Carthage: New Places to Eat, Drink and Cheer
Carthage doesn't claim to be the culinary crossroads of Moore County.
Carthage: New Places to Eat, Drink and Cheer
That belongs to Pinehurst/Southern Pines, where chefs regularly bring home Best Dish in State awards for collard egg rolls, asparagus strudel and sweet potato ravioli.
The Pik N Pig opened going on six years ago. The family, which at one time owned John's BBQ, has probably been serving the county for more than 40 years. In 2010, The Flying Tiger introduced the ancient Chinese cure for the bottomless belly: a buffet. More recently, PineStraw magazine lauded Casa Garcia for their exotic shrimp cocktail.
Now, new aromas are in the wind:
Spring Rolls in Winter
Sitting between Endtime Deliverance Ministry and a dance studio (the old Coffee Court location), Susa Hibachi Grill is bright, flowery, spotless, just lovely.
Original hardwood floors have been restored in what was once the mansion of buggy factory tycoon Thomas Tyson. Paper lanterns hang from the ceiling, matching the Asian music tinkling from speakers.
Round tables, plus one family-style seating 10, and other upscale decor were meant for a restaurant that never opened.
All Laotian owner Ding Sengkhamphong (related to Granny's Doughnuts and Susa Sushi proprietors) had to do was add a few cherry-blossom accents to the room overlooking Fred's Low Price Leader.
Wisely, she has mingled Japanese and Chinese with other Far Eastern flavors; novices feel comfortable ordering lo mein or even chicken tenders, while the steady trade knows that rice paper rolls and pad Thai stand out - especially demonized with Thai chili peppers. Big appetites stick with the hibachi plate (tofu, chicken, steak or shrimp) piled high enough for two, even three moderate servings.
Hibachi-style usually means bite-sized meat and veggies grilled by a showman chef, with patrons watching. Ding performs in the kitchen.
Ding emigrated when she was 12. Her road to proprietorship wound through Kmart, Walmart and McDonald's. But cooking came naturally, and in June she realized her dream.
Still, setting up shop with reasonably authentic Pacific Rim dishes in a burgers-and-ribs milieu would be risky, Ding realized.
"I answer a lot of questions," she admits, with women more adventurous than men. A few minutes past noon a line stretched from the ordering counter to the door. Some customers were courthouse types in striped ties; others, guys with name tags embroidered on their shirts.
Martha Ferguson, eating with friends from the library, was pleasantly surprised.
"I'm from the Charlotte area so I'm spoiled by the availability of ethnic foods," she says.
And now, in unlikely Carthage, she's found a source for yaki soba and fried ice cream.
Susa Hibachi Grill, 105 McReynolds St., (910) 947-1409, is open Monday through Saturday 11a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Eat in, take out.
Even more unlikely: a Vegetarian Meat Market located behind a wig salon/used clothing store next door to a Kangaroo station. In this windowless back room, Angela Thomas sells a limited selection of canned meatless "meats," a few lifestyle cookbooks and hats she crochets herself. In the future, she hopes to sell refrigerated and frozen vegetarian products.
But what Thomas really wants to dispense is her healthy living mission developed at the Southern Pines Seventh Day Adventist Church. She has no professional training, only experience and enthusiasm.
Thomas grew up in Moore County eating whatever came from the hogs her grandfather slaughtered on his farm. She watched relatives, one by one, suffer the consequences - diabetes, obesity, heart disease. "When they got sick they said, 'We should have listened to you,'" Thomas notes.
Her impetus was biblical: "God created man for a vegan diet," is Thomas' understanding. "After the flood there wasn't any vegetation so man started eating meat."
Even that was limited to "clean" meat - no animals, like pigs, that scavenge - the basis, also, of kosher (Jewish) and halal (Muslim) dietary laws.
In 1989 Thomas, then a hair stylist, moved to California with her young daughter. Here, biblical health findings were easy to implement.
"I was around other people who thought the same way," she says. "It was easy to transition to vegetarian. I walked a lot, felt really good."
Thomas returned to Moore County in 2000. Seeking followers and income, she rented a booth at a Fayetteville flea market where she dispensed advice, sold books and, eventually, familiar canned no-meat brands from California: Loma Linda and Cedar Lake soy-based beef strips, burgers, hot dogs, "fried chicken," also a faux duck breast (braised gluten) packaged in Taiwan.
"They taste closest to the real things," Thomas found, more so than Boca, Morningstar and other popular brands.
Thomas has moderated her own diet to include organic chicken, occasionally seafood and eggs but no dairy, beef or pork. She makes burgers from beans and a cheese substitute from ground cashews. Her product exploration turned up a vegan ham roll that tastes like the real thing.
"You know how Southerners love their ham," Thomas says with a smile.
She also knows that a tiny retail outlet cannot compete with the healthy foods explosion in supermarkets and online. But Harris Teeter customers won't get a ministry with their vegan meatballs. Or a crocheted hat, either.
The Vegetarian Meat Market, 315 Monroe St., Carthage, (910) 528-1700, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Lift a Glass
Admit it. The last thing anyone expects to see on U.S. 15-501 near Little River Golf Resort is a winery with a well-appointed tasting room/patio.
Why, they even sell Woozies - wine-glass covers, for temperature control, made in Vass.
Ronnie Williams, the entrepreneur responsible for growing the grapes, then producing and selling Black Rock Winery whites and reds, is better known as a landscaper-irrigation specialist.
After clearing five of his own acres for timber he thought, why not grow grapes, since the land was too rocky for shrubs?
Never mind that he or wife, Denise Williams, a former lab technician at Pinehurst Surgical Clinic, knew nothing about viticulture, little about oenophilia, and had never been to France, Italy or California - although they did see "Sideways."
Businessman Ronnie quickly learned that grapes aren't a profitable crop. Better make wine. He took a seminar at Surrey Community College, read up on the subject, and contacted the N.C. Winegrowers Association for support.
Denise left her job to handle the testing, permit processes and bookkeeping. They purchased equipment made in Italy, enlisted the landscaping labor force and, in 2008, produced a test run: 1,000 bottles of dry reds and whites. Despite losing an entire crop to frost, Black Rock now has a 25,000 bottle inventory, which they prefer to sell themselves rather than wholesale to stores and restaurants.
The name Black Rock comes from a Carthage-area post office in the 1800s, later a gas station. The label depicts a cabin and hollowed-out pine tree. Their best-seller, a 2009 Chambourcin, with hints of bramble and cherry, is advertised as pairing well with barbecue.
"They do a great job with the Chambourcin," says Robyn James, wine columnist and owner of The Wine Cellar in Southern Pines, where Black Rock wines may be purchased. "This is an unusual spot - sand isn't the type of soil that lends itself to growing grapes. (Ronnie Williams) does a nice job."
The rustic tasting room, on a knoll beside the Williams' house, opened in November with a blowout planned for April. Tasters get four or five one-ounce samples of sweet and dry wines for $5.
The outlet will also sell artisanal goat cheeses from Paradox Farms in West End, other local products and, of course, wine by the bottle. Enter-tainment is a possibility once the tasting room catches on with golfers and tourists.
North Carolina's 130 wineries still face the novelty/souvenir image, even the Biltmore Estate mega-operation with 90 acres under cultivation, producing 45 wines sold throughout the state and beyond, and claiming to be the most visited winery in the U.S.
But vintners Ronnie and Denise Williams, both Moore County natives, are convinced that wine made in Moore County from grapes grown in Moore County bodes well. The project certainly has been an education for Ronnie Williams - also, he hopes, for Carthaginians, who can wash down that barbecue with a hometown libation.
"I was never a wine drinker," Ronnie says. "I'd go into an Italian restaurant and order a glass of house wine. Now we look at the list."
Black Rock Vineyards, Winery and Wine Tasting Room: 6652 U.S. 15-501, (910) 295-4470, is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
No udon on this menu. No make-believe meat or oaky chardonnay, either.
Coach's slam dunks with an Out-of-the-Park Burger: three pounds of char-grilled Angus beef with toppings approaching skyscraper height. Eat it all, with a side, in 15 minutes and Coach (owner William Hodge) eats the $21.95 tab. A server remembers this happening only once. The gobbler nearly choked to death, she said.
Every small town needs a Coach's - a "sports themed" restaurant, not the typical citified sports bar. This place has the monster flat screen and half a dozen ancillaries, the banners, the beer, the fiery wings and loaded cheese fries but on Wednesdays, kids eat for 99 cents.
Coach's, with branches in Biscoe, Asheboro and Randleman, opened a year ago. During the football/basketball seasons happy rowdiness prevails during weekend games while munchies disappear like Carolina's lead over the Cavaliers.
No surprise, the specialty here is char-broiled burgers - each weighing in at a half-pound, minimum. Bonus points range from a fried egg with bacon to grilled pineapple with teriyaki sauce. Coach deep-fries the usuals and unusuals, like dill pickles and Oreos.
Thank goodness this coach hasn't forgotten to reward his starters with dessert. If fried Oreos don't score, catch a banana split.
Coach's Neighborhood Grill, 1005 Monroe St. (Food Lion Shopping Center), (910) 947-3331 is open 11a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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