Located just two miles north of Uptown Charlotte, North Davidson (affectionately known as NoDa) has been going through a sort of transitional makeover these past two decades. The transformation from milltown to vibrant arts community is home to locally-owned live performance venues, restaurants, breweries, galleries, and kitschy shops.
Naturally, when I set out to find the best places to eat, I turned my query to the locals. Nine times outta ten, they’ll send you to places that don’t make the blogger “Top 10” lists – but you can bet they’re the best places to go. So off I went to check ’em out.
As I strolled down Davidson Street trying to decide where to eat, I got a of whiff of something flavorful in the air. What was that delicious smell? You could literally pick out the seasonings being used as the wind carried the savory aroma through the corridors. When I looked up, I was greeted by a bright-yellow brick building, with a sign that read “MANGOS.”
Mangos is that under-the-radar gem that you can’t wait to write home about. Specializing in Caribbean fusion made from scratch, they intricately meld authentic Jamaican flavors with a fresh modern style. Savory dishes are roasted to perfection while their sauces are simmered with the time and patience required of true Caribbean culinary heritage.
My hostess was kind enough to bring me their”locals only” dish, prepared by their cook, whose recipes are made with the love and passion of a true Islander.
Next, I was presented with the main course: classic jerk chicken with yellow rice, peas, and sweet candied plantains with a crunchy brown sugar coating.
It was one of the best dishes I had during my stay in Charlotte. But wait. I wasn’t finished. My meal was completed with their famous Rum Cake. The alcohol content is so high that you must be 21 years or older to order it and it has to be eaten inside . . no lie! When I prodded for the recipe, I was told it was a chef’s secret.
I literally wiped that plate clean. It was soooo delicious.
MANGOS: 3112 N. Davidson St, Charlotte, NC 28205
Hellooooooo Summer! You have arrived! Long, lazy days spent at the beach. Outdoor picnics. Barbecues – with plenty of beer and wine…..and VACATION! I know. I’m a little too giddy about summer’s arrival. But hey! It was a grueling winter, and spring was no walk in the park. So yes, I am thrilled to be able to wear shorts and sundresses once again.
Yes, picnic season is in full bloom, which is why I want to share this Strawberry Balsamic Chicken Pasta Salad recipe I concocted while trying to explore San Francisco’s food scene. It’s the perfect summer picnic dish. True story. I was staying at an Airbnb in Oakland, and while trying to find my way into San Francisco, I got sooo very lost. But lo and behold, I ended up at the Fruitvale Farmers Market.
I couldn’t resist all the delicious ripe fruits displayed on the farmers’ stands. Luscious, ripe, red Roma tomatoes and strawberries. Plump, juicy blueberries. Beautiful, bright green spinach and cucumbers. I was in foodie heaven. Naturally, I bought a little of everything. I know. I’m a sucker for summer fruits and veggies.
As I was making my way back to my Airbnb, I started thinking about what I would do with my newly acquired bounty. Considering I had spent the past two weeks eating everything unhealthy under the sun, I decided to celebrate summer with a healthy pasta salad.
Cook Penne Pasta according to boxed instructions. I prefer my pasta cooked al dente, so I will cook it until the maximum amount of time.
While pasta is boiling, clean and dry spinach and place in a large bowl.
Once pasta is finished cooking, strain water and add pasta to bowl of spinach. Mix in balsamic vinaigrette to keep pasta from sticking.
In a medium bowl, combine strawberries, Roma tomatoes, avocados, and cucumbers. Toss to mix without smooshing avocados (Yes, I said smooshing). Add salt and pepper to taste and add to spinach and pasta mix.
Once greens and pasta are thoroughly combined, add chicken and toss with additional balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkle crumbled cheese on top.
Venezuelan Alejandro Toro has a knack for transforming Latin ingredients into relatable recipes that are sure to please any palette.
When he isn’t changing the world one menu at a time on his Tastemade series “The Good Truck” (currently streaming on Amazon Prime), or dazzling judges with flavorful dishes of arepas (which Toro admits is one of his go-to specialties), the 30-year-old foodie can be heard doing voice overs for Telenovelas and commercials in Espanol for major brands like Sprint, McDonald’s and Wendy’s.
We caught up with the Renaissance man to find out what makes him tick and how the Master Chef plans to meld his culinary mad skills with his compassion for others by doing good in the world – one meal at a time.
WCWW: Congratulations on success of “The Good Truck: Season 1.” I had a chance to watch the the entire season on Amazon. How exciting. How did you get involved with the project?
AT: The Good Truck is one of the coolest projects I’ve been a part of! I got to visit and participate with organizations that serve their communities and afterwards, we would partner with amazing local chefs and give back to the organizations’ staff and volunteers by preparing a delicious meal! This image is from episode 2, the organization is @FoodForward. The meal was prepared by our talented chef, Nyesha Arrington! If you’re looking to volunteer in Los Angeles, check them out!! Thank you, FoodForward, for doing something about the food waste in our community! In my eyes, one of the biggest issues we face here in the USA, is food waste.
You also did a segment with Zooey Deschanel for the Purpose Project. How did the idea come about?
The circumstances in which I got to meet and work with Zooey were extraordinary: A Tastemade travel show about finding purpose. The rebirth of a beautiful community. Sustainable farming. All Thanks to @CapitalOne and The Purpose Project, and talented chef and farmer Kipp Ramsey of Long Meadow Ranch.
Zooey got to meet my best version and I, hers, which is a beautiful, young, spirited woman who’s willing to use her reach to shine a light on things that matter. She’s as sweet as we’re used to seeing her be on TV.
After the fires devastated an entire Napa town, what was it like to go there and see a town filled with hope rather than despair?
For me? It was a very humbling experience. It’s hard for me to see devastation in other places. Especially because I come from a country with so much of it. Nevertheless, the damage the fires left is substantial and I was able to not only see it, but to hear firsthand from the people directly affected. In a way, I was able to “put myself in their shoes.” Coming from Venezuela, what we dream of most is a time where we will be able to rebuild our country. These people were doing exactly that: coming together as a society to rebuild their community, without selfishness. It gave me a lot of hope for Venezuela and for the U.S., too, to be honest. I love and believe in people and this opportunity confirmed that. I especially thank Tastemade and our director, Joey Lucas, for putting [this project] together so seamlessly.
How did you get started making a life in the kitchen?
I honestly never thought food would become such an important part of my career. I’ve always been around food – from watching my Colombian Nana cook for me and the family, to working in restaurants at a young age. I think the straight answer would be necessity. Necessity made me search for a job that led me to participate in Master Chef, which later led to getting very involved in the food industry.
Tell us about your experience leading up to your becoming a Master Chef.
I truly wasn’t chasing that opportunity. I had just moved to Los Angeles and I needed to get a “stable” job. Naturally, I opted for a restaurant job. During my search, I found ad on Craigslist which I believed described me: “Are you comfortable in front of the camera? Do you like cooking? Do you have a story to tell?” So I applied. Fast forward one year: I made it onto the show and was able to bring my “Venezuelan-ness” to many TV screens across the U.S. I was able to use the exposure to leverage my career and use the credibility to continue my mission to share culture through food.
How has your Venezuelan background influenced your cooking?
In every way possible. I grew up in Venezuela and eating Venezuelan food is all I knew. Oddly enough, my love and appreciation for Venezuelan cuisine intensified after I left my country to come here to the U.S. After my Master Chef participation, I became a voice for the Venezuelan people through our cuisine – which ultimately made me even more passionate about our cuisine.
Who is your biggest cheerleader?
I’d have to say, I’m lucky enough to have several. First and foremost, my mom. She believes in me always and does a great job at reminding me. Also, my sister and grandma, who are always cheering me on! Recently, I found the love and attention of a beautiful Mexican gal named Vivianne – whom I must say, has also helped bring out the best version of myself. I’m a lucky man to be surrounded by smart and supportive women!
How do you meld all your passions into your love for food?
This has actually been a challenging part of my journey. How to put together all my passions and furthermore, how to monetize on them. Instead of me finding the way, I think it found me. . . I travel! And through my travels, I connect with people through food, completing a full circle. This way, I get to try different foods, learn how to cook them, and show them to the rest of the world. Full circle!
Explain your cooking style.
Homestyle cooking! The type of food you share with your friends and family. I prefer meals that are slow-cooked and “one pot” recipes! I guess you could also say my style is Caribbean.
Where do you see this taking you?
I see myself becoming a sort of Latin version of Anthony Bourdain. Meaning: I will travel, connect with others from different cultures, and highlight what makes them special. From there? Who knows? Maybe I’ll also be able to help Venezuela in many more ways than I envision!
What is your go-to meal when eating solo?
Soups!! I love them, they’re good for me and delicious… Recipe? Easy:
- Boil water, add chicken, salt
- Add “sofrito”: Garlic, onion, celery, more salt and pepper
- Add harder ingredients like Yucca, ñame, Carrots
- Add softer ingredients like Corn, Cabbage, Bay leaves
- Finish with cilantro and lime
- That’s a simple one for you!
Okay, now we’re going to play a game. I’m going to say a phrase, and you’re going to finish it with the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?
What does a typical day look like?
Ha! No such thing as a typical day for me.
Worst business/life advice you have received.
Settle. Stay safe.
A little about you that nobody knows
I love sports. I’m very competitive, especially with basketball. But I also love board games, guessing games, etc. Oh, and road trips. I looove road trips. But I think you knew that already!
What I listen to when cooking My REGGAE SALAD playlist on Spotify! Please follow!
My favorite meal of the day is Breakfast
I can’t live without Arepas
Most weeknights you’ll find me playing guitar, editing and cooking dinner
When all else fails Taco stand
If I weren’t a foodie, I’d be skinny
Everything tastes better with good company
Baked from Scratch
OMG! This cake is oozing with citrus flavor! Made completely from scratch, there are enough orange flavors in this beauty to meet your daily-recommended allowance of Vitamin C.
Orange juice. Pure orange extract. Orange zest. If you’re not already in love with oranges, you will be after you make this refreshing spring treat.
I have been waiting for the weather to cool down enough to turn on the oven, so when So. Cal received a sudden shift in temperature; I just had to make this delicious burst of zing.
Let me tell you, it turned out to be the best decision ever. This cake was so good that my babies finished it before the night was over.
What You’ll Need
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. orange zest
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup sour cream (no low-fat – it really makes a difference in taste)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. orange extract
1/4 cup orange juice
2-1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tsp. pure orange extract
To Make Cake
Preheat oven to 350F. Line your cake pan with foil and spray foil with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, and whisk until combined.
Whisk in orange zest.
In a separate medium bowl, add egg, buttermilk, sour cream, orange juice, oil, and orange extract. Whisk until fully combined.
Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients and mix lightly until combined. You will still have small lumps, but that’s okay. Don’t try to smooth out your batter to get rid of lumps. You don’t want to over mix.
Pour your batter into prepared cake pan and place in oven for about 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in middle. Crumbs are okay. Batter is not.
Once cake is finished, place the cake pan on a wire rack to cool.
In a small bowl, combine confectioners sugar, orange extract, and orange juice. Stir until combined. If it is too sugary, you might want to add more orange juice.
When cake is cooled, pour glaze over cake and spread evenly with a spatula.
Dinner has become a main event here at home since I started this blog. Expectations are high and bellies anticipate on leaving the table well fed. With that in mind, tonight seemed like a good night for a steak salad. Something hearty with just the right amount of leafy greens to balance it off.
Playing off the Coffee-Rubbed Stove Top Steak recipe I previously posted, I decided to include it in this recipe and complete it with a blueberry balsamic dressing.
Coffee-Rubbed Steak w/Blueberry Balsamic Dressing
What You’ll Need
|Coffee-Rubbed Steak (Recipe here) |
3 cups fresh Spinach or Spring Mix
1/2 cup Feta cheese (crumbled)
1 Bag Trader Joe’s Candied Pecans (optional)
1/2 Avocado sliced
1/4 cup fresh Blueberries
Blueberry Balsamic Dressing
1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries
3 Sprigs of fresh Thyme
3 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp honey
Pinch of Sea Salt
Prepare Coffee-Rubbed Steak according to recipe
Blueberry Balsamic Dressing
Place all ingredients except for the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Lightly press down on the blueberries as they cook to break them open. Remove the fresh thyme once done.
Remove from heat and allow cooling for a few minutes. Whisk in olive oil. You may also blend until smooth to reach desire consistency.
In a large bowl combine spinach and feta. Toss to combine. Cut steak into thin slices (1/4″ thick) and place on top of spinach. Add avocados, candied pecans, and blueberries.
Drizzle Blueberry Balsamic Dressing over salad to complete
Who doesn’t love Spring? I am definitely taking full advantage of the season’s delicious fruits in any way I can. So when today’s weather made it possible to turn on the oven, I just had to let creativity run wild. Who knew it was going to rain?
Oh, and did I mention my ultimate favorite food is pizza? Yup. I love pizza. I could eat pizza every day of the week if I could. But the thought of being bogged down by heavy dough just wasn’t in the cards today. So I decided to head out to Trader Joe’s for a little inspiration.
As I was cruising down the aisles (something I don’t suggest you do when hungry), I stumbled upon whole wheat pizza dough. Hmm…flatbread pizza was sounding real good, right about now. Naturally, I added it to the cart.
Continuing my stroll down the fruits and vegetables aisle, I came across these amazing blackberries. Plump and delicious, with a deep, dark color that screamed juiciness. I just had to pick up a couple of containers.
To complete my shopping list, I decided to throw on some prosciutto, rather than pepperoni, and add some leafy greens to it.
With bounty in hand, I was ready to complete my purchase for today’s meal: Blackberry & Prosciutto Flatbread Pizza.
What You’ll Need
|Whole Wheat Pizza Dough|
Goat Cheese (crumbled)
Feta Cheese (crumbled)
Spring Mix Greens or Spinach
Preheat oven according to dough instructions
Next, Place dough on a cutting board or saran wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature
Take dough and pull it to size with hands. Try not to overwork the dough.
Coat pizza dish or cookie tray with olive oil and place dough on tray. drizzle olive oil on dough
Cover dough with your cheeses and prosciutto. I won’t tell you how much to put on . . . that all depends on personal preference.
Place dough in oven for about 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. I like my crust crunchy, so I left it in there for 35 minutes. Again, this will depend on personal preference.
Remove pizza from oven and cover with spring mix or spinach and blackberries. Garnish with extra cheese (optional).
Summer is right around the corner and I couldn’t be happier. I love this time of year. The days are longer – which means more time outdoors. Fruits and vegetables are at their juiciest, and the weather is just crisp enough for a light sweater to protect against the morning chill.
Today’s weather was no exception. It was so perfect that we chose to celebrate my granddaughter’s 4th birthday at the zoo. I love experiencing life through their eyes. Everything is so new and amazing and exciting. They loved seeing all the animals, especially the chimpanzees and the black bear.
All day my little munchkins kept asking, “Nana, can we have ice cream?” They had already gorged down cotton candy, popcorn, and churros, so I promised them that when we got home, we would make something so delicious they would be glad they waited.
On our way home, while stuck in traffic, I heard a little voice coming from the back seat, “Nana, do we still get our treat?” Little ones . . . boy, do they have one-track-minds.
After spending the whole day at the zoo, the last thing I wanted to do was make something from scratch. So as we continued to sit in traffic, I started thinking about what we had in the cupboard. And then it hit me – ice cream sandwiches! BRILLIANT!
Chewy Fudge Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches w/Chocolate Ganache
These treats are so yummy and easy to make with little ones, they’ll be your saving grace when summer vacations have them saying, “I’m bored.”
Prepare Brownies according box instructions. When brownies are done, let them cool at room temperature.
Once brownies have cooled, using cookie cutters, cut them into desired shape. (I used a big square cookie cutter).
Next, take a serrated knife and cut your quart of ice cream into slices. This slicing trick works well on quarts of ice cream, as Real Simple demonstrates in the picture below. Cut a quart of ice cream down the middle, then place the flat slide down and cut into slices. Repeat with the other half.
Once you’ve finished slicing your ice cream, take the same cookie cutters and cut the ice cream into shapes. Wrap them in saran wrap and keep them in the freezer until you are ready to use them.
To make the Ganache, combine 1-1/2 cups of chocolate morsels with 1/2 cup of heavy cream in a sauce pan and simmer over low heat stirring just before a boil. Remove from heat and stir until morsels are completely melted. Let ganache cool just enough to still be able to pour. You can use a microwave at 15-second intervals, making sure to stir in between until melted. Make sure not to burn the chocolate.
To make the sweet cream, combine two dollops of sour cream with 1/2 tsp sugar (or according to your liking).
Take your ice cream squares from the freezer and put together your ice cream sandwiches. Pour ganache over sandwiches and top with fruit (optional) and sweet cream
I will be the first to admit that I am, indeed, a carnivore. Sure. I’ll enjoy the occasional go-green main course to stay in tune with my 5-Alive daily requirements. But nothing satisfies me more than a thick, juicy steak cooked just enough to garner that deliciously perfect pink inner layer.
Tips & Tricks, Dan Churchill Style
What’s that you say? You don’t have a grill? Huh! Let’s get two things straight: No. You don’t need an outdoor grill to cook the perfect steak, and no, you don’t have to turn on the oven, either. The trick to cooking the perfect stove top steak is to turn it often. And by often, I mean every 15-20 seconds (thanks for the tip @DanChurchill). But we’ll get into that later in the process.
Aren’t these beautiful? I picked them up at Albertsons. They were prepackaged. But getting them fresh from your local butcher is always your best option.
Another tip for serving up the perfect stove top steak? Seasonings and setting time. Yup. Seasonings do wonders for a beautiful piece of meat. I’ve seen some recipes that call for 15 different seasonings. To me, that’s a waste of a perfectly good piece of meat. Nope. I use only five spices, two tablespoons each: freshly ground coffee, chili powder, paprika, brown sugar, and steak seasoning. Oh, and a dash of sea salt and pepper for added taste (optional, of course).
Once you smother your steaks on both sides with the dry rub, place them in a resealable bag overnight in the refrigerator. This allows the meat to soak in all the flavors of the rub.
Before cooking your steaks, remove them from the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for no more than 30 minutes.
Music to my ears
Once you’re ready to cook these babies, let your skillet get very hot, then drop in two tablespoons of olive oil, followed by your steaks. Ah! Hear that? Just listen to that sizzle. For the first turn, you’re gonna let the steaks brown for 30-45 seconds on each side.
Next, drop in two tablespoons of butter into the pan to draw out the rest of the fat. Make sure the steaks are coated with butter on both sides.
Now, you’re gonna turn the steaks over every 15 seconds until the entire middle reaches a perfect pink – say, about five minutes. This is the most important step. This is how you get a perfectly cooked stove top steak.
And there you have it. Two beautiful, perfectly pink steaks bursting with flavor and ready for your enjoyment.
I can’t help it. I’m addicted to blueberries. I don’t know how it happened, or when. Perhaps it’s the warm weather that has finally decided pay us an occasional visit. Or maybe it was my trip to the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, where I was beckoned by basket upon basket of these fresh, juicy temptresses. Whatever it was, I cannot stop experimenting with these beauties.
As you can tell from my IG feed, I am obsessed with blueberries. From blueberry coffee-rubbed rib eye steaks (stay tuned), to a blueberry balsamic vinaigrette, I have been using them in EVERYTHING. I especially enjoyed using them in this simple-to-make five-ingredients syrup. So delicious on my morning waffles, and then again over vanilla bean ice cream that I devoured while bingeing on my new Netflix favorite, VELVET.
So if you’re looking for the perfect simple-to-make blueberry sauce to pour over your dessert of choice, look no further than this five-ingredients condiment. I promise. It’ll be your new found friend and your guests will be begging for the recipe. Oh, and bonus: it only takes about 20 minutes, from start to finish, to make.