Barry Saunders

Saunders: That time Gov. Pat McCrory came to my home county to eat

Gov. Pat McCrory with Jones on Main owner Yvette Jones.
Gov. Pat McCrory with Jones on Main owner Yvette Jones.

Y’all are going to have to just forgive us Richmond County residents here in the Triangle for the extra bounce in our steps these days.

It’s not every day that a little hamlet like Hamlet gets the international attention that comes from a gubernatorial plug on the longest-running program in TV history.

While watching “Meet The Press” Sunday and listening to Gov. Pat McCrory talking about how he opposes government overreach while simultaneously defending the General Assembly’s government overreach, I heard him mention Hamlet and a “buffet restaurant” at which he’d stopped and dined.

McCrory’s acknowledgment of Hamlet follows by a few weeks the ultimate tribute to the county: The town of Rockingham figured in the answer of a “Jeopardy!” question posed by Alex Trebek.

Both times, thanks to the marvels of modern technology brought to you by an obscenely high cable bill, I was able to pause my television and call both of my friends to tell them about the hometown acknowledgment. (Sorry, but I refuse to say “shout out,” a phrase that should be stricken from use unless you’re onstage at the Grammys.)

Hamlet is where many of my school chums still live, and it’s where some of the 1991 movie “Billy Bathgate” with Dustin Hoffman was filmed. Way too often, though, the only thing for which the city is remembered is for something bad that happened there. Remember the 1991 Imperial Foods fire where 25 people died because the owner thought locking the doors and windows to prevent somebody from stealing chicken nuggets was more important than preventing those employees from perishing?

Hamlet is also where jazz great John Coltrane was born, but he wasn’t there long enough to bebop before his family moved to High Point.

Harder to believe than the fact that the governor mentioned Hamlet on television, though, was that there is a buffet restaurant there of which I was unaware.

You know those dogs that are trained to sniff out truffles?

That’s me when it comes to good buffet restaurants. I usually can find those bad boys comatose, so how, on my visits back home, did I not sniff out the Jones on Main cafe in Hamlet? Why was it left to McCrory to guide me to the homemade nanner puddin’-dishing nirvana in my home county?

“I was in Hamlet, North Carolina, a small town that could be any town in the United States of America,” he told “Meet The Press” host Chuck Todd. “I walked into a buffet restaurant – African-American buffet restaurant – and the people just welcomed me with open arms and said, ‘Thanks for protecting us.’”

The only better publicity he could’ve given is if he’d said the restaurant is at 38 W. Main St.

As much as we should appreciate the tip, I do wish he’d explain what the heck is an African-American buffet restaurant. As Duke Ellington said about music, there are only two kinds: good and bad. The same holds for restaurants.

The owner, Yvette Jones, is African-American – an irrelevancy – and she said most of her patrons are white. Also irrelevant, unless you’re a politician trying to increase your appeal as a populist man o’ the people.

Was she surprised to see the state’s CEO showing up in her 14-month-old establishment? I asked. “Yes, we were surprised,” she said. “We were just having a regular day, and he just walked in. I was in the back, and when I came out, people told me, ‘The governor’s here.’ He was just sitting there eating.

“You’d be surprised, but a lot of people here don’t really keep up with what’s going on. I’m not one to follow politics that closely, but we knew he was a public figure, and people were just glad to see him.”

I resisted the natural journalistic inclination to ask Jones what the governor ate because – just as is religion – a man’s soul-food buffet selections should be sacrosanct and a private matter. Who among us wouldn’t be mortified if some prying reporter discovered we’d had the ox tails and chitlins, or mashed-up liver pudding in our grits? (Never do that in public, because, you know, cameras.)

When, however, Jones mentioned what was being served when McCrory showed up – “homemade macaroni and cheese, cabbage, fatback, barbecue ribs, fried chicken, meat loaf, collards, homemade banana pudding, cornbread fritters” – I knew he couldn’t have gone wrong with whatever he placed onto his plate.

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