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Future feasting: 10 things to like about 2010

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1. The best thing about 2010 is that it's not 2009. Let's face it, 2009 and its sidekicks, 2001 and 2008, provided us with some of the "worst of times." Owners of these eateries would agree: GW Fins, McIntosh, Good Ol' Days, Sugar Magnolia, San Remo, Oceanaire, Sonny's on Monroe, Sweet T's, Morton Steakhouse in SouthPark, and Salara Bistro. Here's to a new decade.

2. At the recent Bechtler Museum of Modern Art press conference, philanthropist and art collector Andreas Bechtler said he hopes workers in the towers downtown will emerge from their workplaces and renew their souls at this staggeringly beautiful museum focused on 20th century art. Stationed in front of the Bechtler is the newly refurbished 18-foot-tall sculpture "Firebird," by French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Comprised of thousands of mirrors, "Firebird" is artwork that may teach us more about how we view ourselves as Charlotteans. Since this sculpture is next to the outdoor seating area of the Bechtler café, it already has my vote for best patio in the city.

3. Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, smoking will be banned in all North Carolina bars and restaurants. Cigar bars and private clubs that include country clubs are exempt, however. Although many restaurants voluntarily banned smoking years ago, some local bars have taken a different route and become private clubs. This smoking ban is a welcome change to the dining environment. Countless times I have waited for a table in a smoke-filled bar area, only to find my clothes and hair permeated with the tobacco odor. I have watched moms with small children, some in strollers, at SouthPark's Cheesecake Factory wait in their smoke-filled bar. Yuck. (Fortunately, that business banned smoking a year ago.)

4. Times will remain tough for high-end corporate steak restaurants that rely on business expense accounts. But the shakeout in the upper echelon eating establishments has proved to be a bonus for Charlotteans. Innovative and nimble restaurateurs and chefs took off their high-end dishes and got creative by offering sensational dishes at a lower price point. In some cities, this has meant resurgence in the popularity of offal (innards and such). Southerners on the whole are not squeamish about offal -- after all, chitterlings, sweetbreads and livermush are part of the culinary heritage. Besides, utilizing "everything but the squeal" coincides with the environmental movement. Mountain oysters, y'all?

5. 2010 is the year to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Charlotte has a long growing season and, until recently, the metropolitan area had been ringed with farms. Now a new crop of farmers is returning to the land and, like anything else, if you want fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, you need to support your local farmers. Some CSAs are not confined to produce, as they include the option to buy eggs and meat. Although as a member of a CSA you share the risk (If the harvest is less for whatever reason, your actual share of the crops will be less, too.), the greater risk is not supporting our local farmers.

6. This year, make an effort to buy meat and eggs from a local farmer if not once a week, once a month. Many of our farmers sell their meat at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

7. One of the surprise best-selling books of 2009 was Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Evidently, more than a few people decided to plant vegetables in the backyard and, just as quickly, these folks discovered what our ancestors did when they arrived in North America: Plants grow well here. Can't plant a vegetable garden? Plant a fruit tree. My pomegranate is thriving.

8. In 2010, make your resolution to frequent your neighborhood restaurant -- you know, the one right around the corner -- on a regular basis.

9. The past year was equally difficult on many of the ex-pats here, too. The large Indian ex-pat community, many of whom work in Informational Technology (IT), were hit hard. Generally, the IT department is located in the same city as the headquarters. Lose the headquarters, lose some IT jobs. The Brazilian and Latino communities were affected by the slow down in the house construction and renovation businesses. If you want to keep the Indian and Brazilian (under new ownership with an expanded menu) bakeries here, visit them. Cake n Flakes, 2015 E. Arbors Dr., www.cakesnflakes.com; Pão Brazil Bakery & Café, 11100 Monroe Rd., Matthews. 704-846-7654.

10. Prediction for a 2010 flavor? Thai basil and watermelon. Besides, the play of contrasting sweetness is what we will need in the coming year.

Know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, and new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? To be included in our online blog, Eat My Charlotte, send information to Tricia via e-mail (no attachments, please -- these are destined for the spam filter): tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com.

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