Twenty minutes after the restaurant was scheduled to close at 5:30 p.m., Kim Walker, a longtime customer who volunteered to help on the final day, called a winding line of customers’ to attention. “We don’t think we’re going to have enough food for everyone left in line,” she told the crowd. “But that’s just a testament that you’ve been a blessing to this business.”
For two days, Dillard’s loyal patrons flocked to the restaurant to pay dues to the Dillard family, and, of course, to snag one more plate of barbecue. Burnette Smith, a Durham resident who has frequented the restaurant since at least the mid-1960s, made three trips today, deterred the first two times by a line that curved around the front door, and determined on her final stop to stand however long it took to get one more taste of barbecue, ribs, and carrot soufflé. “This is my last chance,” she said before waiting for nearly an hour.
Standing a few steps ahead, Geoff Bell echoed Smith’s sentiment. “This is the last supper and I hate that it’s the last supper. I don’t want it to be the last supper,” he said.
Julie Miller, who moved to Durham five years ago from Rock Hill, South Carolina, said she stood in hopes to stockpile some of the remaining meat to stretch out for a few more days. Among the Triangle’s many eastern-style barbecue stands, she favored Dillard’s South Carolina mustard-based sauce. “This is devastating to me,” she said of the restaurant’s impending close. “I’m getting 10-pounds.” But in that, Miller was unsuccessful.
Barbecue was the first thing to go today. According to Walker, the restaurant sold over 100 pounds in the last two days. But customers were happy to get whatever they could. And once up to the line, they reported the remaining foods to folks behind them.
“Hey, there’s carrot soufflé,” Smith accounted, smiling. “I see one hush puppy.”
Further back in line, customers swapped stories of Dillard’s past and penned their name in a guest book nearly 30 pages deep.
Seated in a corner near the restaurant’s entrance was Geneva Dillard, whose husband, Samuel Dillard, started the family business. She received customers much like a widow at a wake. Miller stopped to introduce her two small children, and lifelong friends swooped in to hold hands and offer both condolences and congratulations. The restaurant, though closing due to an uncertain economy, was going out on top.
“I’m proud to know that we meant so much to the community. I’ve felt blessed,” Dillard said, eyeing the restaurant’s outpouring of support. “But if I’d known this would have happened, I would have cooked more food.”
For the Dillard family, the business isn’t really over yet. On March 26, the Hayti Heritage Center will award the restaurant with its Hayti Legacy award. And the Dillards promise to continue to sell their much-loved BBQ sauce at area stores.
Motorco books a band for month-long residencies to set the stage for its brunch. The Jackets just wrapped up their stint; this Sunday welcomes The Mason’s Apron, a new bluegrass band comprised of local musicians from Hammer No More The Fingers, Mandolin Orange and Big Fat Gap. The music usually starts at 2 p.m.
Get there early to snag a Bloody Mary or a Habanero Mojito — both hefty drinks served with crispy bacon at around $5 — and check out the bar’s nosh specials. Homemade gumbo has been a past feature, cooked up by Chef Chris Holloway of Duke University’s Plate and Pitchfork.
Then slurp and slide over to the bright blue KoKyu BBQ truck parked outside. Chef/owner “Flip” has concocted an impressively gourmet menu inspired by Korean street food. And he’s dubbed the weekly event the “MotorKoKyu Brunch.” The duck fat tater tots are a must — a hot heap of decadent tots that would make Napoleon Dynamite swoon, with a fragrant dousing of fresh chopped rosemary for $3. (Great dipped into Sriracha chili sauce, available by request.) Other menu highlights include short rib and gorgonzola cheese quesadillas pressed crisp ($6), pork belly “takos” ($3) and a 12-hr smoked ancho chile-coffee-cocoa beef brisket slider topped with kimchi-esque pickles ($3). Vegetarians will find the colorful sweet potato and avocado takos ($4) a plus.
Sadly, Big Mouth Billy Basses—the plastic, singing fish that were popular 10 years ago and thrust back into the light of day on the walls at Durham's Fish Shack (2512 University Drive)—will soon return to their dusty spots in local attics.
According to Dan Ferguson, who owns the Fish Shack and its neighbor, the Original Q Shack, the fried-fish eatery officially closed its doors last Sunday due to low sales. "I really loved the concept and thought it would work," Ferguson says of his business.
But after a mere nine months, the Fish Shack couldn't survive. "It was just like digging a ditch. It just couldn't recover," Ferguson says.
On a better note, Ferguson says that the Original Q Shack continues to prosper. When I spoke to him on the phone just moments ago, I could hear the bustle of customers in the background.
Only Burger, Durham's mobile burger eatery, has a new place to park and call home. Approximately three weeks ago, the food truck opened a brick and mortar location at Hope Valley Square shopping center (3710 Shannon Road, Suite 118, Durham, http://durhamcatering.com/onlyburger, 919-724-9377). At the new location, the menu is basically the same—$4.75 for single burgers and $7.25 for doubles—except that it has expanded to include beer (and seating). Only Burger will celebrate its grand opening at 11 a.m. today with half priced burgers.
At noon this Saturday at Efland-Cheeks Elementary School (4401 Fuller Road, Efland), Mildred Council of Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill and Robert Campbell, a local minister, environmental activist, and chef, will evaluate entries by two Orange County residents competing to create an interesting take on a traditional southern vegetable recipe. The contestants—Chrisean Fuller of Efland-Cheeks and D’Jenna Crayton of Chapel Hill—are finalists from an earlier cook-off held in conjunction with the Efland Food Project, which aims to document African American foodways in the Efland-Cheeks area. For both the previous and upcoming competitions, foods are judged according to their health benefits, taste, and cultural significance, with an eye toward expanding rather than diminishing local ways of preparing foods.
Hear Council and Campbell’s take on the final entries at noon. And be sure to visit Efland-Cheeks Elementary School earlier around 11 a.m. for the start of the Efland-Cheeks Community Festival, which will include activities for kids, a number of health-oriented booths, and a game of bid whist. The latter—a card game from which bridge was supposedly derived—will be for spectators only, having filled earlier during pre-registration.
Andrews, like many other fair food vendors, doesn't spend his year in the food business. But in the 11 days of the fair's festivities, he occupies his time with hot dogs—$5 for foot longs, and $3 for regular sizes. And what began for his friend 40 years ago as a business opportunity, he explains, quickly devolved into a way to make friends. Andrews says that one of the highlights of the fair is to catch up with people that, even as a Raleigh resident, he only sees once or twice a year.
Choplin's, which began as a tent and evolved into a full fledged booth, used to visit multiple area events, including the pumpkin festival in Spring Hope and the Old Thrashers Reunion in in Denton. But "the booth got old, and so did I," says Andrews. But the State Fair, which hit a record high this year with over 1 million visitors, is enough to catch up with most of the state's fair going residents in a short amount of time.
Choplins's, which found a place near this year's decadent Krispy Kreme burger, is no thrills: red hot dogs with chili, fries, and drinks. But it's a stand that's worth visiting year after year—one that provides a dependable food with a friendly face. When I stopped by earlier this week for a second time, one of the booth's workers, Mike Elledge recognized me, as he and others do most of their return customers. "You've been here before, haven't you?" he asked. I had, and as a State Fair classic, Choplin's booth is one that I plan to visit again. Here's to already counting the days until fall 2011!
When Johnson’s away from his microphone—back at his trailer or tucked in the Lions Club’s kitchen, where he cooks ham, grits, and gravy each morning—his words still resonate. “Limon piiiiie,” Johnson’s expression for lemon pie, croons across a PA system, and shows up as a painting with all five I’s on the club’s front window. Over the years, Johnson’s “gift for gab,” as he puts its, has made the Lions’ pie so popular, the club plans to place wooden pie cutouts in front of its booth next year for fans to pose for pictures. But pie, says Johnson, is only one of three things that make the club’s booth stand out.
As it ends up, it’s Johnson’s words that make the pastry so special. The Lions Club sells pre-made, store bought pies to its customers for $3.50 a slice. But its other best selling items—vegetable soup and buttermilk biscuits—are made on site each day.
The club has made soup since its first day at the fair in 1943, when members cooked on grills and gas stoves instead of a range. Now, with a more equipped kitchen, the Lions are able to offer a wider selection of fresh foods, including biscuits. Last Sunday alone, the Lions sold over 1,000 biscuits made that day by Frances Lawrence and Monnie Jenkins, who are not club members, but Apex residents who have cooked at the Lions’ stand for the past 10 years.
Johnson says the club has perfected its offerings during its 67 years at the fair. The vegetable soup is a protected recipe. And the pies (pecan, coconut, lemon, apple, sweet potato, and chocolate), though store bought, have been tasted and selected individually among a long list of brands to ensure the best flavor. Still, says Johnson, the club doesn't have everything as it would like. "There's not enough room for everyone," he explains, which is true. A line pours from the door daily until 2 p.m. But at least the following can be said for those who have to wait: There's no mystery about the menu.
Now in its 25th year, the Lingg’s mill provides fairgoers with four ways to taste a favored fall fruit—fresh cold cider ($2), hot apple cider ($2), an apple cider freezie ($2), and, of course, an apple (25 cents).
Throughout the year, Susan Lingg continues to create watercolors that depict her rural home in Cullowhee. But at the fair in her place near the Village of Yesteryear, her exhibit of choice is the cider mill, where for 11 days she shares and serves a piece of her family's heritage.
The Peanut Factory’s little white trailer with wood panel backing provides shelter to numerous styles of out of date equipment. Take its 85-year-old roasters, for instance. According to Skillman, the A.J. Deer Company that created those machines has been out of business since 1929, so Skillman keeps an extra roaster on hand to use for spare parts.
The roasters, like the booth’s other aged equipment—a 1940s scale and 1950s manual cash register—are beautiful. Part rust and part polished metal, they are full of interesting details, including an embossed vegetal pattern across their front, which makes them nothing if not eye-catching. And it’s exactly that which Skillman’s father, Don Skillman, was going for when he started his business in the late 1960s. “He had the foresight that he needed something that stood out,” says Butch Skillman of his father. Before starting his own booth, Don Skillman worked for numerous other fair vendors who sold popular products like hot dogs from similar looking stands. Peanuts roasted on the spot, he believed, would set him apart, and they definitely do.
The machines, which ping peanuts into large metal bins, are a sight to see and hear when in operation. And the products themselves are cheap and fairly healthy compared to many fried fair alternatives. A 5-ounce bag is $1.50, and a 12-ounce bag just $3. Butch Skillman also points out that roasting the nuts on site allow him to oversee the quality of the food that he sells. “It’s easy to pick out any product that is questionable.”
MacLeod’s uses pure maple syrup, which it makes each spring on its farm in Barre, Vermont. That process, explains Martin Broggini, whose father-in-law, Leslie MacLeod, started the family’s farm in 1960, takes place between February and the end of April. After that, Broggini says, it’s fair time. The MacLeod’s travel from Vermont to the North Carolina Mountain State Fair in Fletcher each September, followed by October’s Dixie Classic Fair in Winston Salem and the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh.
The three North Carolina fairs are the only such events that the family visits with their products. According to Broggini, it’s a tradition that began at the North Carolina State Fair 47 years ago with Leslie MacLeod, who developed a fondness for the state while traveling through on his way to Georgia to visit a woman that he loved and later married.
Today, Broggini makes his way to the fair with his wife, MacLleod’s daughter, Carolyn Broggini, and his son, John Matthew Broggini. A close family friend, Matt Goulette, also helps at the family’s booth.
MacLeod’s maple syrup cotton candy sells for $3.50 a bag. And for purchasing 10, says Broggini, you get one free. Even for me, a cotton candy fanatic, the 11-bag amount sounds like too much. But Broggini assures me that it’s not, even offering a tip: cotton candy freezes.