust a crispy chew, which can make it difficult to cut through, and the slices are to big to eat by hand.  I'm not typically a crust person, but I ate all of mine.

We both then got a small plate of rigatoni in a tomato cream sauce, with peas and Italian sausage.  I found the rigatoni to be a bit too al dente, and neither of us were particularly crazy about the dish.  The peas were too much of a contrast with the sausage and sauce, and the dish had no real counterpoint that provided any balance. 

On our next visit, I stuck with the standard Express Lunch menu.  This time I had the house salad.  You'd think it would be the same as the MezzaNotte salad, but you (and I and Iesha) would be mistaken.  The house salad is a mix of lettuces, with tomatoes, cucumber, and carrots.  Again, it was dressed heavy-handedly. 

I ordered the diavola pizza after asking Iesha what was on it.  She wasn't sure, but she thought that it had red peppers and knew it had banana peppers.  Never one to make things easy on a server, I requested that they hold the banana peppers.  The diavola pizza has a spicy tomato sauce that's covered with Italian sausage, salami, and mozzarella.  I saw nary a red pepper.  All the same, it was fantastic.  I liked it even better than I had the margherita pizza. 

Filet of branzino caught my eye, and I asked Iesha what came with it.  "Nothing.  You get so much with everything else that it doesn't come with anything."  I ordered it anyway.  A good size filet of the branzino, which is a white fish, arrived, with a side of roasted potatoes and tomatoes.  The fish had been floured and pan-fried to perfection, neither undercooked nor dry.  LA had a bit and declared it "too plain", but a squeeze of the accompanying lemon was all the seasoning I needed for it.
LA ordered the Ariana salad, which typically comes with salmon, but asked to have the steak from the Bistecca salad substituted for the salmon.  No problem.  When his salad arrived, it was the Bistecca salad.  Back it went to the kitchen.  Why had he been so adamant about the Ariana salad?  Because it's a spinach salad with caramelized walnuts, cherry tomatoes, bacon, and goat cheese.  The steak was a bit salty and had even been finished with sea salt, but it was cooked to medium rare, just as LA had ordered it.  He thought the salad was only dressed with oil, but I think there was a vinaigrette hiding somewhere in there.  I would order that in the future, only without the sea salt finish.

The best thing about MezzaNotte?  A basket of bread is brought to the table, accompanied by white beans.  The white beans are tossed with some diced tomato, red onion, basil, red pepper flakes, and olive oil.  I'm starting to drool just thinking about it.  Who needs butter?

The service at MezzaNotte has been excellent on both visits.  Iesha was our server on both occasions.  My personal opinion is that she should be a bit more knowledgeable about their menu items, but she makes up for it by taking good care of her tables.  LA and I both had mistakes on our special orders, but they were quickly and pleasantly corrected.  The ambience is fantastic as well.  It's comfortable and cozy, but not overly casual.  While there is a patio, it's been too hot for us to sit out there.  Maybe some evening we'll stop in for one of their Happy Hour pizza specials and sit on the patio, watching traffic go by.  Without question, we plan on becoming regulars.

MezzaNotte is located at 2907 Providence Road, in the Providence Plaza, at the corner of Providence and Sharon Amity.

P.S. Props to anyone who got the Dean Martin reference from the title of this post.