Driving just off Highway 64, the road turns rural and winding, running flat against open fields and old farm homes. It feels, in many ways, that the road is taking you nowhere–until the car turns left around a wide bend and suddenly catapults you into the cultural oasis that is Saxapahaw, North Carolina. For tow n locals, as well as residents of Chapel Hill and Burlington in search of a liberal community, Saxapahaw provides a transport away from daily life. For Amidst a historical brick complex consisting of a local brewery, butchery, The Eddy Restaurant and Pub, and the Haw River Ballroom, there lies today’s destination: a yellow and red gas station and one-room general store.
The Saxapahaw General Store is even more than its slogan: “Your local five-star gas station.” While there are gas pumps outside–located at a cross section of the Saxapahaw Museum and the Hawbridge School–a fuel-up is not typically the primary draw for customers. Upon entering what might otherwise look like a typical brick-plaza exterior, visitors quickly realize the niche experience that the General Store has to offer. One might not even notice upon first glance that the store doubles as a restaurant, as the eye moves across the unique and eclectic expanse of merchandise. The three aisles in the store include a nice selection of local and nonlocal wines, beers, and kombucha; select grocery items such as pet food; and a plethora of artisan goods–ranging from organic name-brand snacks, to homemade chocolates, to all-natural soy candles and homeopathic lotions, oils, and hair products. The display of local products is frequently rotated, featuring different self-made t-shirts, hand-knit mittens, or personalized keychains. Despite artisan prices, it is easy to find small treasures that are special and worth the purchase.
Beside the aisles of shelves is an open seating area consisting of a series of booths and a long communal table. This is where restaurant patrons indulge in one of the many well-loved General Store menu items. The kitchen itself is visible from the counter where customers place their orders, built into view as part of the minimalist and transparent cuisine mission. If eaters come to dine on a sunny North Carolina day, they may eat outside on the terrace beneath vine-covered pergolas, sharing a bottle of wine or old-fashioned sodas while they wait for their server to bring out their meals.
The General Store menu is diverse, as well as reasonably priced taking into account the restaurant’s commitment to use farm-to-table and local ingredients whenever possible. By partnering with local farms, such as Benevolence Farm and the Saxapahaw butchery, all of the General Store’s food tastes fresh and (typically) healthy. The store serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Friday, adding a special brunch menu for Saturday and Sunday mornings. This includes specialties such as the “Eggs Parma: two toasted English muffins beneath thick slabs of mozzarella cheese, two eggs of your choice, and topped with a light tomato sauce, reminiscent of a vodka sauce-gone-breakfast.”
The daily menu, while large, is punctuated by customer favorites. Catering to the bohemian traffic and atmosphere within the restaurant, the General Store offers a myriad of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Some favorites include the Avocado-Mater sandwich, which includes avocado, veggies, and cream cheese on multigrain bread; the eggplant parm sandwich combats its typical reputation by being both light and flavorful; the vegetarian pad Thai made specially in house with a secret ingredient; and show-stopping sides such as the garlic-y brussels sprouts and mashed rosemary sweet potatoes. Even the omelets, filled with your choice of additional components–(suggestion: roasted vegetables, fresh tomato, and avocado)–set themselves apart from the meals of most breakfast joints. While the General Store seems to thrive on cooking simply and with the right combination of ingredients, it is this flavor that builds a unique and satisfying experience. Other favorites for meat-eaters include the brisket sandwich and duck fries, potato skins friend in duck fat. The Store also serves full dinners and offers many specials, written daily on the chalkboards by the counter.
In essence, the Saxapahaw General Store facilitates an experience that marries simplicity and indulgence. The order-counter, farm-to-table cooking, three-aisle merchandise, communal tables, and gas station setting brings a casual tone that welcomes any and all visitors. Yet an alternative atmosphere–from the people, to the artisan goods–allows customers to feel like they are on a quick vacation from the typical Piedmont North Carolina lifestyle. The General Store warrants a strong recommendation to visit for those who want to diversify their impression of North Carolina culture and who wouldn’t mind a short, worthwhile detour off Highway 64.