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.