A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_132545" align="alignleft" width="228"] Lexington mayor Newell Clark.[/caption] When Mayor Newell Clark sat down in Earl Blanton’s barber chair for the first time in nearly 20 years, it was as

Madison County Championship Rodeo

[caption id="attachment_132545" align="alignleft" width="228"] Lexington mayor Newell Clark.[/caption] When Mayor Newell Clark sat down in Earl Blanton’s barber chair for the first time in nearly 20 years, it was as

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_132545" align="alignleft" width="228"] Lexington mayor Newell Clark.[/caption] When Mayor Newell Clark sat down in Earl Blanton’s barber chair for the first time in nearly 20 years, it was as

Lexington mayor Newell Clark. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

When Mayor Newell Clark sat down in Earl Blanton’s barber chair for the first time in nearly 20 years, it was as if nothing had changed. Clark, a Davidson County native, had just moved back to Lexington from California, and when he reunited with the man who’d cut his hair as a teenager, the two “picked up right where we left off,” Clark says.

“The conversation didn’t change.” It wasn’t the only thing that hadn’t changed in Lexington. Clark’s grandfather’s hardware store was still there, as were Conrad & Hinkle Food Market and the Army Navy Store. Clark saw the same people eating at Southern Lunch — “just older and grayer.”

“When you walk into our stores, they’re older, and they’ve got character,” he says. “They’ve got stories behind them.” Some of those buildings have taken on a slightly different form, like the bookstore that’s now a restaurant, and the 19th-century hardware store that became a 21st-century candy store. Clark goes to the gym in the building where he used to get feed for his family’s century-old farm; the freight elevator shaft has been turned into a climbing wall. There’s a doughnut shop and an old-fashioned butcher, boutiques and a day spa. And, true, you can’t miss that world-famous pork. But, Clark says, “I tell people all the time: We’re more than barbecue.”

Eat

Sophie’s Cork & Ale. “[Whether you’re coming from] Winston, Greensboro, or Charlotte, it’s worth driving to Sophie’s for the evening,” Clark says. “John Wilson is wildly creative and just an incredible chef. It’s a nicer restaurant, but it’s very laid-back, a lot of locals.”

Try the bacon-wrapped scallops at Sophie’s Cork & Ale. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Southern Lunch. Clark often gets breakfast at this Lexington staple, which has served classic Southern fare for all three meals since 1925. “That’s the kind of place where another customer will take your coffee cup, walk behind the counter, and fill up your coffee cup for you, then go sit back down,” he says.

Saro Vay. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Red Donut Shop. After escaping war-torn Cambodia in the 1970s, the Vay brothers’ parents immigrated to California and learned how to make doughnuts. In 2015, David and Saro decided to open a sweet shop in their adopted hometown, using a family recipe for their doughnuts. “I couldn’t be prouder of them or happier for them as a family,” Clark says. “It’s been a really positive success story.”

 

Drink

Bull City Ciderworks. After opening in Durham, Bull City Ciderworks moved the bulk of its operations to Hog City (Lexington) in co-owner John Clowney’s native Davidson County. There, they serve dry, semidry, and semisweet ciders in their industrial-chic taproom. Clark jokes: “That was probably one of my biggest failures as mayor — I couldn’t convince them to be Hog City Cider.”

Goose and the Monkey Brewhouse. In 2017, a fire almost destroyed Goose and the Monkey before it even opened, but during the blaze, the fire chief closed a fire door, saving what would become Lexington’s first craft brewery. “If you go into Goose and the Monkey today, that red corrugated metal door is part of the wall,” Clark says. “The first beer on their list is called Fire Door Red. It’s one of my favorites.”

Grab a beer at Goose and the Monkey Brewhouse. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Shop

Lanier’s Ace Hardware. “When my grandfather retired, he said, ‘I’m going to work half a day,’” Clark says. “And he did — he worked from 7 to 7.” At more than 80,000 square feet, the old-fashioned hardware store that Ardell Lanier started in 1940 is still an anchor of Main Street. “It’s a sense of pride for us as a family.”

Conrad & Hinkle. This grocery store has been in the same family — and in the same location on Main Street — for more than a century. Clark remembers having his purchases recorded by hand on his parents’ account. Years later, he says, “It still smells the same when you walk in.”

Pick up some pimento cheese from Conrad & Hinkle. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Missions Pottery and More. Tommy and Joyce Davis’s pottery shop is connected by a walkthrough to Perfect Blend, the coffee shop owned by their daughter and son-in-law. “How cool is that, that you go over and get your coffee and you happen to walk into a pottery store that has really unique and eclectic coffee mugs?” Clark says. Proceeds from the store support missionary work around the world.

The Candy Factory. Clark has enjoyed watching his 12-year-old daughter, Eleanor, grow up in this old-fashioned candy store, where nostalgic sweets are sold by the pound or piece. “It’s so much fun to walk in there and see a candy and go, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen that since I was a kid!’” he says. Eleanor loves the build-your-own Pixy Stix.

Fill your basket at The Candy Factory. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Army Navy Store. As a kid, Clark says, “I went through a phase where I was wearing [different colored] corduroys, and the only place I could find them was Army Navy.” These days, Clark enjoys reminiscing with second-generation business owner Frankie Nance, whose father was friends with Clark’s grandfather. “He tells me stories that I didn’t even know, and vice versa,” Clark says.

Play

High Rock Outfitters. Clark calls owner Chris Phelps “the godfather of nightlife in Lexington.” About 10 years ago, Phelps invited a band to perform in his retail shop, creating the first live music venue in town. Since then, Grammy Award-winning artists like North Carolina country singer Jim Lauderdale have performed there. By day, you can still rent kayaks and paddleboards, too.


About That Barbecue …

“Barbecue is king here,” Clark says, and with more barbecue restaurants per capita than any other city in the country, few would argue. Lexington’s barbecue obsession began in 1919, when Sid Weaver first sold his pit-cooked pork out of a tent in an alley uptown. In 1938, Weaver’s employee Alton Beck opened the city’s first brick-and-mortar barbecue restaurant. Others soon followed: Bar-B-Q Center, Smiley’s, Lexington Barbecue — still known by locals as Honeymonk, its original name. And that first brick-and-mortar restaurant? It’s now part of City Hall: During renovations, the blackened barbecue pits that Beck built in the 1950s were discovered behind the drywall in a conference room — just feet from where city officials plan the Barbecue Festival each year.

print it

This story was published on Dec 29, 2020

Katie King

Katie King

Katie King is an assistant editor at Our State.