Standing in the kitchen at Becca’s Backwoods Bean Coffeeshop, Rebecca Babbitt surveys her inventory of farm-fresh ingredients — kale, bell peppers, butternut squash, and potatoes — to decide on this
Standing in the kitchen at Becca’s Backwoods Bean Coffeeshop, Rebecca Babbitt surveys her inventory of farm-fresh ingredients — kale, bell peppers, butternut squash, and potatoes — to decide on this morning’s omelet special. “One of our egg farmers has been farming since she was 14. Now she’s 17, and she delivers our eggs in a wicker basket.”
Babbitt chooses ham with roasted red bell peppers. She’ll save the kale for pizza night on Thursday — maybe a pie with kale and hot-honey with house-made ricotta. “We like to showcase the seasonal farm products we get over the course of the week,” she says.
From their Main Street coffeeshop, Rebecca and her husband, Matt Kovacich, invite regulars and visitors to enjoy a cup of coffee and a meal in their small mountain community. “We want everyone to feel welcome here,” Kovacich says. “It’s a close-knit feel — you can still drive up and down Main Street and see a friendly face.”
Sparta, North Carolina –– in beautiful Alleghany County –– is the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stroll our town’s sidewalks and enjoy quaint shops, local restaurants, and live music. Stay the night and wake to unspoiled views and quiet solitude.
With new sidewalks, traffic lights, and charming lamp posts — all the result of the town’s recent streetscape project — pedestrians can wander around Sparta’s Main Street to their hearts’ content. “You could easily spend a day exploring all the shops and galleries, and we have a wonderful bookstore and historical museum,” Kovacich says.
Steps from Main on Whitehead Street, Three Crows Metalworks sells one-of-a kind jewelry inspired by nature — like the pressed fern earrings handcrafted by owner Diane Morrison from fine silver, or the bar necklaces that depict the local landscape in textural copper and sterling silver patterns. “My husband, Lou, calls this our ‘hobby gone rogue,’” Diane says. She, Lou, and their daughter, Maggie, are the three crows, and their storefront is the culmination of years of making jewelry together.
Just down the street, Sparta Candle Co. is known for their high-quality, specialty candles made with natural soy wax and lead-free wicks. And aside from smelling heavenly, it’s a great place to get your bearings — or take home a souvenir — as many of the candles are named after local businesses and landmarks.
On Main, Ofelia’s Chic Boutique and Dancing Moon Creations offer a mix of specialty items, including soaps, clothing, candles, and seasonal decor. And at Miller’s Mercantile, owner Tammy Miller sells gifts ranging from Lodge cast-iron cookware to quilts to old-timey candy. “I love being in the heart of downtown,” Miller says.
Don’t leave before checking out a sampling of the work from local artists and potters. At the clothing and home decor shop A Touch of Grace, artist Chris Davis’s and potter Jessie Smith’s work is on display, and next door at Mangum Cater Pottery, wheel-thrown and hand-built stoneware pieces prove everyday items can be both beautifully decorative and functional.
Some of Alleghany’s best views span from Doughton Park, a 7,000-acre recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. With open fields of wildflowers punctuated by picnic tables, it’s a great spot to open your picnic basket and explore. Or plan to eat at the Bluffs Restaurant, scheduled to open in the spring 2021 after a decade of dormancy. The revived Blue Ridge Parkway mainstay will serve old favorites like fried chicken and ham biscuits.
Well-fueled, you’re ready to set forth on a hike. “Because the Mountain-to-Sea Trail follows the Parkway, the elevation changes are relatively — relatively! — gradual,” says Lane Wharton, a member of the Alleghany Sparta Trails Association who’s been hiking the area surrounding Sparta since he and his wife first visited in the mid ’80s. If you’re traveling with kids in tow, you can hop on the Old Bluff Mountain trail from the Bluffs Restaurant parking lot. “There are spectacular views, and it’s suitable for families because you can just turn around if you get tired.”
Driving just past Doughton Park to milepost 242.4, the Mountain to Sea and Bluff Mountain Trail is another great family-friendly trail and is relatively level for about three and a half miles. “After the leaves have fallen, the views down into the headwaters of Basin Creek are great,” Wharton says. “It’s a nice walk to go south from the Alligator Back Overlook.” (For more information on area hikes, visit the Alleghany Sparta Trails Association’s Facebook page.)
Want to get out on the water instead? At the New River Campground, just up NC Highway 21, you can rent a canoe, kayak, or inner tube to explore the Blue Ridge Mountains by float. This is also a great spot for anglers — the New River rewards fishers with muskie, catfish, and even small-mouth bass.
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Laurel Springs (milepost 246), Thistle Meadow Winery offers a selection of about 20 varieties of small-batch wines. It’s hard to say what’s best: the wine, the conversation, or the view. Decide for yourself — sip a glass of wine and settle in for a chat with one of the two vintners, Don Mabe and Brant Burgiss.
In Piney Creek at the junction of highways 93 and 113, the warm and friendly Red Dog Bar and Bistro presents a menu filled with mouthwatering burgers and hearty entrees like pork chops and stuffed chicken alongside lighter fare like the fall harvest salad — topped with pears, bacon, gorgonzola, and candied walnuts.
While most Alleghany toes tap to bluegrass and folk, the ones at Main Street Pizzeria & Taphouse groove to a different flavor of live music. “Our crowd tends to be younger, so a lot of our live music is more country, R&B, and alternative and classic rock,” says Monique Iglesias, who owns the Sparta restaurant with her husband, Xavier. “We have live music every Friday from 7 to 10 p.m.”
Whether or not you come for the live music, it’s worth a visit here to try their famous Cuban sandwich, made with house-roasted pork. “Xavier and I moved here 12 years ago from Miami, and we’ve had Cubans come up to visit who say our sandwich is better,” Monique says.
Plus, with anywhere from 24 to 36 craft brews on tap, Main Street Pizzeria & Taphouse has the biggest beer selection around.
While it certainly doesn’t hurt, you don’t have to be a golfer to appreciate the accommodations at the Olde Beau Resort & Golf Club in Roaring Gap. In addition to a discount on golf, guests have access to an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts, a fitness center, a spa hot tub, and more than seven miles of trails.
The only hotel in Sparta, the Alleghany Inn has been locally owned and operated since 1984. After guests check in, John Kilmartin, one of the hotel’s owners, often suggests they leave their bags behind and head into town for some live music at Muddy Creek or Main Street Pizzeria. “And Laconia Ale Works is just three doors down,” Kilmartin says. “They have great live music on the weekends.”
If the live music coming from South Main Street didn’t draw you in to this local hotspot on Friday or Saturday night, you’ve got one more chance to see what all the fuss is about. Housed in an old downtown car dealership, the Muddy Creek Café & Music Hall lives up to the hype. Find your spot on the outdoor patio between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday, and dig into menu items like applewood smoked bacon, homemade biscuits and jam, and sausage biscuits and gravy — the perfect indulgence to end a mountain weekend getaway.