It seems like a mirage, or an aloe-induced dream of some sort at first. A giant strawberry. On the side of the road in North Carolina. Waking up from a nap in the car on the way home from an Oak Island beach vacation, I slowly pull my sunburned legs off the car seat. I motion for my husband to pull over. If it’s a dream, it’s the kind you don’t want to wake up from.
Perhaps the giant strawberry is a time machine of sorts because as soon as I get out of the car, I hear sixties beach music—The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” followed by Doris Troy’s “Just One Look”—from 770 the Big Wave, a local radio station. Giant rotating fans waft a gentle breeze my way as I join the line waiting to sample homemade ice cream. “We like to play music that makes people feel good and put them in a good mood,” Amy Berry says.
Amy and her husband, Lee Berry, (yes, that’s their real last name) are the owners of the Berry Patch, as it is officially known, home to the “world’s largest strawberry.” Located off I-73/74 in Ellerbe, North Carolina—population 961—the Berry Patch is a roadside wonder and so much more.
The Berry family began growing strawberries in 1995 and sold them alongside other homegrown produce out of the back of Lee’s truck. The couple noticed that they needed something pretty impressive to get people’s attention to stop, so they built a giant wood-and-foam strawberry and people stopped, surely. Standing twenty-four feet tall and weighing four tons, the strawberry is indeed noticeable. When the interstate expanded in 2012, the Berry family had to move their strawberry, by no means an easy feat. Pictures of the process line the produce stand wall. “We just kind of cut the strawberry at the bottom,” Amy says, “and then lifted it up and drove it a half mile down the road.”
Inside of the strawberry, ice cream shop workers dip nineteen flavors of what must be some of the best homemade ice cream in the Carolinas, in cups and handmade waffle cones, along with milkshakes and banana splits. The signature strawberry shortcake is another crowd favorite, but I can’t get past the sundaes, best enjoyed in a rocking chair on the covered patio.
Once I make my way over to the year-round produce stand, the stacks of plump red tomatoes, juicy watermelons, and sweet silver queen corn are as tall as my head. Customers meander between the displays, sampling peaches and planning out fresh-from-the-garden, home cooked meals like their grandmothers made.
But for me, it’s all about the ice cream. If this place isn’t a dream, it must be heaven.