Oranges and Pimento Peppers

By Alexa Dysch – 2014

In the strangest of places and in the most unexpected of ways, a bit of Florida followed me to the mountains of North Carolina.

It started innocently, and crept up slowly. Like a guardian angel sitting on my shoulder, comfort strangely enveloped me in what I expected to be unfamiliar surroundings. Through my initial research, our destinations appeared so different to the town that I grew up in, yet here and there, I found my roots following along. This phenomenon began at our most Western point, Murphy. We met single retirees and young couples alike who visited and fell in love with the mountainous area. I was amused by this coincidence, but when it started happening frequently, I knew there had to be something more.

This blend of cultures continued when we reached Franklin. It was about 3:30PM and we were famished- the nearby shops were closing, and we had a drive ahead of us to Highlands.

We quickly ran into the first place we saw: Life’s Bounty Cafe. Glancing at the menu, I decided to go with a traditional Western barbecue sandwich. Yet, I was surprised as I glanced into the bakery boxes that they had fresh, homemade Cuban bread. I decided to take a chance and try a North Carolinian classic with a Floridian staple. Needless to say, the combination was perfect. The juicy, slightly sweet pork melted into the crunchy, dense dough. I immediately felt transported to a sunny, warm beach, despite the frost that gathered on the window outside.

I was surprised, yet felt an instant connection when I walked into the shop. As I conversed with the shop owners, they had a sense about them that felt familiar but not North Carolinian.

To accompany my sandwich, I had the perfect taste of home — a guava and cheese pastry. This South Floridian sweet treat usually gifted me after a long day of school. Needless to say, it was the first Cuban pastry I had come across in North Carolina. The dough was perfectly flaky and buttery, as the tang of fresh guava and a salty bite of creamy cheese brightened my mouth.

As I took my first bite, I looked at the shop owners with wide eyes. They simply smiled, in a wry, South Floridian way. Suddenly, I knew. I asked them what part of Florida they were from, and we continued to have a lengthy conversation about our favorite Southern spots and the traffic that incensed us.

This experience continued through each town we visited; we ran into more Floridians than we did North Carolinians! In equal parts, I was in awe, delight and slight annoyance that my hometown seemed to follow wherever I went. Despite the massive cultural differences between small, mountainous towns in North Carolina and my sprawling, urban hometown in Florida, the two felt oddly comfortable to me. Yet, in my array of emotions, I was thankful above all that I had the opportunity to explore two completely different regions and be able to reflect upon the similarities that struck me. Driving along the twists and turns of mountain roads made my heart flutter in more ways than one.

A guava cheese pastry, enjoyed in the town of Franklin.

Local Franklin Farmer Profile: Joe Deal

By Nicole Esplin and Hillary Dooley, 2013

Seven boxes of apples sit directly to the left of the entrance, and some of the largest sweet potatoes I have ever seen sit in a container in the center of the rustic open room with red paint and dirtied white walls. More wooden stands in the store were filled with peppers, beans, squash, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, field corn, and onions. In the back corner, a small sign directs customers out the door to the cornfields, which on this October day had just opened its seasonal corn maze. For $5, customers can live the life of a field mouse, scurrying around and getting lost in a sea of amber corn.

On this unusually hot October day Joe Deal, the primary owner of Deal Family Farm, sits in his cluttered corner office, rummaging through paperwork. A cashier stands behind the register, monitoring the produce. On any other day, Deal can be seen working in the fields out back or managing his field hands.  As a father, field hand, and manager, Joe Deal works to bring produce to Franklin, North Carolina and its surrounding towns.  He grew up farming with his parents and grandparents, who opened the Deal Family Farm in 1951. “My dad and I still farm together, so it’s my dad and myself now,” Deal said. “I’m third generation.”

When you think of a conventional farmer, Deal has it all.  His athletic frame, callused hands and flannel shirt fit the description.  His office emits a feeling of organized chaos, and pictures of his children provide evidence that Deal’s outside life is ever-present.  A whizzing fan blows outside air into the non-air conditioned office and an open file cabinet hints at the constant managerial tasks that must be kept up with.  Deal’s friendly, open personality seems necessary for the current state of the farming business.  He’s a firm believer in farming for the good of the entire population, and works hard to provide for his customers and keep his workers happy. “I currently have 13 field hands hired right now,” Deal said. “They’re basically starving to death where they live in Mexico, so they like working.  Most of them are family with the crew that I have that has been coming for 16 years.”

While working to provide for his family and keep his workers fed and healthy, Deal concentrates his farming ideals on creating the most good for all of society.  Deal doesn’t take the popular organic stance for all of his vegetables; he believes that farming so everyone has produce and food to eat is most reasonable. “If everything became organic, a lot of people would starve to death,” Deal said. “If you live somewhere that averages 10 inches of rain a year and you didn’t have all the bacteria and fungus problems that we have here at least in the mountains it may work, but we average 50-60 inches of rain per year here.  We get disease pressure.” And with a growing world population, Deal believes the only option for the future of farming is conventional farming. “If I tried to go completely organic, probably 1 out of 5 years, I would have a good crop.  Other years, we would have reduced yields, a lot more headache.”

Deal’s main crops are apples. The farm usually produces about 5,000 bushels on 9 acres, and they have 13 different varieties. The Deal apple grove is small, but it is the only one in the county. The Deal Family Farm is a local vendor for Ingles grocery store, and they also sell wholesale in Raleigh. Today, Deal is selling Grimes Golden, an older variety with natural blemishes and specks. He mentions how the powdery mildew on the apples doesn’t hurt the apple except for appearance, and again I’m reassured that I made the right decision stopping at this road-side stand and talking to Deal.

“You can see the [produce] growing and most of the time you can see my five kids running around out here and eatin’ apples or eatin’ tomatoes,” Deal said as I took the first bite of my Golden Grime.

Boiler Room Steak House

By Casey Brown, 2013

Across the parking lot from the town of Franklin’s Smokey Mountain Center of Performing Arts is a hometown steakhouse that embraces the area’s long history with the railroad while maintaining a quiet atmosphere for a nice dinner with the family: Boiler Room Steak House.

There are pictures and old-fashioned drawings that reminisce with the decades where the railroad was vital to mountain living. The light fixtures imitate old gas lamps, and the rustic wooden tables play with the simple mountain atmosphere. It is not until you walk back to the salad bar that you face the life-size, remodeled train car, in which some patrons can dine.

The restaurant’s lighting is soft and the volume is kept low, but not eerily so. It projects a space for an individual dining experience. You can enjoy a conversation with your family or a nice meal with friends without other guests intruding on your dinner or you on theirs.

Embracing the steak house agenda, I ordered the sirloin steak with mashed potatoes. As a part of the meal, I got a side salad from the salad bar in the adjacent dining room. This was also where you could get your food if you chose to eat from the buffet, which was available on Friday and Saturday nights.

Living up to its title, the sirloin steak was delicious. It was juicy and had a delicious salty seasoning to it. The mashed potatoes were very creamy and complemented the steak when eaten together.

Our server, dressed simply in a clean pair of jeans and a black button down, was attentive to us, checking in our meal and refilling our glasses whenever they got low. Like the overall atmosphere, the staff was polite and would pop in and out to offer service without much noise or fuss. We were on a tight schedule and we were in and out of the restaurant quickly, but we could have easily sat and talked for a while.

If you are looking a place to have good food and truly enjoy the company of your party without much intrusion, the Boiler Room Steak House is worth your business.