Not entranced by the notion of rubbing shoulders with politicos as the Democratic National Convention convenes uptown? In case youd like to get far from the madding crowd (or in case youre part of that crowd, seeking a respite), allow me to offer a nonpartisan list: 12 places in 2012 that are at least 12 miles outside anything remotely to do with presidential politics.
1. Local Dish. This cozy new spot in Fort Mill sports farm-fresh photos pinned to clotheslines across the dining room, emphasizing its farm-friendly persona. We found a terrific, slightly strange, grilled chicken sandwich with grilled peaches and a sun-dried tomato pesto. I know but it was quite winning, served on a toasted roll. Also interesting: fat, juicy shrimp over grits with chunks of andouille sausage and a cheesy sort of sauce, and a lovely and delicate house salad of Bibb lettuce, goat cheese and blueberry shallot vinaigrette. Skip overly oily fried green tomatoes. Service is personable, and personal. 217 Main St., Fort Mill; 803-547-2201; dinner entrees about $7-$18; www.localdishfortmill.com/.
2. The WoodShed. This old chestnut features a pastoral drive to old-school Main Street in Stanley (Gaston County) and a still-terrific pepper-crusted prime rib: juicy, generous, and well-flavored, with horseradish cream on the side. Nothing fancy here, from plain wood latticework backing the booths to a super-simple salad bar, but you can get an LBH sandwich (marinated onions and tomatoes on toasted wheat) for $1.95, and though you cant get a martini, you can get a shot of Chivas for $6 and foil-wrapped baked potatoes come with several packets of sour cream. 210 South Main St., Stanley; 704-263-1030; dinner entrees $11-$30; www.woodshedsteakhouse.com/
3. Liu Lius. In Baxter Village, youll find this cool, elegant room that overlooks a patio and a diverse mix of Asian fare. Classics fare well here, from edamame to pad Thai, and skewered, marinated pork with rice is terrific. Next time: Cantonese ribs, or maybe the Vietnamese lemongrass version. Servers are quick and attentive, and though its a mite pricy, the calm makes it worth it. 940 Market St., Fort Mill; 803-547-1838; dinner entrees $10-$26; www.liulius.com.
4. Jakes Good Eats. Im a particular fan of the grilled salmon at this homey spot way out Albemarle Road (and enjoyed time with the horses in the neighboring pasture on one visit), but the menu ranges from burgers to venison quesadillas to a pan-seared New York strip on the latest menu. 12721 Albemarle Road; 704-545-4741; dinner entrees $8-$23; jakesgoodeats.com/.
5. Dresslers in Huntersville (theres one at the Metropolitan in midtown, too). Simple and restrained, this steakhouse-plus brings a menu of both classics (French onion soup, New York strip, lobster tail) and newer fare (Thai crispy calamari, its signature blackened heart of rib eye, and Just for the Halibut, which tops that fish with crab and roasted red pepper). Dont miss the cheesecake, which is (really) Moms recipe. 8630 Lindholm Drive, Huntersville; 704-987-1779; entrees $15-$36; www.dresslersrestaurant.com/.
6. Rock Store Bar-B-Q in Stallings gives you pulled pork barbecue, vinegar-based slaw (with a twist, sweet red pepper) or the mayo-y kind, and sweet tea thats not too (and all of that for $6). Theres also a stand-your-spoon-in-it Brunswick stew, all within a well, a rock store. Inside, its rough wood paneling, cement floor, glossy wood tables and checked café curtains; outside, a couple of umbrellad picnic tables and sometimes a produce market. 3116 Old Monroe Road, Stallings; 704-821-0668; about $4-$13; www.rockstorebarbq.com.
7. Loco Lime in Huntersville isnt related to the Central Avenue one, and offers some more specifically Mexican fare, from chicken tamales to pinchos (think kebabs). 13016 Eastfield Road, Huntersville; 704-947-8900; dinner entrees $7.50-$16.
8. Sangam in Cornelius does a lunch buffet, but you can order from the menu even then, and the kitchen produces both gentle and fiery Indian fare (and servers are careful to ask where youd like it on the scale). The setting is pretty and calm, from ornately carved wood screening to the pale gold walls. 20910 Torrence Chapel Road, Cornelius; 704-655-9600; dinner entrees $11-$17; www.sangamindia.com/.
9. Erins Restaurant in Rock Hill brings farmer-conscious fare and pleasant chat from jovial chef-owner Erin McManus. Her plates tend to the simple and clean, and vegetables are a particular strong suit. Shes shared space with other businesses; now shes got her own spot, at 129 Caldwell St., Rock Hill; 803-493-9428; dinner entrees $12-$24; erinsrockhill.com/.
10. Trattoria Antica. Italian restaurateur Augusto Conte put an outpost in Waxhaw, and its straightforward menu of classics, with a few twists (look for the tagliolini cacio e pepe essentially spaghetti with salty cheese and pepper: lovely), is delivered with warmth and attention. 3909 Providence Road South, Waxhaw; 704-243-0633; dinner entrees $12-$22; www.conterestaurantgroup.com/trattoriaantica.
11. Havana Carolina Café. Those seeking Cuban food can head north, where this spare little double room serves it up, including a simply excellent Cuban sandwich and rich platanos. 8 Cabarrus Ave W., Concord; 704-793-4233.
12. Twin Tops fish camp in Gastonia is a classic in the genre (which, for the uninitiated, is the notion of restaurants that began as places fishermen could bring their catch and have it fried up): Get the salt-and-pepper catfish, served whole, with crunchy hush puppies, then head to the candy aisle. You heard me. 4574 S. New Hope Road, Gastonia; 704-825-2490; entrees $9-$17; www.twintopsfishcamp.com/.
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