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D.G. Martin: No cooking like home cooking

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Bad news for politicians – and the rest of us, too

I have some bad news for North Carolina politicians.

Some of your best friends are dying.

It is not people that I am thinking about.

It is restaurants.

In the small towns and cities in our state, candidates for public office still make campaign visits to the family-owned, home cooking eateries where locals have gathered for years for meals and familiar fellowship.

Politicians pass by the fancy new places and put on their campaign schedules the fish camps and barbecues and meat-and-threes that have been around for years.

I look for these places, too.

If you are, like me and the politicians, big fans of home cooking restaurants, you will share my disappointment in the report I will give to you.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the update for UNC Press of my “Interstate Eateries” book that surveyed old-time restaurants along the major highways in North Carolina.

Since the last edition of that book in 2008, we have been losing some of our best. Last week I looked at the eateries that I featured along I-85 as it runs from Kings Mountain, near the South Carolina line, to Norlina just south of the Virginia line.

There is bad news up-and-down I-85: The Old Hickory House, a classic for 58 years, which some people considered the best barbecue restaurant in Charlotte, closed April 4.

The Farmhouse in Salisbury, which served country food along the interstate, also closed recently.

The epidemic of closings has not bypassed Lexington, which is home to the state’s strongest group of barbecue restaurants.

Whitley's, a favorite of artist Bob Timberlake, closed a few years ago when owner Mark Thompson died in a motorcycle accident. I wonder where Bob is eating now.

Some folks recently looking for Jimmy’s, just off the Lexington interstate exit, have been frustrated. A friend of mine told me he drove all over the countryside looking for Jimmy’s before he realized the building had been leveled – gone forever. One reason for Jimmy’s popularity was its proximity to the interstate. Another was that it opened on Sunday when other places in the Lexington area are usually closed. That location may have been its downfall. Just too valuable for an old-time restaurant.

In Mebane, the A&M Grill, an old cinderblock building where they cooked barbecue over a wood fire and gave us the best bargain eating in the area, is no longer with us.

Riverside, a soul food restaurant in Hillsborough, got the attention of food guru Bob Garner. He called their baked chicken "the best I've ever eaten." Riverside is gone. They tell me there is a great Mexican restaurant in its old location, but I miss the chicken and soul food.

In Chapel Hill, the 15-501 Diner is long gone. It was a place where folks from all walks of life gathered for breakfast and small family and business gatherings the rest of the day.

Durham’s Dillard's Bar-B-Que, owned by three generations of great African-American cooks, shut its doors in 2011. If you miss their special style of barbecue, Dillard’s BBQ Sauce is still available in a few grocery stores.

Up the road in Oxford, Tony's Country Kitchen has gone out of business, and so has the family restaurant that replaced it.

Sadly missing up on the Virginia line in Norlina is the Roadside Café, also known as Clem's Place. It specialized in soul food, including chitlins on Thursdays and Fridays.

Telling these places goodbye is painful. But there is good news. Lots of good eateries are still there.

Others are waiting to be discovered. Remember that I am looking for them. If you have some favorites, share them with me with an email to nceateries@yahoo.com.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. This week’s (May 10, 14) guest is Allegra Jordan, author of “The End of Innocence: A Novel.”

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