Down East, a friendly woman waxed poetic about the little brown peaks and sugar bubbles on the meringue pie at Brantley’s Village Restaurant in Oriental. Along Interstate 95, former University of North Carolina system President Bill Friday raved about Enfield’s A&B Milling Company peanuts, which he used in homemade brittle. In the foothills, a chronicler of livermush compared the subtleties of Cleveland County’s finest brands of that delicacy.
From one place to the next, in every county in the state, North Carolinians of all kinds generously shared local lore about the foods they’d come to love. All I had to do was listen.
The following pages wouldn’t be here without them. You would think it was a dream assignment: to search for food in North Carolina worth sharing. Mouthwatering main courses, savory sides, creamy desserts. But the fact is, I couldn’t have done it alone. Finding a delicious dish in each of our state’s 100 counties has taken work. And to ferret out something that provides a sense of place, that in some way characterizes a county, and that’s not already widely known? That was daunting.
But with the help of people from all over, I discovered not only an impressive assortment of down-home delectables, but also a vibrant ethnic culinary landscape, often quite sophisticated and, in many cases, employing fresh, local fare. There’s the Giardini Trattoria in Polk County, for example, which serves organic vegetables from a garden you can see from your table. Or German-born chef Hanni Steelman, who serves world-class Wiener schnitzel in rural Yadkin County.
From corner to corner, North Carolina lays out a feast of often familiar, but sometimes unexpected, delights — the food in North Carolina, and especially the people.
To read individual county entries, simply enter the county name into the search bar above or click on the “100 foods in 100 counties” tag below.
Download the portable 100 Foods You Must Eat Checklist
David Bailey is an award-winning restaurant critic who writes about food in North Carolina. He lives in Greensboro.