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Cornelius News

Modern Dad: Gas station food for thought, humble apple pie, iKids

Jon Show

By Jon Show. I like certain restaurants for a variety reasons. Some reasons are normal, like the quality of the food. Other reasons are utterly superficial and make little sense to anyone but me. For example, the owner of Pho Nam always gives me a free orange soda when I visit because I’m a child and I love orange soda.

Am I a “foodie?” No. People who refer to themselves as “foodies” are the kind of people who recommend restaurants that already have 4-1/2 star Yelp reviews. Dear Yelper, your advanced palette didn’t lead you to Kindred. You went there because someone else said it was good.

People often ask me for restaurant recommendations. Sorry, that’s a lie. I have two young kids and can’t find a regular babysitter so my Lake Norman dining experiences are still in the development phase. Much like how our town planning board views every piece of vacant land.

If someone did ask for my opinions on restaurants, first I’d tell them never eat at Birkdale on a date night. There’s no reason to wait in line for an hour to be seated next to two kids with their faces buried in iPads complaining about the weak WiFi signal. I call them iKids.

I’d also tell them to eat at the following places. Good food? Yes. But there’s more.

Al’s Bar & Grille
I’m 42 with a family history of heart and artery issues so I essentially stopped eating fried food in my late 20s and red meat in my late 30s. I miss the days when you had to know where to go to get a good burger – as opposed to just going to a burger restaurant and choosing one of the 38 concoctions, none of which ever taste as good as a good cheeseburger from a bar. Al’s has great burgers. The Inferno burger is my favorite and the gravy fries are delicious. They have Canadian beer specials because the owner is from upstate New York? Who knows. I love Molson. I take an extra Crestor when I go there.

This is so much like robbery that I’ve only done it once with the Blonde Bomber and I tipped 75 percent out of guilt. If you go before 6 pm you get half-priced appetizers and kids eat free. If you go on Tuesday you get $4 drafts. So for $16 plus tax you can get a kid’s meal, a beer and two orders of tuna poke – which is probably my favorite tuna dish at the lake. I’d rank eeZ’s tuna nachos up there but eeZ always has an hour wait, ten open tables and hordes of iKids, so I don’t go there very often.

There’s nothing contrived or manipulated about it. Not the menu. Not the décor. The bartenders don’t wear beards or suspenders or stir drinks with long-handled spoons. It’s great, local food in a great, local restaurant that’s great because it’s great. Not because they hired a national restaurant PR firm to tell you that it’s great. I’ll tell anyone who will listen that it’s the best restaurant in our area. It’s worth noting that they have the same Yelp rating as Duckworth’s, so, nice going “foodies.”

Pho Nam
If you write this Vietnamese place off as a run-of-the-mill strip mall restaurant then the joke is on you. It’s Future Man’s favorite place in town – we eat there anytime he and I go to lunch and on most Sunday nights. If you’ve never had Vietnamese here’s some suggestions: Pho Tai is beef noodle soup; Chicken Bun is a room temperature noodle-chicken-sprout dish; Lemongrass and hot pepper chicken is, well, I have no idea how to describe it other than happiness. Pho Nam is big with Davidson College students, which is so Davidson. Most college kids go to Panda Express.

Judge me, I don’t care. Fast food is yummy. If it wasn’t yummy then Type II diabetes wouldn’t be our generation’s plague. My parents retired in Cornelius in 1999 when I moved to Charlotte. I drove up every Sunday to play golf at Birkdale with my dad, and I’d swing by Bojangles’ for a sweet-tea-and-seasoned-fries hangover cure. I can’t eat at Bojangles’ anymore (again, genetics) but I go every year on my birthday and eat a Cajun filet biscuit. There’s always an emaciated hillbilly at one of the front tables eating a Bo-berry biscuit with a tiny fork.

People ask me why I don’t go to Charlotte to eat dinner and my response is always the same – I don’t live in Charlotte, why would I drive down there to eat? I feel the same about Davidson, with the exception of Carburritos. I’d trade Future Man for their tacos and house margarita and I’d offer up the Blonde Bomber for the chipotle salsa. This place has versatility – you can sit in the bar for date night or eat in the main room with the kids. Do everyone a favor and don’t sit in the bar area with your kids – no one eating without kids wants to eat dinner next to your kids.

Future Man and The Blonde Bomber

Circle K
I’m not a dessert guy. I like sweets but if I keep them in the house I’m like a bulimic without the purging. I eat my kids’ Halloween candy well into December. I think Harris Teeter has amazing apple pie. I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts over Duck Donuts. I share this information so you have some frame of reference on what I’m about to tell you. The new Circle K at 115 and Bailey Road has an amazing selection of slushies and self-serve ice cream. They also have world-class hot dogs and other unidentifiable cylindrical meat, if you want to make it a full meal. Gas station food is delicious.


So those are my recommendations. Is it a comprehensive list of dining options in the Lake Norman area? No, it’s just a start. Should they be ignored because I listed a fast food chain and a gas station? That’s up to you to decide.

I should note that Hello Sailor isn’t in here because it just opened and I don’t like waiting in line. But here’s a one star gem of a review from “foodie” RicharD K. posted on Yelp the week after it opened: “The food is overpriced. … We ordered 1 tea, hushpuppies, 1 platter, poke and pickles, and ended up paying about $60.”

Wait, did he split an iced tea? I wouldn’t trust his opinions, either.

Modern Dad is Jon Show’s take on life in Cornelius. This 40-something dad lives in Robbins Park with his wife and their two kids: Future Man, their 9-year-old son, and The Blonde Bomber, their 5-year-old daughter.