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Road Games Travel Tips: Travel like a King to Queen City

Week 15: Seattle at Carolina, Dec. 15, 2019, 10 a.m. Pacific

SPONSORED – Ever gotten really comfortable at a friend’s place?

You know, where it starts to feel like a second home.

Given that this is Seattle’s fifth trip to Carolina in the last nine seasons, it’s starting to feel pretty comfortable. Combine that with the hospitality that the region is known for, and this is one of the best road trips on the schedule.

My advice? Save room for cake.

At least you should when you go to Mert’s Heart and Soul, which is only one of my favorite spots in the whole country. The cakes are displayed at the counter, wonderfully imperfect cylinders covered in frosting and baked with generations of experience. But I’ll get back to those in just a second.

Let’s start with the cornbread, which comes fresh out of the oven, hot and soft.

Next, comes the appetizers, and this is about the only place in the country where I’ll order salmon when I’m on the road. See, I’ve got this strange belief that when you live in a place with as much incredible seafood as we have here in Seattle – this close to the bountiful salmon fisheries of Alaska – what are the odds that you’re going to find better salmon somewhere else? Not good enough for me to order it, is usually the answer.

Mert’s is the exception and not because the salmon is so much better, but because their salmon cakes are so much different. The fish is poached. Then it’s mixed with celery, onions and peppers (which Mert’s refers to as the Cajun trinity), add a little of Mert’s own spice blend and serve it with a house-made Remoulade.

When it’s time for the entrees, I’m not sure I can help you. There isn’t a thing there that I haven’t loved from the blackened pork chops to the fried cat fish to the barbecue, which true to North Carolina traditions comes with a vinegar sauce. My favorite thing to do: Ask for help.

Because as good as the food is at Mert’s, my favorite thing about the place is the energy and hospitality of the staff. That was true from the first time I went in there 10 years ago with a group of half a dozen sports journalists, who asked for what is the bane of any wait staff’s existence: separate checks.

And as we were getting ready to leave, our server took time to index the range of names at the table from Rodney to Jerome to Francis to Daniel. She also looked at the tips each left to determine whether we should receive a matronly peck on the cheek. “Some sugar,” she called it.

Arrival: Charlotte/Douglas Airport (CLT) is the closest arrival spot. Alaska Airlines has a daily flight from Sea-Tac to Raleigh, North Carolina (RDU), which is 166 miles east of Charlotte.

Stadium: Bank of America stadium is a classic from its bowl shape to the fact that it’s located in the Uptown area of Charlotte, which makes it so you can walk there from hotels in the city center. Having opened in 1996, it’s not the newest stadium in the league but it remains among the most convenient.

Last time here: Nov. 25, 2018. Seattle 30, Carolina 27. The Seahawks played at Carolina in three successive seasons from 2012 through 2014 and neither team scored more than 20 points in any of those three games. Last year’s game was a veritable shootout in comparison. Over the past eight seasons, Seattle has played Carolina more often than any team not in the division, going 6-1 in regular-season games and 1-1 against Carolina in the postseason.

Dining: You’ve already got my favorite: Mert’s Heart and Soul in Uptown Charlotte. I’ve also really enjoyed Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen, which has multiple locations and infuses some classical French tastes into more traditional Southern dishes.