By Vanessa Infanzon
Four of our favorite comfort foods and where to find them in the Carolinas
Cooler weather begs for foods that warm our souls and fill our bellies. Comfort foods remind us of family dinners and reunions, and Sunday suppers at grandma’s house. Tradition and locale dictate the comfort food of choice — it could be biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes, roast beef or chili. It’s whatever you crave when you want to feel closer to home.
In the late 1400s, Christopher Columbus may have been introduced to barbecue while in the Caribbean. But it was said to be the Spanish explorers who brought the indigenous tribes’ process of cooking over an indirect flame to North America; and it then made its way to the southern colonies.
Our Pick: Lexington Barbecue, Lexington, N.C.
Lexington Barbecue is a third generation restaurant — making the region’s distinctive barbecue since 1962. They serve 6,000 to 7,000 people a week with 6,000 pounds of Smithfield’s pork shoulder. Customers have the option to add a house-made mild sauce called “dip” or their richer sauce, Smokehouse. Both sauces are available for sale to take home.
Although the first American recipe for fried chicken appeared in Mary Randolph’s book, The Virginia Housewife in the 1800s, the dish is attributed to the Scottish.
Our Pick: Summerton Diner, Summerton, S.C.
It could be the homemade marinade or batter that makes the fried chicken at Summerton Diner a favorite among customers, but owner Mac Bagnal isn’t too sure. His cook, who’s worked at the restaurant for 30 years, won’t share her recipes with him. Each day, the diner features a homemade side such as collards or rutabaga from a local farm. Order a whole fried chicken to-go for dinner or a picnic. Summerton is listed on the “The Great Carolina Fried Chicken Map,” created by E.D.I.A.
Mac ‘n’ Cheese
The earliest recipe on record is from Northern Europe in the 1700s. Thomas Jefferson could be responsible for bringing macaroni and cheese to the United States, serving it in the White House in 1802, according to an article in Smithsonian magazine.
Our Pick: Cru Café, Charleston, S.C.
Cru Café’s chef and owner John Zucker experimented with several types of cheese before choosing fontina, mozzarella, aged cheddar and pepper jack for a smooth sauce for the menu’s macaroni and cheese. Orecchiette pasta, an ear-shaped noodle keeps its shape and holds the sauce. Every order is cooked fresh.
Sonker is a 200-year-old tradition handed down from generation to generation in Surry County, North Carolina. The potpie or cobbler-like dish features fruits or sweet potato baked with sugar and spices and in a crust. Sonker was popular because it could feed many people with overly ripe produce. Hop on the Surry Sonker Trail and try all six locations that offer this delicacy. A list and map are available at SonkerTrail.org.
Our Pick: Rockford General Store, Dobson, N.C.
In the Village of Rockford, the Rockford General Store takes pride in serving sonker the same way it was made in the 1890s, when the store is believed to have first opened. Treat yourself to strawberry, peach, pumpkin, mixed berry or sweet potato sonker. The store also grills hot dogs and burgers on homemade buns and carries old-fashioned drinks and 100 varieties of candy.
What’s your favorite comfort food spot?
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(Go Magazine Sept/Oct 2019)