Quick Thoughts on Creative Loafing’s Best Of 2016

I had a few quick thoughts in regards to Creative Loafing’s “Best Of” issue released last week. Here they are, in no particular order or purpose:

Reader’s Pick: Best Disc Golf Course – Kilborne Park This pick may or may not be the reason why I wrote this blog. In terms of pure quality, Kilborne is far from the best disc golf course in Charlotte. Creative Loafing even wrote about how Charlotte is the mecca of disc golf back in May. I always tell people the reason that is true is because we have a higher density of championship-level 18-hole disc golf courses within an hour’s drive of Uptown than any other city in the US (and arguably the world). There may be cities with better courses, but there’s not as many. There may be cities with more courses, but they’re not as good. Courses like Renaissance Gold, R.L. Smith, Nevin and Hornet’s Nest (closed now, but will reopen in 2017) are known across the country as being destination courses.

Despite all that, I can see why the readers would choose Kilborne. It’s centrally-located, beginner friendly and has been around since 1991 making it the second-oldest CDGC-sponsored course in town. If you’re going to learn the game, Kilborne is a great place to start, but more experienced players know there are far greater treasures in the Queen City.

Reader’s Pick: Best Place to Get Back to Nature – Crowder’s Mountain I’m pretty sure everyone in Charlotte has been to the top of Crowder’s Mountain like, a zillion times. Every time I’ve gone in the past five years (even on a weekday), the place is incredibly crowded (see what I did there?). For a place to get away from it all, Crowder’s is the last place you want to go if you’ve already been there.

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If you’re still set on Crowder’s Mountain, try to find the scenic and secluded back side

Fortunately, you do have a couple other options within a 45-minute drive of Uptown. My pick is Morrow Mountain just outside of Albemarle. There are more trails (with similarly breathtaking views), a lake, campgrounds and it’s rarely as densely trafficked. Also worth a shot: King’s Mountain in Gaston County.

Reader’s Pick: Best Blog – Freckled Italian Yo, CL readers, since Megan now lives in California, how bout you do ya boy a favor next year?

Reader’s Pick: Best Podcast – Margarita Confessionals My plan is to get more people to play disc golf so that next year y’all can vote for Final Round Radio. Make no mistake, however. Lauren and Ali do an excellent job with this podcast.

Critic’s Pick: Best Movie Theater – AMC Concord Mills This shouldn’t even be allowed since it’s located in the retail hell that is Concord Mills Mall. Try the Manor Twin off Providence for a cozy atmosphere and lots of independent films (which the readers confirmed with their pick).

Reader’s Pick: Best New Night Spot – Kandy Bar Gotta wonder if voting took place before this happened. Plus, Epicenter.

Critic’s Pick: Best Place for B-Boys and B-Girls to Congregate – Breakin’ Convention Breakin’ Convention is nice, but it’s just once a year. If you checked out this event held at Knight Theater and the surrounding area, try hitting up Knocturnal every Monday night at Snug Harbor. You’ll see many of the same break dancing teams without all the polish and ads for Sprite.

Critic’s Pick: Best Place for Karaoke – Jeff’s Bucket Shop This place has the long-standing reputation as Charlotte’s only true karaoke bar, so it gets grandfathered into this award each year, but the truth is there’s far better options. Jeff’s seems like it would be cool because it’s on Montford and you have to go down a flight of stairs which gives it that speakeasy vibe. But once you get down there is where the fun ends. The bar selection is tepid at best and the room itself is incredibly small which means the god-awful singers are just that much more unbearable (I know, it’s karaoke, but this place seems to attract the very worst wannabe singers). The worst part? You gotta pay to play. If you’re not brown-nosing the DJ a little, expect to wait at least an hour to sing. Try NoDa 101, which has karaoke seven days a week or Hattie’s Thursday nights.

Reader’s Pick: Best Restaurant in NoDa – Cabo Fish Taco OK, forget disc golf. *This* is why I wrote this blog. Cabo’s… eh, not too bad, certainly not the worst, but JEEBUS, PEOPLE. Ever since Guy Fieri and his stupid blonde tips (there I go again with the blonde tips) ventured there a few years ago, the line to Cabo is out the door, spilling into Davidson and around the corner. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with having lots of business, I can’t hate on that. I just want to tell all those folk (none of whom actually live in NoDa) that you could dip out of that line and go to literally any other restaurant on the block, sit right down and have a meal that is at least as good, and most likely better than Cabo.

Dying for fish? Try Boudreaux’s, best cajun this side of Cajun Queen. Want that southwestern feel? Sabor is less expensive and way quicker. Thought they might have oysters at Cabo? Nope. Try walking across the street to Growler’s. Just wanna say ‘fuck it’ and get drunk off cheap bar food? Jack Beagle’s and Solstice won’t let you down.

In short: skip the line. It’s not worth it.

Critic’s Pick: Best Pastry Shop – Renaissance Pâtisserie So I’ve never actually been to the place CL picked as the winner here, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic spot. Really, I’m just glad that this pick didn’t go to Amélie’s. Amélie’s has been criminally overrated for some time now. I’ll really never understand why it consistently is mentioned not only as one of the best pastry shops in town, but an actual tourist destination! What in the actual fuck?!? I can only assume it’s the kitchy decorations and the 24-hour service, because it sure as hell isn’t the food (very little of which is hand-made), the prices ($2.50 per macaroon?) and the hipster-approved aloof service.

Oh you want to swing by for a coffee real quick before you go to work? Fuck you, you have to wait in line behind 20 mouth-breathers who ask what each individual flavor of every single fucking thing is in the case before flippantly deciding “Nah, I’m good”. “Would you like something from the case?” “Fucking no, I just want a damn cup of coffee!” Is it really that hard to make a second line where people like me who just want a coffee can quickly order it without having to suffer through other people’s indecision issues? It’s 2016, maybe that could be solved via… an app?

The original Amélie’s in NoDa is 24 hours. Awesome, you might think, until you try to go there after midnight on a weekend night and the line is literally stretched into the pavilion full of kids who are too young to drink, each of them repeating the commitment-phobic task of picking something from the case of crap.

Think the shiny new Amélie’s Uptown is any better? Fuck and no, it’s just bigger and closes at 6 p.m. Despite having a huge bar with two baristas and multiple point of sale stations, you still have to go by their precious pastry case, get accosted about a recently-frozen croissant you don’t want only to order from someone who could seriously care less that you’re there, and the faster you leave is the faster they can go back to writing their organic mayonnaise recipe.

Oh, let’s not also forget that ownership there has a shady past in regards to the mistreatment of their workers. How laissez faire of them.

Critic’s Pick: Best Brunch – Letty’s Trick question. Brunch in Charlotte is pretty awful in general. There’s a few highlights (Dish, Füd at Salud, etc.), but even those are pretty pedestrian compared to other cities. Plus, where is the brunch service during the weekdays? Have we no love for those who make their own hours?

Reader’s Pick: Best Steak House – Beef & Bottle 100% agree with CL readers on this one. In fact, this is where I was for my most recent birthday. Give me that hole in the wall feel over Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s any damn day.

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Me and the homies

Reader’s Pick: Best Sushi – Rusan’s Seriously. Any place that serves an “all you can eat” sushi special is suspect. All you can eat works at Golden Corral. Not at a sushi place. Unfortunately, since my go-to spot, Eight Sushi closed down, there’s really not a place I can confidently say is #1. Akahana is aight. Nikko is overpriced. K.O. is pretty solid for quick service. I’ll give this a grade of incomplete.

Reader’s Pick: Best Mexican – Three Amigo’s This is part of what’s wrong with Charlotte. Just a mile or so down the road from Three Amigo’s original location on Central is Morazan, which is about as authentic and delicious (not to mention affordable) as you can get. But since it’s in the “rough” part of town and you may actually need to know some Spanish to order, it will never make a list like this where a segment of this city’s population will avoid going out of their comfort zone at all costs.

Come to think of it, all the authentic versions of all your favorite ethnic restaurants are all on the east side. King of Spicy, La Shish Kabob, Landmark, Pho Hong, Dim Sum and Queen Sheeba are just a few of them.

Reader’s Pick: Best Brewery – Olde Mecklenburg Brewery Seriously? With all the breweries in town that are pushing the limits of craft beer to their absolute edge and y’all picked the place whose entire lineup consists of three beers that taste like an expensive version of Miller Lite?

Critic’s Pick: Best Disc Golf Shop – Another Round Disc Golf Full disclosure: this is where I record Final Round Radio along with Kevin Keith and one of the co-owners of ARDG, Kevin Burgess. All bias aside, this is definitely the place you want to go if you’re just starting out in disc golf, or you’re a seasoned pro. With five local craft beers on tap, it’s the perfect 19th hole after a round. Also, this is a bit of a trick category since ARDG is the only disc golf exclusive shop in town.

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Discs and beer on tap at Another Round Disc Golf

Reader’s Pick: Best Bicycle Shop – Uptown Cycles Since I know that people don’t show up to a damn thing in this town if there’s not beer involved, it should be pointed out that Spoke Easy in Elizabeth has a bar with craft beer on tap, much like the bicycle version of Another Round Disc Golf.

Reader’s Pick: Best Barber Shop – No Grease Y’all coudn’t have been more right on this one.

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Me and Omar, my barber of seven-plus years

Locally owned by twin brothers Damian and Jermaine Johnson, No Grease carries on the tradition of the black-owned barber shop, except with a stylish flair. The barbers (or tonsorial artists if you wanna be precise) never show up to work without dressing the part, frequently wearing the bow-ties that the Johnson brothers also sell.

I started getting my haircut at No Grease in 2009 when it was located at what is now Workman’s Friend on Central. Since then they’ve expanded to have three different locations, the flagship one being on the ground floor retail space of the Spectrum Center. I was tired of the bowl cut drones that were cutting hair at Supercuts and Sports Clips, so I gave these guys a shot. Needless to say, I haven’t turned back. The cuts are always on point (for me, a smooth fade is a necessity), and you always get great conversation and a welcoming atmosphere.

#GohJoGoal: February – Completed

Quick backstory: I’m not the New Year’s “resolutions” type. I think it’s pretty silly to use the changing of the calendar to start half-assedly working towards some arbitrary goal, especially one that is year long. I’d rather set more reasonable attainable goals in shorter time spans and spread them out consistently throughout the year.

That’s what I thought, anyway. Until I realized I wasn’t doing it.

Instead, I found myself spending more time daydreaming about doing those goals and the perceived benefits of them, rather than actually, y’know, doing them (sound familiar?).

That’s when I found myself this year, very ironically, setting a goal for myself for 2016. My goal? Set goals.

Each month I’m trying to do something different and new, something that challenges me to get outside of my comfort zone. I want to try to drop bad habits, and also develop new good ones. I also don’t want to try to do it all at once, so 1-2 goals each month is the right number to keep me focused.

I wanted to start easy, so my January goal was only two weeks, and that was to not eat meat. Excluding all meats except seafood, I ate a pescatarian diet each day for 14 days. I’m not trying to be vegetarian any time soon (I constantly get distracted by the thought of a steak dinner at Beef & Bottle), but I knew I had developed a mentality where meat had to be not only present in every meal, but the feature of each meal too. My 14 days as a pescatarian helped me shake that mentality just a bit. It forced me to consider meals (both at restaurants and at home) that did not have beef, pork, chicken or turkey. That was a slight-but-noticeable change in the planning and preparation of meals that had become entrenched and automatic. While I haven’t made it a point to avoid meat in the time since, I have been able to appreciate significantly more meals based on greens and grains.

That brings us to February. My goal last month was a daily one, and a two-sided goal at that. I decided to meditate for at least ten minutes each day, while also not having a single drink of alcohol the entire month of February. Meditation is something that I’ve wanted to make a consistent practice for a while now, and just never made myself do it. To compliment that, not having any alcohol would allow myself to make the most of my clarity-driven mission.

I’ll tackle my assessment from each sub-goal and then as a whole. Context: Yes, I completed each goal.

I have never thought I had a problem with alcohol. I don’t mean that with any sense of irony, exaggeration, or pretension. I’ve just never been the type of person who felt the need to push it to the limit when it came to drinking.

Not that I haven’t done my part to help sustain the prevalence of booze. I went to a big state college for five years, lived in a frat for two of them, burned my meager paychecks at the uptown bars (RIP Dixie’s) when I moved to Charlotte, and have been a huge fan of the more recent craft beer explosion.

But again, these challenges are all about taking me out of my routine.

If have any problem with alcohol, it’s that I’m too quick to drink just because that’s what everyone does at the places I hang out (familiar, again?). Just like eating meat, drinking booze at the bars / a networking event / a sporting event / at the airport / at home / basically everywhere except work has become just something I do, because that’s what I do.

February would have its challenges, too. Right away, the Super Bowl was a huge test. I would be watching it at a friend’s house where I would likely be the only person not drinking. Initially, I thought I would give myself a pass for that day because seriously, the local football squadron was playing the big game! After a week of not drinking, however, making it through the game was relatively easy. Full disclosure:

Not one person even asked me about it.

I suppose the most awkward feeling I had was when I would be at a place like Hattie’s, the Birdsong patio or Legion Brewery for #instabeerup and someone would ask my why I’m not drinking. It’s a question that’s tough to answer without looking self-righteous, but the answer that I always gave is the same answer I’m writing here: To challenge myself and step outside my comfort zone.

More so than not drinking, meditation for ten minutes everyday I felt made a tangible impact on me. This is something I’ve always wanted to make a habit, but it’s always been so hard to keep it consistent. I would do a few minutes for a day or two, forget to do it for a day, then be done. I would attempt the same feat a few months later to similar results. In February, I had not only done a ten minute session each day, but by the end of the month, I was finding pockets of ten, fifteen minutes to meditate. After a morning shower, at lunch, after work and before bed were the most popular times for me.

After of month of building a meditation habit, I feel that it’s something that still takes a long time to really feel the full effects of, but in the short time I did I felt that it was a great way to take a mental break from an easily cluttered day. Especially working in social media, information comes fast and it’s absolutely necessary to be able to take mental breaks and sort through everything that’s coming at you.

I’m looking forward to continuing to grow with meditation and mindfulness, I have a feeling there’s a long path ahead. As nor not drinking, well, I like having a quality local craft beer, or a glass of bourbon, whiskey or scotch, I won’t lie. And a night filled with one, two or a few of those, and some good company can make for a fun night. I won’t be cutting that off any time soon, but I will continue to be more conscious about drinking when I really don’t want to, or feel is necessary.