Never Blue

By Jenny Kane

Hendersonville is a lively town home to a variety of shops and restaurants that line the downtown streets. Arriving on a beautiful Friday afternoon in October, we were able to witness the hustle and bustle of the throng of tourists and locals as they sat out sipping drinks at cafes or browsed the shelves in the locally owned shops. Smiling faces greeted us everywhere we went, providing a warm sense of welcome.


The streets of Hendersonville at night are much emptier than during the daytime hours. However, the people that once populated the streets are now seated in the various restaurants enjoying a delicious and filling dinner. With the amount of options available in the town it’s amazing anyone is able to come to a decision. There are restaurants for those craving a quick bite in a casual setting, for those hoping for a longer meal with multiple courses, and for those looking for something in between.


Jenny and I spent our night at the bar of Never Blue, a restaurant known for their offerings of tapas that feature a variety of cuisines from around the world. And honestly, I don’t think there is enough buzz surrounding this place. We ordered an assortment of tapas so that we could experience the many tastes they claim to offer. We started with the hummus plate that came with fried naan bread, carrots, celery and house pickles, and the chili-garlic shrimp, which consisted of mini shrimp swimming in a spicy-sweet house-made chili garlic sauce. The hummus, while still good, was nothing special and tasted like something I could have picked up from the grocery store. The shrimp, however. Oh, the shrimp! Now I’m a huge shrimp person as it is, but the sauce was just the right amount of spicy and sweet and had the perfect mixture of chili and garlic. It was my favorite dish of the entire trip.


From there we ordered separate dishes based on our own interests. Jenny got the beans and rice and the tuna poke. I got the eggplant fries and an al pastor taco. The eggplant fries were nothing like what I expected them to be, but that was probably because I was expecting something similar to a real French fry. The consistency, however, was very different. These fries were much softer and mushier, which left a weird texture in my mouth, almost like baby food. And you definitely have to enjoy the taste of eggplant in order to enjoy these fries. The taco, which had pork and onions and a pineapple salsa on a corn tortilla, was another one of my favorites from the weekend. I am a huge fan of incorporating pineapple into as many dishes as possible (yes, this means I like pineapple on pizza), so the fact that this ingredient was a factor in the taste just made it all the better.


The friendly atmosphere of Never Blue only added to the feast we enjoyed that night. Sitting at the bar allowed us to converse with other restaurant patrons, something that helped us gain valuable knowledge about not only Hendersonville, but also some of the other towns on our itinerary. But out of all the places we traveled to that weekend, our experience at Never Blue is the one that I value the most. My stomach will eventually lead me back to Hendersonville and the exquisite cuisine at Never Blue.

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.

Black Rose Public House: An Irish Pub in the Heart of the Foothills

By Jenny Kane

Our stomachs were growling as we arrived to downtown Hendersonville at around 3pm on a Friday afternoon in the middle of October. In spite of this ravenous hunger, we searched for the nearest sports bar we could find. What we encountered was an Irish pub called Black Rose Public House right at the center of the downtown area, only about 20 yards from the city courthouse. Looking at their menu, the pub seemed to offer a variety of both American and Irish dishes as well as a full bar with 24 hand-picked beer and cider taps. The bar looked newly renovated and was preparing for the Halloween festivity as seen by its intricate decorations. There were a few parties sitting both in and outside, enjoying the sunny fall afternoon. We decided to sit at the bar and immediately began scanning the menu for the heartiest dishes they served. I also took a chance to look over the list of beers they had on tap, and was appreciative to see that a majority were from local Hendersonville and Asheville brewing companies. Looking up from the menu I saw four flat screen TV’s, playing both the local news and the golf channel, which gave me a feeling of surprising comfort in this new place after driving three long hours and not having eaten anything since the early morning.


When the bartender suggested the Black Rose Burger, I knew I had to try it. Leaving my usual picky tendencies behind, I told the bartender to load the burger up with whatever came on it and tested my fate. What came from the kitchen only a short fifteen minutes later was a massive black angus cheeseburger with white cheddar cheese, freshly slices pickles, onion, and tomato on a brioche bun, and on the side, beer-battered French fries. I was in heaven. Taking the first bite I thought I would never be able to fit the entire thing in my mouth, but I managed. Next was an explosion of savory charred flavor with a background of acidic pickle that complemented each other magnificently. I housed it down in 5 minutes and washed it down with a cold Hendersonville Pale Ale. Not only was the bartender extremely friendly, but the entire atmosphere of the pub was emanating with warmth and comfort. Before leaving, I made sure to ask what led upstairs when first walking in the door. Surprisingly, the restaurant expands into an upstairs dining and bar area for large sporting events or holidays. Although it was a slow time of the day, it was hard for me to imagine a completely full house in a relatively small, cozy place in Hendersonville, who’s population hardly exceeds 13,800 people.

Magnolia 23 (Asheboro, NC)

By Soula Kosti

Magnolia 23 is a small restaurant on 23 South Fayetteville Street in Asheboro, NC. This restaurant takes pride in its home-cooking and soul food. The owners have created a homey, Southern spot with the Southern-style fried chicken as their specialty. They promise their customers the real deal.


This small place is closed three times a week, and has some weird times. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, they open at 11 a.m. and close at 2 p.m., and then reopen at 5 p.m. and close at 8 p.m. On Sunday, they open at 11 a.m. and close at 3 p.m. We went on a Sunday, right before Thanksgiving week and they were planning to stay closed for the entire week. However, many people waited in line and it seemed a popular place, as we had to wait for about 15-20 minutes.


Magnolia 23 offers no menu, as they include different items depending on the day of the week. Even though, there isn’t a big variety, the portions are pretty generous. People who choose meat can get two sides. When we went, we both got the fried chicken, that they say is 63rd best on the entire nation. They give you the choice between white and dark meat, and we both chose white. We both got the white roll instead of the corn bread. My sides were the mashed potatoes and the slaw, while my companion’s were the mac n cheese and the yums. The chicken was absolutely amazing. It was served hot, falling of the bone, and as crisp as it should be. The sides were good, but we could definitely say that the chicken was the star of the plate. The staff was also nice and friendly. The owner is always around and goes from table to table to introduce himself, make sure everything is good, and get to meet his customers.


            Since we had to wait in line to be seated, we got the chance to explore the restaurant’s decorations. As you walk in there is a table with a sign on it saying how Magnolia 23 was voted 63rd on the nation for its fried chicken. The walls have boards with the menu of the day and a personal statement, including phrases such as “our food is made from scratch and most importantly made from love.” In the back of the restaurant, there are many family pictures that give the place more of that homey feel and vibe, and also a big map so people can add the place they came from. When the owner came to talk to us, he actually suggested that we should add our home to the map, and so we did.

lucettegrace Review

By Soula Kosti

During our long trip around the places Highway 64 connects, our last destination in the Piedmont area was Raleigh. Once we finished our drive around Raleigh, we decided to stop at a bakery and satisfy our sweet tooth. The place that was closest to our location and we decided to stopped was luccettegrace. None of us had been there before so that was a great new experience for all. We parked right across the street and we easily found the small bakery. The front view of the store is full of glass and gives the pedestrians a view of the inside of the bakery, as well as, a view of the road for those dining in. The inside of the pastry shop is very bright and colorful. The dark brick wall contrasts with the bright chairs and colorful writing on the wall in a perfectly balanced way.

This bakery’s menu offers lunch, beverages, as well as pastries, but we were there just for the later. Jessica and Maritza got the Macaron Gift 


Box, which included 8 macarons with different flavors of their choice. I got the Churro Bun and the Candy Bar Cake. As they described them, the Churro Bun is a cinnamon sugar dusted croissant filled with vanilla cream, and the Candy Bar Cake includes chocolate hazelnut praline mousse, praline chocolate crunch, brown butter cake, and praline cream. Jessica and Maritza said they loved the apple pie flavored macaron, while Maritza wasn’t a big fan of the rose. I wasn’t a big fan of the churro bun, but I enjoyed the candy bar cake.


lucettegrace could be described as a french-type bakery, which includes a contemporary menu. The portions aren’t very generous compared to the price, but desserts can be that way. There wasn’t a big variety either, but the staff was pretty friendly. The bakery’s motto is “lucettegrace is a starting point for your day, an escape in the middle, and a reward at the end.” They are located in 235 South Salisbury Street, Raleigh, NC, and they are open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.


Daniel’s Restaurant and Catering

By Jessica Mohr

This review is special to me because I have been going to Daniel’s Restaurant and Catering for as long as I can remember. Whenever extended family came into town from Philadelphia, we would always take them here for a delicious Italian meal that was also reasonably priced, especially when compared to some of the places in Raleigh or Cary that were also on the list of “grandparent accepted” restaurants in the area. In addition to being affordable and delicious, Daniel’s is right down the road from my house! Google Maps calculates it as 1.8 miles away. That’s walkable, if you’re desperate. Due to my long history with this place, and its location 0.8 miles from Highway 64, Daniel’s was a natural choice for this review. 

The appetizer I selected for this review is their arancini. For those of you who have never experienced the Italian magic, arancini is a deep-fried ball of risotto with a gooey glob of cheese in the middle, served over homemade tomato sauce. I like it with extra Parmesan cheese on top and more pepper than most people deem tasteful. Not only are Daniel’s arancini large (think tennis balls), they are also robust and substantial. As soon as you cut into them you know there’s about to be a party in your mouth — the hearty, warm smell of a well-made risotto combined with melted mozzarella cheese comes wafting out of the ball, inspiring a reaction I can only describe as excitement. The first thing you notice when you take a bite is how crisp the fried outer shell is. Despite sitting in a bed of moist tomato sauce, that outer shell is still sharp and crisp when you take a bite out of it.

Once you get through the fried outer shell, flavorful risotto and creamy mozzarella cheese greet you on the inside. Risotto is an Italian staple made with rice, meat broth, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and usually some butter for good measure. Whoever Daniel is, I want to find him and ask him where he gets his seasonings, because this is some of the most intense flavor I’ve ever experienced out of a risotto, and I’ve been to Italy! This appetizer reminded me of the small hole-in-the-wall restaurant my mother and I ate at no less than three times during our two-day visit to Florence. Everything in Daniel’s arancini tasted fresh, authentic, and vibrant.

While I could survive on arancini alone if I really put my mind to it, I also opted for an entree, and what better dish to select for the main course than pasta? There were plenty of “pastabilities” on the menu, but I decided to go for the house favorite: penne alla casa. This is, as written on the menu, “a heavenly concoction of red sauce and cream, garlic, Romano cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and spinach.” I also added chicken so I could pretend I was having something healthy. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish as well. The sauce was indeed heavenly, with just the right amount of kick from the garlic, the pasta was nice and al dente, and the chicken was well-prepared. The only critique I had was that there was a bit too much spinach in the mix for my liking, but that’s too much a personal preference for me to count it as a negative aspect of their recipe. After all, I had more than enough pasta to eat off of for three days after my meal, and that’s far more exciting than worrying about the quantity of spinach. Between the leftovers and the half a loaf of garlic bread in the takeout bag, I was one happy customer.

Blue Moon Beach Grill: Review

By Laura Dunbar

Dinner in Nags Head was one of the most difficult choices we had to make on our trip. Compared to the other towns we had visited, Nags Head had an abundance of restaurants to offer. When we shared our dilemma with our Uber driver, she told us, “If you’re only in Nags Head for one night, you have to go to Blue Moon.” After looking it up, we learned that Blue Moon Beach Grill was one of the best rated restaurants in town, so we knew it was a must.


When we pulled up to the restaurant that night, we were surprised to find it nestled into a strip mall. The windows were dark and tinted, and from the outside it appeared as if nobody was inside. We had expected the number one rated restaurant to be a bit more popular on a Saturday night, and were sure we had the wrong place, but upon double checking we found we were right. We almost turned around and went somewhere else, but decided to give it a try.


When we walked in, we saw just how wrong we had been. The restaurant was packed, with groups of friends sitting at the bar and big family parties taking up many of the tables. We ended up having to wait a few minutes while a table was cleared for us, and the host was extremely friendly, making conversation with us while we waited. Our waitress was very kind as well throughout our meal. The Blue Moon Beach Grill was clearly a place of real southern hospitality.

Although the restaurant appeared to just be like any other bar on the inside, with flat screen TVs and neon beer signs, the menu proved otherwise. It wasn’t just typical bar food, like burgers and fries. The food was creative and new, with dishes like fried green tomato and shrimp napoleon and a braised portobello mushroom stuffed with arugula and goat cheese risotto. Everything on the menu seemed delicious, and there was also a blackboard of specials that change daily. It was clear that seafood was the specialty in this coastal town, so I ordered the seaside bucatini, a pasta dish tossed with a roasted tomato pesto sauce with sauteed shrimp and scallops, artichoke hearts, baby spinach and parmesan cheese. The shrimp and scallops were large and tender, and the vegetables and sauce paired with them perfectly. Jennifer, the group member at dinner with me, hopped on the seafood train as well and ordered the salmon gnocchi special. It came in a tomato cream sauce with fresh sauteed vegetables and a filet of salmon cooked so well that it flaked away with the touch of a fork. It was, hands down, the best meal of the trip. For dessert, we split the pumpkin cheesecake, a dessert special for the autumn months that exceeded our expectations with its creamy filling and sweet whipped cream topping. After every course, we became honorary members of the clean plate club.

We said goodbye to our waitress and left the Blue Moon Beach Grill feeling happier— and much more full— than when we had entered.

The Prime Smokehouse

By Jennifer Grant

I often think that mac and cheese should be its own separate food group. Like fruits and vegetables, it takes up a large chunk of my diet. I’ve seldom found mac and cheese I disliked, but I vehemently believe that they’re not all created equal. I would soon realize and reaffirm my belief that some are MUCH better than others.


My group member Laura and I had just arrived at our hotel in Rocky Mount and we were starving. We had made plans to return to Tarboro that evening for dinner.  After skimming over the restaurant’s menu again and realizing that going to Tarboro meant another 30 minutes in the car after we’d already spent much of the day traveling, we decided to look for something closer. The Prime Smokehouse: Barbecue and Beyond, was one of the first options to pop up in our Google search. Intrigued, I looked into it a little more and found that the restaurant’s mac and cheese had been given the honor of a spot on Travel + Leisure’s  “America’s Best Mac and Cheese” list. SOLD. After a quick call to make a reservation, and a much-needed nap, Laura and I were off to see just how good this mac and cheese really could be.


The restaurant was located in an area that seemed like it would be downtown Rocky Mount, but it was pretty deserted. If not for the several parking lots we saw full of cars, we probably would have thought no one was there that night. After driving around a few times looking for a spot where we wouldn’t be towed, we parked and walked over to The Prime Smokehouse.


It’s a good thing I made a reservation! The place was packed and noisy and bustling with chatter. Even with a reservation, we and several other parties waited a bit longer than I would have liked to be acknowledged and shown to our table. I didn’t mind too much, though, because it gave me time to take in the warm and friendly environment. Soon, we were seated at a high top and handed two very large menus.


Laura and I knew we were each going to order mac and cheese as one of our sides, but how could we possibly choose an entrée from the expansive selection? After much consideration, we both picked dishes from the “From Our Famous Smoker” section of the menu. Laura opted for the pulled pork with a side of coleslaw and mac and cheese, and I chose the Bronzed Chicken with a side of roasted broccoli and mac and cheese.  

Stripers Bar and Grille

By Jennifer Grant

Our plans to eat breakfast while looking out over the marina had been slightly foiled by Mother Nature. The sky was dark and gloomy and the rainfall had just turned heavier as we pulled into the parking lot.


The stormy weather reflected how Laura and I felt about both our trip coming to an end and the four-hour car ride ahead of us that day. Determined to make the most out of our last meal of the trip, we parked, dashed out of the car, and ran for shelter from the rain at Stripers Bar and Grille in Manteo.


The restaurant turned out to be more of sports bar than I had anticipated. Along with its expansive brunch menu, we were also given a list of game day selections. Behind us, a football game played on all the televisions in the bar, while Top 40 pop music blared. Our table was in the perfect location to look out onto the Marina, but with all the fog and rain that day there wasn’t too much of a view. I found myself wishing we had visited on another day, when perhaps we would have seen boats out in the water and would have been met with sunshine instead of looming clouds.


I wasn’t expecting to see many complex brunch items on the menu, and yet I was pleasantly surprised. I was drawn to the crab egg benedict with a side of grits, while Laura opted for a benedict with pan-seared vegetables rather than crab. I laughed when she told me she was partial to Maryland crab and would only order it there.


My breakfast came out steaming with a thick layer of Hollandaise sauce and large chunks of crabmeat. By that point, I had worked up an appetite, so I quickly cut into my breakfast and watched the dripping yolk fill my plate. The grits were good, but were a different consistency than I was used to. They reminded me of rice pudding in a way, which was unexpected, but actually enjoyable.


As we ate, I overheard a very peppy and positive couple talking to a bartender. Just retired, they had recently moved to North Carolina from California, and wanted to discover all the state had to offer. Their excitement was contagious, and as Laura and I left the restaurant, I found myself feeling grateful for the opportunity we’d had to explore the Coastal Plains that weekend.

Treasures of Tarboro at Off the Main

By Jennifer Grant

Tucked away on a side street of unassuming downtown Tarboro stands a beige Victorian style home. If not for a sign in the front yard, the average passerby would just chalk it up as another sweet, southern home and not give it a second thought.


That passerby would be missing out on the hidden treasures of Tarboro. Open the door to that Victorian, and you’ll step into Off the Main, a co-retailing boutique that rents out storefront space to local businesses. The name Off the Main refers to the store’s location off of Main Street, but to me it also references the unique offerings that the boutique brings to Tarboro. In this small town, there’s nothing else quite like it.


Walking from room to room of the house, I took in everything from shirts to fuzzy socks printed with Tarboro, NC to jewelry to toys. Brooke Phillips, the owner of Off the Main was kind enough to speak with me when I visited, and explained some of the thought process behind the items she sells. She told me she looks for distinctive products that have meaningful stories behind them. For instance, a single mom from Columbia, NC makes some of the children’s clothing she sells. Some of the proceeds from a few of the dainty jewelry pieces I admired go to a local animal shelter. I was drawn to purchase Thai Basil scented wax made by a small business owner. The smell reminded me of Mike and Ike’s candy.  


Phillips is passionate about what she does, and told me opening a boutique had always been her dream. She grew up in Tarboro, but left for several years to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Upon graduation, she knew she had to come back to her hometown to open a store. At the moment, Phillips works with ten vendors to stock the boutique. The connections she builds with these vendors and with Tarboro residents are at the heart of her business. As we spoke, the front door bell kept ringing, indicating another visitor had stopped by to view her new items. I found myself wishing I could be one of those regulars, just stopping by to chat and smell the candles.