Saxapahaw General Store

By Jordan Stanley

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 culturdsc_0362al 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 ecdsc_0376lectic 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 customdsc_0388ers 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 atmosdsc_0384phere–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.


Lindsey Deal

By Jordan Stanley

Lindsey Deal emerged from a swung-open wooden door behind the cash register in the same way Deal Orchards appeared from the road. Driving along Highway 64, the storefront for the orchard looked like a white tin warehouse, named for, perhaps, the bargain-priced produce inside. In reality, it was for the man whose family had founded and run the business for generations, carried on still today. The cashier, busy ringing up boxes of apples, apple butter, apple cider, and old-fashioned candies, called Lindsey on her flip phone to answer a few questions on the business; and there he came, extending a long tree-branch arm beckoning into his office.

Lindsey Deal is a human torch of North Carolina apple country. A tall man with grey hair and beard, Lindsey wore black baseball cap and khaki button down, both branded by the “Enjoy North Carolina Apples” insignia, the “O” of “Enjoy” a bright red fruit. His accent was certainly Southern, a characteristic of his Taylorsville community though occasionally too thick for Northern ears. He was curidsc_0520ous about how Northern eyes saw his little piece of North Carolina, prioritizing a good impression of a place he clearly took pride in. In fact, Taylorsville had been, he said, the capital of the American apple industry for decades, which his great-grandfather had a hand in.

Ready and eager to embark on a thorough history of NC apple country, Lindsey relaxed into his leather desk chair, hands laced together across his belly. His personality was strewn across the wood-paneled walls of his office. From the NRA sign on the back of his office door, to the two elk heads mounted on the wall, to the mosaic of family photos–his children, grandchildren, and ancestors who he introduces–a presumably conservative, Southern persona emerges. Yet throughout his explanations of the culture of his region, his face lit up with enthusiasm. According to Lindsey, this county used to be the moonshine capital of the country, connecting to the popularity of NASCAR in the community. He claims that NASCAR stems from moonshiners “pumping” up their cars to escape the law during Prohibition. Through his stories, Lindsey’s character slowly evolved into a richly diverse man both of traditionalism and understanding.

While the Deals originate from Kentucky, the Deal family has been harvesting apples in the county surrounding Taylorsville for well over 100 years. As Lindsey regaled the history of Deal Orchard, he rose from his chair to point to the largest frame on the wall. Inside is a black-and-white photograph capturing three rows of men, most of whom were dressed in their Sunday best–as Lindsey pointsdsc_0511 out, some of whom wore farmer’s overalls, and two of whom sported bushy white beards. The entire scene, set outside on an agricultural property, looked like it could have been torn from a Civil War history book. One of the two white-bearded men, however, was Lindsey’s great-grandfather–the original Deal’s Apples. The photo is of the first North Carolina Apple Growers’ Association, a group established to align NC apple farmers to compete and cooperate with larger wholesale produce markets. While Lindsey’s great-grandfather chose to partake in this industry, his brother (Lindsey’s great-uncle) chose to start a hardware store. Many will recognize it today as Lowe’s Home Improvement. Now onto the sixth-generation of apple Deal’s, Lindsey’s daughter left her job working numbers at Lowe’s to help run Deal’s Orchard with Lindsey’s other son.

At Deal Orchard’s Lindsey sells about 80,000 bushels of apples per year. The very units used for apple sales has evolved over the years, he says, in correspondence to changing gender norms. According to Lindsey, the apple industry began selling half bushels because a bushel box was too heavy for women–who did all the shopping–to carry. When women went back to work, however, they stopped buying apples in such large increments altogether. Lindsey said that women will full-time jobs were more likely to buy groceries for the night or a week, too busy to make pies or other more elaborate dinner measures apple-related extras in addition to employment. From this, the industry developed the “peck,” an even smaller increment of apples. While describing how feminism altered the apple industry, Lindsey remained a neutral tone, not condescending to a movement that altered his family’s practices. Rather, he was empathetic overall, if not overtly supportive–employing a level of respect that created interest amongst his NRA poster and elk heads.

As a well-established apple man, many beginning farmers come to Lindsey to ask advice to begin an orchard of their own. Lindsey laughs to himself when this happens, knowing how they underestimate the “hard parts” of farming. To establish an orchard, one must purchase land, equipment costing upwards of $6,000, and seeds to plant the trees. From there, farmers have to wait at least six years for the trees to grow for any return on their investment. He tries to pass on some wisdom, of course. For example, Lindsey has his orchards scattered across Taylorsville rather than in one area, so if there is a storm, not every orchard is impacted. One hailstorm can knock out a farm for 18 months, Lindsey said; when there’s bad weather, most people don’t even think about how this affects the farmers.

To continue constructing a behind-the-scenes look at the farming process-and to build the empathy of the farmer’s life–Lindsey provided a tour through his refrigeration units and warehouse. The massive refrigerator, full of innumerable wooden crates, smells crisp and sweet like ice-cold cider. There is actually cider in the fridge, which is outsourced for production due to strict health standards but made from Deal apples. Lindsey said, while he would like to, it is impossible to grow organic fruit in the East. There’s too much rain, which promotes fungus and rot without chemicals. Deal Orchards are, however, GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) certified.

He proceeded to walk through the entire apple-sorting process, from the conveyer belts, to turning on the washing mechanisms, to showing how each moving process worked–how apples were sorted by hand and through machine into high and low quality piles. He pointed to a 30-foot stack of boxes, with High Quality and Low Quality written in different colors. Years back, Lindsey’s customers would switch apples from high and low quality boxes in attempt to pay the lower price, so Lindsey color-coded the boxes so he wouldn’t be swindled.

Finally he approached a box of small red-green apples, the size of which make them most appealing dsc_0507to deer hunters. These were Bushy Mountain Limbertwigs– native to the region and the very apple that his great-grandfather grew to found Deal Orchards. He picked up one apple and offered a bite to anyone with “good teeth.” The consistency was firm, difficult to chew, but flavorfully balanced between tart and sweet. He took another apple and placed it on the ground, proceeding to step and place his entire weight on it. Then he picked up the apple again to reveal that there were no dents or bruises.

The day with Lindsey concluded with one last question: What was his favorite apple? He answered that if he was ever out in the orchard–after all the customers had come and gotten their pick–and he saw one last Golden Delicious, he would climb to the top of a tree to get it.

From there he returned inside to his office, encouraging a car ride through the orchards, just off to the west. Lindsey Deal tucked himself away as quickly as he had shown himself; he was a representation of the apple country in the nicest way: a man of history, tradition entwined with progression, and a Southern hospitality that opened and welcomed an eye into Taylorsville, North Carolina.

Smiley’s Barbeque

By Maggy McGloin

Lexington, North Carolina: the country’s home for delicious barbecue. Lexington is known for its vast history of barbecue since the town created its own preparation style. “Piedmont-style sauce is not tomato-based,” says Katie Quinne, a writer for Our State, North Carolina. “It still uses lots of vinegar but has a slight touch of ketchup that makes the mixture sweeter and redder, but not thicker.” Going forth, we knew that Lexington’s distinct, vinegar taste had always been in somewhat of a “battle” with their Eastern, ketchup-based counterpart.  How coulddsc_0649 there be so much argument about barbeque? we thought. Could we even tell the difference?

We arrived in Lexington on a cloudy, Sunday morning with empty stomachs and a desire to learn more about what made this town unique. After our hour-long ride, we pulled into a deserted downtown Lexington. Sunday does not seem to be the day for explorations of a small, southern town. The town was quaint, cute, and looked like it had the potential to be a thriving scene on a weekend night. The walls adjacent to different stores were painted in muted greens and cream colors, looking like the perfect canvas for future wall art. There were flower beds still peeking out of window boxes due to the unnaturally warm autumn that had graced all of North Carolina this year. Soaking in the silence of the normally-thriving town, we got back in our car to visit (what we heard was) the best barbecue indsc_0641 all of Lexington, North Carolina.

We entered a scene that was far more ecstatic than the downtown area we had just left. Smiley’s Restaurant was filled with post-church diners, some with large families and some eating in solitude. They were all there for one purpose: to enjoy the best of what Lexington has to offer. We took our places and each ordered the specialty: sliced pulled-pork sandwiches. After our first bites, we instantly knew that Lexington barbecue trumped any other kind we’d had before. The sandwiches were garnished with sweet, apple-based cole slaw that perfectly fused the sweet and saltiness of the tart vinegar-base. The buns were toasted to perfection, there was no need for any extra sauces, condiments, or even a side dish. After our meal, our waitress approached us and stated that we “simply could not leave without trying the house-famous banana pudding.” We obviously gave in to that temptation and split one three ways.

As we exited the restaurant, we could not grasp the attention of any of the employees to ask our questions; Sundays were busy and each waitress and waiter were occupied. So, we poked around the restaurant to see what diversified Smileys from the rest of the barbecue restaurants in the area. One wall was plastered with newspaper clippings displaying the multiple occasions, people, and places the restaurant had catered to. The most eye-catching was a newspaper article from Lex ington’s local paper which described Christmastime in Lexington. “It’s a local tradition in the barbecue dsc_0647capital of the world,” said James Romoser, a reporter for the paper. “And for the people who prepare the meat, it means that the days before Christmas are a sleepless marathon of cooking over a smoky barbecue pit.”

Though it was a small taste, we classified Lexington as one of the most barbecue-savvy towns we had ever visited. We left Smiley’s with full stomachs and a newfound appreciation for the ancient process of seasoning meat.

West Wood Fired Grill & The Poe House

By Maggy McGloin

Arriving late to Hendersonville on a Saturday night, the limited options of open storefronts left us with one mission: find the perfect eatery and bar. After some online research, supplemented by searching around the downtown corridors, we stumbled upon West Wood Fired Grill, an apparent town favorite. The restaurant describes themselves as an establishment that “create(s) handcrafted food with a Mediterranean aesthetic, and feature whole-wheat thin crust pizzas, organic pastas, rustic salads and soups, desserts and breads” (West First Wood Fired Pizza). When we walked in, we were immediately transfixed by the scent of smoky pizzas, fresh vegetables, and a warm aesthetic. The dining room and bar area were bustling with business, so with a wait-time of 45 minutes, we decided to take a few minutes to explore the town and its surrounding shops.


After walking outside into the brisk cold of Foothills October, we stumbled into the nearest bar we could find to escape the weather. Little did we know that this would be one of our favorite spots along  Highway 64. The Poe House sits around the corner from West First Wood Fired Pizza, with an inconspicuous basement entrance framed with crows and purple lights. The entrance opens into a warm, inviting room equipped with an acoustic guitar player, racks of wine hung clumsily on the wall, and a dim ambiance created by candlelight. The Poe House was a rustic alterfullsizerender-2native to the usual bar we had become accustomed to college towns. The bar describes themselves as “coming off somewhere between English Pub and trendy wine bar. The Poe House is a legendary hangout for locals and visitors alike. A cozy place to enjoy live music, a craft beer from our ever-changing draft list or a flight of hand selected wines.


The drink menu incites a debate between ordering a classic IPA or going for something a bit more local to Hendersonville and the surrounding area. Surprisingly, the bartender recommended the best drink to be the “cookie dough beer.” This beer was brewed specially in North Carolina and had a cookie dough aftertaste due to a manipulated brewing process–inspired by the flavors of Ben & Jerry’s. While we enjoyed our drinks, taking photos and recording notes of the experience, another patron of the Poe House approached us to ask what we were doing. We explained to him the Highway 64 project, capturing culture along North Carolina’s most historically rich highway. He said in return, “What a fun class that must be; you all should cherish not being stuck in a classroom.” After enjoying our beers, a small appetizer of Apple Brie Crostini, and some good conversation with both Henderson locals and visitors alike, our buzzer for West First signified that it was time to move upstairs.


After being seated at West First, we ordered a caprese plate and three different craft pizzas–including unique toppings such as honey and goat cheese–to share. The restaurant was dimmed; everyone feeling as if they belonged to a similar jovial fellowship. “An imposing glass mosaic tiled oven stands like an altar at the center of a dynamic open kitchen where cooks rhythmically perform the culinary rites and pizzas are tossed, pastas are sautéed, and homemade desserts are carefully plated,” says the restaurant’s website. We learned that all of the grains for pasta and pizza are hafullsizerenderndmade in the early morning and served up until dinner time. The produce and cheeses are outsourced as locally as possible, giving business to the booming farms of local Hendersonville.


The rest of the night was filled with warm exchanges, delicious Italian food, and reflections upon our trip thus far. Getting a legitimate taste of downtown Hendersonville only encouraged us to take a deeper look at what the small, yet bustling town has to offer.


The Annual Statesville Pumpkin Festival

By Kate Flinn

A stop in Statesville led to an unexpected surprise of closed roads and throngs of people: the annual Statesville Pumpkin Festival, a beloved community tradition that marks the start of the fall season for this quaint little town. Almost immediately upon arrival, we fell upon the festival’s main stage, garnished to theme with hay and various fall squashes. A young band occupied the stage, performing a twangy, though otherwise on-key, rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” Excited about this sudden turn of events, we decided to tackle the festival head on.

Statesville is one of the oldest towns in the state, founded in 1789 shortly after North Carolina joined the United States. Due to a series of fires that plagued the original infrastructure, most of what is today recognized as historic downtown Statesville was constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The town’s pride for the history and community are evident throughout the festival. Festival-goers interested in learning more about Statesville are encouraged to visit the town’s historical collection, just down the street from what locals refer to as “the square.” For those seeking out recreation, the festival boasts attractions for attendees of all ages. Guests can stroll down historic Main Street and choose from a huge selection of local food vendors. From traditional North Carolina barbeque to enormous Greek gyros, this festival has it all. Personally, I opted for an appetizer of one of my favorite treats: a powdered sugar covered funnel cake.

Aligning with the peculiar human passion for smashing things, attendees of all ages can line up for the chance to bludgeon a pumpkin with a large sledgehammer. Sounds relatively straightforward, right? Yet these attempts may be the most entertaining part of the festival. For as many people lined up to try, there were observers in the crowd, watching five- and fifty-year-olds take a crack at it with a good laugh.

For those willing to fight the crowds and branch out into the streets surrounding Main Street, much more awaits at the Statesville Pumpkin Festival. Diving headfirst down a side street, one will find a sea of merchandise vendors. Hesitantly glancing at a few of the vendor’s booths, we spotted everything from handmade jewelry to mason jars of from-scratch butters and jams. The plethora of options is nearly counterintuitive, inducing an over-stimulated trance that makes it difficult to choose where to begin.

One stand in particular–the unbranded soy-candle tent with over fifty unique flavors–was a big hit for any self-diagnosed candle addict. Of the couple selling the candles, it was the husband who began making candles when a back injury put him out of work. He and his wife import the soy locally from Raleigh and use scented oils to craft their signature flavors including “Sandalwood” and “Clean Linen.” After smelling every single scent they had to offer, at least twice, I settled on the “Ocean Breeze” scent and walked away excited about the new addition to my collection.

Amidst the seemingly endless expanse of tents, booths, and vendors, non-shoppers may enjoy strolling through the Festival’s antique car show. From vintage pickup trucks to glimmering muscle cars, the assemblage of old-fashioned automobiles is bound to transport visitors through time. Though hours could be spent milling through the festival’s beer garden or watching the line up of scheduled performances, for the sake of the college student budget, it was time to end our day there. Though our experience at the Statesville Pumpkin Festival was unplanned, the sounds, smells and history of historic downtown Statesville will stick with us long after we continue our journey down Highway 64.

A Changing Industry: Apple Growing in the Foothills

By Kate Flinn

The average traveler passing through Taylorsville, North Carolina might not stumble across Deal Orchards. The orchard was at least a twenty-minute drive from what we believed to be downtown Taylorsville, though it was hard to be sure. After some back and forth, we detoured off Highway 64 in pursuit of one of the Foothills’ most celebrated Apple houses. The industrial sprawl of Taylorsville quietly slipped into rolling hills dotted with small shops and quaint farms. Though the drive seemed to stretch on mu ch longer than twenty minutes, the faded “Deal Orchards” sign eventually slipped onto the dashboard horizon.

The packed down dirt parking lot was full of cars and a bus of visitors from outside of town who had traveled to buy Deals apples. They filed in noisily, a moving hungry horde. Inside the orchard’s storefront was a large, open space; its high ceilings and large windows flooded the room with natural light. Boxes and boxes of apples populated the middle of the room, tempting visitors to explore the unique varieties one might only find in this region of the country. Along the perimeter of the shop were yellow shelves of various homemade jams and butters, cheeses, and produce that were visibly fresh, based on light packaging alone.

Approaching the counter, the woman behind the cashier smiled sweetly: “How can I help y’all?”

In response to some questions about this orchard we had stumbled across–how old it was, who was in charge–she responded with a short chuckle and replied, “Y’all are going to want to talk to Lindsay.” After making a call on her walkie-talkie, we stepped to the side and waited for “Lindsay” to come find us.

After a few minutes, the large wooden door a few feet behind the counter swung open, and a tall man who appeared to be in his seventies entered the room. The woman gave him a nod in our direction. The man took a few steps in our gedsc_0513neral direction, and we were met face-to-face with Lindsay Deal:  the man behind every aspect of the growing, harvesting and marketing for one of the largest, and oldest, apple orchards in North Carolina. His face was colored initially skeptical, noticeably sizing us up as outsiders. Upon a brief explanation, however, he was more than compliant to talk about North Carolina culture across the Foothills. He opened that same wooden door he had come through just a few minutes age before, and invited us into his office.

Lindsay gestured for everyone to take a seat in one of the three chairs nested between the heavy wooden desks and stacks of papers. The wood paneled walls of Lindsay’s office boasted an expansive collection of family photos, most of which appeared to be taken at the orchard over its various stages of existence. The office felt like a time capsule for the growth of this man’s family business.

Lindsay needed no encouragement to start talking about his family’s experience as apple growers. Lindsay’s great-grandfather planted the first Deal orchard back in 1939. “There were once 200 independent apple growers in this area,” he began. “We all used to pick our apples and then pedal them over in Winston and Charlotte.” Suddenly pushing back his faded leather desk chair, Lindsay walked over to a particularly large faded photo hanging on the wall. Pulling the frame down, he gazed at the photo of a group of men–all dressed in suits but for two pairs of overalls. A small plaque below the photo read, “The First Brushy Mountain Apple Growing Co-Op.” Lindsay went on to explain that in 1957, the growers in this area formed the Brushy Mountain Apple Growing Co-Op. Each grower contributed one thousand dollars and would bring the month’s pick to adsc_0512 single seller who would then sell their apples to the major grocery chains.

“As time went on the way people bought apples began to change, so the way we sell them had to change as well,” Lindsay continued. Returning the frame to its rightful spot on the wall, his eyes lingered on the aged faces nostalgically–perhaps for the people in the photograph, or just for a simpler time. “People are more conscientious about their finances these days,” Lindsay said with a sigh. “They’re just buying enough apples to get them through the week, whereas they used to buy them in bulk.”

We learned that Deal Orchards was one of the first successful orchards established in Alexander County. With an aging population of apple growers in the region, much of Lindsaydsc_0529’s competition has tapered out over the years, leaving just three or four primary orchards to spearhead the Foothill markets. Lindsay and his team have their process down to an absolute science and are Good Agriculture Practices-Certified. If you find yourself traveling through Alexander County, be sure to stop by the Deal Apple House and get a taste of what this family’s combination of passion and expertise has produced.

Burgess Produce

By Kate Flinn

Burgess Produce is one of the Foothills’ hidden gems, nestled right off the shoulder of historic Highway 64, just outside of scenic Lake Lure. Like us, if you aren’t looking for it, you are likely to zip right past this charming little produce stand. Winding along the highway, our interests were piqued by the small structure’s hand painted sign and the display of fruits and vegetables out front, so we pulled a U-turn and headed back to see what we had stumbled upon.

Pulling onto the road’s dirt shoulder, which doubled as the parking lot, we hopped out and approached the small wooden structure that houses Burgess produce. The building’s exterior was eclectically decorated with wind chimes, dream catchers and various tin and copper pots and kettles. Though none of the items seemed to go together, each somehow belonging, and creating a visual backdrop for the spread of produce before us.  Bins of onions, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes with the varied color and shape, guaranteeing authentic freshness, piled in and around the wide, doorless entrance.

Stepping inside the building, pots and pans of various styles line the ceiling, sometimes substituted with the occasional woven basket. The right corner of the room is filled with busheldsc_0605s of apples, each labeled in the same cursive handwriting. Above them lies an entire wall of cowboy hats in every color you imaginable. To the left appears about every type of butter and jam known to man, each in the same gold-lidded mason jar. The place gave me that same feeling I get in my grandmother’s attic, cluttered yet somehow everything seems to hold some sort of memory or value.

A young girl, no more than 8 or 9 years old, stood behind the counter, soon joined by an older woman coming in through a back entrance. She gave the young girl an affectionate pat on the head and offered me a “let me know if I can help.” I approached the counter in the hopes of learning a bit more about the stand. All it took on my end was a “so how long have you been here?” and the woman was happy to oblige.

“This is has been the family business for over 100 years,” the woman replied. Looking down at the young girl, she continued,“my daughter right here is the 4th generation since we started the shop.”

A slender elderly man strolls in through the same back entrance, garbed in a worn-out hat and camo puffer jacket, and does not hesitate to jump into the conversation. Pointing at my own Cubs hat, he begins to search his pockets, eventually revealing a laminated postage stamp. He passes it to me, the tiny face of a baseball player, and leads with an abrupt, “You know who that is right?” I didn’t. “That’s my great-grandfather Smoky Burgess,” the man said matter-of-factly. He explained that Smoky Burgess, was one of the few ball players to ever play for both the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox–a genuinely surprise for a dsc_0606Chicago local.

The man who had just schooled me in Chicago sports history was Donald Burgess, patriarch of the Burgess family and current owner of Burgess Produce. His great-great-grandfather had founded the stand, and the business had been passed from generation to generation ever since.

Donald proceeded to whip out his smartphone and scan through photos of each of his four children. Pride glinted in his eye, a quiver sneaking into his voice as he described the different cities each of them had moved and what job they were working now. Once Donald moved to help another customer, it appeared time to untangle from the branches of the Burgess family tree and return to the road. Not wanting to leave empty handed, I purchased a large jar of “Homemade Amish Peanut Butter,” which turned out to be the best peanut butter I’ve ever tasted.

Mikes on Main

By Kate Flinn

Mike’s on Main, a small family-owned diner, operates like a perfectly preserved time capsule of quintessential Hendersonville at the height of the 1950s. At 9:00am, only a few people had begun to occupy the restaurant’s eclectic selection of mismatched wooden tables and booths. A long marble bar with metallic stools spans the right wall, accentuated by a large antique cash register fashioned from brass. While its shape and intricate design aligned with the vintage façade, the contraption still functioned as the restaurant’s main casdsc_0561h register. A young waiter dressed in a light blue bow tie and old-fashioned paper hat hurries past, his arms precariously balanced with food. He smiled and sent off a, “Sit where you like,” in passing.

The strong presence of antique Coca-Cola memorabilia is immediately noticeable. Somehow the knick-knacks and wall adornments give the place a sense of authenticity. A woman approaches the booth in full 1950s attire, poodle skirt and high ponytail included. With a warm greeting she says, “Now where are you girls from?” This has become a pattern throughout our journey in the Foothills; wherever we went, people quickly knew we were outsiders. We politely list off our respective hometdsc_0553owns and put in orders for some piping hot coffee.

Flipping through the extensive menu, it became clear that Mike’s offerings cover any desire that a breakfast-lover could think up. Pancakes, waffles, crepes, and a generous selection of home-style omelets–this place had the works. A feature of the menu was the “Southern Style Breakfast Bowl” section of the menu, the accompanying pictures worthy of a stomach grumble. Despite the waitress’ warning that the breakfast bowls were spilling, a side of pancakes are added for good measure.

The meals arrive adsc_0540fter a short wait, while no room for disappointment. The general concept of Mike’s breakfast bowls begins with your choice of a hash brown or grits base. Next comes two eggs prepared to your liking, fried comes highly recommended, and then finally a last layer of whatever toppings come with the bowl of your choosing. The Denver bowl is garnished with ham, tomatoes, green pepper, onions and a whole lot of cheddar cheese. The flavors of the dish are perfectly proportioned, neither too overpowering or understated, achieving a perfect point of content fullness–that is, pre-pancakes, browned to perfection and fluffy like you can only find at a diner. A return visit to Hendersonville Mike’s pancakes will definitely be at the top of Hendersonville’s to-eat list.dsc_0557

Aside from the excellent food, superb service and eccentric décor, part of what makes Mike’s so unique is its history. Mike’s is the most-photographed building in Hendersonville, and with good reason. Between the candy-striped awning and hand painted Coca Cola mural outside, this corner shop is an iconic spot for documenting your trip to the quaint little town. Originally built in 1900, what is now Mike’s on Main was once Justus Pharmacy. As was true back in 1900, this building still houses the only soda fountain in Hendersonville. Many of the trinkets and artifacts you see lying about date back over one hundred years to the original pharmacy. Filled with good food and people and history, Mike’s on Main is a must for any Hendersonville visitors.dsc_0575

Lake Lure and the Beginning of the Forest Fire

By Maggy McGloin – 2016

Moving from the Western part of the state, the drive to Lake Lure brings Highway 64 through a more natural, unchartered territory. After weaving around winding turns, dsc_0588across abandoned-looking towns, and several fruit stands, you will see the scen  e emerge from around the bend: the infamous Lake Lure, zig-zagging around rugged mountain ranges.

You can arrive to the lake through the entrance to Morse Park. The wide parking lot, just left of the lake, is speckled with few cars, so you can anticipate a quiet walk through the earthy landscape, uninterrupted by too many picnics or noisy frisbee-throwers. Get out of the car–leave your phone inside–and breathe in the crisp, autumn air. Take a walk throughdsc_0590 Lake Lure’s public garden, passing couples holding hands and babies in strollers–caught in the aura of simple contentedness. An aerial view of the lake exposes a quiet gazebo in the distance that looks out to one of the most beautiful views along Highway 64. The contrast between the mountains and lake may remind you of the changing North Carolina landscape along Highway 64, shifting between the coastal plains, foothills, and mountains.  

Begin a silent, meditative walk along the perimeter of tdsc_0596he lake. Rather than imagining yourself on the set of Dirty Dancing, a film inspired by this place, focus on the foliage around you, the memorial benches and species labeled along the path. It’s time to relax amongst the orange-browns and reds before you return back to work or school, the crisp air channeled through the leaves and your lungs, one of the same breath.   

After about thirty minutes, circle back from your meditation walk, headed back to the parking lot where you’d abandoned the car, technology, and the outside world. Returning to the road is sad, but you can be grateful for the time spent idsc_0602n nature. Perhaps take one last look back at the mountains, soon to return behind you. A pillow of smoke catches your eye, curling from the top of the mountain in a small patch. Must be a small forest fire, you think at the time; snap a few photos and go on your way. Weeks later, you may think back and realize that this small cloud of smoke could have grown to become one of the most destructive forest fires in North Carolina, spreading to Asheville and uncontainable until December 7, 2016.

Small-Town Sundays in the Foothills: What Not to Do

By Jordan Stanley – 2016

The Expectation:

Lenoir was the last stop of a two-day, six-town road trip through the North Carolina Foothills. To get a taste of the town, one might start by driving down the main street, scavenging for hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and investigating a few mom-and-pop joints. One stop in particular, famous to Lenoir, is the Bolick Family Pottery Shop, well-known throughout the state for a unique yet traditional craft now transcending generations. Of course, a visit to Lenoir would not be complete without a dutiful visit to the famous Fort Defiance, a plantation house home to Revolutionary War General William Lenoir, the town’s namesake.

These stops, planned and unplanned, would serve adsc_0608s a rich taste of North Carolina history and tradition. Yet the expectation of the town on a Sunday late afternoon–everyone would be leaving church, taking the dog for a walk, or going to lunch on their day off–was disrupted by a quite different reality.

The Reality:

On a clear-skied, sunny day–characteristic of the summer season-turn-Fall–Lenoir welcomes incoming drivers with the “Welcome to Historic Lenoir” sign.

With a population of 18,000+, Lenoir is one of the more peopled towns of the Foothills, yet as the car tires roll into the downtown area, there was a sense of solitude, a feeling that may take moments to explain.

The Lenoir downtown consisted of a strip of quaint and traditional buildings marked by understated elegance–brick facades, and character. The eclectic exteriors of the buildings ran along a wide cement and brick sidewalk, ideal for families and friends walking side-by-side, heading to lunch or one of the several shops and cafes available.

Yet perhaps it was this exact feature, installed for community, that seemed to source of the feeling of loneliness, of incompleteness: these pedestrian-friendly sidewalks were empty, the parking spots absent of cars. Storefront after storefront was branded by a resigned “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign, above store hours that run Mon-Fri, maybe Saturday in some cases. Still, a quick drive-by cannot fully capture the liveliness of a town thrumming beneath. Getting out of the car–even if there only four or five others in sight–walking along main street, and taking a closer look is necessary before resigning to a quiet Sunday.

In addition the absence of Lenoir residents in the streets, the eerie feeling of the downtown was supplemented by a track of instrumental music playing thrdsc_0622oughout the street from a series of unseen speakers. The music could be described as a marriage of jazz piano and elevator music, perhaps meant to be a nice backdrop to the sounds of engines and human voices. The bizarre ambience, one reminiscent of a post-disillusioned movie, would still not be the main source of disappointment in Lenoir. The greatest disappointment offered by a quiet Sunday in this town, is that a walk along the main street revealed Lenoir has a lot to offer. Amongst a few cafes, the town’s GOP headquarters, and small markets, it seemed every other storefront was an art gallery or antique shop–both retailers for town character, personality, history, and secrets. In an eclectic collection of castaway personal belongings and artistic expression, these are the shops that give define Lenoir local flavor. The storefront windows were decorated with autumnal displays, from puppets, to art easels made of birch branches, to leaves and twigs perched with fake birds. Yet each was closed. Not a single site was open. Walks around square blocks, the real estate turning to banks and insurance fronts the farther the sidewalk talks you the center of town, and a feeling of defeat sinks into the sunny day.

The Change of Plans:

Ultimately, hunger and defeat merge to form resignation–forcing a return to the one restaurant open, initially passed by due to lack of interest. It was a small bistro called Bella Torte Bistro, dawned with trendy iron outdoor dining furniture, and an updated, French-decorated interior. It was clear, that flannels, t-shirt, and leggings meant being underdressed, but an empty stomach and low self-consciousness of a foreign place equate to going in anyway. Passing beneath the turquoise Bella Torte Bistro sign, sticking from the corner of the building, a hostess/waitress opened the door with a warm welcome.

The inside was modern with wood floors, shapely chairs and multiple levels of seating. Each table was punctuated by pots of turquoise blue, silver, and white flowers in the color scheme of the restaurant and sign outside. An iron staircase winds up to a third-floor landing with extra seating, as well as downstairs to the basement where dsc_0613one finds Charlie’s Pub. It seemed the Pub shared the same menu as the Bistro, but with a different wood-panel and booth atmosphere.   A table at the back of the restaurant sat regally, occupied by a family of 10+ dressed up in what looked to be church gear as a long table. Off to the side sat a priest and two elderly women, dressed to the nines, sharing lunch and forkfuls of pie.

For Foothills-French cuisine, the food was wonderful, ranging from reimagined Ceasar salad, to three-cheese mac-n-cheese, to classic French onion soup and traditionally delicious French fries. Despite a satisfying meal, it was difficult to determine what inquiry was left in Lenoir–that is, beyond where is everybody? Was there an opportunity being missed here–that a schedule only allowing Saturday and Sunday travel would deprive towns like Lenoir of the opportunity to showcase their identities?

On the way out, the hostess/waitress rang up each receipt by the coffee pot and pastries and spoke about the bistro. The only reason it was open on a Sunday–of all the other real estate on the main strip–was because it was new to Lenoir and wanted to establish a following. She felt their opening is a small part of the town’s effort to revitalize the downtown, which had been a town goal for the past and upcoming years, potentially creating a college town experience for the local university. She said that town wasn’t empty due to church and post-church Sunday traditions; rather Sundays and Mondays were just Lenoir’s slow da ys– business always picked up on Tuesday and more so throughout the week. Her comments were simple and decided, prompting the questions: Was her acceptan ce of the slow Sunday business a sign of how things have always been–and was it actually related to Sunday culture of North Carolina? Was this empty downtown just how things had been for so long that people have forgotten why? Are these questions worth asking?
Suffice to say, the little luck in Lenoir painted a picture of North Carolina Foothills Sunday culture: laid back, not commercial, and perhaps not even capitalistic. Things shut down, the businesses, the food, the roads even. Ultimately, he deeper reasoning behind this scene could not be determined from an outsider–trying to work on the locals’ day of rest.