Balloons Rise

By Jeffrey Flitter and Immanuel Bryant, 2013

The Statesville Balloon Festival is an event held every year in Statesville, NC that brings together more than 30 hot air balloons for a competition. Our group of four – Immanuel Bryant, Anna Mokas, Taylor Hill, and Jeffrey Flitter – followed a massive line of cars through the back roads of Statesville to find the festival on a local airport’s property. We arrived to a massive open field filled with spectators, balloons preparing to take off, food booths, artists booths, and a concert stage. The hill was filled with lots of people watching the balloons set up and prepare for the event. We began by standing at the top of the hill and waiting for the balloons to take off.

BalloonFest_027We didn’t have to wait long before the first balloon hit the air. We cut it close, but thankfully made it just in time for the balloon race to begin. As we watched the balloons begin to take off, we, along with everyone else at the festival, grabbed our cameras and started to snap tons of pictures. Everyone at the festival enjoyed watching the balloons and took up the challenge of skirting around children, families, and photographers to get pictures of the balloons, their children, and others. The ascension of the balloons took about thirty minutes in total, but it felt like the blink of an eye before they were all in the air. We felt there had to be more to this than simply balloons rising into the air; otherwise, what was the point.

A volunteer working the festival’s ticket exchange explained to us what was actually happening during the festival: a hot-air balloon competition. He described the different types of competitions that could take place to us. He said that day’s competition involved the first balloon taking off while all the other balloons chased after it. The first balloon would sometimes leave a trail of items in trees that the other balloons would have to retrieve. Sometimes it is an old fashioned race where the only goal was to reach the place where the first balloon lands before all the other balloons.

IMG_1961After the balloons were in the air and the competition had been explained to us, we began to look around the rest of the festival. We noticed many tents set up featuring local artisans displaying their crafts, local vendors with fudge and alcohol, a music stage, and the large food tents with the boards that anyone who has ever attended a festival in the south would recognize. We all decided to get different foods from the tent so that we had a variety of opinions. Jeff was adamant that the food was good but that it was the same food you would find at any festival or fair. Having some extra tickets, Jeff went to buy a beer. He was disappointed when the local brews were not part of the ticket system, but he bought a local brew anyway and thoroughly enjoyed it. While eating, we sat down and watched the musical performance.

The performance featured a small band, but it was more than enough for the audience. People were dancing in front of the stage, children were running around, and many people sat and simply enjoyed the music. One number brought children and adults on stage to do a “chicken dance” to the amusement of everyone in the audience. Seeing a wide range of people from an elderly woman to young toddlers shaking their “tail feathers” was an amusing site for sure.BalloonFest_037

Having extra tickets from the dinner, especially since Jeff could not use them for his beer, we collectively purchased a funnel cake. Eating the funnel cake as the sun faded from view and was replaced with a darkening sky was a perfect setting to end the day on. We finished our funnel cake, finished taking some notes in our travel journals, and headed for the exit.

Of course exiting an event like this is never as easy or quick as one expects. On the way out, we thought it would be a wise idea to stop at the information tent and get some information and make sure we had our facts straight. We instead had a discussion with the workers about what brought them to the fair and why they did it. One woman described how she had been on the committee for the festival for many years and loved it. She also explained to us that the festival supports a non-profit or social cause every year. This year the event was supporting Relay For Life of Statesville & local charities, but the discussion to change it came up every few years and they would vote to keep it the same or change it. Having all the information we needed, we began to leave. We paused as we came up with an idea and decided to turn around and make our way back to the tent. We arrived back and promptly asked to take a group photo with the information tent workers, to which they happily agreed.

Having our pictures, information, and experiences compiled within our minds and journals, we piled into the car and made our way to the hotel for the night.


Lexington’s Legacy: the 30th Annual Barbecue Festival

By Brynna Bantley, 2013

Lexington, North Carolina: Barbecue Capital of the World. To some, this may seem a daunting and mighty title to uphold; but for the citizens of Lexington, it’s simply tradition.

Lexington is nestled in the western part of North Carolina’s Piedmont region, with U.S. Highway 64 running through its center and time-honored barbeque sauce running through its veins. This town, whose spirit partially centers around the classic American cuisine, found it suitable to pay tribute with an annual barbeque festival. Mr. Joe Sink, Jr. founded the festival in 1984, unknowingly launching a ritual that would become one of the Country’s most popular food festivals. Upon its conception, the first festival provided some 3,000 pounds of barbeque to approximately 30,000 people. This year, the event celebrated its 30th anniversary by welcoming over 200,000 visitors to uptown Lexington. I, fortunately, was one of those guests.

On Saturday, October 26th, 2013, two fellow barbeque-lovers and I traveled on Highway 64 from Elon to the Mecca of barbeque. My excitement was through the roof as I could hardly wait to get my share of pulled pork, coleslaw, and corn bread. Seeing as the festival is always held on one of the last two Saturdays in October, the drive is sure to be a scenic one, and indeed it was. The prime time of the season when leaves are transforming into their deep reds, oranges, and yellows, provided for a beautiful and picturesque drive.

When we approached the outskirts of the town, it was evident that this was going to be a crowded, congested affair. Not yet near the center of town, people already roamed the middle of the streets, forcing cars to pull over and park in makeshift lots which seemed to be sitting directly on top of people’s front yards. We paid $3 to park, got out of the car, and were immediately swallowed into the flow of people heading towards what we could only assume was uptown Lexington. We passed multitudes of people handing out flyers, menus, free energy drinks, all of which I took but then immediately regretted; I should have brought a bigger bag.

Finally, we reached what seemed to be the beginning of the festival’s route. Tents, booths, and vendors lined the streets and side roads of uptown Lexington. A town of normally 19,000 was now, somehow, hosting over 200,000 people. To say there was very little elbowroom would be an understatement. Quickly overwhelmed, I decided to look up a map of the festival on my phone for guidance. I stared in awe at the diagram that showed nine blocks of over 400 exhibitors that lay ahead of us. Six stages were also noted on the map, soon to be graced by country superstars such as Darius Rucker, Joe Nichols, and Brett Eldridge, along with many more talented artists. My heart sped up at the thrill of seeing Darius Rucker perform, for free no less! I made a mental note to make it to Stage 1 by 3:15.

We walked along N. Main Street, passing vendor after vendor. The merchandise was what you might expect from any typical town festival: handcrafted jewelry, hand-knitted scarves, artisanal bath soaps, and carved wooden bowls. Something there seemed to be significantly more of, however, was pigs. Not actual pigs, but pig-themed paraphernalia. Aprons with pigs on them, ceramic pig figurines, pig outfits for your dog, even Bibles with pigs on them. Anything you can think of, I assure you, was at the Lexington Barbeque Festival and was undoubtedly decorated with pigs. Spread throughout the town, if you were to wander down the side streets as I did, you could also see giant colorful pigs, part of a public art initiative called “Pigs in the City”. These oversized pigs were made primarily of fiberglass and were all painted by local artists. My personal favorites were “Swine Lake”, dressed as a ballerina; “Girl Snout”, the Girl Scout pig; and “Rain or Swine”, a pig accompanied by his very own umbrella.

So, we made our way through the festival, pig by pig, hoping that we would soon find the kind of pig we came for: barbequed. Every few feet, we encountered wafts of delicious smelling food. A woman would pass with a savory Bloomin Onion, then a man with roasted corn on the cob. We were salivating and starving, searching desperately for some highly-acclaimed Lexington ‘que. But everywhere we looked we were met with the usual fried delicacies (and the unusual, including, no joke, fried butter) instead of pulled pork and Brunswick stew. I am inclined to say that no such food tent even existed at the Festival, for I never saw one. Nevertheless, we voyaged onward through crowds of people and past countless attractions.

After having spent the majority of the day wandering and exploring uptown Lexington, we decided to call it a day and head out. Don’t fret though; I had not yet aborted my mission to find authentic Lexington barbeque. Perhaps it would be better anyways, I thought, to stop at a small local joint instead of elbowing my way in line at one of the tents (if one even existed). So we made our way back to the car, after having a brief panic attack over forgetting where we parked, and left the mass organized chaos that was the Lexington Barbeque Festival.

Back on Highway 64, I stopped for gas and kept my eyes peeled for any small barbeque joints that caught my attention. Not too far out, right on the side of US Hwy 64, stands Randy’s Restaurant, serving Lexington Style Barbeque and Country Cookin’. From the looks of it, an old brick building with a low roof and few windows, you wouldn’t think much of the place. Indeed, it’s not the fanciest of establishments, but holds it’s own in terms of quality food and service. We were immediately seated amongst small families and groups of co-workers who seemed to be on their lunch break. I made the assumption that this was a local joint, frequented by folks who wanted quick, quality food at a reasonable price. And reasonable it was; I ordered the pulled pork barbeque plate with coleslaw, green beans, and cornbread, all for six dollars. At last the time had come, the meal for which I had been waiting.

A barbeque aficionado of sorts, I rated this meal high on my list. The coleslaw, I ordered white as opposed to red, was finely chopped and had an even flavor profile between sweet and savory, not too vinegary yet not too mayonnaisey. The green beans were reminiscent of home, cooked for hours with bacon and onion, and reminded me of some of the best BBQ I’ve had from my native Atlanta, Georgia. The pulled pork was the most foreign thing on my plate, for I have never encountered barbeque sauce with such a thin and vinegary consistency. Iconic of this region in North Carolina, the standard is a vinegar-based “red sauce” seasoned with vinegar, ketchup, and pepper. It was unlike the thicker, sweeter barbeque sauce that I’m used to, but tasty all the same. I devoured the meal, having worked up an appetite from the day’s excitement, and was finally satisfied with my Lexington BBQ experience.

The Annual Barbeque Festival was a spectacle of a lifetime, a spectacle that has been recognized the world over for its excellence. The event has been listed as one of the Top Ten Food Festivals in the U.S. by Travel and Leisure Magazine, as one of the Top Ten Great Places to Celebrate Food by USA Today!, and as one of the 1000 Places to See in the USA and Canada Before You Die in the book based on the best-selling series. Needless to say, the Annual Barbeque Festival survives off and thrives on the faithful tradition of Lexington Barbeque; a tradition that started a hundred years ago and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. As any connoisseur would know, Lexington truly is the best of the best; it’s barbeque, and it’s festival, are legendary.

Starry Nights at Mezzaluna

By Anna Mokas and Taylor Hill, 2013

Of all the eateries in Hendersonville, something specifically drew us to Mezzaluna. Part of this could have been the enchanting name of the restaurant (which translates to “half-moon” in English), the enticing aroma of baking bread and Italian spices emitting from the doors that relentlessly teased our empty stomachs, or the seemingly satisfying menu that was displayed on the outer windows. Whether or not it was one or a mixture of these things was irrelevant because, regardless of cause, our appetites were about to lead us to severely scrumptious Italian cuisine.

Walking into Mezzaluna, it was difficult not to take notice to the mural of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” displayed largely on the expansive back wall. Adorning the painting were beautiful brass light fixtures, which were a reoccurring theme throughout the restaurant. The ceilings were lined with an arrangement of dull pewter, emerald green and blood orange rafters that merged fittingly with the surrounding rustic features. More art pieces lined the walls, while classical jazz created a soothing ambiance, despite the influx of more diners coming in to partake of dinner.

The two of us noticed our obvious fortune with having arrived at the restaurant at 5:30, because in the minutes following, droves of hungry patrons arrived simultaneously. By then, we had already been seated comfortably and were given warm, fresh rolls of bread with our choice of homemade garlic and herb butter that we quickly devoured. Upon first observing the menu, we noticed that the prices were higher than the places that we had been accustomed to dining at so far on the trip; the entrees averaging at around $17. After much perusing and browsing however, one of us settled for the classic calzone with Italian sausage and pepperoni, while the other ordered kale salad with a side order of spaghetti and marinara sauce.

The kale salad was fresh and delicious, dressed with crunchy pine nuts, juicy tomato and a tangy lemon vinaigrette that unified all of the flavors beautifully. It was the perfect healthy choice that also had a kick of zest that was hard to miss. The side of spaghetti was warm and its sauce was pleasantly sweet, deeming a scraping of the bowl necessary.

Calzones are hard to do wrong, and Mezzaluna hit the nail on the head. This particular one was bloated with thick and melted parmesan and ricotta cheese, spicy pepperoni and perfectly seasoned Italian sausage that was oozing with a blend of glistening grease and herbs. The entire thing reeked of fresh basil and good times, and was not a problem to consume. Although not the most healthy option, it was extremely delectable and filling, it remnants fitting perfectly inside the to-go box.

The waiting staff was polite and managed the large crowd of guests that surrounded us with poise and grace. It was evident that they were used to appeasing larger crowds on the weekends, which shows how popular a restaurant they are, and for good reason. The meals were respectively $9 for the calzone (one of the cheaper items) and roughly $13 for the kale salad and side of pasta. Our pockets were not too damaged because we chose to take part in some of the some of the more inexpensive options, but we are sure that the heftily priced options were well worth the dollars.

In all, Mezzaluna represents the perfect cohesion of striking inner décor, delicate ambiance and heartwarming and flavorsome Italian cuisine that aims to please, and does just that.

Visit Mezzaluna’s site here!

The Valley Court Riverside Motel: A Review

By Taylor Hill, 2013

Snuggled at the foot of Chimney Rock mountain, sits the small and locally owned Valley Court Riverside Motel. A tiny and very quaint establishment, the motel is easy to miss as it sits on Highway 64, along with many other small buildings, in close proximity of Chimney Rock Village, which is where most tourists come to eat, peruse souvenirs and prepare to hike the mountain. The location of the motel was perfect though, given its nearness to Bat Cave and Lake Lure, and provided us with a stunning view of the mountain right in the backyard. The motel also sits on the Rocky Broad River, and luckily my teammates and I were able to obtain a room that had a window view of the river. Guests are allowed to walk down to the river, where there are tables and chairs for when the owners have barbeques and cookouts. The stay costs us a little over $100, which resulted in each of us paying around $25.

Our room was very small, with wooden walls, carpeted floors and low beds. The tacky floral sheets that adorned the beds gave the already dimly lit room an outdated look and were not very pleasing to the eye. The bathroom was a comfortable size, however the showerhead was oddly short which presented us with discomfort as we each had to stoop when taking our showers. There was a small box television available for entertainment and a small lamp on the nightstand which was placed in between our respective beds.

Sleeping in our beds was a bit uncomfortable due to the cold and a lack of thick sheets.  I would not advise travelers to stay in the hotel during the cooler months, because the rooms are only equipped with small, portable heaters and there is little insulation within the walls. This made for an unstable night’s rest with much tossing and fidgeting in order to find warmth somewhere underneath the considerably thin sheets, but I am sure the stay is more enjoyable in the warmer months.

We spent one night at the Riverside Motel, and I will again applaud it on its location, which is conveniently between Lake Lure and Bat Cave, two towns that we had to research and travel to. Also, the surrounding landforms are stunning and will unleash the nature lover in any of the welcomed guest. Even with those benefits however, I would not stay at the motel a second time if given the chance, due to its shortcomings.

*To check out more of our day near Lake Lure, check out my travelogue “The Winding Road to Lake Lure” 

river riversidemo

Crossroads Grill

By Taylor Hill, 2013

Curb appeal is generally a word used to describe the extent of aesthetic charm that a place of business has. Typically, restaurants with curb appeal are inviting, with alluring characteristics that are obvious and hard to miss. With that being said, I wasn’t exactly expecting a five star bistro as we were heading towards the outskirts of Taylorsville, maneuvering between rolling hills and extensive plains, but I wasn’t ready for the unadorned and uninviting building that we were to come across. I guess the surrounding land was an innate distraction for visitors coming to Crossroads, allowing them to avert their eyes from the dull charm of the grill.

Crossroads is a very small, one story white brick building with tiny rectangular windows sporadically lining the very top of the walls. Inside, there are four rows of small tables for guests to dine at, along with a small television mounted on the wall for viewing pleasure. The floors were not as clean as I would have liked, and the tables were a bit small for our party of four, but we were starving travelers and did not mind. As we were seated, a small older woman came to take our drink orders and provided us with a menu. Crossroads was indeed your typical grill, serving all the southern favorites such as hushpuppies, pulled pork, biscuits and gravy, and sweet tea among other things. Trying not to let my hunger get the best of me, I settled for the bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries and a sweat tea. My travel partners each decided to get a different side so that we could all partake in the options Crossroads had to offer.

Waiting for the food, we couldn’t help but notice the trophies and certificates of local students that were plastered along the walls, as well as pictures highlighting the history of Crossroads. This made me enjoy the neighborly environment within the grill, understanding that it was a residential spot that had good food reviews, and I would see why soon enough.

The wait for our food was average, not particularly speedy, but also not infuriatingly slow. I was aware that small grills such as this do not have a bevy of cooks at their disposal and the actual food made me disregard any wait. My burger came out and was as juicy and succulent as I could have hoped, with fresh lettuce and tomato dressing the bacon and cheesy beef. The beef itself was cooked perfectly, not excessively charred and scorched, but enough heat was used for the perfect amount of time to allow it to retain its tender and luscious quality. Their acclaimed onion rings, which my partner Anna ordered, were crisp and freshly hot, but the hushpuppies and fries were depressingly regular, the fries being slightly thinner that I usually take a liking to. However, my burger was the show stopper, showing up all of the other dishes on our table. In addition to that scrumptious behemoth, the best thing about the experience, which would undoubtedly cause me to return if I am ever in the area, was the very cheap pricing, my meal only costing about six dollars.

As we left, stomachs full and protruding, I turned to take a photo of the grill for my records, still hating its outside appearance, but loving the feel of my content appetite. I would urge future visitors to not be disillusioned by its lackluster outer and inner appeal, and be aware that it is a small old-fashioned grill, but will steal you away with its hearty, flavorsome burgers and delicious, golden onion rings.

*For another perspective of Crossroads, check out Jeff Flitter’s travelogue “Three Cities, Three Meals”.


Do What You Know Do What You Love

By Dustin Swope and Anne Marie Glen, 2013

Selling pumpkins and strawberry shortcakes- the two don’t exactly shout “match made in Heaven,” but one North Carolina matriarch and her family have found a way to make it work. Following yard-stake signs for a pumpkin patch right along Highway 64 between Apex and Pittsboro, we broke north on your standard country road, weaving through peaceful wooded areas between farms, nurseries, and homes. Just under ten minutes later, we were pulling off the east side of the road into “Ragan & Holly’s Pumpkin Patch,” run by the Hopeland family.  Not particularly hungry, but our interest piqued by the state-fair food truck enjoying at least as much business as the actual pumpkin patch, we strolled over to meet the woman we soon knew as Mrs. Jean Hopeland.

A well-kept, smart, and sincere woman by appearance, Jean Hopeland is, by at least one account, the area’s resident Jane Lynch. On this day, Jean was looking comfortable behind the counter of the food truck, teaching her niece the tricks of the trade and clocking in some quality bonding time. Curiosity was knocking impatiently, so we had to ask Mrs. Hopeland: What was a state-fair food truck doing on a farm? Apparently, it was the intersection of good business sense and a childhood love. Mrs. Hopeland was selling beverages, fresh apples, and jars of her homemade strawberry jams, but the pride of her food truck was her strawberry shortcake.

Jean shared with us warm memories of cooking and taking meals with family. She told us about the trials and rewards of strawberry growing. She was laid-back, happy to talk to us at length and answer all our questions, an attitude you just don’t see in the city. Jean is living on country time. The pumpkin patch itself was not bustling, but it was bright with the familiar colors and sights of Autumn in the country. There were several tractors for decoration, and colors of all sizes and even colors (white and green pumpkins were a new experience).

We had never heard of pumpkin farming in the area, though, which was what made the set-up so curious. Mrs. Hopeland took clear pride in her baked goods, preserves, and of course in her strawberries – the last of which was probably easier to brag about than not! But Jean was understanding enough when we asked her how she liked farming pumpkins, wearing our agricultural ignorance on our sleeves. Alas, she reveals, the Hopeland family does not grow the pumpkins sold at the Hopeland Family Pumpkin Patch. If they did, there probably wouldn’t still be a Hopeland Family Pumpkin Patch today.

The pumpkins are outsourced from Ohio, where pumpkin farming is actually lucrative. Jean decided to incorporate the pumpkin patch into what she enjoys – growing strawberries, cooking with strawberries, and spending time with her family – and let synergy take over.  It was hard not to envy Mrs. Hopeland. Between the “seasonal” plot of land now occupied by pumpkins, the food truck that apparently truly does take in business at fairs and festivals, and of course the family farmlands, each generation of the Hopeland clan was having fun, making a comfortable living, yet never farther than a short stroll away from the woman that started it all.

The pumpkins rested on haybales, wooden pallets, and right on the ground, and the patch wouldn’t be there forever, with winter slowly approaching. But the little community surrounding the pumpkin patch takes life as it comes, setting up shop when the leaves turn and moving on when the air starts to get cold. Jean Hopeland goes back to her strawberry gardens in the woods off Route 64. Next year, when the foliage begins blossoming into orange again, the cycle will repeat and the pumpkin patch and Mrs. Hopeland will return to share North Carolina’s bounty with curious passers-by like ourselves.

Pittsboro Roadhouse

 By Dustin Swope, 2013

Opening its doors in 1979 on the corner of Thompson and Hillsboroguh, the general store became almost as iconic of Pittsboro as the Chatam County Courthouse. It moved to its current location adjacent to the courthouse in 1994, suspended business in 2008, and reopened as the Pittsboro Roadhouse and General Store in 2012 under new management.

I never had the opportunity to visit the General Store as it once stood, but I found the refurbished Roadhouse tastefully done, if a little bold. The outside aesthetics seemed reminiscent of the independent, family-owned cafe, but inside is a very different feel. The floor-to-ceiling mirrored windows and interior selections make the restaurant feel like the exit station for Disney’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster. Clean, polished quality, but not of the same charm as the rest of Pittsboro, so there’s a sense that the restaurant is from both a time forgotten and a place unfamiliar.

So, atmosphere aside, I was ready to check out the food that had apparently kept the restaurant alive and thriving since its last grand re-opening. The menu was extensive, but certainly not as offensive as some kitchen-sink menus I’ve found. My team picked a few appetizers to get a sense of which “baskets” the Roadhouse put its eggs as a restaurant.  The basil-steamed mussels and garlic bread were tasty, but pretty modest in their portions, so we remained hopeful that loyalists actually came here for dinner, not just for snackfare or something to soak beer up with.

I want to be as fair to the Roadhouse as possible, so I should mention that I was not as open-minded in my selection as I usually am. Any other day, the Smoked-Salmon Tortellini in Garlic Cream Sauce would’ve been calling my name. It’s also easy to imagine that the locally sourced Beef and Bison Deluxe Burger knocks it out of the park for 9 out of 10 patrons. Alas, it was Dinner we were there for, and I had hit the meat motherload in the Asheboro Fall Festival that day. At that point, I just needed to remember what vegetables could be more than just a condiment or afterthought.

Luckily, the Roadhouse was ready to accommodate. I went with the Vegetable Ragout with Feta and Balsamic Drizzle. I opted for the grilled chicken breast tender toppers, just for the sake of role reversal – Protein needs to be learn how to share the stage every once in a while.

The ragout is pictured online as one of the dishes the Roadhouse brags on (See below, pic one). I managed to snap a quick one before I dove in, you can see how the execution actually looks (See below, pic two). Pretty spot-on if you ask me.

Visually, this dish was easy on the eyes. When I actually eat my greens to appease my mom in spirit, they’re usually raw or self-prepared, so flare isn’t really a factor. It might not seem like much, but I really appreciated the quilt of veggie-ribbons. It wasn’t like the chef was trying to disguise the carrots, squash, onions, and bell peppers in the dish; it felt more like the chef having fun without letting the patron’s expectations confine.

The chicken tenders were too salty to let any other seasoning shine through, but I’ll admit that my taste buds sang regardless. The contrast against the sweet roasted tomato base made this add-on for the best, albeit an opportunity squandered. The balsamic glaze added depth to the vegetable base, but what I really like was its aesthetic contribution. Without the glaze, the dish was mostly a sea of warm reds and yellows. The dark streaks let my eyes detect detail and nuance in the dish visually, not to mention a charming mimic of grillmarks that were otherwise absent from the soft-cooked vegetables.

Unfortunately, my fond memories of the Roadhouse Raguot stop here. It’s not that I ran into anything I hated about the dish, it genuinely just wasn’t very ‘memorable.’ The chickpeas and squash added nothing here besides volume, and the decorative herb (presumed basil) apparently didn’t have an opportunity to flavor the pot. The peppers and onions were sweet and properly cooked, but I couldn’t help but notice how the ragout as a whole tasted exactly like what I cook myself around the house. Not to sell myself short, here, but I know that I don’t do anything in the way of seasoning my greens. I’ll give the chef the benefit of the doubt, but the vegetables certainly didn’t see any special attention that I could taste.

There is, of course, the just-thicker-than-broth broth at the base of the vegetable mound, but there was no way to engage with it. I could smell the sweetness of tomato from it, but the vegetables appeared to have been plated after the broth. Aside from being nearly impossible to eat with any sort of grace or efficiently, the vegetable ribbons made for a poor vehicle for the flavors of the broth. I suppose not everything “quilted” is a” quicker pick’er-up’er.” Lesson learned.

While I wasn’t entirely impressed with this dish, I was thankful for it. The Roadhouse Ragout was a graciously light meal to end on considering the surplus the day’s previous fare had me in. When I had cleaned my plate, I was neither comatose nor guilt-ridden, which implies that it could have been worse. My time at the Pittsboro Roadhouse was interesting enough that I would send friends and fellow day-trip’ers their way – I’d just push them towards the Tortellini and a slice of house-made cake.



Jenkins Antiques

By Noah Manneville, 2013

Along the route to Williamston, North Carolina by way of Highway 64, a house stands quietly alongside the narrow two-lane road. A large display reads, ‘Jenkins Antiques’ in cursive, and from one look at the building one is struck with an irrepressible idea that more than just history is housed inside.

The owners, Ronnie and Becky Jenkins, have owned the building for 28 years, having bought the house in 1985 and remodeled it from its previous usage as a bar and restaurant. Though they’ve owned it longer than I have been alive, the peg-built antebellum farmhouse has survived for many more generations than nearly any building in the area. It was erected in 1857, and survived through the American Civil War. Perhaps most astounding — and a testament to the love the Jenkins have for the house — the building remains in its original condition today, aside from minor renovations made to the interior by the Jenkins’ over the years. With over 10,000 square feet of space, the antique shop houses thousands of items spanning the past two centuries, and some items dated to even more ancient times. In a move of brilliance, the Jenkins decided to house goods on consignment; people bring in antiques they want sold, and for a fee, the Jenkins’ exhibit the goods.  When they sell, Jenkins Antiques receives a percentage of the profit. Often the antiques come in from professional appraisers, which ensure that the antique shop stays full of unique and interesting items that come from around the area.

Digging through the displays, I found an American army infantry helmet used during the Vietnam War, a Ku Klux Klan token from the early 20th century used to signify membership, a bottle of bourbon in the shape of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head, and a string of Chinese coins and small tools that were remarkably dated to the 1st century CE. Unlike some antique stores, the objects on display were not tossed about in an unorganized fashion. Instead, they were arranged in precise aisles and designated areas that reminded me of a scene in an interior decorating magazine. Coca-Cola bottles and mason jars were set against a backdrop of lace with a soft light casting shadows on the objects, and for a moment it seemed I was in a coastal cottage, not wandering about an old antique shop. The neatness of the place was certainly a result of loving care, and, after nearly three decades, the expertise of the owners.

When I first opened the door to Jenkins Antiques, Becky Jenkins was measuring two boat oars that a man had brought in that morning. Ronnie, her husband, was reclining listening to headphones.   Becky’s initial assumption was that the oars, which were 16-feet long well-worn and splitting, had possibly been used on slave ships that brought Africans to North Carolina to work on cotton and tobacco fields. Ronnie removed his headphones to hear the hypothesis, and nodding his head in approval, returned to his music. Ronnie was listening to Dixie 105.7, a local country music station. He used to listen to classic rock from the ‘60s, but needed a change. Becky doesn’t like country, so instead of playing the music on the speakers in the store, Ronnie is forced to keep the music to himself).

It seems that without trying, the Jenkins’ have become antique experts by nature. After Ronnie retired, the Jenkins made the antique shop a full-time gig. Becky created a website for the store, which is constantly updated whenever new items are sold or brought in. Samurai swords are on display that their son, now married, contributed when he decided he no longer had the space or desire to keep them. There is furniture all around the house labeled and tagged with prices, ready to be sold at a moment’s notice. A box of objects brought in from a friend to be put on consignment sits in prominent display near the front door — the friend is an appraiser using some of his most sensational antiques to help pay for cancer treatment.

It would seem that after two centuries of history, the house itself has adopted a personality of its own. When I ascended the stairs to the empty second floor, the house seemed to greet me, creaking as if in memory of every step that came before mine. Perhaps the antiquity of the house itself has rubbed off on the Jenkins’, or perhaps the love for the job has brought the old house back to life. It seems that there is a symbiosis between Becky, Ronnie and the old farmhouse that can only come from prolonged contact and loving care. It is not something that can be understated, nor replicated. It is a true display of what a home can be, and what a homeowner can aspire to become.


Garden Spot Cafe and Bar

By Noah Manneville, 2013

At midday on the Friday in October when we arrived in Plymouth, the town seemed to be at a standstill. Every door was shut and locked, and the only signs of life were outside the town hall and the police precinct. We had stopped in downtown Plymouth to find a bite to eat, but were disappointed to find the town empty. Just as we were about to leave to find a fast food joint, we passed a building with a sign reading “The Garden Spot.” I peered in through the window and noticed a young man looking back at me. Just as I was about to break the awkward eye contact by walking to the car, the man strode over to the door, opened it, and said we should come back in a few minutes when they opened. Instead of making us stand on the front porch while the restaurant prepared to open, he asked us what we were doing in Plymouth, and suggested we check out the Port ‘O Plymouth maritime museum down the road. After wandering through the museum (which was closed, except for the pier where a replica of a Civil War era ironside was moored) we returned to The Garden Spot and took a seat by the window.

The restaurant was cozy- I faced a mural of a garden scene that featured quotes encouraging good living. The young man introduced himself as Hunter Askew, a native to Plymouth and a waiter at The Garden Spot. After taking our orders, we sat enjoying sweet teas while scanning the quiet street outside the window.

Askew, wearing an Orange Slice soda tee shirt, answered all our questions about Plymouth. After learning we were writers, he offered to introduce us to his father Dennis, the manager of the Domtar Paper Mill, which is the largest employer in Eastern North Carolina. Shortly after this conversation, our food arrived. Both plates looked delicious. I had fried flounder and grilled lemon pepper scallops with a side of red skin potato salad and hush puppies. The cocktail sauce and the tartar sauce were both homemade, which added to my delight. My classmate, with whom I was traveling, ordered the flounder as well, with grilled shrimp and fried okra. The Southern comfort food was filling and flavorful, and despite being a Northerner and having post-unhealthy meal guilt instilled in my very psyche, I had to stop myself from ordering seconds.

After eating, we decided to tour the upstairs bar. Exiting the café, we took a left and turned the corner. A fried oyster was drawn on the wall next to a stairwell that led to the second floor of the building. At the top of the stairs was a small art gallery, and past that the walls opened up to the Garden Spot Oyster Bar. Grabbing two seats at the empty bar, we were greeted by Tim, a local to Plymouth who had spent most of his life in New Jersey. Being the only customers at the time, Tim struck up a conversation with us. I told him where we were from, and he reciprocated. I ordered a dozen oysters, which Tim shucked at the bar while telling us about his personal friendship with First Lady Michelle Obama that had formed while he was bartending in New Jersey. “She sure loved to dance,” Tim said. “She was a great dancer.”

Locals began to trickle into the bar around six o’clock, at which point I pushed back from the bar, satisfied with a belly full of seafood and beer. Before the room filled, we paid the tab and thanked Tim and Hunter. Though Plymouth itself seemed asleep, by the time we left the Garden Spot bar it was as lively as any big city restaurant. I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps I had not given people in Plymouth as much credit as they deserved. Though the streets were empty, the people in the Garden Spot seemed at home.

Crowder’s Forge

By Noah Manneville, 2013

Warren Crowder is a local- not a native- to Columbia, North Carolina. Though he went to high school in Columbia, he is a self-proclaimed nomad who spends most of his time traveling around the state to improve his metallurgy skills. A blacksmith by trade, Crowder has been working with metal for the past four years but has had an interest in the art of metalworking all his life. He takes particular pride in his tools — he keeps a plethora of hammers of all sizes, tongs, calipers, and other tools— none too complex, but all necessary. A self-proclaimed pyromaniac, Crowder says, “It isn’t fun unless it’s at least 1400 degrees.”

Crowder began his official training at the College of Albemarle in Manteo, North Carolina. He studied welding technology under enamellist Catherine Osgood and blacksmith Randy Hodges, a member of the Kill Devil Hills Cooperative. When asked why he chose metalworking, Crowder replied “It’s a passion. I just hope I can eat off it these days.” Though he wasn’t forging anything at the time I met him, Crowder is constantly reexamining and reworking his old items, and pens new ideas on paper before even lighting a fire.

Unlike other artists, Crowder does not focus on any specific region with his art. He is inspired by myths from all over the world, and his work reflects this interest — most of his pieces are based on mythology. An impressive work of Crowder’s is an intricately formed wolf’s head, meant to represent a kamui, an ancient Japanese god worshipped by the ancestral inhabitants of the Japanese islands. Crowder explained that the original worshippers of the nature gods were small, hairy, blue-eyed residents of the northern Japanese islands, much different in stature and culture from the current Japanese majority. Crowder has also formed a magnificent bust of Odin, the most powerful character in the Norse pantheon of gods. True to myth, Crowder’s Odin has one eye, and on the back of the head, ancient runes spell out Odin’s name. Crowder has also drawn from African and Arabian myths, which have inspired him to create a bust of a legendary Benin king and a sculpture of the Eye of Ra. Nowadays Crowder is expanding his repertoire to encompass enamel work, including shell enameling (much harder than pure metalwork because of the delicacy of the shells) and jewelry. He posts photos of his work online, and works in conjunction with other architects at the Kill Devil Hills Cooperative, though he is not a member. His work is a labor of love, one that he has made into a career.

When I met Crowder at the Scuppernong River Festival in Columbia on October 12, 2013, he was seated behind a small, unadorned table with his works on display. When I asked him about the story behind a certain piece, he would jump into the tale with enthusiasm and vigor. He seemed to take great pride in the fact that his art was keeping the tale of these displaced people alive. I realized that this was not just the case for the kamui; Crowder’s art is helping keep the very skill of blacksmithing alive. In an age where factories produce everything we rely on, the idea that forging something out of metal with no purpose other than beauty is an idea that we, the products of an electronic age, rarely comprehend. Crowder is one of the few who understands the beauty in a solid piece of raw metal, and by extracting that beauty with fire and hammer, he proves himself an innovator.