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Charlotte, NC
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Staten the Facts // Blog

May 2014 Pre-Trip Report

Daniel Staten

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we’re heading down to Walt Disney World for a few days. I recently received a super deal on hotel rooms thanks to my Annual Pass and I’ll be able to squeeze a few more days out of the pass before it expires!

Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival will be groovy.

The Plans

I knew after my trip in January that it would be difficult to wait until November to visit Disney World again. For the past few years, we’ve also wanted to take a really relaxing vacation, with plenty of time built in to relax. Once I found a time to take off work – it’s been busy already this year – we landed on a week in May that just happened to coincide with Mother’s Day! This trip will be all about Mom! No runDisney races, no break-neck plans, just time with family.

Can't wait to POP in here by the pool.

We’re staying for a week at Pop Century Resort. I stayed there last January for the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and ended up more impressed than I thought I would be. When the Annual Pass discount rolled around, I couldn’t resist. We’re looking forward to spending some time by the pool, and my sister and I are looking forward to trying a few of the Pop Century exclusive drinks, like the Lava Lamp!

Epcot is also hosting the Flower and Garden Festival, which will be nice to explore at leisure with the family. Hopefully, the Seven Dwarves Mine Train attraction will be open at the Magic Kingdom and we’ll also get to checkout the new Festival of Fantasy Parade! So much to see and do!

So much food. So little time.

Restaurant Review: Nan and Byron's

Daniel Staten

Charlotte's craft beer scene has exploded in recent years and at times it can feel like restaurants in the Queen City aren't keeping up. In this food review, I visit Nan and Byron's on South Boulevard and see if they have what it takes to fit in on the eclectic collection of restaurants that have popped up around the light rail line.

The Setting

Nan and Byron's is a comfortable yet trendy restaurant located in the former Vinnie's Raw Bar building on South Boulevard. The inside of the restaurant is outstanding and is what I would call modern Southern gothic. We visited during Charlotte Restaurant Week, also known as Queen's Feast, and had only a minimal wait past our reservation time – not something that can be said for all the places I visited that week.

The interior of Nan and Byron's.

The bar is beautiful and takes up a good portion of the main room. There's a few tables immediately past the hostess' podium and a second much roomier dining hall right beyond that. Nan and Byron's is owned by the same people who brought us 5Church, another one of Charlotte's newest and trendiest restaurants. Think of Nan and Byron's as 5Church's younger brother. It's a little rowdier and the food is a little more casual. That being said, the atmosphere alone is something Charlotte needs more of. It's not too imposing and casual enough where I'd feel comfortable stopping by after work for a drink.

Tables at Nan and Byron's are a tad bit close together and the restaurant is very loud. The crowd was mixed; dress was as well.

The Drinks

Speaking of drinks, Nan and Byron's has quite the selection. I'm not a fan of beer at all, in fact it makes me ill to drink it. I was pleased to see an extensive cocktail list. Some that stood out to me were the Southern Coffee, which is bourbon, Kahlua and bitters served martini-style. Also appealing was the Dancing Cranberries, featuring everyone's favorite Prosecco, white cranberry juice and dried cranberries.

I'll have to return in order to sample the cocktail menu as the Queen's Feast included a call drink or wine. I went for the Row Eleven Pinot Noir from Sonoma, which went down just fine. 

The Food

For appetizers, we started with the poblano cheese dip and chips as well as one of the highlights of the meal: Train Wreck Fries. The cheese dip was alright, nothing too special and ever so bland. The Train Wreck Fries, though we difficult to stop eating. The portion was huge. For $10, you get french fries topped with their rich, smoky chili, poblano cheese (oddly enough), sriracha ranch and scallions. This was one of those appetizers that we just couldn't push away from the table. When I return, the deviled eggs are calling my name.

Train wreck fries were a highlight of the meal.

One of the most impressive aspects of Nan and Byron's was the simplicity and confidence the main menu presented. Entrees are listed by the primary ingredient. For example, you order "Chicken," but the dish is a roasted Peruvian chicken served with spicy green sauce and two sides. Or, you might indulge in "Pork," which is a braised shoulder along side baked beans and garlic herb crumbs.

Poblano cheese dip and house made chips.

My choice for the evening was the Meatloaf. Normally not a dish I would order anywhere, but the draw for me was that it was ground beef. I do not eat the ground beef and pork mixture that you typically see served in meatloaf. Accompanying the hefty slice of meatloaf was sriracha ketchup, a red wine sauce and two sides. Choosing side dishes is often difficult in a southern restaurant because I normally want them all. This night, I settled on sautéed corn and mashed potatoes. 

The highlight of the meal.

The ketchup definitely had a strong kick, and I slightly regret slathering it all over the meatloaf before I tried it. At times, it was so spicy that it bordered on pain. Lesson learned. The red wine sauce, however, I would consider ordering a second side of to pour over the mashed potatoes. The corn was buttery and delicious and every so often I'd get a sautéed onion which put this side dish on the top of my list for next time.

The Service

Our visit to Nan and Byron's was during Charlotte Restauant Week. We had reservations prior to visiting, and waited only about five minutes past our reservation time.

At times our meal felt rushed. While I completely understand that Charlotte restaurants experience quite an increase in traffic during restaurant week, for many diners, like myself, this is their first impression. At what point does expeditious service become pushy?

The main way this manifested at Nan and Byron's was by the waiter wanting to take the entire order – drink to dessert – at one time. Doing this removes the lesisure from the meal, and quite honestly makes me feel like I'm in an A&W Cafeteria. Remember those?

However, everyone we encountered was great. A little bit more table side manner and less cattle herding would be appreciated. 

The Dessert

A few years ago, the trend in Charlotte restaurant desserts was chocolate lava cake. It was epidemic. My guess is that chefs thought Charlotte diners would marvel at the chocolate that flowed from the side of a cake once they cut in to it. I’m happy that fad has passed. I was happy to see a couple of choices at Nan and Byron’s.

An OK cobbler.

My selection was the apple cranberry cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream. There was plenty of fruit in the cobbler and the ice cream was pretty standard. One thing I’ve noticed at both Nan and Byron’s and 5Church is that the desserts always come out blazing hot – almost as if they’d been microwaved. Perhaps a change in presentation, with the ice cream and cobbler separate on a longer plate would prevent the ice cream from melting into oblivion. 

The Verdict 

Nan and Byron’s is just what Charlotte needs. I appreciated the inspired menu and energetic atmosphere. On my next visit, I’d look for a more relaxed pace to the meal and desserts that are fresh. Overall, it was a great meal and I can’t wait to return.

Nan and Byron's. 1714 South Boulevard, Charlotte. Reservations accepted. (980) 224-7492www.nanandbyrons.com.

Try Something New

Daniel Staten

For a long time, I've thought of myself as the type of person who likes to plan, to research until I'm 100% confident in what I'd like to do. Over the past couple of months, several situations have led me to reconsider that notion.

This past summer I was in California, The Golden State. With so much to do and see, it can be incredibly difficult to plan. It's overwhelming. It's confusing. It's frustrating. It helps when you have someone who knows where they're going, as I did. It's even more helpful when they encourage you to try something new.

Trying something new brought us to Half Moon Bay. It was a beautiful Friday evening on the coast. The weather was cool and the sun sank right below the ocean, leaving about 30 minutes of daylight behind. More and more, trying something new has allowed me to reflect and think.

Thanks to the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay for a beautiful setting. Thanks to Joya for encouraging me to try something new. Best of luck on your new journey!

Speaking of trying something new, this was my first Greyhound. It's quite yummy. This was the view from the bar at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay.

Disney Review: School Bread

Daniel Staten

For years, I've heard tale of a wonderful treat offered at Epcot's Kringla Bakeri og Kafe in the Norway pavilion. I can't really offer an explanation as to why I haven't tried it before now, but I was more than happy to make it a part of my most recent trip while killing time before our Soarin' FastPass+!

School Bread: One of my new favorite snacks at Epcot. If you're on the Disney Dining Plan, this is a wise choice for a snack credit!

School Bread is served cold, and has the consistency of a kaiser roll. Not too chewy, with the mouth feel of a day-old donut. It's stuffed with a sweet vanilla custard that for me, was the highlight of this dessert. If you're not a fan of coconut, pass on this one! School Bread is covered with coconut and a small sampling of the vanilla custard.

A cross-section of School Bread, with a nice view of the vanilla custard filling. 

I sincerely regret not sampling School Bread prior, but now, I'll be sure to make time for it. In fact, I went back for seconds after devouring the first one.

runDisney: Inaugural Walt Disney World 10K

Daniel Staten

This past Friday, Walt Disney World hosted the Inaugural Walt Disney World 10K. Part of Marathon Weekend, this 6.2 mile race snaked through Epcot and the surrounding resorts before ending right behind Spaceship Earth. My motivation for running this race was simple: I've never participated in an inaugural runDisney event and I thought the course looked simple and the medal looked awesome!

Me, just a few minutes after crossing the finish line!

Mickey Mouse hosts the Marathon, Donald Duck hosts the half and Goofy hosts the race-and-a-half challenge, so it was natural that Minnie Mouse had a race to call her own! Also new this year was the Dopey Challenge, which combines four races over the course of four days, totaling over 45 miles! That's on my bucket list for next year. 

The Expo

Over the past few years, runDisney has exploded in popularity. That's led to an increase in participation, as well as some growing pains for the runDisney participants. Disney does many things well, but one of their most business savvy triumphs is persuading customers to buy with emotion. Thus, last year, Disney introduced a limited time New Balance running shoe that you may only purchase at the Health and Fitness Expo prior to the races. Last year, the shoes were incredibly popular and this year proved no different. 

What did change this year was the reservation process for securing a pair of shoes. This year, you arrived at the Expo, put your name in a virtual queue, and went about your business until you received a notification, indicating your time to fork over $130 had arrived. In any circumstance where there's limited supply and high demand, there are scalpers who take advantage of the situation. While a reservation process helped Disney organize buyers, there was not an adequate supply of shoes on hand to meet demand from those who wanted to purchase. Additionally, anyone visiting the Expo – not just runners participating in the race – could buy multiple pairs of shoes! That led to lots of pairs landing on eBay in the hours after the shoes went on sale, some going for upwards of $300. 

I hunted these shoes like a true junkie. Alas, I left the Expo empty-handed.

Next year, I'm hoping runDisney offers runners who signed up for the race the opportunity to preorder shoes and pick them up at the Expo. Not only would this help Disney gauge demand, but it would also alleviate bad feelings that myself and several others experienced when we could not purchase a pair, due to scalpers snatching them up. This time, I walked away resolved that I wouldn't get the shoes, with hopes that I can purchase a pair at another runDisney event later this year. If anyone from runDisney sees this, the shoe purchasing process could use some "plussing," if we refer to Disney customer service jargon. 

The Race

On race day, runDisney events are impeccably organized. Each runner is assigned a corral and there is plenty of entertainment and excitement to keep runners warmed up prior to the start time. While waiting in my corral, we got to hear from Jeff Galloway, the official spokesperson and face behind runDisney. As a former US Olympian, Jeff's training plan, which involves an interval run-walk method, is highly effective in getting first-time runners in shape. Personally, without it, I'm not sure I could have completed my first half-marathon last year!

After several rounds of fireworks and some encouragement by Minnie Mouse, we were off! As far as the course goes, the 10K was not that bad. There was only one ramp to run and most of the hills were manageable. 

Right about here is where the nerves kick in.

However, entertainment on the first half of the course was sparse. In fact, it was almost mile one before we saw Captain Hook and Smee. Looking back at my photos, I realized I didn't have many photos of on-course entertainment, because there wasn't that much! However, once we arrived in the backstage areas of Epcot, things became a lot more lively.

My second win hit right as I crossed back into Epcot. No time for a proper photo; the finish line is so close!

We ran underneath Test Track to arrive in World Showcase with all of the Illuminations torches lit! It was beautiful and breathtaking. I do feel bad for those people who booked rooms at Disney's Boardwalk, as we were quite the rowdy group running on the wooden boards! We passed through the Yacht and Beach Club and my first thought was "sand?! Yuck?!" I made it through with no sand in my shoes, and before I knew it, I was in Future World, running by Spaceship Earth. 

The last half mile in any race is very emotional. There's an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, you feel all of the hard work you put into training push you towards the finish line and hear the spectators cheering you on. Once you cross the finish line, it's impossible to describe! If you've never run a race before, I would highly recommend starting one of Jeff Galloway's training plans, and consider singing up for the 2015 Walt Disney World 10K. 

runDisney snack boxes are no joke! In addition to this, once you cross the finish line, you have the chance to grab a banana, bottle of Dasani water, and your choice of Powerade.

Conclusion 

I had two main goals for this run. First was to run through the parks and resorts. I'm happy to say that I accomplished that! In fact, my fastest mile was the one through World Showcase. My second goal was to not use a Porta-John during the race! I achieved that goal as well! It felt great to complete both of those things and walk away with an inaugural medal. 

Vinylmation Runner Mickey proudly wears his medal at Disney's Wilderness Lodge. There's lots of exclusive merchandise to collect from runDisney races.

It's amazing to see the athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes participate during Marathon Weekend. Even better is walking though the theme parks with your medal and hearing Cast Members and complete strangers congratulate you on your accomplishment. Next up on my running calendar is the Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare in August and the Wine and Dine Half-Marathon in November. 

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. January 9 - 12, 2014. Registration required. www.rundisney.com