DG MARTIN COLUMN: Losing, gaining in ‘Roadside Eateries’
Published 12:42 pm Monday, September 26, 2022
There is agony and there is ecstasy in revising my favorite book, “North Carolina Roadside Eateries.”
The book I wrote on local eateries near our state’s interstate highways was published by UNC Press in 2016. We knew it would require regular updates as old eateries closed and new ones opened.
By 2020 we had lost such favorites as Wilber’s in Goldsboro, Allen & Son in Chapel Hill, Bill’s in Wilson. These were special losses for all North Carolinians because they had become legendary gathering places.
The loss of these and more than 15 others pushed me to go to work. I found substitutes for the lost classics and added a bunch of other good ones. By April 2020 I had a revised version completed and ready for publication that fall or the following winter. Amazon had listed the revision and displayed the new cover on its website.
Then Covid happened.
Just as I was going over the final page proofs, I got a call from UNC Press. My editor said, “We don’t know which of your restaurants can survive the battle against the virus. Let’s talk about what we should do.”
I understood and agreed. It was obvious Covid was killing restaurants all over the country. We needed to delay publication.
We put the publication date on hold, but we didn’t stop working, getting ready for when it would be time to publish again.
The good news is we are just about ready.
The bad news is that during Covid, we lost about 20 more of my favorites: Little Creek Cafe (Mars Hill), Judge’s Riverside (Morganton), Snack Bar (Hickory), Smith Street Diner (Greensboro), Margaret’s Cantina (Chapel Hill), Toot-n-Tell Restaurant (Garner), Carolina BBQ Buffet (Kenansville), Holland’s Shelter Creek Fish Camp (Burgaw), Dixie III Restaurant (Asheboro), Hill’s Lexington Barbecue (Winston-Salem), Price’s Chicken Coop (Charlotte), Acropolis Cafe & Grille (Cornelius), The Cook Shack (Union Grove), Wink’s King of Barbecue and Richard’s Bar-B-Q (Salisbury), Tommy’s Bar-B-Que and Captain Tom’s Seafood Restaurant (Thomasville), Angelo’s Family Restaurant (Graham), Linda’s (Pembroke), Holt Lake Bar-B-Q & Seafood (Smithfield), and Broadnax Diner (Seaboard).
I miss all these places, and there are a few that I really grieve.
The Snack Bar in Hickory was my model of a community gathering place where food was served cheerfully by a wait staff that had been there forever. It was home to the Liars Club where a group of retirees gathered about 6:30 for breakfast. Then they would go home to rest awhile before coming back for coffee about 10:30.
Holland’s Shelter Creek Fish Camp near Burgaw was wonderfully located on the waters around the Cape Fear River. Sadly, it was flooded and destroyed. It has relocated to Holly Ridge north of Wilmington, a little too far from an interstate to be in the book. But still a great place for seafood.
Margaret’s Cantina in Chapel Hill was a favorite of my daughter’s family and, thus, a place where we have many good family memories. I miss it very much.
When I worked as an interim official at UNC-Pembroke, Linda’s was an important place to meet and get to know some of the significant Lumbee people who were so welcoming to me.
Is there any good news? The best news, perhaps, is about Wilber’s in Goldsboro. If we had published in 2020, we would not have included the favorite eating place for fans of eastern North Carolina barbecue. It was closed and its founder Wilber Shirley was dying. But now, although Wilbur, sadly, did die, his restaurant has been resurrected. By all accounts it is thriving under new ownership, and it will have an important place in the revised “Roadside Eateries.”
If you have a last-minute suggestion of a community eating place near an interstate, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
D.G. Martin, a lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.”