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.
Lynn Williams, a spokesperson for the Mt. Olive Pickle Company, stands behind a two-and-a-half gallon jar of tightly packed pickles at her company’s booth at the North Carolina State Fair. A couple of kids wander up and swap guesses with each other over the number of pickles the jar contains. “It’s fun to watch,” says Williams. “You can always tell the engineers. They try to work out an equation.”
Behind the pickle puzzle, Williams is one of the few folks near the jar who appears confident. That is, until I ask her how long Mt. Olive has held a spot at the fair. “We’re not sure,” she says, then adds, “Well, our president emeritus remembers checking on the pickles here during Hurricane Hazel, so we were here then.” Hazel hit the east coast during the fall of 1954.
Williams has more concrete information when it comes to the 1960s. Then, Jaycees from the Mount Olive community manned the pickle booth and stayed in Raleigh for fun. Williams’ father, Paul Pearsall, was among the club members who worked the fair during that time. “They had too much fun,” she laughs. “The company had to start sending its own employees.” Thus today, six different workers are brought from Mt. Olive each day of the festivities. Of that scheduling, Williams explains, fairgoers get to see the people who make their pickles, and “employees get to see the folks who are crazy about them.”
At the fair, Mt. Olive sells five different varieties of pickles—sour, sweet gherkin, dill, hot and sour kosher dill, and kosher dill—for fifty cents apiece. According to Williams, kosher dills sell the best. She anticipates that company will go through at least five to six palettes of just that one variety alone during the fair. Try to guess how many pickles that entails.
“The next year was the worst year ever with rain,” Todd Carter explains. “They probably didn’t make $200 the whole fair.” But the brothers returned to Raleigh again the following year in hopes of making a return on their investment, which eventually, with better weather, they did. Todd Carter anticipates that on a good day at the fair the booth currently sells 1,500 to 2,000 ears of corn—a staggering number that is the result of early relationships that the Carter brothers built with fairgoers, plus their willingness to change over time.
The initial plywood booth has been traded for a newer tent and trailer. And 15 years ago, the stand shifted from serving boiled frozen corn to fresh roasted ears. Hill’s, under the direction of Todd Carter and his cousins, Stephen and Julian Carter, now sells fresh squeezed lemonade and orangeade, too.
Hill Carter passed away three years ago, and Larry Carter, Todd Carter’s father, retired two years before that. But this morning, shucking corn behind his family’s 41-year-old business, Todd Carter—on vacation from his usual work at RTP—made it clear that the booth is at the fair to stay, rain or shine. Wearing shades, however, he seemed happy for the sun.
Highsmith is a charter member of Westover, which first opened its doors less than one mile away from the state fairgrounds in 1945. “My thinking is that we came out to the fair the year or the year after we organized,” says Highsmith, who has helped at the booth ever since.
Highsmith says to run the stand it takes at least two shifts of 11 members, plus one former pastor, George Megill. “He’s put the entire menu to song,” Highsmith says of Megill. “And when he starts singing, it stops people who walk by." In addition to biscuits, Megill's song features hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue, and homemade desserts—all things that sound like the making of a hit to me.