A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

It was just a joke … ’til it wasn’t. One night, Kurt Houser was dining at Vittles, where his daughter Sophie worked as a server, and one of his friends

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

It was just a joke … ’til it wasn’t. One night, Kurt Houser was dining at Vittles, where his daughter Sophie worked as a server, and one of his friends

A Day Trip in Lincolnton

People gather for live music outside the courthouse in Downtown Lincolnton's

It was just a joke … ’til it wasn’t. One night, Kurt Houser was dining at Vittles, where his daughter Sophie worked as a server, and one of his friends at the table teased, “‘Sophie, if you don’t get our food out on time, we’re going to buy this place so we can fire you.’”

News of this joke — at least the “we’re going to buy this place” — traveled to the manager … and then to the owner, who said “Well, tell the Housers to contact me.” Three weeks later, Kurt, his wife Sonya, and their friend who made the joke, Joey Mathis, were signing papers to purchase Vittles.

In Lincolnton, serendipitous stories like theirs aren’t unusual. Locals are passionate about this town just 45 minutes northwest of Charlotte and are eager to be part of the growing Main Street scene. “Downtown has become such a day destination,” Sonya says, who also owns the Steer South Trading Post boutique.

Downtown Lincolnton’s collection of restaurants and shops gives visitors a sense of belonging, too, encouraging them to stay a while. Read on for some of downtown’s newest retail and dining destinations you’ll want to include in your day-trip itinerary.


Swing by Benny’s Boutique to find chic accessories and stylish womenswear. Photography courtesy of Lincolnton Tourism Development Authority

Shop Boutiques and Antiques

During the pandemic, Jennifer Morrison’s online shop became so successful that she added the brick-and-mortar Benny’s Boutique to the mix. Visitors will find on-trend patterns and colorful staples, plus an impressive selection of denim and jewelry. From her storefront on Main Street, Morrison is known for her infectious energy and her ability to find the perfect piece for every customer and occasion.

Walk toward Poplar Street and cross the street to Steer South Trading Post, where Sonya’s Hat Bar draws visitors who love the concept of customizing their own hats. “You can start with a fedora, a cowboy hat, a trucker hat (which is so popular) and then decorate them with leather straps, letters, fabric cloths, feathers, cards, hat pins, patches,” she says. “It’s a favorite for groups who are on their way to a concert or are celebrating something special, like a bachelorette weekend.”

Less than a block down Main, two shops face each other across the street and give vintage-lovers the treasure hunt of their dreams. More than 100 vendors set up shop at Just Around the Corner, a two-story artisan and antique mall. Wander through booth after booth of new items; crafted pieces; vintage, antique, and repurposed furniture; clothing; jewelry; records; and even musical instruments. And across the street at Treasures on Main, Betty Flohr offers a collection of vintage home decor, including locally made, hand-poured soy candles. And just up North Academy Street, Flohr’s husband owns Trident Trikes, a now-international company that offers recumbent trikes with a huge demand.

It’s worth noting that no matter which way you turn out of downtown Lincolnton, you’re an easy drive to Lake Norman, Crowders Mountain State Park, or South Mountains State Park. Before adding a nature-component to your day trip or hitting the Rail Trail that runs through the center of downtown, stop by Blue River Outfitters. This family-owned store that sells all the gear and accessories you (and your pets) need to embrace the great outdoors in comfort and style.


Order a deli sandwich at The Meating Place to enjoy now and pick up some fresh cuts to cook at home. Photography courtesy of Lincolnton Tourism Development Authority

Dine With the Locals

Before he lived in Lincolnton, Mark Ingle never thought he would make a career as a butcher, but when he moved downtown 10 years ago, he thought Lincolnton needed a butcher shop. With his background as a contractor, he felt up for the challenge. “We bought the ugliest building in town — the old Belk department store — and made it the prettiest building in town. Now The Meating Place looks like an old-fashioned storefront.”

The shop’s locally sourced products, fresh-butchered meats, seafoods, and sides give local residents and nearby chefs plenty of options, not to mention killer deli sandwiches. “Our bestsellers are the Reuben and meatball sub,” he says. “I have a lot of regular customers in every week and sometimes every day. I enjoy that more than anything.”

Pick up a wood-fired pie from Good Wood Pizzeria. Photography courtesy of Lincolnton Tourism Development Authority; Robert Webb

Good Wood Pizzeria’s covered patio always feels warm and cozy, even on a cold and rainy day. Wood-fired, cheesy pizzas can have that effect. You can’t go wrong with the pizza of the month, which features creative flavor combinations, like the spinach and artichoke — a garlic and ricotta base, two different cheeses, bacon, fresh thyme, and crushed red pepper.

Vittles, the downtown sports bar and local hangout, showcases comfort food with a Lincoln County twist. The Redneck Medley appetizer features fried squash, fried okra, and fried green tomatoes with a side of buttermilk ranch, and the livermush sandwiches are wildly popular with regulars.

The homey atmosphere inside Vittles makes it a welcoming spot for fried okra bites, patty melts, and cold pitchers of beer. Photography courtesy of Lincolnton Tourism Development Authority

“Our children were born in Orlando, and when we moved back home to Lincolnton, I explained livermush to them as square sausage, a little crispy on the outside with a spicy flavor,” Sonya says. “We serve it on a Texas toast-type bread, but you can also get it with egg and cheese on a bun.”

Vittles’ menu also salutes Lincolnton’s local high schools, with a suitable sandwich for each. Co-owners Kurt Houser and Joey Mathis share the same alma mater, West Lincoln, which they honor with The Rebel Yell, a barbecue burger with jalapeños. And the Lincolnton Wolves have The Big Bad Wolf barbecue and bacon.


Downtown Lincolnton’s compact layout makes it easy to stroll between taprooms, cocktail bars, and restaurants as you follow your nose to find evening libations and live music. Photography courtesy of Lincolnton Tourism Development Authority

Find Drinks and Entertainment

Start any cocktail-worthy event at Lincoln Social, a Court Square cocktail bar and music venue where husband- and wife-team Josh and Erica Abernethy take celebrating seriously. You’ll be hard-pressed to stump their mixologists, and if it’s food you’re looking for, pop over to the alley’s food trucks for a meal. Check their calendar of events for a sneak peek at the upcoming weekend’s live performers.

City Cellar may be best known for its extensive wine list, but Friday nights’ live jazz and prime rib pairings give music lovers two very good reasons to come to Main Street. So does their brunch menu, which features specialties like scallop and grits, a quiche flight, and bacon and egg pesto spaghetti.

And two local watering holes — Untapped Territory, the craft beer taproom and bottle shop, and BrickTree Brewing Co. — reinforce Lincolnton’s sense of community. Whether you’re out on the patio or gathered around a table inside, both spots offer a warm welcome, the fitting cap to a Lincolnton day trip.

Ready to do it all? Click here to start planning your day trip — or longer — to this small town and discover its vibrant sense of community firsthand.

This story was published on May 29, 2024

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.