“There is soul music, soul food, and soul love”
State 38: North Carolina April 21-24, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Sylva, NC well rested, and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we visited the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and we could not wait to see what adventures lie ahead! The first task of the day is to drive 11 miles Northeast to visit the national park depicted on the reverse of the North Carolina quarter; The Blue Ridge Parkway. Established on June 30, 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Blue Ridge Parkway extends along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range connecting Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At 469 miles in length, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest linear park in the National Park System extending through 29 counties, and consisting of 26 vehicle tunnels. With the exception of three years, the Blue Ridge Parkway has been the most visited unit of the National Park System averaging over 13 million annual visitors!
The parkway's Southern terminus is near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, and the parkway's Northern terminus connects with Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We previously drove Skyline Drive, which you can read about by clicking here, but only if you want to see breathtaking pictures! Over the next 3 days, we will be traveling South to North on the Blue Ridge Parkway from its Southern terminus until we arrive at the Virginia state border. If you are ready, let’s go explore this "All American" road together!
Lori snapped the pictures below exemplifying our experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Notice the faint light at the end of an extremely long dark narrow tunnel. Is it not just a tad reminiscent of what people typically describe as a near death experience? The three days we spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway were exactly that!!! After being inundated with rain, immersed in fog, inundated with detours and sharing the road with inconsiderate bicyclists, we spent three miserable and terrifying days on the Blue Ridge Parkway! Lori and I had all we could stand, and we could not stand it anymore! Uncle! Uncle! Uncle! We are throwing in the towel, waving the white hankie, and getting the hell off the Blue Ridge Parkway! I hope to one-day return when the weather cooperates!!!
We drove 58 miles Southeast to Winston-Salem to tour a cigarette factory, and to pick up a pack of smokes to calm my nerves! JUST KIDDING!!!! We had come to Winston-Salem to partake in the the Cross Country Couple's “Famous Food” for North Carolina; Sweet Potato Pie! Often overshadowed by it’s more popular cousin pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie is a soul food dessert prepared as an open shell pie with a custard filling traditionally consisting of: mashed sweet potato, evaporated milk, sugar, eggs, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and a variety of other secret spices.
The original recipe for sweet potato pie is believed to have been adapted from traditional African Cuisine by African American Slaves in the Southern United States during the early Colonial Period. Interestingly, sweet potato pie was a savory dish during the 18th century, and eventually evolved into the sweet dessert we know today during the 19th century. There were dozens of eateries attempting to lay claim to having the best sweet potato pie in North Carolina, but one restaurant stood out among all others; “Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!!) a restaurant TM”. Seriously, that is the restaurant’s name!
Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!!) a restaurant TM is an award winning restaurant in the Arts District of Downtown Winston-Salem serving unique Southern inspired uptown down home cooking. With over 20 years in retail and restaurant service, Vivian Joiner has managed fast food, independent, and casual restaurants enabling her to develop a keen eye for detail, and genuine care and concern for guests. Trained in culinary arts at Baltimore International College, North Carolina native; Chef Stephanie Tyson's culinary career has taken her around the world. Tyson long dreamed of returning to her home state to utilize her southern upbringing as the inspiration for her restaurant! Combining Tyson’s culinary expertise with Joiner’s experience with guest relations, “Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!!) a restaurant TM” was founded in 2003!
Since the restaurant had sweet potatoes in its name, I had high expectations for some damn good sweet potato pie! Even the outside of the building was painted sweet potato orange. Please see the pictures below.
With a name like “Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!!) a restaurant TM” I was not quite sure what I was about to walk into. I expected the ambiance of a casual café, and waitstaff with bad attitudes serving Southern soul food. Hopefully, no one was going to tell me to shut my mouth, because “them be fighting words!”. Upon entering the restaurant, I found myself thrusted into a classy formal dining experience. Before us was: hardwood floors, dimmed recessed lighting, a 30+ foot fully stocked bar, well dressed waitstaff, snazzy local artwork on the walls and jazz music playing softly from overhead speakers. It was quite the unexpected spectacle, and Lori and I both felt a tad under dressed! Please see the pictures below.
We were greeted by the the friendliest hostess, and after being seated, our waitress inquired if we wanted to partake in the full sweet potato experience. I am not sure what a “full sweet potato experience” entails, but I respectfully declined as it sounded a tad naughty! I scoped out the menu in advance and aside from the sweet potato pie, there were no vegetarian menu options. Lori and I both placed our order for two slices of the best sweet potato pie in North Carolina! As we anxiously awaited the arrival of our pie, I made a very disturbing observation! Each table had fresh cut flowers! While the aforementioned typically adds a touch of elegance, the flowers on our table were wilted and dying. I am a firm believer in attention to detail. While wilted flowers may seem insignificant, it makes me wonder what other details are being overlooked.
After a brief wait, our waitress emerged from the kitchen presenting two of the most beautiful slices of pie my eyes have ever had the privilege of beholding! “I hope ya’ll enjoy” our waitress said with a cheshire cat smile, before leaving us to our own indulgence. Sweet potato pie is a quintessential soul food dessert! If you are counting calories or watching your waistline, you have come to the wrong place. I gingerly picked up my fork, pierced the pie’s thick hardy aromatic sweet potato custard filling, and discovered the pie’s crust was equally dense. It actually took a bit of “oomph” to break off a bite sized piece, and lift it to my mouth! The first thing I noticed was the perfect warmth of the pie on my palate. It was the ideal temperature offering a fresh out of the oven experience instead of an unevenly heated straight out of the microwave experience! So far, so very mmmm... mmmm good! Regarding the flavor of the filling, sweet potato was clearly the star of the dessert as it should be! The pie’s filling was evidently made from fresh quality ingredients. No canned yams, high fructose corn syrup or artificial fillers will be found in this pie! Furthermore, a unique blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a mixture of secret spices flawlessly worked together creating a sophistication and complexity to the custard! The slice of sweet potato pie before us was evidently baked by someone who knew their way around a Southern kitchen. Please see the pictures below!
I do have one point of critique. Taking a slice of expertly baked from scratch sweet potato pie and topping it with Reddi Wip, is equivalent to dressing Marilyn Monroe in a potato sack! The warmth of the pie melted the canned whipped cream resulting in a white, runny, watery mess on my plate. I would have loved to see the restaurant make a more dense whipped topping. “Reddi Wip” aside, it was a pleasure to partake in the best damn delicious slice of sweet potato pie of my life, which left me saying, “well shut my mouth”!
Our waitress was helpful, attentive, and sweeter than the sweet potato pie she served. After processing our tab, the waitress returned to say, “Although it was brief, it was a pleasure meeting ya’ll and we hope to see you back again at Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!!) a restaurant TM”. From the classy ambiance, to the wonderful waitstaff, to the delicious pie, this restaurant is a local gem and a sweet place indeed! Lori and I both left feeling so very loved! Everything about this restaurant screamed sweet potato! I just wished there were more vegetarian and vegan menu options as I might have had a meal first!
After departing “Sweet Potatoes (well shut my mouth!!) a restaurant TM”, we drove 70 miles Southwest to Hickory for the Cross Country Couple's “Made in the USA” tour for North Carolina; Carrington Court Direct. For over 31 years, the team of expert craftsman and upholsterers at Carrington Court Direct have proudly created affordable furniture for the discriminating buyer. In addition to living rooms and dining rooms across the US, car dealerships, churches, restaurants and even a US Navy minesweeper are among the many places you will find Carrington Court Direct furniture, and most likely you have already unknowingly sat in one of their chairs. The style, quality, durability, and value of a chair from Carrington Court Direct is unmatched in their industry!
Wisconsin has cheese, Florida has sunshine, Vermont has maple syrup, and North Carolina had furniture once upon a time! Throughout the early 20th century, North Carolina was once the furniture capitol of the world until the golden era of North Carolina's furniture manufacturing came to an abrupt end! Globalization and free trade in the 1990’s opened American furniture markets to competition from foreign manufacturers using cheap labor and lesser quality materials. Further compounding the problem, American's taste and expectations in furniture has drastically changed over the past century! Early 20th century American’s once looked upon a quality constructed piece of furniture built from solid hardwood with dovetail and tongue and groove construction as a cherished family heirloom. Today, the average Middle Class American family purchases their furniture at discount showrooms where price point and external aesthetics take precedence. As a result, China has become the leading furniture manufacturer in the world leaving North Carolina furniture makers closing up shop one by one.
I was very excited to tour Carrington Court Direct to learn how furniture is made, but soon discovered it was not meant to be. When searching for tours for upcoming states, one of the resources we utilize us www.factorytoursUSA.com. When I called Carrington Court Direct, the lady I spoke with stated they no longer offer tours, and have repetitively requested their tour offering be taken off the aforementioned website. I subsequently researched other tours of furniture makers, but was unable to secure a suitable replacement. Sadly, there are not many furniture makers still in business in North Carolina. Nevertheless, I chose to write about the struggles of the state's once thriving furniture industry as it is an important story worth sharing. I encourage all of my readers to look beyond the big box stores, and to buy American made products whenever possible. If you find yourself in need of a quality chair(s) for your work or business, please visit www.carringtoncourtdirect.com to view their inventory of quality US made furniture available in 206 fabrics options, with no sales tax, and free shipping!
After departing Carrington Court Direct, we drove across town where we found a Walmart to spend the night.