Archive for August, 2012

What to do in Charlotte, NC? Plenty these days

August 26, 2012

My story on Charlotte ran in the Boston Globe on Aug. 19, 2012, and I’ve reprinted it below.  Read how the Queen City surprised me — in a good way! And here’s my list of where to stay and eat, along with museum details.

By Diane Daniel

Charlotte skyline [photo Wikipedia]

My home state’s largest metropolitan area (1.7 million and counting), Charlotte, has long been saddled with a reputation as the Wonder Bread, vanilla-flavored center of North Carolina. To wit, last year someone launched a Facebook page called “Keep Charlotte Boring,” a play on the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. And just as Austin has become more mainstream, Charlotte has livened things up.

I made this delightful discovery during two recent visits to the so-called Queen City, whose metropolis appears in the midst of a transformation. From morning to night, downtown — or rather uptown, as it’s officially called — hums with energy. Innovative art museums anchor a city block, lively neighborhoods ring the center, and dining and drinking options abound. A bicycle-sharing system, that now-familiar creative-class lure, even launched earlier this month.

These changes, along with the county’s rocketing population growth, and North Carolina’s status as a swing state (President Obama squeaked through in 2008) informed the Democratic Party’s decision to tag Charlotte to host its convention, Sept. 3-6.

The Charlotte Visitor Center in uptown is stocked with Democratic National Convention-themed merchandise

Whether you’re among the expected 35,000 convention attendees or you’re planning an independent trip, you won’t lack for action. The Dems will gather uptown at the Charlotte Convention Center, these days a draw unto itself, at least among teenage girls. The complex was used in the filming of “The Hunger Games,” specifically the tributes’ chariot rides, where Katniss made her blazing entrance as “The Girl on Fire.” (The first frame of the movie was filmed a block away at the John S. and James L. Knight Theater, scene of the tribute interviews.)

And maybe this isn’t saying much, but the latest “Bachelorette,” hometown gal Emily Maynard, not only insisted the show be filmed in Charlotte, her winning fiance, entrepreneur Jef Holm, is relocating from Salt Lake City.

Not that Charlotte is a stretch for a businessperson. The area remains the country’s largest financial center behind New York and houses seven Fortune 500 headquarters, including Family Dollar and Bank of America. Charlotte’s status as a financial hub is one of the reasons Northeastern University chose it as the site of its first regional campus last year.

Charlotte’s solidly Southern days, when the dominant population was Caucasian and conservative, are no more. Thanks to an influx of newcomers, you’ll be hard-pressed to detect a drawl. Last year, an African-American woman became the city’s first openly gay City Council member and this year Mecklenburg County was among a small minority voting against the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. As for the state dish — North Carolina barbecue — the one downtown joint, the new Queen City Q, decorates its interior with Texas emblems and scrambles regional styles.

A recreated textile mill is among exhibits at the Levine Museum of the New South

The best place to acquaint yourself with the Queen City (so called because it was named for Charlotte Sophia, the wife of George III, and from the German principality of Mecklenburg-Strelitz) is at the nearby Levine Museum of the New South. Its permanent exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers,” offers a fascinating and candid examination of the region’s transition from agriculture to textile manufacturing to banking.

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North Carolina food and wine fest keeps growing

August 15, 2012

Wow, in only its third year, TerraVITA has become a leading Southern food and wine event, with a focus on farm-sourcing, artisanal producers. This year’s event has expanded over several days, with activities running Nov. 1 to Nov. 3 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Sounds like a great weekend getaway to me!

Much of the credit goes to founder and organizer Colleen Minton. I’ve seen a lot of “food festivals” come and go, but this one keeps getting bigger and better. And … Colleen gives back, as well. TerraVITA has donated more than $10,000 to local nonprofits over the past two years, and this year is adding a fund-raiser for the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. The market, just over the Chapel Hill border, should also be on your list of must-sees!

Below are some details on this year’s celebration, and tickets are on sale NOW! Ordering info. is here.

Jay Pierce of restaurant Lucky 32 at the TerraVITA event in 2010

WHAT: TerraVITA is a 3-day festival featuring the best in sustainable food and beverage in the South and celebrating chefs, farmers, and artisan beverage producers who offer the necessary foundation to create a sustainable network. The event features educational workshops and demonstrations, guest speakers, as well as food and beverage tastings and meals. The festival will begin with the Harvest Potluck Fundraiser for the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and end with the pinnacle event, the Grand Tasting on The Green.

FEATURING: More than two dozen chefs and artisan food producers from across the state of North Carolina participating in tastings, demos, dinners and workshops for the general public. Also, artisan wine producers, micro brewers, coffee roasters and boutique distillers will participate in workshops and over more than 100 tastings.

SCHEDULE:

★ Harvest Potluck Fundraiser: Thursday, Nov. 1,  from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Carrboro Farmers’ Market

★ The Sustainable Classroom (Speakers, Workshops & Demonstrations): Friday, Nov. 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at multiple locations in Chapel Hill (hotel shuttles provided)

★ The Carolina Table: East Meets West (Dinner): Friday, Nov. 2 from 7 to 10 p.m. (Location TBD)

★ The Grand Tasting on The Green: Saturday, Nov. 3, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on The Green at Southern Village in Chapel Hill