The secret to great cooking is great shopping. The better the ingredients are, the less you need to do to them.
As the Observer’s food editor for 25 years, I spend as much time helping people find those good ingredients as I do telling them how to cook it. On our website, www.charlotteobserver.com/food, you can find a list of local farmers markets that we update every spring.
This area is peppered with urban markets and specialty food stores that can help you find fun ingredients. Here are 10 to get you started:
1 The Atherton Market. This urban food market in SouthEnd is creative and constantly evolving. Vendors range from bakers to pasta makers, with produce, fresh meat and dairy products. 2104 South Blvd., Atherton Mill and Market on Facebook.
2 Berrybrook Farm Natural Food. The granddaddy (grandmama?) of local health-food stores dates to the early 1970s. Grab a spot on the porch swing to eat a vegan soup after you stock up on tempeh. 1257 East Blvd., www.berrybrookfarm.com.
3 The Bradford Store. In a chain-market world, the small and personal stands out. Owner Kim Bradford packs this little farm store with everything local she can get her hands on. 15915 Davidson Concord Road (N.C. 73), Huntersville, www.thebradfordstore.com.
4 Common Market. Both locations have the hipster food vibe, with beer and wine, candy, novelties, sandwiches and “urban provisions.” 2007 Commonwealth Ave. and 1515 S. Tryon St., www.commonmarketisgood.com.
5 Healthy Home Market. Old-timers call it the Home Economist, from the days when it stocked bulk foods. It’s a health-focused market now, with four locations. In August, watch for the South Boulevard location to close and a new store to open at 1330 Central Ave.; www.hemarket.com.
6 Pasta & Provisions. The pastas are fresh and the provisions cover anything Italian, from oils to sauces. There are several excellent Italian-focused markets in the area (shout-out to Ferrucci’s and Derado’s in Cornelius and Enzo’s in Stallings), but this led the way. 1528 Providence Road, www.pastaprovisions.com.
7 Provisions By Sandy Creek. Local produce, dairy and meat, plus seasonings, spices and healthful-living products. Both stores also give space to food-craft people, like bakers. 21 N. Main St., Belmont, and 107 W. South Main St., Waxhaw; www.buyprovisions.com.
8 Reid’s Fine Foods. It’s a gourmet market, wine shop and meat market, with butchers who know their cuts. A lot of local food companies got their start on these shelves. 2823 Selwyn Ave., www.reids.com.
9 7th Street Public Market. Speaking of Reid’s, the old uptown location has settled into new life as an urban food market, with cafes, wine, a small but mighty cheese shop (Orrman’s), a coffee bar and a new location of the butcher What’s Your Beef. 224 E. 7th St., www.7thstreetpublicmarket.com.
10 Savory Spice Shop. Even when you buy great food, you still need great herbs and spices. You can find them all here, and buy many in small quantities. 2000 South Blvd. in Atherton Mill, www.savoryspiceshop.com.