Culinary Corner for April 20

by Charles Jenkin


Salsarita’s is breaking out The CasaRito, new sauced burritos. Flavors are Quesarito, Rancharito and Tomarito. Find out more information on the restaurant’s website, Photo courtesy of Salsarita’s

Spotlight on Talent

Salsarita’s surges ahead: Multi-unit restaurants don’t grow exponentially on their own, like kudzu. Founded in 2000 right here in Charlotte, Salsarita’s was acquired by franchise industry veteran Phil Friedman in 2011. You may not know Phil, though you have probably enjoyed his success over the years; maybe with a meal from Panda Express or possibly McAlister’s Deli. During his tenure at McAlister’s, Phil was instrumental in their dramatic growth from 27 to 300 restaurants in the country. Now Phil is focusing all his attention on growing Salsarita’s by making it the best dining experience available, and at a great value.

I sat down the other day and had a chat while enjoying the new menu items with Phil as well as Larry Reinstein, president and chief operating officer, and Tom LaFauci, menu development manager. The goal for this trio of dining experts is to take Salsarita’s and improve on an already successful venue; introduce signature items, improve the efficiency of the serving and cooking line and completely satisfy the guest. They have introduced digital menu boards to improve the ordering process. You’ll find “Guest Service Specialists” walking throughout the dining room catering to any guest’s needs. Managers are expected to be “on the floor” as much as possible. These are very smart strategies. Small changes are everywhere, from the artwork on the walls to the staff’s uniforms.

You may not take notice of all the changes. It will simply be a better feeling dining experience. Phil believes “the guest defines the experience.” As I dined on the delicious new menu items at the flagship eatery, I saw the successful result of the changes: the line to order was out the door with 50+ hungry lunch-timers; the line stayed full and lasted for almost an hour. We were dining at the Salsarita’s located in the same building as the corporate headquarters, on Yorkmont Road at the Lake Pointe shopping center. If you want to taste the newest items being rolled out, this is where you want to dine.

Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina is introducing its first new product under Phil’s leadership. The CasaRito, the new sauced burritos, are available to restaurant guests in all locations. “CasaRito” the Saucy Burrito” is offered in three delicious varieties: Quesarito (burrito covered with creamy queso), Rancharito (burrito covered with a robust ranchero sauce) and Tomarito (burrito covered with warm, spicy tomatillo salsa). “We are very excited for the debut of our new line of sauced burritos,” Friedman said. “We believe this is a new and unique menu offering not found in other Mexican restaurants.” I have had the pleasure of tasting all three, and they are delicious as well as big enough to consider as a dinner entrée.

You’ll find several Salsarita’s in our neck of the woods, including the Blakeney Town Center and Cotswold Village Shops as well as Quail Corners. They offer lunch, dinner, take out and catering; and they do lots of catering. Salsarita’s operates 83 locations in 21 states and Puerto Rico. As many as 10 locations could be added in 2012, with long-range projections calling for about 400 locations nationwide within five to six years. I have no doubt they’ll achieve this goal. More importantly, Phil intends to keep the corporate offices right where they are, here in Charlotte. Find locations and more at

Culinary Correspondence

Yes, we have meatloaf! Jim, a reader, sent me an email asking about restaurants offering meatloaf, as he wasn’t pleased with the offerings at Lupie’s or Firebirds. I asked and you responded, for which I am most grateful; and Jim, you have some culinary field trips to take.

“The King’s Kitchen uptown has terrific meatloaf! Another Noble winner!” Carl

“Southern Gourmet on Monroe Road has wonderful meatloaf!  It’s only featured once a week. 9101 Monroe Road 704-849-7646. Try the Ham Salad, too!” CH

“Lebowski’s in Dilworth has a great meatloaf dinner!” Jim

“My favorite meatloaf is at Trios on Matthews/Pineville Road or Highway 51. The dinner serving is an old fashioned, large one, quite good, served with whipped potatoes and succotash (lima beans and corn) and two sides for about $11.95. I don’t like the lima beans but they graciously substitute any currently prepared vegetable, such as spinach or asparagus. Trios is one of the older restaurants with usually very good service. It often is crowded but they have a “call ahead list” which gets you faster service. Meatloaf at lunch is smaller and cheaper but has the same items. Dinner rolls, good ones, are available if requested but only served routinely when a salad is ordered??? The best dessert on the menu is the Almond Basket. It has an almond shell, filled with ice cream, strawberries, and whipped cream and large enough for two after all that meatloaf!” Billie

“Savor on West Morehead has great meatloaf ( Also, the Charlotte Cafe at Arboretum has good meatloaf (best to get the gravy on the side, I think).  It’s one of their specials, so you would have to call to see what day they have it (704-542-9006).” Kind regards from a reader.

Blackthorne’s owner responds: It is very rare for me to receive an email from a restaurant owner after a review gets printed in the South Charlotte Weekly; OK, actually its non-existent. Until now! Co-owner and managing partner of Blackthorne, Tim Duffy, read the review and immediately sent me an email. Here is what he wrote: “The details you noticed really gave me a sense of pride in what we have accomplished so far. I also completely agree with your criticisms and those issues will be addressed. We are off to a good start and will continue to improve and constructive criticism is always welcome. Overall, I believe your article really captures what Blackthorne is.” Thanks very much Tim, and as I expressed in the review, thanks for bringing Blackthorne Restaurant & Bar to south Charlotte.

New to the Shelf

How sweet it is: I like sweet tea; just not where there’s a little tea in my sugar. Honest Tea, the nation’s top selling organic bottled tea company, recently announced a new beverage that just arrived on store shelves. Honest Tea’s Not Too Sweet Tea is a twist on everyone’s favorite Southern staple: sweet tea… considered the “house wine of the South” by Dolly Parton. I have sampled the Not Too Sweet and it has an excellent flavor; just like freshly brewed tea with just enough sugar. You can currently find it at the Natural Marketplace in the Arboretum. Learn more at

Culinary Calendar

Wine and dine: The Palm Charlotte is hosting its first Frank Family Wine Dinner. The evening, April 27, will start with a toast, followed by a four course dinner, hosted by Kimberly Sanford of Fine Wine Trading Company. Chef Colin has created a menu that pairs perfectly with the featured Frank Family Wine selections. Welcome toast at 6:30 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. It’s $95 for 837 Club, $120 for non-members. Seating is limited. Register in advance by contacting Leigh Whicker at 704-552-7450 or

People have until the end of April to try out the Paired Up combos at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House. Photo courtesy of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House

Surf and turf: You have until the end of the month to take advantage of these scrumptious offerings. At Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Bob Kalish, executive chef, is pleased to announce the restaurant will feature “Paired Up,” an enticing combination of the famed restaurant’s most decadent dishes, through April 30. That includes an 8-ounce filet and an 8-ounce Australian lobster tail for $79. The pairing is rounded off with a selection of featured wines. Jonathan Leary, executive chef of Sullivan’s Steakhouse, is pleased to announce that for the rest of April they will offer guests the best of both land and sea with its “Steak & Cake” feature. The incredible deal includes a mouth-watering 4-ounce crabcake and a tender 8-ounce filet mignon accompanied by Sullivan’s complimentary blue cheese iceberg wedge or Caesar salad, for just $39.

Questions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings and food news, email ­

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