Thursday, August 25, 2011

Feeling a Little Lupie

After six months in Charlotte, LA and I still claim to be newcomers. We are still figuring out where the locals go and where we can go that won’t break the bank. I planned to meet my friend, Shelby, for lunch and asked where we should meet. She asked me if I knew where Lupie’s Café is. Sure, I do, but I assumed it was a biker bar. LA thought it must be Mexican food. Shelby said we should meet there.

As we walked in to Lupie’s Café, I was struck by the décor: wooden booths, bare wood ceiling and walls, a surf shack vibe to the place. What’s that music they’re playing? Depending on who’s in charge of the music, it may be Johnny Cash, James Brown, or Jefferson Airplane. I’ve heard just about everything there. I actually finally asked and was told that there’s a house iPod, but the staff can also plug in their iPod and share their taste in music with the masses.

Minus the pink Port-o-let

Shelby and I met on a Thursday, which meant the daily special was chicken ‘n’ dumplings. Do I have to mention how much I love chicken ‘n’ dumplings? I didn’t think so. I was not disappointed. Meaty chunks of chicken, swimming in thick gravy, studded with dumplings that were dense but not at all doughy. The green beans were and long-simmered and well-seasoned (although a little saltier than I should be eating them). I know that the popular belief is that green beans should be cooked just until “crisp-tender”. I don’t subscribe to that popular belief. I love long-cooked green beans. They’re soft and juicy, with the same green color as the Pinto my mom drove when I was 7. Lupie’s mac ‘n’ cheese is creamy (rather than custardy, which I’m not crazy about) and yummy, but it has a thick layer of dark brown cheese on top. I’m not usually one to complain about baked cheese, but it never seems to work for me on Lupie’s mac ‘n’ cheese. I eat the mac and leave the cheese.

I’ve since taken LA and have gone back on a number of occasions. LA declared their burger to be the best he’s ever had. It is a good burger, but not the best I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s because I forgot to tell them that I didn’t want ketchup on it. LA’s personal favorite is the Big Dog with Cincinnati chili and cole slaw. The Cincinnati is a little sweet, but full of flavor and not hot. It’s a good match for the hot dog.

Lupie’s Café has the same menu all day, with specials for each day of the week. Thursday is my obvious favorite. Monday has meatloaf, which I had once and wasn’t overly impressed with. Monday is also the only day of the week on which mashed potatoes are available. The gravy is a white cream gravy with a mushroom flavor to it. The first time I had it, the waiter warned me about the mushroom gravy. I was expecting loads of mushrooms for me to pick out, but I was mistaken. Skip the meatloaf and order the 3- or 4-vegetable plate if you really want the potatoes. Two quiches are available every day of the week; typically one with a meat (often crab or turkey sausage) and the other vegetarian. The quiches come with salad and a side of fruit. The quiches are tall and light, with a higher filling per egg ratio than you normally see.

The downstairs bar area
During the day, Lupie’s Café attracts a business crowd, but the dinner crowd is younger and more “liberal”. Lupie works the cash register and is a delight. She’s very friendly and will treat you like a regular in no time. LA’s #1 reason for returning to Lupie’s Café is Jason, his favorite waiter. I like Jason too, but I find the majority of the waitstaff to be friendly, efficient, and very knowledgeable. You can tell they like their jobs. How often can you really say that about your server?

I think it goes without saying that Lupie’s Café is one of our “places”. We’re recognized when we go there, and you know how much LA and I love that. Go to Lupie’s Café. Unless you’re Grant Luckey, you’ll want to become a regular too.

Note: Three notes, actually. 1) Grant Luckey likes “going new places and trying new things”, but he refused to go to Lupie’s with us because he looked at the menu and decided that “they don’t have new things.” 2) On our last visit to Lupie’s, we were forced to sit by ourselves in the lower level to make room for Time Out Youth, a local organization that helps gay teens and young adults handle issues that result from them coming out. Yay Lupie’s, for being gay friendly! 3) Also on our last visit, our server, Nannette, played matchmaker for LA by giving him the name and number of a single friend of hers.

Lupie's Cafe is located at 2718 Monroe Road in Charlotte (there's currently a pink Port-O-Let out front, so you can't miss it).  A second location is at 101-A Old Statesville Rd in Huntersville.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Can Only Spend What?? Part Deux

Many moons ago, I was challenged to create a fake budget for myself, and I had to incorporate 90 balanced meals. I promised to post my menu when I was done, and I never got around to it. I’m sure you’re all used to that by now.

I want to pat myself on the back and say that I had $5 left over on my fake budget. I would probably use the $5 to buy something other than lentils. Believe it or not, you can buy a lot of food products at the dollar store, and a lot of them aren’t too bad. The country ham is great, and you can often find feta cheese. I don’t know if I’d want to eat this menu all the time, but I could still live happily on it.

In case you were wondering, my food bill for the month was $93.15, and that included tax. I remember when I could easily live on that for a month, but those days are long gone. I also want to mention that many of my classmates went the Lean Cuisine route. I made a personal pledge that I would neither do that nor live on sandwiches. I was successful on both counts!

Click on the above menu to see it larger

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Lucky Peach, Indeed

What has two thumbs and is a total slacker?  This guy!  Yes, I know it's been far too long since I've regaled you with kitchen stories.  And I realize you're still waiting to know how my fake budget turned out.  Not to worry--that will be my next post.  At this time, I have bigger and better things to tell you.  What could be bigger and better than a fake poverty-level budget?  I'M IN LOVE!

Who is it?  The answer may be surprising, depending upon how well you know me.  It's not so much of a who as a what.  And that what is Lucky Peach.  And what, pray tell, is Lucky Peach?  It's a new quarterly magazine from NYC Chef David Chang and the people who bring you No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.  Do I really have to tell you that it is my new favorite magazine?  I didn't think so.

My intrepid sidekick, LA, and I were perusing the magazine racks at our local Barnes & Noble, and I decided to look over the cooking section.  I do so mostly out of habit, since I know what's waiting for me is typically a showcase of Food Network honeys (and Food Network magazine, if I want all the honeys in one place).  I don't need to know how to make a "tablescape" for every crappy meal I've cooked up using all pre-made ingredients, and I never say "Yum-O", so those magazines aren't really for me.  The only exception may be Paula Deen's.  She is my dream mother-in-law.  Besides, her magazine is full of photos of her eye candy son, Bobby.  So maybe that magazine is one of the better ones.  Bon Appetit is all available online (and full of out-of-my-real-and-fake-budget ingredients) and Saveur has never been one of my favorites.  How many issues can they devote to pesto? 

Then my eye caught a photo of a hand holding a plucked chicken.  Right there in the front row!  Who could possibly have the audacity to show food in its raw form?  David Chang, apparently.  Then I saw "Issue 1 - Ramen".  Seriously?  I flipped through the magazine, and I was instantly hooked.  Of course, I was also not-so-instantly out of money, so the purchase of the magazine would have to wait until after payday.

Once the money was in the bank, we headed back to B&N.  I had to have that magazine!  I happily plunked down my $10 (+ tax), hoping that I would get my money's worth.  And get it, I did.  This may be the best magazine in print. 

The first issue is, in fact, devoted to ramen.  But not in the way you might think.  The first article is a travel diary, tracing a trip through Japan in search of great ramen.  Ruth Reichl (editor of the now sadly defunct Gourmet magazine) reviews assorted store brands of ramen.  David Chang gives us some great recipes using dried ramen noodles, including Instant Ramen Gnocchi Parisienne and Instant Ramen Cacio e Pepe.  While Chef Chang apologizes for writing an "obvious" recipe like Ramen-Crusted Skate, I would still happily try making it.

Despite great articles on the origins of ramen and a biography of David Chang written by Anthony Bourdain, my personal favorite items in the first issue of Lucky Peach are two haiku.  One is a recipe for Corn with Miso Butter and Bacon, written by the editor.  Yes, a recipe written in haiku form.  The best haiku, however, comes courtesy of Oscar, who is (presumably) David Chang's dog.  And who wears a do-rag.  "If I had some eggs / I could have some eggs 'n' toast / If I had some toast."  A dog who writes haiku.  Awesome! 

My favorite article from the magazine.  How is this not me and my friends?
Do I need to say again how much I love Lucky Peach?  While the $10 cover price may be a bit steep, the magazine is all articles, unlike many other food magazines which are stuffed with advertisements for rubber floor mats and vacations in Sedona.  The good news is that a subscription is only $28.  Okay, it's still higher than your average magazine, but I'm ready to support someone who knows how to cook and cares about food and not just "tablescapes".  It always comes back to the tablescape. 

Seriously--go buy this magazine!  Keep in print so I have something interesting to read between classes.

For a subscription to Lucky Peach, click here.