If chocolate is the ultimate comfort food, then get ready to be very comfortable at Kilwin's Chocolates and Ice Cream Shoppe. Their red and white striped awning stretches across the front of the storefront, reminiscent of turn-of-the-20th-century Disneyland Mainstreet. This is pure Americana from America's Midwest.
Kilwin's is a franchise operation out of northern Michigan owned by George and Pamela Click. They recently opened their 1,900-square-foot shop in Ballantyne (the shopping quadrant with the movies and colorful tower). George Click, a native of Tennessee, has lived in Charlotte since 1991 when he was in marketing for WBTV. During the 1990s, the Clicks often visited the Kilwin's in Blowing Rock, where the lines frequently extend out onto the sidewalk.
George Click is on hand to greet customers while making fudge slabs or the caramel apples near the main entrance. This hospitable vibe is carried on by the clerks at the fudge counter where samples are freely given: one woman tried several before deciding on the double dark chocolate fudge. Kilwin's fudge is conspicuously fresh, often flecked with bits of nuts. Click offers 11 flavors at any time and will change these flavors to incorporate seasonal fudges.
Kilwin's offers equally worthy variations on chocolate, including Tuttles (their take on the copyrighted Turtle), bear claws, truffles, caramels, creams and mints. Not all of the chocolates are made in-house: some arrive from the confectionary kitchen in Michigan. The Divinity, which is made on site, is a Midwestern nut encrusted rendition of a classic Southern sweet. The brigade of covered apples are giddy reminders of the last century when an apple smothered with caramel and nuts, some with apple pie spices, caused no worries nor added girth among the American farm labor population.
In addition to chocolate, Kilwin's offers caramel popcorn and taffy, but the 14 percent butterfat ice cream is worthy of its own shop. The best flavor is either the Mackinaw Fudge, a better-than-average variation of classic fudge stripe, or the almost too cheery Traverse City Cherry. Samples are given at this counter as well. Waffle cones are made on site. The cost of a cone is $4.25 for a single, $5.65 for a double. Specialty sundaes are available as well as jars of the shop's fudge and caramel sauces.
The small town American candy shop has almost disappeared across the United States, except in tourist places or malls. The best of what Kilwin's has to offer doesn't come with the shop; it's the saucer-eyed children, with parents in tow, standing wistfully in front of counters with shelves too high to view it all, selecting the perfect summer treat.
In Jamaica, being bone thin, or mauger, is a sign of selfishness, stinginess and decay, not of beauty. In that culture, the sweetness of fat is celebrated, and sharing large quantities of food is customary. Now before you pull out the Samsonite, Charlotte is fortunate to have many outposts of Jamaican cuisine.
One such spot is the small, 32-seat Mama's Caribbean Grill entrepreneur Vinroy Reid opened four years ago in a store front on the main drag of Plaza Midwood. This is his second venture: his first, Reid's Caribbean Grill, was on North Tryon. Reid's general contracting business had convinced him that Plaza Midwood and NoDa were the kinds of neighborhoods he wanted for his home-style Jamaican food. Reid moved to Charlotte from New York in 1994.
In the kitchen at Mama's is Reid's mother Hazelyn Reid -- hence the name -- who could captivate anyone with her take on spicy jerk chicken and darkly rich ox tail stew. The chicken is cooked on charcoal, and her spicing is reminiscent of that island's revelry.
This low-key eatery's walls are wrapped in corrugated metal with a mural camouflaging the exposed brick walls into a multi-hued seascape. Tables are topped with oil cloth, and service is casual and slow at times. But in the summer, island food is the perfect takeout to eat on a patio or balcony.
Mama's menu is small but unthreatening: ox tail stew; curried goat, chicken and shrimp; stewed chicken; and saltfish (cod) and ackee, their national dish. The shrimp curry is neither too velvety nor too sharp. Dinners, most of which are under $10, are served with rice and peas (beans) and two sides, which include choices like a heap of greens, ubiquitous and benign steamed cabbage, and a formidable macaroni and cheese. The order of coco bread had been heated in a microwave and started to toughen before the journey home, thus a better choice is a beef patty to sample on the walk or ride home. One take out dinner can easily feed two people while two can feed three.
Reid says that if you can't cook, you should only pick up a knife and fork -- which is all that is necessary at Mama's.
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