Thursday, May 9, 2013

Good Eats and Meets 4th Food Tour – Cotswold/Sherwood Forest

Well, I admit it.

Even as a die-hard foodie and a Good Eats and Meets member for nearly three years, I missed the other three MeetAnd3 food tours. Richard Gruica, founder and head foodie at GEAM will have to forgive me for that oversight. But I couldn't miss the one held this past Tuesday night in the Cotswold (Sherwood Forest) area of Charlotte. First of all, the tour took place less than 15 minutes from my house. Secondly, for $20.00 (early bird RSVP charge), you couldn't beat that deal with a Groupon!

Seriously, you get to go to, eat in and experience the ambiance of three local food-related venues, mingle with other Charlotte foodies while getting history, local lore and food trivia from Richard, our resident wonder. After starting GEAM in 2007, his Meetup repertoire has expanded over the years to include groups in Columbia, Atlanta and Miami to name a few other hot spots. His Charlotte group has over 3500 members alone. Adding Ciara Caron, formerly of Dishcrawl, to the food tour hosting team has only enhanced what is already an innovative and cool idea.

Basically, MeetAnd3 involves picking a community where three "hidden" spots are highlighted. Tuesday’s list served up Leroy Fox, The SecretChocolatier, and newbie, Block and Grinder who has already started building quite a bit of buzz around town.

black plate with two mac and cheese bites, a chicken strip, fried zucchini, caprese salad and two dipping sauces.
Sample plate from Leroy Fox. 
The night began with Leroy Fox, a neighborhood fave, which is destined to become your favorite family pub if it isn't already. I showed up with a friend and her six month old babe (new foodie being broken in as we speak!) and we were welcomed and accommodated wonderfully! Hats off to Rich, who kept the presentation brief and the craft beer samples flowing! I had to write fast as he kept coming by with great offering after another.

I sampled everything from the heartier and darker OldeMecklenburg Brewery’s Copper to an almost fruity, sweet noted Jam Session from NODA. My best bud who doesn't even like beer drank that one, so chalk that up as a win! Other samples, like Bad Penny from Raleigh's Big Boss and Higher Ground from Birdsong rounded out the tight delivery. As a newbie to craft beer in a craft beer-laden town, I was in sample heaven, especially grateful for Rich’s patient explanations.

Our food sample included their famous fried chicken strips, fried zucchini, mac and cheese bites, and a light caprese salad. I can’t tell you which I loved more, but yes, the chicken is all that you hear it to be; tender, juicy with a perfect crispy breading that left me definitely wanting more. It was served with a creamy chicken gravy and a sharp and spicy dipping sauce that was easily my favorite. We will not even begin to say how perfect the mac and cheese bites were. Where others versions of this I've had were either overdone on the breading or lost the creaminess of the mac and cheese to overcooking, Leroy Fox found the perfect balance and these were excellent. We also ordered a round of pretzel bites, which my bestie devoured and said she would get again. All in all, a great time there.

Round black place piled high with pieces of blueberry chili flavored chocolate bark.
Blueberry Chili Chocolate Bark
Next up was The Secret Chocolatier. To my shame, I have followed this choco-family on Facebook since they were still over in Atherton’s Market but had yet to visit their retail store located near Providence and Sharon Amity Roads. This was my loss, for once you get inside this quaint but bright establishment set up by Bill and Karen Dietz, you may not want to leave. Why? Well, if you look around, all you see is a dizzying array of confections that boggle the mind, with names like Cardamon Crunch, Blueberry Chili Chocolate Bark and Dark Chocolate Caramels with Sea Salt. I spied chocolate drizzled macaroons wrapped up sweetly on the counter with bright ribbons near a smart row of jars filled with local and much loved Cloister Honey. Getting to go into the kitchen in the back and meet Robin Cordia, daughter of the creator of this chocolate oasis, was a special treat. There, we sipped on their smooth and delicious liquid chocolate drink cooled down especially for us, as she narrated the history and love they all put into their creations. Her other half, Andy, who handles more of the business end, was quick to let me know that they are happy to accommodate their customers if there are special requests. And, please don’t compare their chocolate drink to any hot or cold chocolate drink you've ever had previously. There is a richness here that speaks chiefly to the quality that they pour into all their confections, cakes and specialty candies every day. You can guess where I will be going for Mother’s Day.

Red circular postage stamp logo with the words Block & Grinder at the top of the circle and image of an old-fashioned meat grinder in a white circular center. The words butcher's shop - prime steaks-burgers & more are in the bottom half of the red circle.
Block & Grinder - did someone say pastrami? 
Now, this is where I have to disappoint. Baby Foodie Boy was ready for bed by then and I missed walking the few extra yards over to Block and Grinder, our latest darling in the fresh and local movement. YES, I know! How can I leave you hanging like that? I’m sorry. Babies dictate schedules sometimes. What I can tell you is that the guys at Block and Grinder believe in keeping it all in “da house.” That means your pastrami has been “brined, steamed, smoked, trimmed and cut in-house.” Your steak burger has been ground in-house. This is your local butcher and a place to eat all in one.

While I can’t relate the tour’s experience at B & G, which I am sure was superb, I am ready to hit them this weekend (must I mention again it’s Mother’s Day?). I will talk about all the corned beef and pastrami goodness in my next blog post to make up for my omission here.

Banner logo for GEAM White rectangle with four circles of different colors with the letters G, E A, M with the words good eats and meets underneath. The circle with the letter G has a fork sticking out to the left. Below that is the words eat imbibe socialize
GEAM - Good Eats and Meets - Find them on
Last words. Don’t forget to follow all these great places on Facebook and if you are local, join the Good East and Meets group . That way you will get all their latest news and the announcement of the next MeetAnd3 Food Tour. Richard has assured me more tours are on the way! Hope to see you next time!