Smoking in the Foothills Festival

By Jenny Kane

Right as we arrived in downtown Lenoir at around 11:30am on that Saturday, October 21st, we could already here the sound of live music playing and people crowding around the small area. Most of the shops on the strip were closed apart from a coffee shop and a restaurant that were located side-to-side. The entire festival was only two blocks long, but it was entirely lined with barbecue vendors, craft vendors, and information tents. Right at the center of the festival was a stage tucked into a patio with a live band playing folk and blue grass tunes. Entire extended families were filing in to get seats on the grass and the smoky aroma of barbecue filled the entire event.  


Eager to try some of Lenoir’s famous barbecue, I went up to the tent that had the most trophies in front of it. We found out that on top of the festival was both a barbecue competition and a poker tournament, and restaurants, vendors, and poker players actually come from across the nation to compete in this festival. That would also explain the large crowd of bikers with their affiliated gang jackets, as they made up the majority of the crowd that surrounded the poker tent.


However, I was slightly disappointed that there were only two barbecue tents from North Carolina, and only one of those two was actually from the City of Lenoir. Nonetheless, I was already hungry, so I hopped in line at the most decorated tent, knowing well what I was going to order. I asked for a half a rack of ribs and the woman kindly responded that they took cash only. I immediately panicked as I hadn’t been able to reach an ATM yet and was out of cash. What shocked me the most was when the woman told me she would give me the ribs and I could come back and pay here that day once I got to an ATM. Luckily, my friend Claire had a ten-dollar bill and took care of it for me, but I was extremely appreciative of the respect and honor that woman gave to me, knowing that if it came down to it, I would of course come back with the cash. My next question to her was where they were from. She said she and her mobile restaurant partners had driven all the way from Ohio to be at this event and were on their way to several others afterwards.


Digging into the first rib, I was immediately in barbecue heaven. It was like nothing I had ever tasted before. The glaze was thinner than I had expected but had the perfect blend of acidity and sweetness that every good barbecue should have. The base was clearly tomato, also something I had never experienced before. Finally, the pork melted right off the bone, and I finished all six ribs and made sure to lick my fingers after and tell the vendor how much I loved them.


After sitting and watching the band play while eating my ribs, we decided to walk around a little more to get a sense of what other vendors there were. We had been to a few festivals and farmer’s markets already on our journey and were happy to see that this festival had all local soap, candle, and craft vendors—nothing too commercial. Everyone we talked to was extremely kind and friendly, and it was amazing to see how many outreach groups were there spreading their information and trying to reach out to the community. Overall, this was the most comfortable I felt on our entire trip, as there wasn’t a moment that I felt like we didn’t fit in or felt like tourists.

1841 Café Review

By Jenny Kane

1841 Café is one of the many restaurants and shops nestled along Main Street in Lenoir, North Carolina. Lining the sidewalk in front of the entrance there lies a makeshift deck with tables and umbrellas for the lucky few who get to dine and enjoy the outdoors. The interior offers much more room with multiple dining rooms and a long bar. Unfortunately, we timed our visit to line up with that of the BBQ festival in town, so we ate in a nearly empty restaurant. Despite this, the exceedingly animated hostess was able to fill the café with an air of hospitality and kindness unlike any other restaurant.


There seemed to be a theme among employees at the café as our server was almost as outgoing and sociable as the hostess. She reminded me of a young grandma feeding her grandchildren. When the entire table ordered salads because of our previous 24 hours of heavy eating, she exclaimed, “I hope you’re saving room for dessert!” We were sorry to disappoint her.


My plate consisted of a bed of spring mix with tomatoes and cucumbers topped with chicken salad and dressed in a delicious raspberry vinaigrette. Simple but delightful, I enjoyed this dish very much as a light lunch. The portion size, though huge, was enough so that I could eat until I was just full. The chicken salad was what piqued my interest when I was looking at the menu and it did not disappoint. I’ve always heard that the key to a good chicken salad is to put just enough mayonnaise so that the ingredients are covered, but not so much that the ingredients are drowning. 1841 Café must have heard this secret as well, because their chicken salad was perfectly dressed in the right amount of mayonnaise. The addition of the raspberry vinaigrette added a touch of sweetness that made my mouth tingle.


To add another taste to my palate, I ordered sweet potato fries with a spicy mayonnaise on the side. It’s hard to mess up fries so it’s no surprise the café did an excellent job with those as well. They were cooked just how I liked them, still soft, but a bit crispy as well. The spicy mayo added a heat to fries that I’ve never experienced before. My stomach left content.


Though Lenoir is a small town with not much to show except for the annual BBQ festival, I could find myself traveling back down just to bask in the friendliness of the town and its locals. Working at a restaurant is no easy task, yet the staff contributes such a positive presence that it’s hard not to respond equally as affable. For anyone traveling through the Lenoir area needing a bite to eat, I suggest stopping at 1841 Café.

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.




Downtown Cruisers in Lenoir

By Dustin Swope -2014

The town of Lenoir is one of North Carolina’s best examples of a community that keeps up with the times without cleaving itself into an urban metropole and a suburban sprawl. Residents come off as bright and polite, but there’s no denying that Lenoir is by most accounts a quiet, reserved town. Once a month, however, Lenoir becomes a near-unrecognizable sea of activity as the downtown undergoes a remarkable transformation to host the Lenoir Downtown Cruisers Auto Show.

Normally when you hear crowds, you think of elbow-rubbing that turns into elbow-throwing, small children without the words they need to tell their parents that they want to go home, and of course, sweat stains. The type of crowd that the Lenoir Downtown Cruisers pull together is so far from that uncomfortable image, but I have to say that the October 2014 rally was exceptionally pleasant. The main streets in downtown Lenoir are shut down for the auto show, reserving all roadside parking to put the cars on display and leaving plenty of space for attendees to drift from one eye-catching ride to the next without bumping into one another or causing a traffic jam.

According to estimates from the friendly folks working the event and Lenoir Downtown Cruisers President, Steve Cardwell himself(!), this particularly rally had attracted between 400 and 600 registered drivers looking for some well-earned recognition. Add in the throngs of Lenoir locals, car enthusiasts, and people just looking for a light-hearted saturday among good company, and it’s no surprise that the total headcount for the auto show was approaching 5,000 during peak hour. What was surprising was that all of these people, complete with cars, booths, and the like, could pack this modest little town without it feeling, well, packed!

Downtown Lenoir Cruisers

The key here is the sprawl: Lenoir offers the auto show both sides of nine blocks and three parking lots. This spaces everything out so that each car gets its own stage and a cut of the spotlight, but it also makes for a pretty enjoyable stroll around the area as you make your way along. Not once in over three hours did I see one non-owner touch a show car, and this without one yard of electrified cattle fencing or a hyper-alert owner treating visitors as if they’d come with the explicit purpose of kicking a headlight in. With such a relaxed environment, it was hard not to strike up a conversation with owners about their cars; they can tell when people like their cars, and they always have a great story behind their ride.

Another great thing about the Lenoir Downtown Cruisers shows is that there is no shortage of diversity, in either cars or drivers. If you have your heart set on finding a ‘42 Chevy pickup truck like your grandfather used to drive and show your friends a 2014 Corvette ZR1 like the kind you’re going to buy as soon as you cash your next paycheck, you’re in luck – The two cars will probably be parked right next to each other.

Lenoir Car Show

Take a minute to talk to the drivers and you’ll encounter reason after another to keep believing that anything is possible. For instance, a seventy-year old man showcasing a convertible pink ‘74 Cadillac he won in a poker game and a mother of three running the family’s Pontiac Firebird in stock drag races on the weekends would be highlights in their own right at most other events. At the Lenoir Downtown Cruisers shows though, these two characters aren’t just real, and it’s not just that they’re at the same place at the same time. No, this auto show pulls together car enthusiasm that defines families and perforates entire communities, so it should be no surprise that pink Caddy-driving grandpa is drag-racing mother of three’s father in law – Each blazing their own trail in the four-wheeled world, but coming together to share with and celebrate each other here in Lenoir.

The Lenoir Cruisers are definitely one of the most eclectic, open, and mutually appreciative automotive communities I’ve ever encountered, but if you spend enough time at one like I did, you start to realize that people come here to celebrate more than cars; people are here to celebrate what living in a community of family and friends means to them. Once I’d explored every avenue of downtown Lenoir, asking how people came to own their cars and what their day-job was along the way, I sat down at the speaker’s square to enjoy the live music and take in the scene from afar. Even from my stationary viewpoint, there was no shortage of children holding their parents’ hands, couples old and young alike walking together, clusters of kids out for a night on the town with minimum parental supervision, business owners affirming their place in the community, out-of-town’ers visiting Lenoir for the day to spice up their weekend and see a new side of North Carolina, and so on. It was the kind of scene that makes you think about what matters most, and I think that the Lenoir Cruisers auto show makes it very clear what that answer should be.

1841 Café

By Miranda Allan – 2014

On the day my team arrived in Lenoir, we were joined by hundreds of others who make the weekly pilgrimage to the Cruise-In antique car show. For a town that frequently hosts such a massive event, Lenoir has only a few staple restaurants that receive almost as much traffic as Highway 64. My team followed the crowd to the cozy 1841 Café. We did not have far to walk, as the restaurant is conveniently located on Main Street in a central area that is blocked off for the car show.

I was immediately charmed by the building’s up-cycled warehouse feel. The distressed brick walls, cathedral ceilings, worn wood floors, and exposed piping lent an aesthetic of industrialism that was paired nicely with the enormous, colorful paintings by local artists. The furniture was mismatching in a quirky, modern way. Our table was created from an antique door that had been covered by a sheet of glass. I could see the 1841 Café fitting nicely in a trendy Northern town, but at the same time, I appreciated that the restaurant was clearly embedded in local culture.

The menu was no exception. Loaded with southern flair, it offered many tantalizing options for dinner. As a vegetarian, I always expect to find only a handful of options to choose from, but if there is some variety I can manage. 1841 Café was special because though it featured the typical amount of vegetarian options, these were more unique and exciting than that of most restaurants. I found myself deliberating at length between the portabella sandwich on a house-made croissant, or the vegetarian grits. I settled eventually on the latter, given that I was in a southern town aiming to experience a genuine southern lifestyle. To top it off, I ordered a side of fried okra. In hindsight, I suppose I was only missing the sweet tea.

Honestly, I was dubious of grits but I ordered them on principle. My meal put these worries to rest. I enjoyed that the smoky cream sauce balanced the mild sweetness of the grits. The soft, grainy texture of the grits complemented the crunch of the vegetables. My fried okra was exactly what I wanted fried okra to be: crispy, crunchy, and perhaps a little slimy to my northern palate. I ate the entire dish, and brought home the rest of my grits. I enjoyed my meal enough to eat cold vegetables and grits the next morning, as my microwave was broken. 1841 Café fully satisfied my hunger for a genuine southern experience.

1841 cafe

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:


When Jeff Met Jeff: Lenoir Downtown Farmer’s Market

By Jeff Flitter, 2013

Throughout my life, I have experienced many farmer’s markets. I have visited farmer’s markets so large that they have permanent fixtures or sections and markets so small that trucks drive up and set up tables. However, I have never seen a farmer’s market that was indoors before. When I arrived in the Lenoir Farmer’s Market, I met Jeff Crane and felt the need to ask him all about his life and the indoor farmer’s market he manages.

Jeff Crane is the co-market manager of the Lenoir Downtown Farmer’s Market and herb farmer. The farmer’s market is an indoor farmer’s market in Lenoir, NC specializing in local produce, crafts, and meats. Everything in the market is from the local community. They offer produce, herbs, paintings, word working, alpaca goods, and various other local products. All the products in the store are from about 20 to 30 miles away. The coffee is from local roasters, which means that the beans are not grown local, but they are roasted locally.

An indoor farmer’s market is not the typical choice, which makes the store stand out from others. “We could offer more stuff with an indoor market than outside,” Crane says. “It gives the farmers a few more days to sell.” Crane hopes to continue growing their stock, the number of farmers and artisans they partner with, and educational programming. Currently, Crane does educational events on herbs and where food comes from at elementary schools.

“North Carolina has a lot to offer,” says Crane. “People are getting more away from the interstate and into downtown.” He explains that more businesses are returning to the downtown areas and how more towns are trying to bring that small downtown feeling back. In regards to introducing the farmer’s market into Lenoir, he says “it all adds to downtown.” Crane describes how Lenoir has been revitalizing downtown for the last four years, but states that it is still behind Hickory in revitalizing. He is excited to see people get off the interstate and return to the small highways, claiming that Highway 64 “seems to be used more now.”

Crane grew up in Hickory, right down the road from Lenoir, and migrated to Lenoir later in life. Right out of high school, Crane began working in green houses and his interest in herbs grew. He began growing herbs ten years ago after talking to older farmers at farmer’s market. He began going into the woods to pick herbs and began to read more and more about them. He currently grows mushrooms, dry herbs, fresh herbs, and seventy-five different types of herbs. These herbs are sold fresh as well as in BBQ sauce and herbal teas. The farmer’s market is located at 905 West Avenue, Lenoir, NC 28645 and is closed on Sunday.

Hannah’s BBQ

By Chelsea Vollrath


Venturing off of Highway 64 onto U.S. 321 in Lenoir, you are overwhelmed by a sea of franchise-restaurants: Wendy’s, Papa John’s, Bojangles, Long John Silver’s. For those who know there’s more to offer in Lenoir than the chain restaurants, Hannah’s BBQ is a favorite.


When you pull into Hannah’s parking lot, the restaurant’s sign, paling in comparison to their chain-restaurant counterparts, advertises meal deals and reminds diners, “Jesus is Lord!” Religious conviction is pervasive in the restaurant; when you walk in, you are again reminded “Jesus is Lord” on the door under the notification that they’re closed on Sundays and have the opportunity to refresh yourself on the Ten Commandments, which are hung like artwork. The religious document is accompanied by decorative pieces, including a multitude of ceramic pigs and pictures of Bobby Q, the restaurant’s stately swine mascot. The wooden chairs and tables and worn faux-leather booths, in addition to the wall hangings, contribute to restaurant’s homey-feel.


When Paige and I walked in, the small restaurant was packed; we figured that signified we were in for a good meal. Seeing a USA Today article hanging on the back wall, which identified Hannah’s BBQ as one of 2004’s 10 Great Places for ‘Best of Zest’ Cuisine, supported that assumption.


Hannah’s offers entrees and sides typical of most barbecue restaurants. The front of the menu boasts the restaurant’s featured dishes: “Slow cooked mouth watering hickory smoked pork and beef, fall off the bone chicken and country style ribs… homemade BBQ beans, made-from-scratch slaw, hush puppies, and Brunswick stew.” To dress the smoked pork and beef, ketchup, hot sauce, and three kinds of barbecue sauce are left on the table for diners use. The Western ketchup-based barbecue sauce is in a ketchup bottle; the two other kinds of barbecue sauce are vinegar-based Eastern style barbecue sauces that differ in the amount of pepper flakes.


I ordered a plate of pork with a side of hush puppies and Brunswick stew, and Paige ordered barbecue chicken with a side of baked beans and hushpuppies and a sweet potato. Minutes after arriving, our food arrived: served on Styrofoam plates and in Styrofoam bowls. After taking the first bite, the food’s presentation was unimportant to me. It was all delicious. The hush puppies I ordered met my expectation as being the perfect BBQ side. Paige made the same claim of the baked beans she ordered. They were cooked with shredded pork, which neither Paige nor I had ever seen before. They were so flavor, assumedly because of the pork; we agreed they were the best baked beans we’ve ever had. The barbecue chicken was very moist and also very flavorful. We won’t ever find out why though. When we asked the waitress about the barbecue sauce on the chicken, she wasn’t as open to discussing it as she was with the sauces offered for the pork. She told us it was a secret, laughed, and walked away.


I was still curious about the different kinds of barbecue sauce offered, so I divided my meat into three sections on my plate, and dressed each section with a different sauce. Of the two eastern sauces, I preferred the one with more pepper flakes, probably because I am partial to spicy food. Though I am used to the Western style barbecue sauce, after using the eastern style, the western style seemed very heavy and overwhelmed the dish. I continued to experiment by mixing all three sauces together. It was the perfect combination. I doubt that would ever be common practice in a state divided by differing opinions on barbecue, but I’d recommend it.


After we finished eating, we went to the counter to pay for our very reasonable but very good meal. As we waited, I noticed pictures of who looked like family members and friends hanging from the cash register, which further solidified the at-home feel that overtook us when we walked in the front doors. Considering how positive our experience with the food and atmosphere was at Hannah’s, I’d certainly make a point to stop there again if ever passing through Lenoir.