The northern counties of North Carolina’s Piedmont region definitely change with the times.
Winston-Salem, a town largely built with tobacco money, has embraced a newer role as an arts mecca in recent years. Fields throughout the Yadkin Valley that once were filled with the golden leaf now grow grapes for the area’s wineries. And where the textile industry has waned, nanotechnology and medical research have taken off.
Yet no matter the changes, the northern Piedmont counties retain a strong sense of their respective pasts.
You see it in Forsyth County, where one of Winston-Salem’s most popular arts destinations happens to be housed in the former home of one of North Carolina’s most successful tobacco businessmen.
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In Yadkin County, a restaurant that puts a fresh spin on Italian cuisine makes its home in a former general store. And in Stokes County, though the eye-catching exterior of a hot dog and milkshake restaurant is shiny and new, the most successful ingredients are really the recipes and small-town charm that have existed for years.
We’re spotlighting these places – as well as a museum honoring auto racing, a popular local watering hole, a large mountain’s little surprises and a whole town designed to re-create the Old West – in the ninth installment of our Best-Kept Secrets summer series.
Except for the 61 counties we’ve already covered, it’s not too late to suggest a place we should include among our Best-Kept Secrets. The series continues through Labor Day.
55. Surry County
Pilot Mountain State Park
OK, technically Pilot Mountain isn’t a secret. Anyone who has ever driven north on U.S. 52 has seen the isolated, 1,400-foot peak looming over the interstate. But not as well-known is the state park that surrounds the mountain. Just a short drive off the highway, the park offers fantastic views of the surrounding area. There are multiple hiking trails, from easy half miles to more strenuous 5- and 6-mile treks. Camping, canoeing, fishing and picnicking also are allowed. You can climb, too, but only in designated areas. The “Big Pinnacle” – that rounded top you see from the freeway – is a sanctuary for ravens and raptors, so you can’t reach it. But the birds put on a nice show. There’s also a nearby town called Pilot Mountain. Just don’t call it “Mount Pilot” – that was the fictional TV berg created by Surry County native Andy Griffith. The park’s entrance is off U.S. 52, about 16 miles north of Winston-Salem. 336-325-2355.
56. Davie County
The Bullhole, Cooleemee
For years, Davie County residents looking for a way to cool off have ventured to “The Bullhole,” an area of natural falls on the Yadkin River, right at the Davie-Rowan county line. A few years ago, RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls opened at the site, with a shelter, picnic tables and benches. But the stone dam, sandy beach and impressive rock formations are the draw. Swimming and tubing are allowed. About that name – legend has it that years ago, a bull fell into a hole in the river waters and was never seen again. Erwin Temple Church Road, Cooleemee. www.bullhole.com. 336-751-2325.
57. Yadkin County
Kitchen Roselli, East Bend
Laura Roselli said she and her husband, David, were “bitten by the food bug” when they decided to leave their jobs as artists in Durham and open Kitchen Roselli, an Italian restaurant, in East Bend eight years ago. In a re-purposed former general store, they now dish up classic Italian recipes – with fresh local ingredients and a contemporary twist – three nights a week. Italian cooking comes naturally to them – Laura’s from an Italian family in Cincinnati, and David’s grandparents operated an Italian restaurant in his native North Wilkesboro for years. Kitchen Roselli offers his granny’s famous “Sunny Italy” salad dressing (soon to be offered in Whole Foods stores) and her specialty cream puffs. But the restaurant only makes about 50 meals a night, so you’re wise to order your dessert when you arrive to ensure you get one. “It does decrease a lot of anxiety,” Laura Roselli said. The restaurant is only open from 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Reservations are recommended. 105 E. Main St., East Bend. www.kitchenroselli.com. 336-699-4898.
58 Forsyth County
Reynolda House, Winston-Salem
Whether you’re an art aficionado, an architecture buff or just someone interested in the history of one of North Carolina’s most storied families, the Reynolda House has plenty to pique your interest. The former “bungalow” home of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds has been preserved with most of its original furniture. You’ll see R.J.’s study, the guest bedrooms with sleeping porches and a downstairs recreation area that includes a shooting gallery, a bowling alley, a squash court and an indoor pool. Throughout the house, you’ll also see the largest collection of American art south of Washington. Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and Georgia O’Keeffe are just some of the artists on display. Outside, the Reynolda Gardens are their own works of art. 2250 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem. www.reynoldahouse.org. 336-758-5150.
59. Iredell County
Those who venture about a half mile north of Statesville to Love Valley can be forgiven for thinking they’ve gone farther west – and back in time 100 years. Love Valley is an authentic western town, right down to the dusty street that Andy Barker envisioned when he founded it in 1954. “He always wanted to have a cowboy town,” said his grandson, Drew Baker, who lives there now. Horses are encouraged on the main street; cars are banned. (Visitors have to park motorized vehicles a few blocks away.) The town has saloons, a general store, a gift shop and a western store. There are 100 miles of horse-riding trails. Overnight visitors can camp, stay in a cabin or bunk at Miss Kitty’s Room and Board. Horses and riders often crowd the street on weekends and holidays. At other times, Hollywood makes use of the town’s retro look. A western and a zombie movie recently were filmed there. 169 Henry Martin Trail, Love Valley. www.townoflovevalley.com. 919-349-3541.
60. Davidson County
RCR Racing Museum, Lexington
The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte may be North Carolina’s mecca for motorsports, but diehard racing enthusiasts also shouldn’t miss the RCR Racing Museum a few counties away. NASCAR team owner Richard Childress commemorates his rich racing history in the museum, which includes more than 50 race cars. At least half of those were driven by the most celebrated Childress driver, the late Dale Earnhardt. In addition to all the versions of Earnhardt’s classic black No. 3 Chevrolet, there are special-edition cars including a multicolored one by pop artist Peter Max and one painted to resemble a Wheaties box. (Earnhardt was the first motorsports celebrity to appear on the cereal box.) Other features include a vast trophy room and a wildlife gallery with mounted bear, elk, deer and other animal trophies from Childress’ years of hunting. 236 Industrial Drive, Lexington. www.rcrracing.com. 800-476-3389.
61. Stokes County
The giant milkshake with two large straws heralds the entrance of the Dairi-O restaurant in King, but that’s a relatively new feature. It’s the food and the atmosphere that have been bringing folks to the Dairi-O for decades – including years when it existed in a much smaller building on the same site. The menu includes everything from burgers to wings to salads, but the specialties are the hot dogs and milkshakes. You also can find Dairi-O sister restaurants nearby in Stanleyville and Winston-Salem. But the one in King is the original – and the only one with the cool milkshake out front. 365 E. Dalton Road, King. www.dairios.com. 336-983-5560.