There's always a seat at the table and everyone is family. Chop, sip and gather in some of the most comforting and inviting places in the south.
This famous “Barbecue Capital of the World” began its rise to international acclaim a century ago when local entrepreneurs started cooking pigs behind the Davidson County Courthouse. Before long, visitors with legal issues to settle were hooked on the juicy hickory-smoked, pit-cooked pork, red slaw and hush puppies!
Today the town boasts 15 barbecue restaurants and throws the Barbecue Festival every fall that attracts nearly 200,000 people, some even arriving via Amtrak.
For a town of 19,000 residents, that’s phenomenal! Thanks, in part, to barbecue, Lexington has successfully transitioned its economic base in recent years from tobacco, furniture and textiles to tourism. Other attractions add to the overall allure of Lexington as a travel destination. Acclaimed artist and native son Bob Timberlake has a huge gallery off I-85 featuring his art and furniture. And NASCAR racing legend Richard Childress operates two tourism-related businesses off Highway 52 – a racing museum that includes a collection of Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 cars and a Tuscan-style winery that offers tastings, tours and shopping as well as upscale dining in The Bistro. (Timberlake and Childress together produce a special wine for the festival called “Fine Swine Wine” that flies off the shelves.) It is no wonder that Lexington touts “Swine, Wine & Dine!”
We rolled into Lexington on a Friday afternoon…
just in time to enjoy the Summer Stroll on Main Street, featuring food, music, classic cars, and shopping. We took time to paint a ceramic pig at Tommy Davis’s Missions Pottery, get a chocolate fudge fix and peppermint sticks at the old-fashioned Candy Factory, and sample pimento cheese at Conrad & Hinkle. The old-timey grocery, which dates to 1919, with yellowed receipts to prove it, produces 400 pounds of the cheese delicacy a day – just to serve customers within a few miles of Lexington.
Our next stop was The Barbecue Center, which opened in 1955. There we had our first taste of pork, followed by their legendary Banana Split that serves up to six people. Imagine! We took a behind-the-scenes tour at Lexington Barbecue, also called “Lexington No. 1” and “The Honey Monk”, which dates to 1962. The restaurant prepares more barbecue than any other place in town – 6,000 to 7,500 pounds a week and 35,000 to 40,000 pounds during Christmas week alone. Over the next two days, we enjoyed the barbecue at three amazing restaurants: Speedy’s, Smiley’s and Smokey Joe’s. Each has its own version of chopped or sliced barbecue (pit-cooked over wood), cole slaw, and hush puppies. All except Lexington Barbecue offer barbecued chicken certain days of the week. Most of the restaurants exude a down-home feel and still offer curb service. In addition to barbecue, residents and visitors also enjoy musical events, including concerts at High Rock Outfitters on Main Street.
On our tour of the beautiful Timberlake Gallery & Museum – featuring fine furniture, decorator items, and art, wine and family memorabilia – we met the man who is the genius behind it all – Lexington native Bob Timberlake. During our tour and wine-tasting at Childress Vineyards, we also met Richard Childress, just back from a NASCAR race in Tennessee. During his travels across the country Childress fell in love with wine and decided to plant a vineyard. Now in its 11th year and located just off Highway 52, Childress Vineyards produces 25,000 to 30,000 cases of wine a year.
Mount Airy, NC
An hour north of Lexington is Mount Airy, N.C., aka “Mayberry,” which has converted its tobacco/textile-based economy to tourism. Situated at the northern end of the Yadkin Valley, Mount Airy (population 10,400) has two wineries, two wine shops, and five restaurants that serve pork, including 13 Bones, Aunt Bea’s Barbeque and Snappy Lunch, where you can get a pork chop sandwich. Sound familiar? That’s because the late Andy Griffith borrowed many ideas from his hometown for The Andy Griffith Show, the 1960s television hit that continues to delight audiences. Fans come to Mount Airy year-round to learn more about the Hollywood actor at the Andy Griffith Playhouse and the adjacent Andy Griffith Museum, see his boyhood home, visit a replica of the Mayberry courthouse and jail, ride in Barney’s squad car, get a haircut at Floyd’s Barber Shop, have lunch at the Blue Bird Diner and shop for Mayberry souvenirs.
During Mayberry Days, which just celebrated its 25th year last September, the town welcomes more than 30,000 visitors. Headlining the four-day festival – which features a parade, live music, food, arts and crafts, and an official meeting of “The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club” – are tribute artists portraying Mayberry characters and stars of the television show. There are currently 13 special guests scheduled to attend Mayberry Days this year with more expected. The festival is excited to announce that they will welcome two first-time attendees this year – actress Barbara Eden (Mayberry’s first manicurist) and actor Clint Howard who played Leon. Returning guests include Betty Lynn, aka Thelma Lou, who now lives in Mount Airy and Ronnie Schell (multiple characters). Special performances will include Karen Knotts paying tribute to her late father, Don Knotts (Barney Fife), at the Historic Earle Theater and a performance by Rodney Dillard Band with Maggie Peterson (Charlene Darling) at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
“For 25 years we’ve seen an increase in enthusiasm. The spirit of Mayberry is definitely enduring and timeless,” says Tanya Jones, Surry County Arts Council, who spearheaded the first festival in 1990. “It’s a gathering of like-minded people who have strong family values and love a simpler time. And that’s what this represents.”
Many visitors are also drawn to Yadkin Valley’s wineries (more than three dozen and counting). At the Old North State Winery and UnCorked, in downtown Mount Airy, you can sample a variety of local wines, from most of the well-known European varietals like merlot and chardonnay to native muscadine wines. You can also visit four wineries within a few miles of town – Round Peak, Olde Mill, Stony Knoll and Shelton Vineyards. Covering 383 acres and producing 50,000 cases of wine a year, Shelton is the largest family-owned estate winery in North Carolina. Actually located near Dobson, it offers tours and tastings, shopping, special seasonal events and fine dining in the Harvest Grille, with accommodations available nearby.
Swine, Wine & Dine! Enjoy this unique experience in Lexington and Mount Airy!
Plan your route to Mount Airy and to Lexington by visiting AAA’s online TripTik Travel Planner at AAA.com/TripTik.