Years ago, Maryanne was a frequent business traveler to North Carolina. Having a rental car on the company’s dime resulted in many invitations to favorite faraway lunch spots. The food was always delicious: barbecue, piled high and served with hush puppies and endless pitchers of iced tea. Sitting on picnic tables, in buildings that sometimes looked like a garage in the hills, our meal was a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan with its three-martini lunches.
As you enter, the sleek modern-looking, blonde wood bar catches your eye, and the brick walls provide an interesting backdrop to the poster-size labels of the house beer. They remind customers that “beer is brewed here.”
Cubicles in the office building were filled with ACC bumper stickers, hats and even basketballs. The most interesting, or so it seemed at the time, included: “God May Be a Tar Heel, but Sampson is a Cavalier” and “If God Isn’t a Tar Heel, Why is the Sky Carolina Blue?”
On one visit, someone pointed out the lunch routine was changing this week. It was ACC tournament time, you see. The local bars filled long before tipoff. As I sat down at a long table underneath a TV, the person next to me poured me a glass of beer. I have no idea when I left. It was after the last game was over, sometime well into the next shift.
The hospitality was infectious and the friendships developed over barbecue and basketball have lasted a lifetime. Unfortunately, the beer, as it was in most places back then, was forgettable.
So it was with fond memories of Southern hospitality, and after many of our own attempts to smoke barbecue at home, that we returned to North Carolina last fall. Despite Mother Nature’s attempt to drown us in a hurricane, we meandered throughout the state for several days. This time, however, the beer was worth remembering.
The North Carolina legislature recently passed a bill nicknamed “Pop the Cap,” allowing breweries to produce beer over 6% ABV and legalizing sales of it as well. Local brewers were ready to prove they could compete with out-of-state rivals in all styles. And that they did.