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Two food spots under a 10 spot

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When you think of Africa what comes to mind? The receding snows of Kilimanjaro? The wildlife preserves with lions, giraffes, zebras, or gorillas? An image of the tragedy of Darfur or sunset on the Nile? Simba?

What about African cuisine? Does piri piri pop up? If you are unfamiliar with the latter, you're probably not a hot head searching the condiment aisle for a Scovie award-winning bottle of fire.

Spice is the essence of South African cuisine, and none is more popular than piri piri, a small chili pepper from neighboring Mozambique. The term "piri piri" comes from west Indian for yellow since turmeric was one of the original ingredients. Today, however, piri piri ingredients vary as much as American barbecue sauce.

Galinha à Africana (aka piri piri chicken) is chicken prepared African style: grilled and coated with a spicy piri piri marinade. This chicken dish is as popular in South Africa as fried chicken is here. In fact, one of the most successful South African food franchises, Nandos, features piri piri chicken in its 700 worldwide locations.

Phil Greer, an East Carolina graduate with two decades of pizza franchise experience in L.A., tasted the product in a Boneheads Grilled Fish Piri Piri Chicken in California and bought the rights to establish four in North Carolina. His first opened last August.

The originators of Boneheads clearly have the fast casual restaurant concept down. You order at the front and then the food is delivered. Silverware is in the bin by the soda machine while the interior is bright, with colorful displays and wall colorings. You can watch the kitchen prepare food while you wait in line -- or watch our economy melt down on CNN. The cooks are decidedly more fun.

But Boneheads, rather than being the same-old comfort food, clearly intends to rev you up -- it's a place where you can become unleashed, flavorwise.

Some dishes are more successful than others. The savory grilled chicken comes with a choice of four piri piri sauces: lemon and herb, medium, hot and extra hot. The medium, with notes of cilantro and parsley, has a sweet -- not hot -- finish. This sauce could be handled by kids who like the heat in Italian sausage. If you ordered a, um, sissy sauce, you can also ramp it up with the quartet of sauces on the table. The half chicken ($8.99) arrives with a calamitous side of rice and a choice of another side including the tasteful, rustically cut Asian Cole slaw. What was not as good were the fish entrées. The thin cut filets (these fish dish prices are all under $9.49) cook quickly but tend to be overcooked. My second mistake with the fish was not ordering the "topping" on the side. The mahi mahi was literally drowned in a citrus yogurt sauce.

Boneheads' signature appetizer is the addictive fried popcorn shrimp on Asian slaw with a dunking dish of mildly spicy cosmopolitanized aioli. The tacos may appeal to Carolinians who like Cole slaw on dogs since these are stuffed with grilled fish or chicken and slaw. There's wine, too, although only one bottle from South Africa.

Prices range from $1.99 for a cup of clam chowder to $13.99 for a whole chicken (popular with the take out crowd). Is it a deal? Yep. Boneheads has some well-spiced dishes at family-friendly prices.

Pasta and pizza eateries each have a decided individuality in Charlotte, and their appeal is unambiguous. What every diner hopes for is great southern Italian food at equally appealing prices. I mean, what's not to like about hot bread and pasta under 10 bucks?

Owner Tony Tahiri opened the 54-seat Italia Eatery last February in a shopping center north of 485 in Ballantyne with family recipes from his parents' The Italian Restaurant in Pineola (near Linville). Above the order window is large board with the daily specials and other menu items. There is table service, but most everyone ordered at the counter.

The predictable thin-crust, nonpliable pizzas would be a disappointment to dough doyens and most Jersey pizzas aficionados I know -- myself included; however, they were enjoyed, perhaps even preferred by a younger crowd -- the high school cheerleaders at one table, a few members from a lacrosse team across the way.

What was good, though, at Italia, were the extremely large and generous subs -- more than a meal for $6.95. Also of note was the lasagna with a chunky marinara. Italia has daily specials including a pasta dish and a salad for $7.99 and a pick up special: one 16-inch pizza with one topping for $7.99.

Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, and new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine events? To contact Tricia, send information via e-mail (no attachments, please).

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