Field Trip: The Punch Room

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{photo credit: The Ritz-Carlton Charlotte}

It was Friday. It was February. I found myself at Charlotte’s only “drinking den”: The Punch Room. Let’s revisit the scene.

As I am sure you have deduced, The Punch Room is known for its punches. I jumped right in. The Fiesta punch pictured above – made with Sauza Blue tequila, beet ginger kombucha, cilantro, and jalapeño – packed a punch (I couldn’t resist), but it was not my favorite.

That honor went to a concoction of brandy, Jade Sword green tea, tangerine, persimmon, lime, and soda water known as the Hidden Tea punch. Despite its name, the tea did anything but hide. The flavor shone through but did not overpower the drink, making it flavorful and refreshing.

Two other teas were there too. The Perfect Pear with Buffalo Trace bourbon, pear juice, allspice, and ginger ale and the Top of the Hill with Topo Gin, champagne, Earl Grey Tea, blackberries, lemon, and rosemary simple syrup. All punches are made for sharing.

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I also sampled a cocktail from the bar. Chief mixologist and drink guru  Bob “The Bartender” Peters set a Carbonated Last Word in front of me.

It is my hope that I one day find something I am as passionate about as Mr. Peters is about cocktails. Not only does he love all things behind the bar, he does so in a way that is not intimidating to someone who typically does not drink liquor (me). Despite his many accolades, Mr. Peters is approachable and makes an experience at the bar nothing short of friendly.

Back to the drink. The Carbonated Last Word is a concoction of gin, maraschino liqueur, Green Chartreuse liqueur, and lime. Did you know that Green Chartreuse liqueur is the only liqueur in the world with a naturally green color? (Sorry Midori, you’ve been had!) It’s also made by monks.

I’d never tasted Green Chartreuse before, and I doubt I’d tasted maraschino liqueur. Naturally, then, The Carbonated Last Word was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. It did not make my insides want to up and revolt like they seemingly want to do when I take a drink of most any other alcoholic drink not poured from a tap. The drink was light and tasted ever so slightly of licorice. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Punches at The Punch Room

Charcuterie platter at The Punch Room.

Drinks and dessert at The Punch Room.

If the drinks do not sell you on The Punch Room, the food will. There was a charcuterie platter with house-made mustard and a cheese platter with honey and fried-to-order chips spiced with Za’atar and served with a garlic-lemon yogurt dip.

Then yellowfin tuna carpaccio and quail scotch eggs and crispy duck sliders appeared. I dream about those sliders – served with date “ketchup”, pickled shiitake mushrooms, and shallots. So many flavors…so many realms of delicious.

We also indulged in a few sweet treats. Panna cotta with rum-roasted pineapple and chocolate cheesecake – served sandwich style – with raspberry gelée and espresso-soaked ladyfinger, mascarpone mousse, and espresso ganache tiramisu. And last but not least, there were macarons.

A lovely atmosphere, unique drinks, and delicious food combined to make my experience nothing short of a delight. The company was pretty good too. My fellow bloggers and friends Chrissie and Mary attended our fun Friday night and have since posted their thoughts on The Punch Room – along with more pictures – on their blogs.

The Punch Room Charlotte

{That’s Mary – far left- and Chrissie – far right. I’m the guilty party taking the picture.}

If you would like to experience The Punch Room, you can find it on the 15th Floor of The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. The Punch Room accommodates only as many guests as it has seats – and with 37 seats – you will find a rather cozy, quiet experience. You may also find a line as entry depends on the number seats available and no reservations are accepted. Entry may not be guaranteed, but if you wait out the line, a delightful experience is.

The Punch Room / 201 East Trade Street, Charlotte
Wed. & Thurs. 5 pm to 11 pm, Fri. & Sat. 6 pm to 1 am

The Punch Room generously provided my drinks and nibbles. My only obligation was to show up and enjoy myself. I wrote about my experience here because – albeit two months later – it remained worth sharing. Any errors or omissions are unintentional and my own. With the exception of those credited to The Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, the photos you see here were taken with my iPhone and edited with my new favorite appVSCOcam. 

Tropical Banana Bread

Banana bread with coconut and macadamia nuts.

I deemed today “clear out the fridge and pantry day.” Today’s fate started yesterday when I walked to the store just to buy a coffee and breakfast. I was out of cream you see. I thoroughly enjoy coffee, but straight-up black coffee is not my jam. Some might go so far as to claim I like my cream with a dash of coffee rather than the other way around.

Forty odd dollars later, I returned to my home with a coffee, breakfast, a flat of strawberries, and four plants. At least the plants – oregano, sage, thyme, and rosemary – are edible, but their presence left me wondering how to salvage my grocery budget.

I looked around, eyed two spotted bananas perched woefully on the counter, and decided I would be eating banana bread for breakfast this week. The recipe I had in mind for a tropical banana bread was the perfect way to use up the few macadamia nuts I found hiding out in the pantry too.

My productive morning baking and cooking then turned into a rather unproductive 15 minutes spent staring at a blank computer screen. What to say…what to say? (If you read those words to the tune of a Pearl Jam song, I love you.) I figured, well, why not clear out my internet bookmarks too? Surely, I saved something, somewhere, that someone might like to read.

Bingo. A post from the Kitchn about how to make banana bread more awesome than it already is suggested tropical banana bread could be made even better with dried pineapple and perhaps a bit of allspice. I think adding a few white chocolate chips would not be such a bad idea either.

If this tropical version of a classic does not appeal, the Kitchn also suggests amping up a traditional recipe with a 1/2 cup of Nutella or other nut butter. Banana bread with honey and poppy seeds is another option.

Enjoy!

Tropical Banana Bread

Coconut Macadamia Banana Bread
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 overly ripe bananas, mashed
  • ¼ milk at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • ⅔ cup macadamia nuts, chopped
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, mix the butter, two sugars, and salt until combined.
  2. Add in the eggs, one at a time, until each is incorporated.
  3. Follow with the bananas, milk, and vanilla extract, mixing until incorporated.
  4. Next, stir in the flour, baking powder, coconut, and macadamia nuts until just combined.
  5. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8 x 5 loaf pan and smooth the top.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes until the loaf is golden and just firm.
  7. Allow the baked loaf to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before removing. Wrapped tightly, the bread will keep at room temperature for four days.
Notes
Depending on their size, the two overly ripe bananas should yield ⅔ -1 cup of mashed banana. The original recipe called for just ⅔ cup mashed, but I used close to 1 cup.
 

One Day, Three North Carolina Breweries

A wall showing the state of North Carolina.

I now interrupt your regularly scheduled soup programming to take you on a virtual field trip to three North Carolina breweries.

If you know me personally, you know I like beer. If you do not know me personally but have read this blog for any length of time, you also probably know I like beer. If you do not fall into either of those categories, you are about to find out for yourself that, well, I really like beer.

Last month, some gals from our (girls-only!) beer club piled onto a bus on cloudy, dreary Saturday. Our destinations: Olde Hickory Brewery, Catawba Brewing Co., and Fonta Flora Brewery. First stop: Olde Hickory.

 

A glass of Lindley Park

What a welcome! Immediately upon walking through the doors, the head brewmaster Steven offered us all a beer from their taps. The group I was huddled up with looked at each other in wonder, “Is he giving us an entire beer?” Yep, sure was!

I enjoyed the Christmas Ale brewed with orange zest, cinnamon, ginger, and honey. I enjoyed it, as Olde Hickory recommends, in the company of good friends. I also decided that today was going to be awesome.

Olde Hickory has been brewing beer since 1994, and they started barrel aging in 2003. The brewery brews seven standard beers, four seasonal beers, and four other beers of a category I cannot recall because I am an amateur.

It was my first time visiting their facility, but I was familiar with their beer. The bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout Event Horizon is wildly popular, as is their India pale ale (IPA) Death by Hops. I’m not overly in love with either of those styles, but I have been known to enjoy their black IPA Black Raven from time to time.

Olde Hickory started out as a brew pub, and they still have three restaurants today. We lunched at Olde Hickory Station, where in addition to the restaurant, one can find a quaint shop full of cheeses, desserts, and bottled beer. I ate a quinoa and red bean burger topped with smoked Gouda that I still think about. Maybe I am a foodie…

While we were there, I enjoyed one of my favorite Olde Hickory beers: Lindley Park. This imperial stout is brewed with raspberries, aged in bourbon barrels, and is as richly divine as the words imperial, raspberries, and bourbon bring to mind.

Catawba Brew Tanks

Catawba Beer Flight

Then it was off to Morganton to visit one of Catawba Brewing’s locations. What I can tell you about the tour is what I can tell you about any brewery tour: if you have been on one brewery tour, chances are, you have been on most all brewery tours.

I mean this with no disregard to Catawba. After touring a dozen or so breweries over the past year (I’ve even toured the same brewery twice, the first time as one brewery and the second time as another brewery), not much stands out as crazy unique. So, I’ll skip over the tour and head straight to the beer.

Here I ordered a flight of the Farmer Ted cream ale, Revenuers red ale, Black Dome stout, and King Winterbolt winter ale. In the three o’clock position above you will see the cream ale. While cream ales are light in color, don’t let that deceive you. This style is full-bodied, flavorful, and in the case of Farmer Ted, 6.0% alcohol-by-volume (ABV). It’s not a lightweight.

The Revenuers Red, seen front and center, surprised me. I’m typically not a huge fan of red ales, the why of which I cannot explain. Catawba describes this beer as brewed with caramel and special B malts (a malt with a roasted nut and sweet flavor), then accented with four hop additions.

On to one of my favorite styles: the stout. The Black Dome stout is named after a nickname given to the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell, because it is oftentimes cloaked in black clouds.

My final selection was a seasonal winter ale, King Winterbolt. I’ll be honest. I ordered this one for the name. Like the Black Dome, this beer is brewed with two malts but three hops. It is no longer available since, thank you heaven for seaons, we have put winter behind us. If you visit Catawba tomorrow, you will find the hefeweizen Queen Winterkill on tap. I love hefeweizens, but I would order that one for its name too.

Oh, and in case you have any interest in this, Catawba is pronounced like “Kuh-taw-buh.” I can’t even recreate the oddness that one friend’s vocal chords created when she tried to pronounce the word.  Suffice it to say, “cat” is not in the pronunciation.

Fonta Flora Beer Flight

Last but not least, it was off to Faunta Flora. As I type this post, the sun has just set on a lovely, sunny, 77 degree day. The day (just over a month ago) a friend and I set off on the short walk from Catawba Brewing to Faunta Flora, it was cloudy and cold with a decent amount of snow and ice still clinging to the sidewalks. Apparently, everyone in Morganton was shaking off the chill at Faunta Flora, because the place was happening.

This little brewery is the next big thing. As a beer hobbyist, I will grant you I have no authority to make such a claim. However, I am confident that readers of a food blog will agree Saveur does have that authority. The magazine named Faunta Flora as one of the top five breweries to see in Asheville. (Let’s call the fact that Faunta Flora is actually located in the foothills of Morganton a technicality.)

In the event you are interested in reading about my take on three of the remaining four of those breweries, please click here. In the more likely event you are interested in reading what a real publication has to say about Fonta Flora, you can find that more robust write-up here.

About the beer: I ordered a flight of  the Smoked and Salted oyster stout; Mexi Monk imperial stout; Beets, Rhymes, and Life beet saison; Vestige Bloom wild ale; and Alpha vs. Beta Carotene carrot IPA. I loved the Mexi Monk and the Vestige Bloom so much I took a growler and a bottle, respectively, home with me.

About the experience: Instead of a tour, the lovely lady rep Sara led what was essentially a round table with close to 30 ladies who had spent the better part of the day in breweries. I’m sure that was a lovely experience for her.

With that, we wrapped up our day. With this, I will wrap up my little tiny peek into what is going on with three North Carolina breweries. If you are planning a visit to North Carolina, it is unlikely your final destination will be either Hickory or Morganton. However, if your destination is Charlotte or Asheville, visiting these breweries makes for a fun little day trip. Go visit. Cheers!

Shelves of beer at Olde Hickory Station.