D.G. Martin: Tracking down North Carolina’s iconic eateries

Published 10:39 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Billy Graham loved Bridges barbecue in Shelby, his family’s friend Sally Pereira told Charlotte Observer reporter Bruce Henderson for an article about Graham’s private life and common touch.

Other North Carolinians sing the praises of Bridges, too. Famed novelist Ron Rash, when asked about his favorite place to eat, answered emphatically, “Bridges Barbecue in Shelby.”

Good, but there is a problem, as any barbecue lover can explain. There are two Bridges barbecues in Shelby. One is owned by the family of Red Bridges and the other by the family of Alston Bridges.

They are both mighty good and both have their ardent fans.

These two Bridges barbecues belong on everyone’s bucket list of North Carolina’s iconic eateries, the ones we should be sure to visit before we die.

Coincidentally, I am working on such a list for a chapter in a new Roadside Eateries book.

Here are some of my candidates for inclusion in any list of North Carolina’s iconic eateries.

*The group of seafood restaurants in Calabash: Together an icon for fresh seafood.

• Sanitary Fish Market, Morehead City: Open since 1938 and now seats up to 500 people.

• Bum’s and Skylight Inn barbecues, Ayden: Two restaurants in the same small town that have attracted worldwide attention and praise.

• Meadow, Benson: Bountiful buffet. Sad news, though. Long-time owner Julia Raynor died on February 10.

• Wilber’s Barbecue, Goldsboro: Wilber Shirley is still the king of eastern N.C. barbecue.

• B’s Barbecue, Greenville: As described in Our State Magazine, “no phone, no frills, and no equal.”

• Cypress Grill, Jamesville: Down by the river, but open only during the season from January through April.

• King’s BBQ, Kinston: Offering world famous chicken and barbecue since 1936.

• Ralph’s BBQ, Roanoke Rapids: Much more than barbecue with a wonderful buffet.

• Sunnyside Oyster Bar, Williamston: Has been in operation since 1935 and is a mainstay in Martin County.

• Parker’s Barbecue, Wilson: Feeding the families of eastern North Carolina and beyond for over 40 years.

• Mama Dip’s Kitchen, Chapel Hill: Southern cooking at its best.

• Merritt’s Grill, Chapel Hill: Mouth-watering bacon and tomato sandwiches.

• Keaton’s Barbecue, Cool Springs: Unique barbecued-fried chicken.

• Bullock’s Bar-B-Que, Durham: A fixture serving a diverse clientele since 1952.

• Lexington Barbecue #1, Lexington: Called “Honeymonks” by insiders, a holy site for Piedmont style barbecue.

• Big Ed’s, Raleigh downtown: Gathering place for powerful legislators and hardworking taxpayers.

• Short Sugar’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, Reidsville: Boasts about being voted Best Bar-B-Q in the nation by members of the United States Congress.

• Red and Alston Bridges barbecues, Shelby: Both great. But note that WSOC-TV reports that Billy Graham’s favorite was really Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge.

• Johnson’s Drive-In, Siler City: Claxton’s legendary hamburgers are a crowd-drawer at lunchtime.

• Stephenson’s Bar-B-Que, Willow Springs: Since 1958, when the late Paul Stephenson switched from growing hogs to cooking them.

• Daniel Boone Inn, Boone: Serving family style meals since 1959.

• Shatley Springs, Crumpler: From April through November, a popular spot for crowds who value this remote Ashe County spot for country cooking, the famous spring water, and beautiful mountain scenery.

• Snappy Lunch, Mount Airy: More than the connection to Andy Griffith, the classic pork chop sandwich makes this place an icon.

What do you think?

I already have a reaction from my friend Randy Gardner, who wrote, “This is a mighty fine list. I would replace Stephenson’s BBQ with Hap’s Hamburgers & Hotdogs in Salisbury. And if pressed I would take Zack’s in Burlington over The Snappy. We ate at Doug Sauls’ in Nashville yesterday. It is really good BBQ. Good sides too; blackeyed peas, Brunswick stew, green beans, boiled potatoes, and of course, cole slaw. I ate at Wilber’s Tuesday and I swear to God, to paraphrase Bob Garner; ‘There’s none better’.’ In other words, it’s still the BEST.”

It was great to hear from Randy Gardner, but I would like to hear from you, too. Share your thoughts about the list by writing me at nceateries@yahoo.com.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 11 a.m. and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Today’s guest is Elizabeth Kostova, author of “The Shadow Land.”