One of the best parts of my job is getting out of the office and travelling around North Carolina to visit some of the libraries and museums that work with the NC Digital Heritage Center. We have partners all over the state and it’s always helpful and interesting for us to see their collections in person. Of course, we have to eat along the way, and while we’re always in search of new places to try, there are a few that we return to whenever we get the chance. Inspired by the end of the year “best of” lists, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorites from on the road.
I should say first that this is not supposed to be a list of the best or greatest restaurants in the state. No objective criteria were used at all, it’s simply a collection of places I’ve enjoyed and hope that some of you do, too.
Barbecue: Fuzzy’s, Madison.
Whenever we visit our partners in Rockingham County, I like to go to Fuzzy’s. It’s a classic, old-fashioned North Carolina barbecue restaurant with good food and great service. Like many barbecue places, they’ve got a variety of food available, but I can only vouch for the chopped pork sandwich, hush puppies, and sweet tea, all of which are outstanding. I also enjoy the classic, big restaurants like Stamey’s in Greensboro and Parker’s in Wilson, but Fuzzy’s is a favorite because of its comfortable, local atmosphere. In an age where unique, regional restaurants are getting harder to find, I’m going to make sure that I treasure North Carolina’s classic barbecue joints for as long as they’re around.
Two asides about barbecue: first, I do not take sides in the Eastern v. Western barbecue debate. Or I should say, I don’t discriminate. I am an equal opportunity North Carolina barbecue enthusiast. I’ve enjoyed great meals in Lexington as well as in Goldsboro and refuse to cast aspersions on either delicious style of preparation. And second, I never hit the road without first checking one of Bob Garner’s essential guides to North Carolina barbecue restaurants. The recent compilation, Bob Garner’s Book of Barbecue, is a great resource.
Hot Dogs: Roast Grill, Raleigh.
I’ve never been anywhere quite like the Roast Grill. Tucked away on a side street a couple of blocks from the old state capitol in downtown Raleigh, with its iconic “Hot Weiners” sign out front, the Roast Grill is a classic hot dog joint that hasn’t changed a thing in decades. While I love the atmosphere at Dick’s in Wilson and have had a great chili dog at Royall’s Soda Shoppe in Elkin, the Roast Grill is in a class by itself. There’s not much on the menu (“Well, we have hot dogs,” they explained on our last visit) and they’re well known for what they don’t have (don’t ask for ketchup). But the hot dogs are terrific and the ambience is impossible to beat.
Coffeeshop / Bakery: Camino Bakery, Winston-Salem.
Located in downtown Winston-Salem, just down the street from the main branch of the Forsyth County Public Library and its outstanding local history collection, the Camino Bakery is one of my favorite places in the state for coffee and baked goods. They take their coffee and espresso seriously and have terrific food, sweet and savory, including great cookies, fantastic quiches and a tomato pie that is reminiscent of top-notch deep dish pizza.
Lunch: On the Square, Tarboro.
Just down the street from the beautiful Tarboro Town Common, On the Square is a wonderful restaurant offering seasonal American food. It’s not a secret — we got there just before the lunchtime rush, when the line stretched to the door — but it’s definitely worth seeking out next time you’re in Tarboro. I especially liked seeing historic photos on the walls from the M.S. Brown collection at the Edgecombe County Memorial Library, many of which you can now find on DigitalNC.
Lunch Buffet: Orchid Garden, Fayetteville
Tucked into nondescript parking lot a couple of miles from downtown Fayetteville, Orchid Garden has some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. The lunch buffet offers a wide variety of traditional dishes and is a hit with both locals and military staff from nearby Fort Bragg. Last time we were there they were running a special on dungeness crab. Nearly every table in our section was digging in to the long crab legs and from the piles of shells in front of them, some of them had been at it for a while. Our server clearly thought we were crazy when we opted to skip the crab. Orchid Garden is worth seeking out if you’re in Fayetteville. If you go, don’t make the same mistake we did. Get the crab.
Last time I was in Asheville I sent of picture of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge and said that I was working from our western office. If only. In addition to their world-class chocolates, the lounge offers great coffee, several varieties of unpronounceable Mexican drinking chocolate, baked goods, as well as beer and wine. It’s the kind of place you could spend a whole day.
As we continue our work digitizing and sharing North Carolina’s unique cultural heritage, we’ll be on the road again in 2015 and would love to hear your suggestions. Use the comments below to tell us about some of your favorite spots around the state and maybe we’ll see you there in the months ahead.