Food & Drink

Eat Like a Local in Western North Carolina

Even if you’ve never read Ronni Lundy’s food writing, you likely know her food

Even if you’ve never read Ronni Lundy’s food writing, you likely know her food. A founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, the Kentucky-born author has championed skillet cornbread, country ham, and countless other Appalachian regional specialties in influential works like 1990’s Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes, and Honest Fried Chicken. Among her fans are chefs Sean Brock, John Fleer, and Edward Lee, who helped take the flavors of the Southern mountains mainstream at Blackberry Farm, Husk, and 610 Magnolia, respectfully. Lundy’s work isn’t done yet. Her gorgeous new book, Victuals, is a tour of Appalachian foodways from the J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works near Malden, West Virginia, to the Frosty-Ette restaurant in Sand Gap, Kentucky. (To read an excerpt, click here.) Lundy has spent years exploring the area around her adopted hometown of Burnsville, North Carolina, too, and she recommends these local haunts to passers-through.

From left: Victuals; Ronni Lundy; Lundy’s chili buns and slaw dogs.

Photo: Pableaux Johnson (center); Johnny Autry (left)

From left: Victuals; Ronni Lundy; Lundy’s chili buns and slaw dogs.

Hickory Nut Gap Farm

Fairview, North Carolina

“Back at the start of the century—the twenty-first century—Jamie and Amy Ager took the nascent Asheville locavore scene to a new level with their grass-fed, rotation-pastured, insanely delicious meats. A few years ago, they opened a farm store that was really more of a butcher shop with benefits. One of the most recent benefits has been the creation of a dining room. There’s dinner on Fridays and a lunch menu packed with sandwiches that would please a yeoman (or woman) farmer, but if you can, get there for the Sunday brunch. A beautiful buttermilk biscuit is a canvas for likes of a lard-fried boneless chicken thigh topped with bacon jam, a slice of still warm-from-the-vine heirloom tomato and, oh, why not put an over-easy farm egg on top? A seasonal salad might feature lettuce mingling with slurpy peach slices, local feta, more heirloom tommy-toes, and a stone-fruit vinaigrette. And if you find yourself loving that fried bologna sandwich too much to eat just one a day, you can buy the meat by the pound and take some home.”

River’s End Restaurant

Bryson City, North Carolina

Once upon a time, a long time ago, we roared down the Nantahala River in a bright yellow raft. Okay, it was the bunny course, so maybe we splashed and bobbled, but it was a magical ride. When the raft came out of the water, we found ourselves on a stony bank under a glass-clad restaurant hanging out over the water. I felt like my godmother had waved her wand when I saw ‘Sherpa Rice’ on the menu. A taste of my counterculture youth, this is pure hippie health food fare: brown rice, lentils, and barley are the base of a dish you can top with one of three kinds of chili, or—my choice—a medley of stir fried veggies. In the years since then, I doubted my memory. Surely there wasn’t a restaurant where every seat has a river view. Surely that river wasn’t as rowdy and thrilling as I recalled. Surely that rice wasn’t as mouthwatering and nostalgia provoking as I recalled. But on many trips back now, everything else is just as I recalled. Or maybe even better. Time, I’m told, is the best seasoning.”


The Coffee Shop

Sylva, North Carolina

“Earlier this year, a Washington Post writer declared Sylva ‘Asheville lite,’ citing a few mohawked and moustache-waxed denizens, trendy restaurants, micro-brews, bookstores, wine bars, and coffee shops. When he mentioned coffee shops, though, he didn’t mean The Coffee Shop, which has been the meet-and-eat place in this small mountain town since 1926. In a long, low brick building that replaced the original when it burned down in 1955, the dining room, with a formica-topped counter and orange vinyl–clad stools and booths, takes up about half the space. The rest is devoted to a bustling kitchen where sinewy pork roasts simmer to fall-apart deliciousness and the scent of baking cornbread vies with that of homemade pies. The food is good here, and the prices are cheap, but the flavor of the place is in the comfortable co-mingling of all the people in the town.” The Coffee Shop on Facebook


Linville, North Carolina

“One day, I made a squealing U-turn at the glimpse of a saffron yellow stand with a cocky red rooster on the side, sharing a lot with a filling station/convenience store and a kettle corn stand at the intersection of U.S. 221 and NC 105, a.k.a., ‘Am I going to Blowing Rock or Boone?’ Frankly, I drive there now just to eat at the picnic tables outside Habaneros. The menu is small but lively, with meal-sized super-fresh tacos, sliders and a couple of lettuce cups for the gluten-free or vegan. Happy to be neither, I find it hard to pick from the smoked brisket slider with green apple slaw and Cheerwine barbecue sauce that won my heart and belly on my first stop or the short rib tacos with Asian slaw and cilantro sour cream that knocked me out on my last. The not-that-sweet iced tea and tart lemonade make this feel like a grown-up experience, while the watermelon slice that comes with every plate makes it just plain fun. Leilani and Will Cocke, the smiling young couple who own the place, operate Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. all year except for the month of February, when I like to imagine they go to Florida.”

The Sweet Monkey Cafe and Baker

Marshall, North Carolina

The exposed pipes, brick and plaster walls, dim lights, and stainless steel racks create an industrial vibe, but there’s nothing factory about the food at the Sweet Monkey Cafe. Don’t come here in a hurry. Really. Don’t. Everything at the Sweet Monkey is made from scratch, including the bread. Is it worth the wait? Lordy, yes! Try the orange-and-cinnamon twist bread French toast, or the Cluck Madame: Parmesan mayo­–coated and broiled chicken, local kale, and bacon-pesto aioli piled between thick slices of fresh garlic rosemary bread. The Perfect Pork Patty, made from Dry Ridge Farms meat, comes on a savory bread of the day. Dinner specials change daily.”