Marshall

Pio Pio serves up the best rotisserie chicken in Charlotte

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Pio Pio on East Boulevard

Pio Pio on East Boulevard

I eat at Pio Pio at least once a week. For my Colombian husband, it’s a little slice of home – they serve authentic Colombian and Peruvian food in a great atmosphere. The restaurant is tucked into the back corner of the same East Boulevard shopping center that houses Brixx Pizza and Outback Steakhouse. Pio Pio is part of a small chain – there are several locations around New York City as well.

Pio Pio’s rotisserie chicken is the best I’ve found in Charlotte – or really anywhere, for that matter. The skin is perfectly seasoned and slightly crisp and the meat is always juicy and flavorful. The sides and appetizers are always good, from the arepas (round, white cornmeal cakes) to the chorizo to the sweet plantains and my favorite, empanadas (yellow corn pockets stuffed with seasoned meat and potatoes).

If you’re very hungry and aren’t in the mood for chicken, get the Montañero, a traditional platter that includes beef, rice, avocado, chorizo, an arepa, a fried egg, plantains and red beans. It’s one of my favorites. The tilapia is also great, as are the fried pork chops and the avocado salad. You really can’t go wrong. The service is excellent and it makes a really good and inexpensive place for take-out if you live in the area. It would cost more to cook the same meal at home. So don’t bother – go to Pio Pio. You’ll love it!

Chima Brazilian Steakhouse

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Chima, the Brazilian steakhouse on South Tryon Street in Uptown, extended its restaurant week special offer for an additional week, so I had dinner there on Thursday night. It was my second visit and it was quite good. I suspected that they might hold back on their best meats because of the lower restaurant week price, but both of my favorites, the top sirloin (their house special) and the leg of lamb, as well as filet mignon and other good cuts were available in abundance. I’ve been to Brazilian churrascarias in several cities, and while Chima may not be my all-time favorite, it is definitely high on my list – and much better than Brazas, the other option here in town.

Chima Brazilian Steakhouse

Chima Brazilian Steakhouse (Photo Credit Miami Herald)

If you’ve never been to one, a waiter comes to your table and takes your drink order, and you can help yourself to a large salad bar in the center of the room with everything from cold cuts to calamari salad. At your table, a small card that says something to the effect of “yes please” on one side and “no thanks” on the other is your signal to the traditionally-dressed gauchos circulating with skewers of meat that you want to be served. They’ll swarm around the table offering bacon-wrapped chicken, chorizo, pork loin and many different cuts of beef.

The downside to these places is that the pace of the meal feels kind of frenzied; it wouldn’t make a good spot for a business meeting. Unless everyone at the table flips their card to “no thanks”, your conversation is constantly interrupted by gauchos offering more meat.

If you are a beef-lover like I am, the trick is to reject things like pork and chicken, which can tend to be dry and tasteless. Accept only the best cuts of beef because you’ll fill up fast. I load everything up with lots of chimichurri sauce. Chima’s salad bar is average compared to other churrascarias I’ve visited, but the beef is delicious, and that’s the most important part.

A Walk in the Woods

Marshall

Marshall

Growing up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, I loved being able to bike or jog 10 minutes from the center of town and find myself surrounded by nature far from civilization. Or you could drive a short distance in almost any direction, and there were an endless number of national forests, state parks and trails to explore. Although Charlotte has plenty of shaded streets and pleasant city parks like Freedom and Latta, it’s not quite the same.

To escape from it all in Charlotte, you need several hours or a day to spare for an excursion to Crowders Mountain or western North Carolina. So I was thrilled to discover a place less than 15 minutes from home that offers 2,300 acres of unspoiled natural beauty, including lakes, forests, rolling pastures, tent camping sites and a trail system that’s 35 miles long and growing.

The Anne Springs Close Greenway is a privately-owned recreational area just over the South Carolina line that’s easy to access for Charlotteans – driving south on I-77, you take Carowinds Exit 90 and turn left. Go straight for a few miles and the main entrance is clearly marked on the left side of the road.

My husband and I like to park near the 28-acre Lake Haigler and wear out our hyper five-year-old mutt with a walk around its perimeter, stopping at several points to let him swim (and get even more exhausted).

In other parts of the park, there are trails that crisscross winding creeks over swinging bridges. Setting out from the Dairy Barn entrance, you can walk past log cabins of early Carolinas settlers on the way to see the horses, sheep and goats kept in nearby pastures. You can even trace the path of the original Nation Ford Road, the ancient trading route along the Eastern seaboard that was traveled by the Catawba Indians and later used by colonial settlers and Revolutionary War armies.

Some trails are restricted to hikers while others allow horseback riders and bikers. The daily use fees are reasonable – $2 per person for hiking, $3 for cycling, $10 for horseback riding and $12 per campsite. Down by the lake you can rent kayaks by the half-hour.

Go on the right Saturday and you might just catch a special event, like the upcoming Barbeque & Bluegrass Festival on Saturday, September 19, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Dairy Barn.

When I need a break from city life, this beautiful greenway is just the ticket. For those of you who have been there, do you have a favorite trail or area of the park?