Mount Airy and Elkin may be the biggest cities in Surry County, but little Dobson is the county seat. At mealtime, the center of social life in Dobson is The Lantern, where Clinton and Maxine Dockery have been serving breakfast and country cooking meat-and-vegetable plates for more since 1972 in the same location. Actually, the restaurant burned down about 10 years ago. But Clinton Dockery built it back “pretty much the same, because I liked it like it was.”
Folks in Dobson like their small town the way it is. You will enjoy a quick visit to the downtown and courthouse — after you have sampled the food and fellowship at The Lantern. Hrs: Mon.-Sat., 5 a.m.-9 p.m.
Take Exit 93 (Dobson). Head east towards Dobson for about 3 miles. At the second stoplight, turn L on Main St., and the Lantern will be on the right.
There is no “home cooking” here. But for the 25 years since Paul Shumate opened Basin Creek, it has been a gathering place for Elkin residents hungry for chicken wings, great homemade cheeseburgers, good beverages, and the kind of “everybody knows your name” fellowship that we identify with the old TV program, “Cheers.”
Hrs: Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Take Exit 83 (U.S. Hwy. 21-North). Go 2 miles to Poplar Springs Road. Turn L onto Poplar Springs Road. Then L onto North Bridge St.
On Saturday mornings at The Cook Shack, owners Myles and Pal Ireland host a jam session with dozens of fiddlers, banjo, and guitar pickers. It’s a gathering that has been called “the oldest continuous bluegrass jam session in the world.”
If you can’t make the jam sessions on Saturdays, though, try out the great cheeseburgers through late lunchtime any day of the week. Pal cooks a great breakfast, and on cool days she’ll serve warm soup or plates of pintos and cornbread. Since Myles and Pal have a small grocery store at The Cook Shack, you can find local folks to keep you company at almost any hour of the day. And music lovers will enjoy browsing the store’s walls and shelves crowded with bluegrass and country music memorabilia.
Hrs: Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Take Exit 65 (N.C. Hwy. 901-Union Grove). Follow N.C. Hwy. 901 for 1.5 miles toward Union Grove. The Cook Shack is on the left just past the Fiddlers Grove campground and the fire station.
Gene and Linda Medlin have been cooking pork shoulders over hickory wood coals here since about 1985. “Charles Kuralt stopped by here and ate our barbecue,” Medlin says, “and you know what he thought about [it]?” Without waiting for an answer, he says, “Not much. Said there wasn’t enough fat and gristle in it.”
The Medlins have taken Kuralt’s criticism to heart, but they haven’t changed their “refined” way of cooking. Instead, they’ve posted a notice prominently beside the cash register: “Extra fat and gristle available on request.” In addition, they serve up seafood, chicken, salads, and country vegetables.
Hrs: Mon.-Thurs., 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Take Exit 49-B (Statesville –Salisbury Road). Turn R on to Salisbury Road. Continue toward downtown for 2 miles.
Julia’s Talley House has been around since 1979 when Julia Shumate first opened her restaurant in the former home and office of a beloved family doctor. In fact, Dr. Talley delivered Shumate, so she honored his memory by using the Talley name. Inside, the place is more like a house than a restaurant. I got a family-style meal that was served just like an old-time Sunday dinner, with 10 different bowls of food brought to my table. For those not so hungry there are “cafeteria style” options for less of the same good homemade vegetables, meats, and desserts. Paulette Klein, Julia’s daughter, says the fried chicken is the house specialty, but the country ham made the meal for me.
Hrs: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Northbound: Take Exit 42 (U.S. Hwy. 21–Troutman). Turn L on U.S. Hwy. 21 and N.C. Hwy. 115. Go 3 miles.
Southbound: Take Exit 45, and follow signs to Troutman. Turn R onto Amity Hill Road, then L onto Murdock Road. Go 2 miles, and turn L U.S. Hwy. 21–N.C. Hwy. 115.
Lancaster’s proudly serves eastern-style barbecue right in the middle of Lexington-style barbecue territory and, to celebrate Mooresville’s close connections to the stock car racing industry, the restaurant is decorated with racers’ uniforms, flags, photos, and full-size racing cars. Lancaster’s even has a full-size school bus on the floor, with tables inside for those who want to eat there. Lots of locals eat here, and plenty of the famous race car drivers, too.
Hrs: Mon.-Tues., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; wed Fri-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Take Exit 36. Head east on N.C. Hwy. 150. Go 2 miles, crossing U.S. Hwy. 21, to N.C. Hwy. 152. Immediately turn L onto Rinehardt Road.
Near Mooresville’s downtown, Isy Bell’s is more than just a little way from the interstate intersections, but it is a home cooking treasure. I opted for the special plate: four vegetables. I got mashed potatoes with good beef gravy, cabbage, corn, a combination of okra and tomatoes, and a biscuit and corn bread.
For dessert, the peach cobbler had a wonderful-tasting, bread-like crust that complemented sweet, fresh peaches. And I’ve heard the strawberry cobbler is even better, but Isy Bell’s owner Mike Kabouris had to give me the bad news that he had just run out of that dish. I guess it gives me one more reason to go back to Isy Bell’s — not that I needed another reason.
Hrs: Mon.-Sat., 6 a.m.-9 p.m.
Take Exit 36 (Mooresville –N.C. Hwy. 150). Head east, and go 2 miles to West McLelland Ave. (N.C. Hwy. 152). Bear R on West McLelland Ave. Go 1 mile to South Main St. (also N.C. Hwy. 152). Turn L, and go 1.3 miles.
You might think I am suggesting the Soda Shop just to get you to visit my hometown of Davidson, but this place would be worth the stop even if it weren’t right in the middle of one of the nicest towns in the world.
You know you’re in a college town when you walk in the door and see the collection of pennants and sports photos all over the walls. For me, the experience is extra special because the Soda Shop is almost exactly like the M&M Soda Shop that served Davidson students and townspeople while I was growing up. When I order orangeade and an egg salad sandwich, they are as good as the ones I remember. The fruit drinks and sandwiches make the place great, but what I like best is that you can stop at any booth, and folks will treat you like a long-lost friend.
Hrs: Every day, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. (Fri., open until 9 p.m.)
Take Exit 30. From the intersection, head east on Griffith St. Go 1.5 miles until you dead end at the Davidson College campus. Turn R on North Main St. and then go 2 blocks.
Guadalupe (Lupie) Durand learned how to cook simple foods from Lillie Mae White, the cook at the old Thompson Orphanage in Charlotte, where Lupie went to live when she was 13. “She pretty much cooked everything from scratch,” Lupie remembers. Since Lupie’s opened in 1987, its simple, homemade, inexpensive dishes have drawn a diverse and loyal set of fans. “I started making chicken and dumplin’s because it was cheap. But people like things plain and simple.”
The simple food and Lupie’s welcoming spirit always make for a pleasant mealtime.
Hrs: Mon.- Fri, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., 12 –10pm p.m.;
Southbound: Take Exit 11 (for I-277 S/Brookshire Frwy E/NC-16 S). Merge L onto I-277 S. Go 1.8 miles. Bear L to take Exit 2B (US-74 E/NC-27 E Independence Blvd) Follow Independence Blvd for 2 miles. Turn R on to Briar Creek Rd. Go .5 miles. Turn R onto Monroe Rd. Go .5 miles. Lupie’s is on the left.
Northbound: Take Exit 9 (US-74 E/I-277 N/John Belk Frwy.). Follow I-277 for 2 miles. Take Exit 2B on to U.S. Hwy-74 E (Independence Blvd.) Follow Independence Blvd for 2 miles. Turn R on to Briar Creek Rd. Go .5 miles. Turn R onto Monroe Rd. Go .5 miles. Lupie’s is on the left.
Stephanie Kokenes is part of the fourth generation of her family to work in the restaurant business in Charlotte. Her father Alex manages the Open Kitchen. Her grandfather Steve and his brother opened the restaurant in 1951. And her great-grandfather Constantine ran the Star Lunch in downtown Charlotte beginning in the early 1900s. All that tradition comes together at Open Kitchen, which got its name because Steve Kokenes wanted his customers to feel free to look inside the kitchen to see how the food was being prepared.
Southbound: Take Exit 10A (Morehead St.). Turn R on West Morehead St. Go 3 blocks.
Northbound: Take Exit 9C (Wilkinson Blvd.-U.S. Hwy. 74 West). Go R on Freedom Dr.; continue .25 miles to West Morehead St.
Interstate Eateries is published by Our State magazine.