Preserving the Charm: Pittsboro, NC

By Kelley Dodge – 2014

PittsboroDriving into the quaint town of Pittsboro, we immediately swerve into a parking spot outside the historicPittsboro3 Chatham County Courthouse. The Victorian-style building, with a three-layer cupola, marks the beginning of downtown Pittsboro. Before making it to the downtown shops we stop, mesmerized by artwork on the first building of the strip. Though still under construction, there is a beautiful mosaic of flowers that has been crafted with shiny pieces of mirror. As we are admiring the artwork, two women walk by, one of whom stops to chat with us. Cindy Edwards, a Pittsboro native, tells us about the town’s priority of preserving its history, emphasizing the displays of public art, which further enhances its charm.


Pittsboro5Our first indication of this tightly knit community is in sitting down to dinner at S & T Soda Shop, a downtown restaurant that Pittsboro6Cindy noted as one of her favorites. Upon opening the menu, we begin reading about the history of the Soda Shop, stumbling across the restaurant’s special acknowledgement of Cindy Edwards, one of the founding proprietors. Pittsboro’s community culture shined at S & T Soda Shop, where everyone seemed to be on a first name basis with each other, frequently moving from table to table to visit friends. Though outsiders, we were warmly greeted at the door and graciously taken care of by our young, energetic waitress. Not only was the service good, but the sandwiches, burgers, and milkshakes were a perfect combo.


Pittsboro7Leaving S & T Soda Shop we wandered to a side street to explore the Food Truck Rodeo, another event thatPittsboro8 many locals recommended. The Rodeo boasted an assortment of food and drink options spanning from the Carolina Brewing Company to sub-sandwiches, and mini donuts to Italian ice, there was certainly something for everyone. Hosted by the Pittsboro Roadhouse General Store, the Rodeo was set up in a parking lot where people gathered at tables, enjoying their Saturday evening with good friends and good food.

After exploring the Food Truck Rodeo, we wandered back to Hillsboro Street, which runs through the heart of downtown Pittsboro, and stopped into a woodshop and an art store, both of which boasted many interesting crafts.The local artisans emphasized the fact that Pittsboro prides itself on small businesses, but expressed concern for an incoming development, something that Cindy and our waitress at S&T Soda Shop had also mentioned during our conversations. This concern, we soon realized, is one that is shared by many Pittsboro natives. On Pittsboro9Pittsboro10four different occasions, locals brought up displeasure about a new 7,000-acre technology park currently under construction. While Pittsboro is currently home to about 5,000 residents, the new development, dubbed as a “Live-Work-Play” community is expected to bring an estimated 55,000 people to the area. Local residents, restaurants, and shopkeepers all expressed concern about this influx of people and how it might drive out small local businesses or on the contrary, stimulate too much demand. The development also poses a threat to Pittsboro’s small-town, tight-knit community atmosphere. While the project has already been approved, one thing is sure: it will be nearly impossible to ruin Pittsboro’s innate charm, because the community will fight to preserve its historic, small-town atmosphere.

Leaving Pittsboro as the sun set over the Courthouse, we were smiling ear to ear. Because we had never heard of PittsboroPittsboro11 before, we journeyed to the town with very low expectations. However, our preconceptions could not have been more wrong. Of all the towns we visited for the Piedmont Region of Highway 64 project, Pittsboro was easily our favorite. We were enchanted by the welcoming community, talented artisans, tasty food, and historic buildings. Just minutes away from Raleigh and Chapel Hill, this gem is a must see for anyone living in or traveling through North Carolina.

“Live Big, Eat Small:” Small B&B Cafe

By Grace Elkus and Brynna Bantley, 2013

As we walked around downtown Pittsboro on a Sunday morning in early October, we were almost ready to give up on finding breakfast. Our options seemed limited to the Pittsboro Roadhouse, where we had eaten dinner the night before, or waiting an hour and getting wood-fired pizza from a small cart that had just pulled in for the First Sunday festival. Our hopes rose when we rounded the corner and spotted a small coffee shop, but to our disappointment, they only served drinks. Not wanting to be rude, we almost resorted to foregoing food and drinking lattes instead when the barista suggested we walk down the road to the café of a small bed and breakfast.

Small B&B was about a ten minute walk from the heart of downtown Pittsboro, so without the barista’s suggestion, we would have never passed by. Located in a historic 1880 Methodist parsonage, the café is open to both guests of the bed and breakfast and to the general public. After following a dirt path that led to the side of the building, we walked up onto a small porch with outdoor seating and into the café. Wooden tables filled the room, and a low counter revealed the kitchen behind it. Scrawled on a blackboard behind the counter was what we presumed were the specials — but when we asked for a menu, the woman behind the counter stared at us and said “Don’t tell me you’ve never been here before!”

We soon learned that most everybody who visits the café are frequenters, returning time and time again to try the newest menu items. Because of the focus on using local and seasonal ingredients, there is no printed menu. Instead, everything being served that day is written on the blackboard. Items that are constants on the menu include quiche with a cornmeal crust, an egg sandwich, eggs any way with smashed potatoes, French toast on orange brioche bread, lemon ricotta hotcakes, granola, and steel cut oatmeal. The “wild card” is the special of the day — and on this particular day, it was vegetarian huevos rancheros.

Between the two of us, we ordered an iced housemade chai tea latte, the lemon ricotta hotcakes, the huevos rancheros and the last slice of the quiche of the day, which was cheddar, tomato and red onion.  We sat at a table against the wall, both seated on the wooden bench facing the rest of the restaurant. It was a cozy, friendly environment, with a sign on the wall that read ‘If we all hold hands we can’t fight’ and folk music playing softly in the background. The counterwoman seemed to know everyone who entered, and her role adapted every time, from offering personal advice to  close friends to taking large orders of homemade cookies and cakes.

The food came shortly after we had ordered it, all piping hot and smelling of fresh herbs and sweet lemon. As the woman set the plates down in front of us, she said “You’re going to have a great morning.” And that we did. The hotcakes were soft, paper-thin, and melted in our mouths. The quiche was piping hot, and the cornmeal crust crumbled delightfully as we cut into it with our forks. The huevos rancheros were a little tough to eat, having been plated open-faced on corn tortillas. But the eggs were scrambled perfectly, the salsa had just the right amount of kick to it, and the plate was garnished beautifully with orange slices and parsley.  The chai was served in a mason jar, and was so refreshing we could have taken two more to go.

After finishing our meal, not leaving a single orange slice uneaten, we let our food digest for a moment before bussing our dishes. Rising from the table, we noticed some Small B&B merchandise available to customers — coffee mugs and T-shirts that read ‘Live Big, Eat Small,’ a cunning play on the name of the establishment. Having just polished off three meals between the two of us, we looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh; we certainly didn’t “Eat Small,” and we’re willing to bet that if you stop in at this deliciously charming B&B, you won’t want to either.

Pittsboro Roadhouse

 By Dustin Swope, 2013

Opening its doors in 1979 on the corner of Thompson and Hillsboroguh, the general store became almost as iconic of Pittsboro as the Chatam County Courthouse. It moved to its current location adjacent to the courthouse in 1994, suspended business in 2008, and reopened as the Pittsboro Roadhouse and General Store in 2012 under new management.

I never had the opportunity to visit the General Store as it once stood, but I found the refurbished Roadhouse tastefully done, if a little bold. The outside aesthetics seemed reminiscent of the independent, family-owned cafe, but inside is a very different feel. The floor-to-ceiling mirrored windows and interior selections make the restaurant feel like the exit station for Disney’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster. Clean, polished quality, but not of the same charm as the rest of Pittsboro, so there’s a sense that the restaurant is from both a time forgotten and a place unfamiliar.

So, atmosphere aside, I was ready to check out the food that had apparently kept the restaurant alive and thriving since its last grand re-opening. The menu was extensive, but certainly not as offensive as some kitchen-sink menus I’ve found. My team picked a few appetizers to get a sense of which “baskets” the Roadhouse put its eggs as a restaurant.  The basil-steamed mussels and garlic bread were tasty, but pretty modest in their portions, so we remained hopeful that loyalists actually came here for dinner, not just for snackfare or something to soak beer up with.

I want to be as fair to the Roadhouse as possible, so I should mention that I was not as open-minded in my selection as I usually am. Any other day, the Smoked-Salmon Tortellini in Garlic Cream Sauce would’ve been calling my name. It’s also easy to imagine that the locally sourced Beef and Bison Deluxe Burger knocks it out of the park for 9 out of 10 patrons. Alas, it was Dinner we were there for, and I had hit the meat motherload in the Asheboro Fall Festival that day. At that point, I just needed to remember what vegetables could be more than just a condiment or afterthought.

Luckily, the Roadhouse was ready to accommodate. I went with the Vegetable Ragout with Feta and Balsamic Drizzle. I opted for the grilled chicken breast tender toppers, just for the sake of role reversal – Protein needs to be learn how to share the stage every once in a while.

The ragout is pictured online as one of the dishes the Roadhouse brags on (See below, pic one). I managed to snap a quick one before I dove in, you can see how the execution actually looks (See below, pic two). Pretty spot-on if you ask me.

Visually, this dish was easy on the eyes. When I actually eat my greens to appease my mom in spirit, they’re usually raw or self-prepared, so flare isn’t really a factor. It might not seem like much, but I really appreciated the quilt of veggie-ribbons. It wasn’t like the chef was trying to disguise the carrots, squash, onions, and bell peppers in the dish; it felt more like the chef having fun without letting the patron’s expectations confine.

The chicken tenders were too salty to let any other seasoning shine through, but I’ll admit that my taste buds sang regardless. The contrast against the sweet roasted tomato base made this add-on for the best, albeit an opportunity squandered. The balsamic glaze added depth to the vegetable base, but what I really like was its aesthetic contribution. Without the glaze, the dish was mostly a sea of warm reds and yellows. The dark streaks let my eyes detect detail and nuance in the dish visually, not to mention a charming mimic of grillmarks that were otherwise absent from the soft-cooked vegetables.

Unfortunately, my fond memories of the Roadhouse Raguot stop here. It’s not that I ran into anything I hated about the dish, it genuinely just wasn’t very ‘memorable.’ The chickpeas and squash added nothing here besides volume, and the decorative herb (presumed basil) apparently didn’t have an opportunity to flavor the pot. The peppers and onions were sweet and properly cooked, but I couldn’t help but notice how the ragout as a whole tasted exactly like what I cook myself around the house. Not to sell myself short, here, but I know that I don’t do anything in the way of seasoning my greens. I’ll give the chef the benefit of the doubt, but the vegetables certainly didn’t see any special attention that I could taste.

There is, of course, the just-thicker-than-broth broth at the base of the vegetable mound, but there was no way to engage with it. I could smell the sweetness of tomato from it, but the vegetables appeared to have been plated after the broth. Aside from being nearly impossible to eat with any sort of grace or efficiently, the vegetable ribbons made for a poor vehicle for the flavors of the broth. I suppose not everything “quilted” is a” quicker pick’er-up’er.” Lesson learned.

While I wasn’t entirely impressed with this dish, I was thankful for it. The Roadhouse Ragout was a graciously light meal to end on considering the surplus the day’s previous fare had me in. When I had cleaned my plate, I was neither comatose nor guilt-ridden, which implies that it could have been worse. My time at the Pittsboro Roadhouse was interesting enough that I would send friends and fellow day-trip’ers their way – I’d just push them towards the Tortellini and a slice of house-made cake.