A few weeks ago, after reading an article on the new Lee’s Hoagie House opening in Lake Wylie, I drove 30 minutes from home, by myself, on a Sunday afternoon just to get a taste.
I’m from Philadelphia, and any slice of home is worth the extra effort.
Charlotte, as the slogan goes, has got a lot — but for Northeast transplants like myself, it’s still missing a lot, too.
Where to find a good lobster roll? A real Maryland crab cake? It’s not like there’s a Wawa or a Ray’s Pizza (or Famous Ray’s or Original Ray’s or Original Famous Ray’s) anywhere nearby.
But, like Lee’s, there are a few places to feel at home, even if you’re a few hundred miles away.
Rita’s Italian Ice
If you’re from Philly, you know it’s actually “water ice,” or, more specifically, “wooder ice.” The Central Avenue location sells its share of custard and other treats, but for the folks who grew up on it back home, nothing beats a lemon or cherry ice on a hot summer day.
The garganelli at Good Food
“It reminds me of the rigatoni al ragu at Frank’s in the East Village,” one longtime NYC resident now living in Charlotte told me. It’s not exactly breaking news to say the menu at Good Food is among the best in the city, but when New Yorkers happily compare the garganelli to the best Italian meals in New York, that’s really saying something.
Anchor Bar in Buffalo is where wings were invented, but is it blasphemy to say the wings at Moosehead are better? Regardless, at least there’s not three feet on snow on the ground when you get them.
It’s really hard to find good bagels south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but Poppy’s has you covered. It’s got the whole feel of a true NY-style bagel shop — from the smell to the attitude to the delicious bagels, chewy and flavorful on the outside, perfectly soft and tasty on the inside.
The Dilworth shop is “the closest thing to popping into a downtown boutique you’ll find in Charlotte,” one New York transplant said. Indeed, it beats the heck out of wandering the mall in South Park.
The sports bars
Join some fellow transplants to root for your favorite teams at places like Lebowski’s (Bills), Dilworth Grille (Syracuse and the Jets), Benton Tavern in Matthews (Patriots), The Local (Giants) and Steamers (Eagles).
Tony’s Pizza (Huntersville), Sileo’s (Indian Trail), Luigi’s (South Tryon)
The overwhelming response on true New York style pizza is… it doesn’t exist in Charlotte. To be fair though, New Yorkers take their pizza pretty seriously. Tony’s, Sileo’s and Luigi’s offer some “as close at it gets” options.
They call it “home of the Virginia slice,” but for me, it reminds me of the jumbo pizza in Adams Morgan that is a necessary component to any good night out on the town in Washington DC. The slices are enormous — though still not quite as jumbo as DC’s Jumbo Slice — and to order a whole pie requires a fork lift and a U-haul.
QT and Sheetz
Last week, unsolicited, a random guy explained to me that the breakfast pizza at QT could sell for $20 at any Charlotte brunch. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment for QT or a knock on Charlotte brunches. Either way, neither of these places come close to Wawa, but in a pinch, they’ll suffice.
Because you can’t get real Carolina BBQ up north, so go here to remember why it’s great to live in Charlotte in the first place.
Header photo of Benny Pennello’s via Facebook