Here and there, a lovingly restored Victorian mansion rises above the quaint bungalows that line the streets of downtown Holly Springs. A number of these vintage structures have been converted to small retail shops, and more recent edifices scattered among them were clearly designed with an eye to blending in. Retro street lamps recall the gaslights of a century ago.
You can’t help but be impressed with how well the area has managed to preserve its small-town charm. Though the town’s population has grown more than 25 fold over the past two decades, downtown Holly Springs still has the feel of a place where they roll up the sidewalks at night.
But it’s different on the 300 block of Center Street, where in fair weather you’re likely to find customers playing cornhole into the wee hours on the brick sidewalk in front of My Way Tavern. Or they might be sitting at patio tables sipping pints from the pub’s selection of 14 North Carolina brews and taking in the view – from the Leslie-Alford-Mims house (a local landmark dating to 1840, listed on the National Register of Historic Places) at one end of the block to the antique shop at the other.
Indoors, the atmosphere is typical modern sports pub, though owners Andrew and Nikki Stafford have added a few touches. Andrew Stafford’s collection of more than 1,600 beer cans, for instance, some dating back more than 50 years and no two identical. And witty quotations such as Ben Franklin’s “There can’t be good living where there is not good drinking” painted onto the top of a bar made with wood salvaged from an old barn in Alamance County.
The menu follows suit with a mix of traditional and contemporary pub fare, and the occasional surprise such as the Korean-themed slate of lunch and dinner specials that greeted customers recently on a board posted outside the entrance. Portions are as generous as you’d expect from a family-friendly neighborhood tavern, and execution is generally solid.
Lime- and pepper-crusted ahi tuna, served over wasabi cucumber dressing, is a deservedly popular starter.
So are Buffalo wings, though fans can also get their fix in the form of Buffalo dip, an item that has been showing up on a growing number of pub menus. Featuring boneless nuggets of breast in a creamy, Buffalo sauce-spiked dip, it’s served hot with tortilla chips for dipping.
Chips would be a welcome accompaniment for another appetizer listed as “crab-stuffed portobello” that would be more accurately labeled as “portobello caps smothered under an avalanche of molten cheese and bits of crabmeat.” Chips are supplied on request.
The entree menu ranges from blackened mahi mahi to mushroom meatloaf. Several entrees are served with a baked potato whose fluffy interior and salted skin is sufficient reason to tip the scales in favor of one entree over another.
Or you might just splurge on an a la carte baked potato. Topping options range from “loaded” to homemade chili to broccoli and cheese.
Those craving ribs will be faced with another decision: classic baby backs or slow-cooked beef short ribs? Order the latter and you may well find yourself thinking of Fred Flintstone when a plate piled with three gargantuan batons of meat and bone lands on your table. Gnawing on those bones is atavistically satisfying, too, though the meat can on occasion be dry. An over-thickened red zinfandel sauce doesn’t help.
The menu says that the fish in the fish and chips is tilapia, but that was changed to cod in response to customer feedback. Smart customers. Cod is just what’s called for, and My Way’s beer batter crust is a respectable rendition of the English classic. Bonus points for authentically thick-cut chips.
Half-pound burgers are available with a variety of topping combinations, from fried egg and béarnaise to andouille, blue cheese crumbles and grilled onions. They’re satisfying, if not particularly noteworthy in an increasingly competitive gourmet burger market.
My Way’s selection of “Regional Dogs,” on the other hand, stands out from the crowd. Featuring Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, the selection spans the continent from Carolina (mustard, onion, chili and slaw) to Tucson (bacon, pico de gallo, mustard and barbecue sauce).
Just because Andrew Stafford is enough of a Frank Sinatra fan to name his restaurant after one of his famous tunes doesn’t mean you’ll spend the night listening to Old Blue Eyes crooning away on the sound system. It does mean that sandwiches are named for Sinatra’s Rat Pack posse and other celebrities of his era. The Duke (beef tenderloin, onion straws, lettuce, tomato and horseradish sauce on a Kaiser bun) is a best-seller.
According to Nikki Stafford, who tends bar and manages a friendly and efficient wait staff, there’s another reason for the restaurant’s name. After working in restaurants owned by others for his entire adult life (starting at age 15 as a dishwasher), when Andrew Stafford was finally able to open his own tavern a little more than two years ago, he was determined to do it “My Way.”
Judging by the crowds that continue to flock to the restaurant long after the sun goes down, the burgeoning population of Holly Springs agrees.
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