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No Valentine’s reservation? We’ve got you covered

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WENDY YANG - 2009 OBSERVER FILE PHOTO
Find honey butter and cornbread at Mert's Heart & Soul in the heart of Charlotte.

Psssst. It’s Valentine’s Day and you didn’t make reservations? OK, here’s what you’re going to do. (And hide this after you read it, so your significant other doesn’t know what you’re up to.)

You’re going to buy a little something bright or rich or lush, and you’re going to explain how everyone knows Valentine’s Day (or weekend, in this case) is Amateur Hour for romantics, and how you didn’t want to cheapen your sentiment by getting in the middle of that hot mess.

So you opted to skip this time frame, this Hallmark holiday, in favor of a better, more intimate encounter ... next week. Or maybe the next, depending on the weather.

But, you quickly assure him/her, you’re far from immune to corny sentiment. You’re just classier about it – because you’ve got reservations for a place where corny is a compliment. To wit:

1 “BBQ caramel popcorn” at The Asbury. You’re uptown, on Tryon Street (highly walkable and people-watching-able in non-snow), and this stuff is $4. It’s barely sweet at all, has the merest whiff of anything barbecue-ish, and is extremely snackable. Plus: You’re in a swanky and historic hotel. 237 N. Tryon St.; 704-332-4141; www.dunhillhotel.com.

2 Inasmuch as a corn dog can be delicate, the corn dogs at Pinky’s Westside Grill are. Also, the funky-cool place has lots of finger foods to share (fried pickles, anyone?). But seriously ... a photo booth. Totally romantic. Knock yourselves out. 1600 W. Morehead St.; 704-332-0402; eatatpinkys.com.

3 How about a sexy little ceviche, Peruvian style, from Machu Picchu in Pineville? Seafood “cooked” with citrus: a little element of seeming danger (done properly, it’s fine) and perhaps a little bit of edge, if it’s a cuisine you haven’t explored together. 315 S. Polk St., Pineville: 704-909-7174; www.machupicchupineville.com.

4 The simple pure sweetness of the cornbread loaves at Mert’s always work. Add that the place’s full name is Mert’s Heart and Soul, and come on! Add some salmon cakes, or a little catfish, and you’re set. 214 N. College St.; 704-342-4222; mertscharlotte.com.

5 Caramel corn with ice cream and a luxurious bread pudding at Fork! Surprising, toothsome, sweet but not overly so, and most of you would have a leisurely car ride up to Cornelius to enjoy together. Very Valentine. 20517 N. Main St., Cornelius; 888-991-6948; www.forkrestaurantcornelius.com.

6 And lest you think all the corniness must involve actual corn: Au contraire. Lean into a little French-as-the- language-of-love, and you’ll end up at the new Lumiere which, after several delays, was slated to open Feb. 14. You’ll swan in after the rush, perhaps, and sup on a modernized duck a l’orange or a wild pork loin chop with braised pork belly and choucroute. Pastry chef Geoff Blount is doing desserts, including one, posted on the Facebook page, that holds 35ccs of passionfruit sauce. Quelle subtilité! 1039 Providence Road; 704-372-3335; lumieremyerspark.com.

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