In the Lake Norman region, there's virtually no end to dining out entrees. You can get a heaping helping of barbecue, or hand-rolled sushi featuring barbecued eel. You can try smoked duck gumbo, or loaded tater tots, pizza with a salad or Scottish salmon with caramelized cauliflower.
You can grab a burger with fries, or Carolina shrimp and grits, hot wings and ribs, or crunchy mushrooms with green hummus. If you're in the mood for Mexican, options include super smothered burritos or camarones mango-mojo (white shrimp with mango, garlic and habanero sauce). And Italian choices cover the spectrum from spaghetti with meatballs for the kids to pollo rombo facito (chicken breast rolled and stuffed with herbed ricotta wrapped in speck – a distinctly flavored smoked ham).
And whether it's breakfast, brunch, lunch, supper or a late-night snack, almost without exception, no matter where or what you choose to eat, the option is there to dine outside.
Outdoor dining has become an added feature at all kinds of restaurants, from fast food take-out joints to Haute cuisine hot spots where many reservations now include special requests for an outdoor table.
“People love to eat on the patio,” according to Ray Ashley, a manager at Brixx Wood Fired Pizza in Birkdale Village. “When people come in they usually tell us how many people they have and immediately ask if there's a place outside. Unless it's really hot or really cold, there's usually a pretty good crowd on the patio, especially in the evenings.”
On Main Street in Mooresville, Tim's Table has almost as many tables outside as inside, and half a block up the street, tables on the front patio at JJ Wasabi's are tough to get at lunch or dinner
“The outside seating is very popular,” Luis Gonzalez, a sushi chef at JJ's, said. “Customers ask to sit out there at lunchtime, and it’s always active in the evenings. I think they like being outside, next to Main Street, and there are usually people out there unless it's cold or raining hard.”
At Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse in downtown Davidson, as well as its sister restaurant Mandolino's Artisan Pizza on the other side of Main Street, there are just a few tables on the sidewalk, and the supply sometimes can't keep up with demand.
“Early evening especially seems to be a real popular time for the outside tables,” Gill Hawkes, a sous chef at Flatiron, said. “It's really a great spot. Folks come and have a beer and maybe a snack while they decide what to have for dinner and do a lot of people watching.”
“It's funny,” Hawkes added, “sometimes from here in the kitchen it looks like there aren't that many people here. Then six orders will come in at the same time, and it turns out they are all from the outside tables. I think it's pretty clear eating outside is a popular trend, and having some outside options is something every restaurant would like to have.”
And a walk through Birkdale Village provides even more proof of the popularity of patio dining. Options at Birkdale's multiple restaurants range from large covered patios to small clusters of outdoor tables, but finding an empty seat in the evening is a challenge.
“It's active just about all the time,” Tyler Patterson, event coordinator at Fox and Hound, said about the restaurant's large outside seating area. “Customers ask specifically about sitting out there, and we try to make it work whenever we can.”
She said the restaurant emphasizes its patio options and even hosts “yappy hour” gatherings on the patio for customers and their dogs.
“Everybody – couples, groups and families – ask about sitting outside,” Patterson said. “Unless it's really cold, there is usually somebody out there.”