I'll go with you! I lost track of which email I used for CH and didn't even know people had replied to my original post. Been away from Charlotte for awhile anyway and haven't been back to PePeRo for a couple of years.
I thought I'd start an updated thread on the state of Korean food in Charlotte, as the last one I found was from 2006 and a new restaurant has just opened up, and at least two others are here but don't seem to be widely known.
The one that just opened up is Cho Won Garden (www.chowongarden.org) at 2501 Crownpoint Executive Drive, Charlotte, NC 28277. The address is deceiving because it actually faces Independence, and you can't miss it on your right as you drive away from uptown.
Tricia Childress of Creative Loafing wrote a full review on it in August that was more descriptive than critical, so I won't repeat any of that. Also, I saw an article that they got two low inspection scores, which they claimed based on inexperience. Low scores from ethnic restaurants don't always kill a place for me, but it may for some.
I've eaten at Cho Won twice, getting grilled marinated short ribs (Kalbi Gui) once, and stir-fried bean thread noodles another time. The second time I also got the pan fried seafood pancake, which is a really popular Korean dish, as an appetizer. (Side note for full disclosure: I'm not Korean, but I'm a foodie and culinary student and I've read a lot about Korean food and eaten a decent amount of it). Both times I ate with my mom and she got seafood and tofu soup/stew, and of course we got a full complement of Banchans, the little side dishes Koreans eat with their meals.
My overall impression of Cho Won Garden based on the two visits is that they've spent a lot of money on location and decor to appeal to a more non-Korean audience, and maybe that will help them gain popularity where other Korean places haven't. But they may not as popular with Koreans as the other two places in Charlotte because their prices are higher and food may not be as authentic in subtle ways. The sauce on the barbecue ribs was a lot sweeter than I've had before, and their seafood pancake had very little seafood and what was there was this frozen seafood mix with mostly calamari that you see in Asian groceries. There wasn't even much green onions, so overall the the pancake was a dud. Their Banchans are good, and they had a couple of pickled fish and tofu Banchans in addition to the mostly kimchi variety I got at Korean Restaurant. If you want an intro to Korean food or you're dining with people who want a nice atmosphere in a non-threatening-looking part of town, this may be your best bet right now. I hope for the sake of spreading Korean food that they stay around.
Going down the line in atmosphere and up in authenticity is Korean Restaurant at 6404 Albemarle Road. Yes, that's their name, according to the sign. The location was a Japanese place and called "Kyoto Japanese" years ago, and I guess at some point the present owners expanded and added "/Korean Restaurant" to the name and then took off "Kyoto Japanese" and kept the second part of the sign. The place occupies two adjoining standard-strip mall spaces in a shopping center that has seen much better days. But this place is definitely where Koreans families go to eat in Charlotte -- I've been there three times, and it was filled with Korean customers every time, once for a big birthday party that took up half the place. I've never seen a non-Asian there, and usually I'm the only non-Korean. But the staff is English-fluent and friendly, and the place is clean, though plain in decor.
As for the food, their seafood pancake is excellent, with fresh oysters and shrimp and calamari and plenty of green onions. I got their blood sausage one time, which I had only read about and never seen on a menu. They served that as a main entree with banchan, though I would probably prefer it by itself as an appetizer -- a big plate of blood sausage is just too much for one sitting. It was good, and also came with boiled, sliced pig's ear that I wasn't crazy about. I will actually eat pig's ear (I'm Chinese, and we'll eat just about anything), but theirs didn't have much seasoning to it. I don't know if Koreans like it that way, but it didn't do it for me. I got a beef and kimchee stew another time, and it was very good for only around $9 and came with all the banchans. I went for lunch once and saw several Korean men, each eating by himself, and they were all having some kind of soup with rice and banchan, so I've started doing the same. I still haven't had their barbecue yet because I'm working my way through the soups, but I'll update when I do. This is my favorite of the three Korean places in Charlotte and my kind of place -- where working-guys of the culture go to have lunch by themselves on a weekday.
Wow, this post is dragging out. But I'll just mention the last place I know about, which is called something like Pe Pi Ro, a little cafe in the back of a Korean grocery store on Monroe road near Highway 51. I've only eaten there once because everything is in Korean and the cook/counter person doesn't speak much English (yet very friendly and helpful), but they have a full menu with pictures and the food was good. I've shopped there since and always saw Korean customers eating, always a good sign. You place your order at the counter and everything is served in styrofoam. I think I'll go there again to get a better sense of their food and I'll update when I do.
Ok, so how about it fellow Chowhounds? Let's talk Korean food. What's good to get, where to get it, in Charlotte or elsewhere you've had it. Don't leave me hanging after I got carried away on a boring evening and wrote all this!
I think you called it chef.
I went by for a couple of slices today and asked them about the sausage. They said the pellet stuff I like is is spicy sausage topping they buy, which I see Hormel has. They also have sweet sausage, which they slice.
So I guess maybe all this means I just like their pizza because it matches what I got as a kid, and most new places don't use Hormel toppings anymore. But I still think their crust is excellent and maybe others would just get the sliced sausage or other toppings.
I'm no big Philly Cheese Steak expert (been in Charlotte for 30+ years, never had Pat's or Geno's or any other known "real deal" place), but The Steak & Hogie Shop is where I go to get my fix when the mood strikes. They definitely have the volume of business to give quality. Standard order comes with provolone, though they have other cheeses for subs so substitution may be available. Not sure if they have Cheese Whiz. Bread's good, crusty but soft inside. Generous portion of meat and onions for the basic Philly, other options are peppers, mushrooms, pizza sauce, steak sauce, blue cheese (?1) and jus. Just went for a fix there today.
Another option in this area is The House of Pizza on Central. I went there yesterday when I drove up to the Steak and Hogie and realized they were closed on Sundays. A lot of my friends who also grew up in Charlotte have gone to the HOP for years for their cheese steak, but to me it's just a notch below S&H. I thought their bread was just a bit more chewy, and the meat was a little less juicy than I liked.
But again, I'm no expert, and I'd love to hear what some of you who have tried the best think of these places so I can educate cheese steak palate.
I haven't chatted with them, but the family appears to be a husband and wife in the kitchen (open to view, take out only), and daughter(s) taking orders. Just the kind of family-run hole-in-the-wall operation I get hopeful about. They also have subs and pasta and chicken dishes that I've watched the wife cook to order. I haven't been able to get beyond the sausage pizza to try anything else. I hope you post a review if you check them out.
The sausage pellets I'm talking about are much more substantial than frozen. They're meaty and firm and the size of fat black-eyed peas instead of like little bacon-bit sized bits of grease that I associate with frozen pizza.
I'm just going to ask them the deal on the sausage when I go this week.
Thanks for the info on Tony's pizza. None of those guys look like the Tony I remember (I know what you mean about Tonys being like Bubbas), but I'll definitely put them on my "need to check out" list the next time I'm close to one of their locations.
I'm not sure if that pellet sausage is from casings or not. They seem too uniform in size to be from casings.
I'm due for a pizza run in the next few days -- just did my cheesesteak run today and dim sum and Korean food over the weekend..sigh...so much food, so little time -- and I think I'll just ask them what the deal is on the sausage. I'll post an update.
Have any you pizza experts tried the pizza at Napoli Pizza on the corner of Monroe and Eastway in Charlotte? I really like their pizza, but I'm not a big pizza eater and was wondering how they stack up for pizza experts.
Some background on why I ask: I came to the US at 10 from Taiwan and the first pizza I had was at this food court place in the old Eastridge Mall in Gastonia, and that was the "best" pizza in my mind and my benchmark for comparison. I don't know if that pizza was actually really good, or just what I thought was good because it was my first pizza. But maybe I did get lucky the first time and found the real thing in Gastonia, because I remember the owner "Tony" said he was Italian, spoke with an Italian accent, and hand tossed the dough, which in Gastonia in 1979 had to be pretty unusual. My parents owned the Chinese place next door, so for about two years I got a sausage slice after school a few times a week. The pizza was thin and big, with a crusty, chewy edge. Tony used a sauce from a can, and this sausage that looked like rabbit pellets, which he spread in a single layer on top of the mozzarella, covering the whole pie with almost no space in between.
We moved to Charlotte and I never found pizza like that again, with that type of sausage (except at the old Godfathers Pizza, but the crust was different), and I've looked too. I've had thin crust pizza since, and places that said they were New York style, but they all use either marble-sized balls of sausage, or sliced up Italian sausage.
But then I found Napoli, and it's about as close to the pizza of my childhood as I've ever found -- same rabbit-pellet sausage, maybe a little too much cheese because I get just a couple of slices instead of a whole pie, which means he starts with a cheese slice, adds the sausage layer, and then more cheese on top, before heating. But it's close, and the crust is almost as thin and chewy like I remembered, with a chewy bready edge.
So here's what I'm wondering for any pizza experts who have tried Napoli's or know the type of pizza I'm describing:
1) What kind of pizza is that? New York, New Jersey? Rhode Island? I did read somewhere these guys are from Naples and they also own Almafi's, which I've never tried.
2) Is the rabbit pellet sausage authentic, or kind of like finding Chicken Chow Mein on an old-school Chinese-American restaurant?
3) Is Napoli's pizza pretty decent for you connoisseurs, or is it average and I just think it's good because it's like what I had as a kid?
Major extra points if anybody knows the Tony's pizza I'm talking about from Eastridge Mall in Gastonia and what happened to him.