This Monday I started work in Uptown Charlotte.
I cannot say I was thrilled. The commute time, the traffic, the parking, the expense, the homeless people sleeping on the streets in the morning and begging for money in the evening.
Not to mention I had loved working in Ballantyne, and knew all the vegan-friendly places. Whether I was in the mood for falafel, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, pizza, salad, smoothies, veggie burgers, Impossible burgers – I knew exactly where to go. I also knew where all the vegan-friendly chains were – Whichwich, Moe’s, Starbucks.
But, as I always say … It is what it is and it’s not what it’s not. I decided to embrace this new chapter of my life as an adventure. (As driving the wrong way down a one-way street can certainly be!) And while eventually I’ll be bringing my lunch most days, these first few weeks I plan to do a little exploring.
And so I sallied forth on Monday, walking to see where my walk would take me.
Past an absolutely gorgeous old church (First United Methodist) which had me itching for my Nikon and making a mental note to check the church schedule to see when I could take a prowl inside.
It seems like a cool church – LGBTQ friendly and a focus on helping the homeless.
Then to Crunch Bistro. This is a chain that serves “healthier” options. You can rely on Crunch to be vegan-friendly (salads, wraps, and quinoa bowls are made to your specifications). But whoa – that line was as long as five o’clock traffic leaving uptown, and moving just as slowly. I quickly got out of line and hit the streets again.
I’m sure I will visit Crunch again, and very likely it will wind up being a stand-by. But either a bit earlier or later – NOT at 12:30 – right in the middle of the lunchtime crush. Or, I’ll order online to pick up. That line was CRAAAZY.
Crunch Bistro: 401 North Tyron
I wound up at Qdoba, and felt a little excited about it – they had multiple large posters advertising the Impossible Taco, and suddenly an Impossible Taco was exactly what I felt like eating. Plus the line was reasonable and moving quickly.
“I’ll have the Impossible Taco!” I announced.
“No, you will not,” the server said. “We’ve sold out of Impossible, and it would take too long to make any more today.”
Sold out? At 12:30? I sighed and got a burrito bowl, with black and pinto beans, fajita vegetables, guacamole, and some random toppings – salsa, onions (not afraid to go back to work with stinky breath, pesky coworkers might keep their distance), fresh jalapenos, cilantro. It’s good, perfectly decent, nothing wrong with it but not great.
On my way back to the office I noticed a tiny Indian restaurant tucked away in an office building. I danced up the steps with glee (for the Vegan Police out there, I said GLEE, not GHEE) and entered. It was sort of a Qdoba-style version of an Indian buffet – instead of making your own plate, someone behind the buffet puts together a plate for you. The entire clientele was Indian, which I took to be a good sign. I skipped out, knowing where my next excursion would be.
Qdoba: 127 North Tryon Street
Late in the afternoon my office adjourned to Duckworth’s for a farewell party for a well-liked employee with a long tenure. I just ordered a Hop Drop and Roll (wanted to leave before TRAFFIC!). But they do have the Impossible Burger. This chain was one of the first to carry Impossible in Charlotte. Unfortunately, it’s rather expensive ($16.00) and I couldn’t verify if they had the same promotion the now closed Park Road location had ($10 Burger & Brew on Wednesdays). Oh, well, I work from home on Wednesdays, anyway.
Duckworth’s: 330 North Tryon Street
I actually had leftovers from a delightful dinner with A. from Yafo Kitchen that I meant to bring for my lunch. Bowl with falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, sumac onions, kalamata olives, beets, tabouleh, cucumber and tomato salad, with both red and green schug sauce – YEAH, BABY!
(Yafo Kitchen now has 3 locations in Charlotte, but sadly none in Uptown. They are extremely vegan friendly – check out this review I wrote in 2017 for Creative Loafing. )
But in the madness of getting up at 5:00 AM so I could bathe, make myself presentable enough not to scare small children, and walk my Jack and Jack Sh*t so I could arrive at work by 7:00 – Yep, left that yummy stuff sitting in the fridge.
I had no worries. I knew where I was going – to the Indian quick-service buffet. Once again, I was the only non-Indian person.
The restaurant’s name is Aroma, which is appropriate because I quickly learned the food stinks! Hahaha.
To be fair, it probably mostly stinks only for vegans. They did have a number of veg options, but most were swimming in cream and butter.
The man serving the veggie side of the buffet was very nice. I’m not sure he completely understood the questions I was asking (and therefore I’m not sure the meal I wound up with was completely vegan), but I ended up with rice and a masala veggie thing, plus two samosas.
The checkout guy, though! Not sure if he was having a bad moment, a bad day, a bad year, or a bad life! He reminded me of the Soup Nazi on Seinfield. I was uncharacteristically quiet and diffident as I was paying. He seemed so angry I expected him to rip the styrofoam container out of my hands at any second, yelling, “NO MASALA FOR YOU!”
Taste-wise, it was … ok. Didn’t taste exactly fresh (frozen veggies?) and kinda wondering if the samosas were frozenas well. Again, to be fair, I’m vegan, and I am verry picky when it comes to Indian food. Maybe I came on a bad/off day. I’m sure a non-vegan person would have a much better experience. But, I probably won’t go back – unless I get a samosa craving.
Note: I think the samosas were 2 for $1.25, and you need to pay cash if your bill is under $3.00.
Aroma – 401 N. Tryon, Suite 106
Wednesday I worked from home. For lunch I had yummy leftovers from Brixx Pizza. The leftovers actually came from a Tuesday night dinner with A. at the Foxcroft location, but there is also a Brixx Pizza uptown (225 E. Sixth Street).
What I like about Brixx: They’ve had vegan cheese for literally forever (at least the 10 years I’ve been a patron) and they never upcharge for the vegan cheese or for modifications/additions.
Above is my favorite pizza: The Greek. A thin crispy crust with tomatoes, kalamata olives, fresh basil, and balsamic drizzle. I order with vegan cheese and add banana peppers and artichokes. Turns out to be one d*mn fine pizza.
Once again, I set off walking. No destination but I’ve learned if you keep going, you eventually do wind up somewhere.
Today, though, I didn’t have to walk very long. There was a big red food truck – “Marathi Masala.”
What? An Indian food truck? I backed up and read the offerings.
Not only was it Indian food, it was what A. would call Indian Street food – rarely seen in Charlotte. Samosa chaat, bhel, vada pav, pav bhaji.
AND – this truck was vegan-friendly! There was a meat item offered – Chicken Tikka Masala – but the majority of items were veg and clearly labeled. “Vegan.” “Vegetarian.” “Vegetarian – Can Be Vegan.”
I eagerly ordered the Samosa Chaat (without yogurt) from the two very lovely, friendly Indian ladies that own this business.
And what can I say but this was the BOMB! The samosas were incredible – definitely not frozen. The chole was one of the best I’ve eaten, anywhere. The tamarind sauce, the chutney! The tomatoes and cilantro were fresh, the red onions not too onion-y, the sev (tiny noodles made from besan flour) crunchy. Overall, it seemed light, healthy, and FRESH … not too oily … with loads and loads of flavor. Spice level was medium – while ordinarily I like more heat, this was so flavorful more heat wasn’t needed. Ladies, you knocked this one out of the ball park.
I can’t wait to try their other offerings – which might be a challenge, since their regular uptown food truck day is Wednesday, one of my work from home days. But stay tuned – I will definitely be writing more about Marathi Masala!
In the meantime, I strongly encourage local readers to check them out. I may have had similar food at Patel Plaza in Atlanta – or in Michigan – or Hounslow, London – but fresh, flavorful, healthy-ish Indian street food in Charlotte? These gals are trailblazers. Try them if you have the chance and tell them VegCharlotte sent you.
Marathi Masala Food Truck is outside the 525 N. Tryon building many Wednesdays. They also have a pick up business with limited hours at 131 E. John Street.
Friday was another work-from-home day. Lunch was honestly not anything exciting – I made myself a gigantic green/fruit smoothie in the AM and just kept sipping on it throughout the day.
Next Week Is Another Week
Who knows where I will go next week? Perhaps I’ll walk a little further, or walk in the other direction. I found out that my dear friend Tom is actually working in the same building I am, and he’s offered to “show me the neighborhood.” No doubt I’ll pick up a number of tips from him.