Mezzaluna II in Hendersonville

By: Anna Mokas, 2013

Traveling to Hendersonville was a breath of fresh air. Hendersonville was much more city-like than any of the other towns we visited on our trips. The town is centered on main street, and the side roads are where many visitors park. It was a Saturday night, so the streets had lots of people and were a busy place to be. I could feel the sense of weekend excitement from the smiles on people’s faces and the slow pace they walked on the sidewalks. This town had many shops and restaurants, many of which seemed to have costumers. A few stores on the mains street closed at 5pm, which seemed odd since it was a Saturday night. I would say that this was one of Hendersonville’s flaws, since the town could get even more business if all of its shops stayed open later on weekend nights.

There were many owners walking their dogs on the sidewalks, adding even more life to the streets. Even horses were roaming the streets, either leading people in carriages, or being showed-off by their owners. There were multiple street performers playing music with each other, creating these makeshift bands whom sang, and played guitars and harmonicas. This town had a friendly vibe that made you not worry about your safety one bit. There were multiple bear sculptures along the main street, and each one was painted in different, vibrant colors. I assumed that the bear is Hendersonville’s mascot since it seemed like such a prominent figure in the town.

Taylor and I went to Mezzaluna for dinner, since it seemed enticing when we were looking in from the window, and we were eager to eat some delicious Italian food. This beautiful restaurant was one big room, with Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting displayed on the back wall. It became very busy around dinnertime so we were lucky that we came around 5:30pm. Since I am a vegetarian, I ordered the kale salad and a side of pasta. I couldn’t have been happier with my decision since they executed the meal so wonderfully. We began our meal with a warm basket of bread and homemade garlic and herb butter that we quickly devoured. The kale salad was fresh and delicious, while the spaghetti was warm and its sauce was so yummy and on the sweeter side. I wasn’t planning on eating the whole side of pasta, but found that I was scraping the bowl for more pasta and sauce. I definitely left Mezzaluna with a full stomach and a smile. The waiting staff was polite and managed the large crowd of dinners very gracefully. I could tell that they were used to having large crowds on the weekends, which shows how popular a restaurant they are.

As Taylor and I walked down the street, we were drawn by a sweet smell of brownies that led us to a quaint candy shop. This shop had lovely fudges, caramel corn and ice cream to satisfy any sweet desire the costumer might have. Many families swarmed the store as the kids scavenged for what their mouths watered for and what their parents would allow them to eat. I too felt like a child in this store, and got chocolates for the ride home, which were just the perfect treat after my scrumptious dinner. The sweet shop was a little too crowded to walk around, but there was a bench that we could sit on until there was more room to look around. I will always remember Hendersonville fondly because of that complete and decadent meal, as well as the friendly vibe I got from the town’s people and shops. Hendersonville proved to be unique since it contained so many different cultures, types of people, and provided a very welcoming place for people to enjoy. For more information about Hendersonville, visit there the town’s website:

A Review of Piccolo’s

Anna Mokas, 2013

There was quite a crowd at Piccolo’s on the day I dined there, mostly because there was an antique car show in town going on. Piccolo’s was recommended to myself and a group of my classmates by one of the Farmer’s Market owners across the street, as a great restaurant to eat at, which means that it was also crowded due to popularity. Piccolo’s is a casual Italian restaurant on one of Lenoir’s main streets. At this restaurant, you order at the front counter and then find a picnic table or booth to wait at for your homemade Italian meal. What makes Piccolo’s truly special is that it is decorated with fifties-themed décor, making each diner feel like they are eating sixty years in the past. This large room is graced with antiques such as an old gas pump, giving it the fifties vibe that created a physical time warp for all of its diners. The tables even had old tomato cans to elevate the pizzas on each table. Piccolo’s also had their whole restaurant decorated for Halloween during the first week of October, which combatted with the already fifties themed room. There were both skeletons and tin posters hanging on the walls, creating a blend of the past and the present. Also present, close to the seating area, was their famous brick oven in which they cook all of their homemade pizzas.

I ordered the veggie pizza and it was fresh, warm and doughy. It had a savory red sauce, sautéed spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes, and warm gooey mozzarella. I ended up eating the entire individual pizza since it was that scrumptious and hard to stop eating. I was very pleased by how well the brick oven cooked this pizza, since it was doughy but not too mushy, and cooked through. If I ever find myself in Lenoir again, I will be sure to stop in for another pizza pie. If you are looking for a good Italian meal in the foothills of North Carolina, check out Piccolo’s. For more information, visit Piccolo’s Facebook page:


Dunes Burger

By Ja’Mei Bess, 2013

I patiently waited for the slow mini van to chug on by as I pulled into the parking lot beside the entrance I meant to turn into. Having had a long day of horrible GPS directions, I found myself not caring. I chose to stay put in the lot and walk over to the window. Little did I know this would take away from part of my experience. I stood waiting at the window as a lively blonde woman came up to take my order. As I placed my order for the Dune Cheeseburger I quickly realized that I would have to awkwardly wait by the window for my order to come, because of where I parked. Meanwhile, everyone else sat in their cars because that was the custom. When the food was ready, she would bring the food to the customer.

Since my driving partner, better known as Bubba, complained that I had a tendency to eat on the go (though that is the purpose of fast food) we decided to sit in the car and enjoy the burger. I have to say it was what I would call a pretty darn good burger. First of all, I was eating real beef, which was great. It was a bit heavy on the mustard but it was still good. I don’t know what type of cheese they used. It wasn’t cheddar. Whatever it was, it made it even better. The fries were covered in what tasted like fresh sea salt and ground pepper. The seasonings gave it a bit of a kick. The fries were crispier than I usually prefer, but your common food lover would’ve enjoyed them. I’m not going to lie, I still say Five Guys has the best “fast food” burgers that I’ve ever had, but this was a pretty strong second – minus the mustard.

Front Porch Cafe

By: Dannie Cooper, 2013

On the third day of our travels along Route 64, we woke up in Plymouth and drove out to Manteo. Finding ourselves without caffeine and a little hungry, we decided to stop somewhere in Manteo.  One of our travel mates had heard of the Front Porch Cafe, so we thought we’d give it a try.  Unfortunately, the address listed on their website did not exist.  Luckily, we stumbled across the actual location as we drove past our hotel. 

I liked the place the instant I walked in.  It felt like a festive, locally-owned Starbucks. The room felt like it was lit with natural light – not too dim and not too bright – and it was very spacious, with a variety of seating options. The walls were shelves packed with their wares, including local coffees, coffee syrups, teas, wines (including select Vineyards on the Scuppernong labels), Island-made jams, artistic mugs, tea kettles and greeting cards. The radio played a selection of popular songs, and not just the Top 40 on repeat. The staff was super friendly.  Overall, the place had that nice local feeling without making me feel like the tourist or outsider. In fact, when we stopped in the next day on our way out, the barista recognized us, which added to the place’s great feel. 

I ordered a plain bagel with butter and a hot chocolate.  The bagel was nicely toasted, but not burnt, and the butter was applied in a nice amount – not too greasy, but not too dry.  My first sip of hot chocolate was amazing.  It was the perfect temperature, and I was very happy to not have to worry about burning my tongue.  The best part was really that the hot chocolate didn’t have an aftertaste to it.  Bitter aftertaste is the reason I have a love-hate relationship with most hot chocolates, but the Front Porch Cafe’s hot chocolate was all love.

Yet what really stood out to me as I walked around was the bra-ha-ha entries at the back of the room.  According to one of the staff members, the bras are part of a national bra-ha-ha which is meant to raise breast cancer awareness.  All of the bras are made by local students of all levels and are meant to raise awareness within the community.  For me, this was just another aspect of the Front Porch Cafe that illustrated their friendly, local charm.

For more information on the Front Porch Cafe, please visit:

Tarboro Calvary Episcopal Churchyard

By: Dannie Cooper, 2013

On our way home, we stopped in Tarboro to visit the Tarboro Calvary Episcopal Church.  One of my travel mates had seen pictures of the cemetery online and wanted to explore it in person.  I didn’t have many expectations going to the church yard.  I figured it was another old church with parishioners buried on the grounds. 

My feelings changed as I walked around the grounds of the church.  The looming flora and fauna of all varieties made the yard feel more like a historic garden, with tombstones marking lives as moments in time, all part of a bigger picture.  I learned that Reverend Joseph Blount-Cheshire, the founder of the church in 1833, was not just a rector; he was also an acclaimed botanist. Many of the trees that he planted would not typically survive in North Carolina. By grafting foreign trees onto native plants, Blount-Cheshire created a unique garden for his beloved congregation. History was replete in the churchyard- certain family names reappeared over and over again, showing continuous lineages of parishioners.  Sculpted lambs sat atop small stones, marking the graves of children that passed too soon.  Confederate crosses marked the burial sites of Civil War soldiers.

Being among so many stories was overwhelming.

Some stories stood out more than others.  I stumbled across the grave of William Dorsey Pender, the youngest Confederate general of the Civil War who died in combat at 29 years of age. His grave was special, marked with cannon shells surrounding his above-ground coffin.  More touching were the twin graves of two young girls, marked with beds of white flowers; one had tried to save the other from drowning in a river, and neither had survived.  Reverend Janey Wilson told us all of these stories with a learned disconnect that comes from working next to a graveyard every day. The Reverend noted that, when doing funeral processions, they always pass the girls’ graves on the way into the churchyard.

Janey Wilson is the first female reverend of Tarboro Calvary Episcopal, and has dedicated herself to the maintenance of her congregation and the church, by any means necessary. She jokes, “The normal congregation doesn’t all come, but I have my Facebook congregation.”

I had not entered the churchyard with expectations, but I left feeling at peace.  And if I ever drive through Tarboro again, I’ll be sure to stop at Calvary Episcopal to visit the graves and to soak in the history and the serenity that emanates from the churchyard.

For more information on the Tarboro Calvary Episcopal Church, please visit

An Appreciation for Spontaneity

By: Grace Elkus, 2013

Perhaps my favorite parts of the Highway 64 adventure were the unexpected moments. While it was necessary to plan the majority of our trip – after all, we needed to research the times and locations of the various festivals and farmers markets we were visiting – it is often the unanticipated surprises and slight nuances that make the journey memorable.

Many times, these are found on the road, through the lens of the windshield. The conversation we read between Philip Caputo, author of The Longest Road, and William Least Heat-Moon, author of Blue Highways, stuck with me throughout my Piedmont travels. Heat-Moon’s comment “if you’re traveling by auto, the windshield becomes a kind of movie,” became my motto as I drove along Highway 64.

On our way to Saxapahaw, we passed garage sales, farm stands, people out walking their dogs. Could I convince my whole group to stop, just because I was intrigued by the items for sale? Perhaps not, for we were on a mission to get to our destination, a concept so engrained in our generation that the thought of taking a detour or conversing with a stranger seems unnecessary, if not absurd. But when we traveled this road a second time, on our last leg of the journey, I made the executive decision to make a pit stop at the Purple Peddler Incense and Novelty Shop, primarily because the bright purple building had me curious as to what was inside.

We arrived before the shop had officially opened, but having been oblivious to this, we strolled right in and began browsing. When the lack of other shoppers clued us into our earliness, our apologies were cut short — “If the doors are open and we’re here, anyone is welcome,” the owner told us. The paraphernalia was eclectic, from t-shirts to moon-catchers to incense. I purchased a pack of color-changing candles, an item I often look for but tends to be difficult to come across.

One we arrived in Pittsboro, we experienced the best surprise yet — Small B&B Café. I won’t go into detail on this charming bed and breakfast, but our takeaway from this experience was that asking locals where to eat will undoubtedly wind you up in a place with more character, soul and charisma than wherever Yelp’s #1 pick leads you. If it’s truly a local favorite, it probably isn’t broadcast to tourists to begin with. 

After brunch, we made our way back into downtown Pittsboro and immediately spotted another gem of a store — Beggars and Choosers Antiques Shop. It was nearing Halloween time, and we were lured towards the storefront by the hanging rack of vintage Halloween costumes placed outside the store. Once inside, the store transformed into a museum-like arena, with every type of collectible imaginable, as well as antique cookware in the basement and an overwhelming amount of vintage clothes upstairs. I didn’t even know where to begin. It was the type of place that swallows you up makes you forget who you’re with, where you are, or what time it is.

As a cookbook aficionado, I purchased the 1966 New York Times Menu Cookbook for $12. Brynna literally had to drag me out of the store, and after stopping for some homemade ice cream, we hit the road again. But the surprises of the day were not lost on me, and my appreciation for spontaneous travel skyrocketed. Fitting more of these experiences into my life will begin taking priority — that I am sure of. 

For Lovers of Crafts and Good Times

By Taylor Hill, 2013

It would seem that the town of Lake Lure has its fair share of attractions; of course with the expansive lake itself, which visitors get a mesmerizing view of while traveling Highway 64, the Blue Ridge Mountain range, its regal stature impossible to oversee, or the Town Beach, a man-made body of water that sits at the forefront of the large mountains, littered with floating inflatable platforms and plastic sliding tubes that lead into the depths of the water. These, being the most noted, are understandable reasons why Lake Lure is a recognizable western North Carolina tourist location, however, the town gives you yet another motive for visiting, specifically during the rustic fall months.

Lake Lure’s Arts and Crafts Festival – a title that holds no secrets- is a celebration of everything creative and locally made. From hand-crafted furniture, to intricately pieced jewelry, the Festival has no shortages in merchandise, and the sellers are not shy about informing visitors on the techniques and strategies implemented to produce such fine crafts. A product of the Hickory Nut Gorge Outreach–a charity organization that caters to the needs of residents within the Hickory Nut Gorge vicinity– the Arts and Crafts Festival is an annual event that hosts any artisan (after they have gone through the proper application process) who would like to showcase and/or profit from their talents . In 2013, the festival spanned the weekend of October 19th-20th, lasting from 10am-5pm each respective day, and was stationed, as it is every year, in the lot of the Arcade Commerce Center with a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

With over 60 artisans present, however, it is hard for visitors to even take notice of the majestic mountains along the horizon, between maneuvering through curious and awestruck attendees and meeting the likes of guests who come from all over. The vendors, usually amongst the older crowd, have separate tents for the purpose of housing their setups and are welcoming to any buyers or people who are just intrigued by their artistries. Regardless, there are trades to appease everyone in attendance, some being more abundant than others.

Among these are the artists who bring self-made paintings and drawings to the festival. These range from pastel watercolors, with unbelievably vibrant hues and elaborate detail to penciled and chalk abstract sketchings of intangible figures. The subject of the pieces varies from vendor to vendor, some taking a keen fondness for recreating natural environments in the artwork including animals, bodies of water, landmarks etc., while others had a knack for portraits of others and household objects like coffee mugs, tea kettles and furniture. Along those lines, there are always artisans present who represent the craftsman’s league and display hand-made chairs, ottomans, and benches, all of which exude a brilliant shine from being polished thoroughly. Materials for these pieces cover mahogany, oak, pine, birch walnut and maple and often contain personalized inscriptions from their creators. Another large numbered group of crafts, which is always in attendance, come from proclaimed jewelers whose pieces showcase the mastery of complex beading patterns, glass welding and delicate carving.

As if this bevy of designs was not enough to satiate visitors, vendors supply a variety of food and guests are more than welcome to eat in the picnic area adjacent to the creek. To accommodate festival goers further, entertainment is provided through song and dance from performers who emphasize the Bluegrass ambiance of the area, wielding guitars, fiddles, harmonicas and banjos.

Festival coordinators Yvonne and Kevin Cooley take explicit time and effort in constructing a lineup that accentuates the diversity of craftsmanship and variety of expertise alive in North Carolinians, which is why the Lake Lure Arts and Crafts Festival is always a success. It is a flawless exhibition of the cultural elements that comprise of the interesting and never dull foothills region.

Visit the Arts and Crafts Festival’s site!

Lizard Lick’s Unsung Hero

By Dustin Swope, 2013

Everyone knows TruTV’s breadwinner and primetime pride and joy, Lizard Lick Towing. Fans flock by the thousands to visit the houses that Ron Shirley and Bobby Brantly were seen repossessing cars from. Tattoo artists across the country complain about how many people come in asking for torso-dominating lizards. Records show that “Amy” has been the most popular name for baby girls three years running.

Okay, so maybe that’s not entirely true, but it would be if everyone was the devout follower of Lizard Lick Towing and their TV show that I think they should be. Even if I’m in a league of my own, Ron, Amy, and Bobby certainly see their fair share of recognition. If nothing else, the stars can always count on North Carolina showing them love. Who doesn’t love a hometown hero with a cinderella story behind them?

In my first ever visit to the bona-fide location of Lizard Lick Towing LLC, I thought I had really lost out. I made time on a day that the whole gang had already scheduled an appearance on at a fall festival. What would a trip to Lizard Lick be, I thought, if I wasn’t going to meet the crew?

A pretty fun one, it turns out. Among other unexpected’s, I had the chance to meet and chat with Ms. Patty Branch. Those familiar with Lizard Lick know the reception lobby that has weathered many a storm, both the verbal and physical kind. The partitioning safety glass might be an inch and a half thick, but the walls sure feel paper-thin and neither can protect from words that cut like daggers. It takes a brave person to hold down that place in the reception lobby, and Ms. Patty is just that person.

Patty’s been with the crew since way before the fame and fortune came rolling in from the Lizard Lick series we know and love (well, I do at least). In fact, Ms. Branch has been holding the fort down since 2006. No cameras around then. In those years, the gang looked pretty much the way we see it on TV now. According to Patty, the only real difference between then and now was that, in 2006, no one cared if a deranged repo target came through to cuss and scream and punch holes in the wall. It just meant she needed to go find the patch kit.

Plenty of people pursue four-year degrees to get a chance at being a part of a nation-wide television show. Very few, however, are able to work their way up to a title like Patty holds in Lizard Lick. The best thing about her story? How modestly she tells it.

As a teenager, Patty walked into the trailer-office of a towing company in Lizard Lick, NC, looking for her first “real job.” She started out taking calls, then picked up dispatchings for the tow truck, and is now the go-to senior officer in the Lizard Lick command center while the faces of the TV show are off ‘getting themselves into a whole mess of trouble.’

What I loved about our time with Patty was seeing how falling under the spotlight affected her – Or hadn’t, rather. Personally, you would never know that Patty was such an integral part of a nationally recognized organization. She was polite and welcoming when I first approached her, and modest about what Lizard Lick was like before and after the cameras. She didn’t seem to try very hard for it, but Patty sure earned my trust as an authority on all things Lizard Lick and beyond.

At the same time, there was no emotional distancing while Patty and I talked. Often times, those who find themselves the target of media inquiry learn to stifle their emotions, their opinions, what feels like their entire personality. Not Patty. When she expressed neutrality or a desire to be fair, it was because she genuinely believes in the policy of living, and letting live.

I know this because, once she was satisfied that I was not their to embarrass or incriminate her, she was not afraid to speak her mind. Just as I came to trust in Patty, she put her faith in me. She voiced hopes and concerns that smear-media would love to get their hands on, and took positions that might not fit in with the majority-view and its expectations. I want to assure her and readers, though, that this exposition was made in good faith.

It’s inspiring to see that the lime light has not burned everyone it touches into automated, self-guarding cynics. As Ms. Patty Branch reminded me that day, fame does not have to strip us of our humanity. In honor of her authenticity, I hope that every every professional athlete and politician will learn from the example that Patty set in my eyes.

My Latest Love/Hate Relationship

By Dustin Swope, 2013

Until recently, I’d never been to Asheboro, and I’d never been to any “fall festival” with real red, brown, and yellow leaves that had fallen from real trees earlier that day. Walking up to one end of the Asheboro Fall Festival’s main street, I thought that would finally change. I crunch my way over a few leaves – I was already envisioning my own freshly raked pile sparring partner, right in line with the other kids half my age.

The first few tents were just as quaint as I’d hoped. Each tent had a specialty food or craft, backed by smiling families in folding sports chairs. No bobbing for apples or scarecrow stuffing, but there was already a five-table spread of baked seasonals, none of which had the telltale white smear of a supermarket label that refused to go quietly.

I thought that I would finally be able to check this one off the bucket list. Then, I looked to my right, up the the surging river of humanity that poured over the banks of Main Street, Asheboro. The column seemed frozen, but after a few minutes of revelling, I realized that there was, in fact, a flow to traffic. Somewhere in this impenetrable swarm, I was supposed to find that simple, seasonal miracle that is the fall festival? It just didn’t seem possible.

Having resigned myself to an afternoon of elbowing and shuffling with my “excuse me”-record on repeat, I took my first brave steps into the fray. Tent after tent, it was all a blur. I pushed forward on something between instinct and autopilot. Children weaved in and out like burrowing mammals, waiting for a moment of weakness to slide under my foot or in front of my knee, because they know that every trampled child gets a fried oreo to wipe away their tears. Women were given a four-inch berth when possible. Men apparently weren’t expected to acknowledge any sort of personal space bubble.

When a crunch corresponded with a footstep, I freeze. I check my shoes, scan the scene of the crime, and move on. It was a far cry from the tranquility that I imagined the sound of leaves crunching under my feet would inspire. And I’m not sure if because of the herds of deep fryers and smokers or how these metal apparati focused festival-goers into a molten river of body heat, but it was hot. The tents impeded wind like trees in a forest, and all I could do was hope that the next person I crashed into was fighting the urge to sweat as valiantly as I was.

Twenty minutes of grinding it out in this family-friendly mosh pit, I spot the end of my own personal trail of tears, just a block away. I’d been ice-breaking through the crowd for the three ladies I came to the festival with up to this point. Now that the current has slowed and the crowd has thinned, though, I lift my gaze up and over heads to the tents on the side. Maybe the grass was just looking greener on the other side, but I could swear the layers of foot traffic closest to the tents were strolling comfortably, even pausing at the odd craft or baked good that caught their eye.

“That looks like fun,” I think boldly. How could I have gone so far without realizing there was more to Asheboro’s celebration than sweating, getting kicked, and trying to not kick the person in front of me? Well, shame on me for wasting the trip down, but I wasn’t making the same mistake twice. The girls about-face while I tag the end of the festival on this street, and dive into the downstream current in pursuit of the parking lot. I, however, planted my feet and began a quiet, smiling survey of the landscape

Flowers, candies, crafts, pies, preserves, jewelry, spices, and political advocacy. So there was more to the Asheboro Fall Festival than sweating, shuffling, and apologizing. I paused at a barbeque stand to purvey the range when the grillmaster asked how everything looked – a school crush might as well’ve asked me how her hair looked. “Beautiful! I don’t know what you did, but it’s beautiful.”

I lost track of time amongst the sweet and spicy smoke at my own little backyard cookout, sampling the goods and talking grilling like I knew why one would use a dry rub instead of marinating or a mid-grill glaze. From a spirit-breaking trial, to a mid-eastern Grand Bazaar, to a seasonal gathering of friends with skills and hobbies, the Asheboro Fall Festival has come a long way to holding a special place in my heart.

I “Dorothy” my way down the rest of Asheboro’s yellow brick road, swinging my bag full of baking and grilling spice blends that I promised my new grillmaster friend I’d learn to cook with. Toe-tapping, fanning hands, and folded arms greet me as I complete my circuit through Asheboro’s Fall Festival. Oops, guess I was in the doghouse for the ride back to Elon. A fast blast to a baked-bonanza tent for chess pie and a sweet potato spice coffee cake and I was ready to hit the highway again. So, I didn’t get to lose myself in a corn maze or fill a scarecrow’s jeans with hay, but this was so much more “fall festival” than a Florida city of millions like Tampa had ever put together for me.