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SUMMER GUIDE 2011: An outdoor dining guide 

Where are the best patios in Charlotte? The 200-seat patio of Village Tavern in SouthPark, one of the best known patios in Charlotte, has recently undergone a makeover and now sports two fire pits and soft seating. The view from the patio at the U.S. National Whitewater Center (5000 Whitewater Center Parkway) usually proves entertaining since it is located near one of the more challenging whitewater channels. But for 2011, the following patios are the area hot spots:

The 60-seat patio at Dressler's Restaurant has a spectacular view of the Charlotte skyline, which gets even better at night. Restaurateur Jon Dressler equates the day and night difference to viewing the ocean four blocks from the water to walking in the waves. But during the day, the view of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway will continue to evolve as that project does. When completed, the Little Sugar Creek Greenway will have 15 miles of paths and flowing water through the heart of Charlotte; The portion from Elizabeth Avenue to the Park Road Shopping Center will be finished this December. Currently, the stream, a skipping stone's throw from Dressler's patio, is being rehabilitated. The course for the successive (in stages) stream restoration will begin with grasses and conclude with a hardwood forest that will be in evidence in 100 years. In addition to the views of the skyline and the Greenway, patrons of Dressler's patio enjoy live music Thursday through Saturday, well-crafted dishes and the brilliant hospitality of owners Jon and Kim Dressler.

Dressler's Restaurant, 1100 Metropolitan Ave., 704-909-6295. Lunch hours: Sunday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner Monday to Thursday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.; Sunday until 9 p.m. www.dresslersmetro.com.

In many parts of the U.S., such as in south Florida, and in Mediterranean countries like Greece, stretches of restaurant soft seating flank block after block of sidewalk. The only way to distinguish different restaurants is the change of the color scheme. Gone are the squeezed-in Parisian-styled bistro chairs and deuce tables. One of the best patios in town to find soft seating is that of Zink. American Kitchen in SouthPark. This expansive patio has two side areas of soft seating able to accommodate 60 patrons, while the middle dining area seats an additional 72. This patio is open for Sunday brunch, too. While the patio has been a favorite of the cocktail crowd, the executive chef at Zink is the talented Scott Wallen, who has consistently produced some of the best dishes in the city.

Zink. American Kitchen, 4310 Sharon Road, located at The Village at SouthPark adjacent to SouthPark Mall, 704-909-5500. Hours: Monday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). www.harpersgroup.com/zink.asp.

Niki de Saint Phalle's mirrored Firebird on the courtyard of The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is the view of the diners seated on the patio of the Bechtler Café. Near the patio dining area overhangs the cantilevered top floors of the museum, and across the street is The Green, the city's literary themed urban park. Not only is the view breathtaking, but the food, crafted by Bruce and Leslie Schlernitzauer of Porcupine Provisions, is light, well-balanced and, at times, cheekily naughty — check out the carrot cake. The signature Firebird Sandwich hints of Mediterranean origins with a zaatar (Middle Eastern herb and spice mixture) grilled chicken on pita with a Moroccan harissa relish and a feta yogurt sauce. Whole and half sandwiches are available at the café as well as salads, desserts and French pressed coffee. Free Wi-Fi is also available.

Bechtler Café, 420 S. Tryon St. Hours: Monday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.. Closed Tuesday. www.bechtler.org/Visit/Museum-cafe.

Brixx Wood Fired Pizza is a local success story. The owners opened their first spot on East Boulevard in 1998 and now have franchise locations in North Carolina and three other states: South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. But the patio at the store in Foxcroft has become a meeting spot for families. This 70-seat patio is part of a comfortable courtyard complete with fountain, which is far from the busy roads and parking lots. "It's a courtyard with room to roam," notes General Manager Richmond Hollmeyer. Kids of all ages are here, from babies in strollers to teenagers in athletic uniforms. Families gather here after school, on weekends, and throughout the summer. Popular with the parents are the half-priced bottles of wine on Sunday and a child's menu priced at five bucks.

Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, 7814 Fairview Road in Foxcroft Shopping Center, 704-295-0707. Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. www.brixxpizza.com.

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