In late 2012, the building on North Sharon Amity that housed the Knife & Fork restaurant, once a Charlotte landmark, was razed for the widening of Independence Boulevard. On the other side of the city, The Riverview Inn on the Catawba River, which opened in 1945 and was one of the last fish camps in the area, closed its doors on Dec. 22. Fish camps (not a place for kids to learn how to fish, as I originally thought when I moved here) began during the 1930s and were that generation's food trucks. Mobile entrepreneurs set up boiling kettles of fat along the banks of a river, usually on Friday nights, and then fried their catch for waiting customers.
Times have changed. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the newly opened Krispy Kreme doughnuts in Cotswold. No longer are you required to drive by to see if the "Hot Now" light is on: Krispy Kreme's free "Hot Light" app will glow red from your phone when the light at that store – or any of the stores programmed to it – is activated.
Despite losses of the aforementioned institutions, 2012 was a good year in Charlotte's food world. In September, the Democratic National Convention brought national attention to our foodways. "Any food you buy in North Carolina is served on a biscuit," Al Madrigal told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. And while some promoters of the convention had primed all areas of Charlotte to boom with attendees, in truth, the restaurants that benefitted from the DNC traffic, expectably, were directly proportional to their proximity to Time Warner Arena.
The year also proved to be rewarding for the North Carolina's 100 wineries and 400 vineyards; the regional micro distilleries which produce gin, rum, brandy and whiskey; and Charlotte's craft breweries. The latter's list now stands at six, with the newest, Heist Brewery (2901 N. Davidson St.), offering not only a beer roster but a chef-driven brewpub. The other craft brewers are Birdsong Brewing Co. (2315 N. Davidson St.), NoDa Brewing Company (2229 N. Davidson St.), Triple C Brewing Co. (2900 Griffith St.), The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (215 Southside Drive) and Four Friends Brewing (10913 Office Park Drive). All have tap rooms.
In 2012, Charlotte's selection of food increased, too. In August, the long-awaited high-end Whole Foods Market opened in SouthPark with its lengthy list of prepared foods and oddly popular grocery store wine bar. In anticipation of the opening, the nearby Morrocroft Harris Teeter expanded its prepared food section. Then, the SouthPark Dean & DeLuca relocated its wine bar to its market location — which has the kitchen — and now offers a full dinner menu at the wine bar, an infinitely better place to imbibe than Whole Foods.
Selecting favorites among the places I reviewed in 2012 is not the same as choosing "The Best." A favorite place is not only an admired restaurant that fits nicely into a prescribed category: a favorite is a place I frequent. These places include The Chinese Dynasty (1709 Matthews Township Parkway, Matthews), where I go for impressive soups, pot stickers, crispy shrimp balls, pork barbecue buns and congee (juk) with preserved duck egg. Another is Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar (6706 Phillips Place Court). While this business is part of the Wolfgang Puck's mega-enterprises, Puck chose the talented and versatile chef Scott Waller, formerly with the locally owned Harper Restaurants, to head his kitchen. The food has been consistently exceptional since the restaurant's opening.
For casual foods, my favorites include the Liège waffles at Cast Iron Waffles (9604 Longstone Lane); the hot churros at Las Delicias Bakery (4405 Central Ave.); and the outstanding Bánh mì, including the sardine sandwich, at Le's Banh Mi (4520 N. Tryon St.).
With 2012 behind us, speculation for 2013 is compelling. Vegetables move full force to the center of the plate — and I'm not just talking about the trendy Brussels sprouts and overdone kale. Also look for more locally raised chickens and organic eggs at the farmers' markets, and gluten-free Asian noodles grabbing space on menus. Publix Super Markets, the Florida-based chain that opened stores in Tega Cay and Indian Land, S.C., last October, announced plans to open a store in the Ballantyne area in 2013 and an "urban-format" store in SouthEnd in 2014.
But while the mood for 2013 is optimistic, this is still not the expanding market of the boom days. Expect more of a remix.
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