Corn mazes are something that I always thought were child’s play. That is until hubby Mike and I, along with Boston visitor Bill decided to take on the biggest one in the southeast.
The Rural Hill Amazing Maize Maze in the Charlotte suburb of Huntersville, North Carolina covers seven acres. The plan is to get there when they open at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning with hopes of avoiding the crowds.
First some fuel. In keeping with my rule of trying new places for Bill’s annual visits, we settled on Café 100 in Huntersville. High marks on Yelp and UrbanSpoon made it look like the hot spot for brunch in the Lake Norman area.
The gray day didn’t deter us from sitting on the porch. Inside, a few tables were shoehorned in on top of each other. The deck was covered and heated.
Pumpkin pancakes arrived both bready and gummy. The syrup was the high fructose corn syrup variety. Not real maple syrup and none available. Bill said his Eggs Benedict were good. I ordered toast, bacon and home fries.
Our indifferent, high school-aged waiter paid no attention to our orders. Not surprisingly, several came out wrong; wrong kind of toast, missing flatware, the timing of the food. Mike’s Western omelet had a pathetically small dab of tomato-based sauce. He would have asked for more if our waiter hadn’t disapparated to Hogwarts.
When the bill came, it was just a total. Nothing was itemized. We had no idea what the charges were for. For all we knew, we were paying the tab for someone else’s table. It’s hard to believe that this breakfast for three was in the $50 neighborhood including tax and tip. We would have been much happier having breakfast in Charlotte at the Original Pancake House or Toast instead. Hard to believe the place was packed with a long line waiting. The Lake Norman area desperately needs a decent breakfast spot.
This year’s maze was mowed out in the shape of a barn, windmill and tractor. Hidden somewhere in the maize were a dozen mailboxes that each had a small square of the completed map. We were instructed to grab a flag mounted on a very tall pole and carry it with us at all times. We were to wave it if we need help.
We entered the maze at 10:15am. Our original strategy was to stick to the outer perimeter to get the lay of the land. That’s how we spied our first mailbox. Nothing but a few cornstalks and the colored ribbon blocked our way. Being so darn honest, we vowed not to break the rules and cut through the corn…but it’s right there!
We pushed on blindly and stumbled upon another mailbox by mistake. And that’s how we spent the next hour and 56 minutes. Only towards the end, did we finally make our way to that first mailbox we spotted on the way in.
Later, I was telling someone about the maze and they told me they had never heard of one that made you find map pieces. I think that’s what made it so much more fun. Even in the fine drizzle, we had a good time. There were plenty of all-knowing volunteers meandering throughout, eagerly handing out hints or directions to the port-o-potty and water barrel.
We had a few hours to kill before Bill had to head to the airport. On his trip last year, we went in search of filming locations for the Showtime TV show Homeland. Since he was here last, I found Mike Faber’s townhouse on 8th at the corner of Church Street so we did a drive-by.
When the subject of lunch came up, I knew exactly where we should go. A few weeks earlier, I had gone to a reunion dinner for a Turner South network show I worked on called Homemakers. An all female construction crew transformed a nasty boarding house into a stately home. All but one of the 6 hosts along with a few crew members met for dinner one weeknight at Cowbell in Uptown Charlotte. Shelley, a former host on Homemakers is a partner in this and several other restaurant ventures around town.
Since that reunion night, I had been dreaming about the Umami Burger. It was a perfectly cooked patty of good beef served on a sesame Kaiser roll and topped with roasted shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, a roasted tomato, a Parmesan crisp and delish chipotle spiced ketchup. They came with sweet potato tots that have the consistency of whipped potatoes encased a slightly crunchy exterior. I think there’s a very light dusting of powdered sugar. (I might have to go back and get it again just to be sure!)
What makes this so unusual is that I very rarely order a burger at any restaurant. Little known fact, I have never in my life eaten a McDonald’s, Wendy’s or Burger King burger because I am very picky about the quality of beef used in burgers. Oh, and I never use ketchup. Pair it with chipotle peppers, though, and I am all in.
The atmosphere was quite different when I went with Mike and Bill on a Sunday afternoon. This is very much a sports bar with different games playing on several TVs. I sunk in to my Umami. It was almost as good as the previous visit. Bill had an Elvis burger, kind of your basic cheeseburger with house fries and a mocha spiked shake. The spiked mocha is a chocolate milkshake spiked with Kahlua and Irish Cream.
Mike, who wasn’t particularly hungry, got the 5 Street Chili with smoked cornbread. He thought it had a surprisingly different flavor that we had trouble determining. The flavor wasn’t bad, just unexpected.
After the late lunch, it was time to send Bill packing. We waved goodbye on the Departure level at the airport. This was a really fun “Bill” Trip. But, the planning cycle begins again. I can’t wait to see what I come up with next.