A woman steps up to the cluttered counter at Farm & Garden in Cedar Grove wearing pajamas. She's quick to clarify she wouldn't go to the grocery dressed that way. "Just the Farm & Garden."
But the gray store with wood siding on N.C. Highway 86 is something of a grocery, and a pretty good one. Though it operates two fuel pumps and sells what has become many gas stations' standard fare—bagged chips, cheap beer and neon-colored Slush Puppies—it also stocks its coolers with lamb and bison from nearby farms. There's local milk, mini pies made by neighbor Mary Justesen, and an extensive selection of regional beers.
The Farm & Garden is one of many filling stations to offer food that's a step above tired, twirling hot dogs or packaged Pop-Tarts. It is also one of the easiest spots to find: A row of squat white signs spells the store's bounty along both sides of the two-lane road leading there. More often, billboards reveal fuel brands and prices over specialty fare; it's BP, not biscuits.
So good food becomes the fortune of lucky travelers who pull into the right shop, where they are told something about a town's foodways through slices of plastic-wrapped cakes at the edge of a checkout counter, or tortillas, patted by hand and seared into golden rounds at the grill in the back. Locals know such spots but often can't pinpoint them.
Addresses become "the convenient mart on Roxboro Road" or "the place on Capital Boulevard." When Kate Medley and I drove the latter in search of lunch, the thoroughfare seemed to have a gas station at every intersection.
We stopped at one of the stores and hoped for directions. It's not a map that we wanted, however, but a taco. After a few wrong turns, we found that and a whole lot more.