Friday, August 20, 2010

A short rant.

We have EarthFare. We have Fresh Market. We have Harris Teeters, 2 to every square mile, it seems. Bloom, check. Couple of TJ's. Food Lions and a small variety of lower-shelf grocery chains. A Dean&Deluca (hard for me to see this place chainified). Many Asian, Indian, and Latino grocery stores. One Japanese outpost. A G Mart. A local health food store chain. A smaller health food store swimming in cute factor.

But the grocery store scene in Charlotte sucks.

Back when I obsessively shopped at Fairway once a week (which was, pretty much, the entire 10 years I lived in the city) I knew I had it made.  It was free Culinary Arts school. Open 24hrs, I'd wander the isles between late-night drawings, learning the names of strange olives, cheeses from tiny towns in France, oils of mysterious origin. Always left with a bag of day-old bread (croissants the same price as rolls, a different kind each time, 50 cents each, until I settled on a favorite). Pickles were huge and satisfying. Piquillos before Saveur knew what they were. Coffee, fresh roasted, killer. Outside produce always a deal. Then they started in with the local stuff - upstairs, often, and pricier. Mushrooms from upstate NY. Cloth bound cheddar from just over the Vermont border. Strange eggplant varietals. Jams, jellies, chocolate. My food brain, and then my locavore food brain, had a steady diet of awesome.

So, call me spoiled, but when I walk into the SouthPark EarthFare, our localest of chain grocers, in the middle of the damn growing season, in the middle of a fertile state, surrounded by a multitude of amazing organic farms, and the only local offering is turnip greens and MAYBE some heirloom tomatoes for a gazillion dollars, it makes me want to tear my hair out. Sure, they have a couple of shelves on the end of Isle 1 with grits in a cute cloth bag and 15 different types of bar-b-que sauce. Yup, they stock goat cheese from 2 local sources. But, lame. Produce-wise, Harris Teeter does better.

You'd think that when something as awesome as Anson Mills exists, less than 80 miles away, people would have some Kakalaka pride and fill their shelves with anything and everything they offer. Not in CLT. Nary a product to be found. If I want to cook with Southern heirloom flour or grits, I have to order them off the internet. Or drive to Columbia. And I know there's more than just goat cheese being made in our state. It's just I have no idea where, or where I can buy some.

Reid's was the closest thing we had to Fairway, and while the comparison's a bit of a stretch, it's true - odd, small batch grains, great deli, knowledgeable staff, and in one way, they surpassed the big F - the wine selection was insane. But they closed. God, I hope they open again - maybe in cheaper-rent Atherton Mills? - because I'd hate to be forced to believe that we're the kind of town that can't support a non-chain grocery store (remember Talley's? Me too).

I love it here, don't get me wrong. But there are such gaping voids. The one that yawns in my face, constantly, is the grocervoid. I'd love to have a part in plugging that hole, but many have tried before, and failed.Which scares me. But then I see the Examiner covering the Harvest Moon truck, and watch as Grateful Grower's products pop up everywhere, and see every booth at the Yorkmont Farmer's market filled, and have some hope. Maybe it's finally time.

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