by Evan Hatch
How much do we love collard sandwiches here in North Carolina? So much so that we’ve featured several posts over the years from Jefferson Currie II and Ray Linville, each singing their juicy, fat-back laced praises. In this case, more is more. ~Deborah Miller, Editor, NC FOOD
At the intersection of NC Hwy 41 and Eldorado Road outside Fairmont, North Carolina, sets a squat white cinder block building. This is the Snak Shak -owned and operated for ten years by Leroy “Mr. Roy” Freeman. We were sent here hungry, Joy Salyers and Evan Hatch. While conducting a field study of four southeastern North Carolina counties, we asked locals to recommend local foodstuffs.
“Collard sandwich,” came the answers.
“Where,” was the question.
“Snak Shak,” the answer.
Well, we WERE going that way anyway (but in truth if I knew then what I now know, Snak Shak IS a destination).
It is an unassuming joint with both hand-painted and electric signs advertising breakfast and lunch and spot plates and chicken and pastry and collard sandwiches for every passer by to witness. There are two white painted picnic tables under a covered patio and plenty of room to stand. Greeting customers from behind a sliding screen window at the ordering counter is Mr. Leroy Freeman. I imagine everybody in town knows and likes Mr. Freeman. Not to worry, Mr. Freeman does not work too, too hard, he just comes down to check on the kitchen and visit with his patrons. Joy Salyers looks over the gathered and notices that Snak Shak – the older, realer version of fast food – caters to everybody. Painters, yard workers, teachers, fieldworkers, bikers – it seems that representatives from every Fairmont community of the famously tri-racial Robeson County come to Snak Shak. It is a great equalizer.
Apparently the collard sandwich began out of necessity. Its origins are murky; however, the consensus is that the sandwich’s creation allowed eaters to benefit from the genius combination of collards, fried fatback, and corn bread without the pesky utensils. Mr. Freeman’s version consists of two sturdy discs of flat-top fried corn bread, subtle sweet collards sans pot liquor and two crisp pieces of fried fatback. Ease and delectation combined. Mr. Freeman prefers the younger winter collards, whose sweetness is fully formed. Later season greens require the addition of “a little sugar and a little something else,” the latter undefined but demonstrated with a sorcerer’s pinch and wave of his fingers. The collards seemed to have no trace of pork cooked into their base, giving the vegetable its due.
We also ordered a plate of chicken and pastry, Fairmont and surrounding region’s take on chicken and dumplings. Rich, thin ribbons of pastry cooked in gravy with pulled white and dark meat chicken is a Friday lunch special. Truly special, however are the sides of speckled butter beans, a local traditional crop. Speckled only before cooking, the tender but substantial cousin of butter beans are a welcome summer offering and are grown throughout the region.
When asked what Mr. Freeman recommended, he smiled proudly and spoke of his catfish. Nuggets we had, although sandwiches are available as well. The thin and crispy coating-I suspect corn meal-gave way to a hot, meltingly beautiful fish. If it were not so very hot, this perfectly realized fish could have dissolved on one’s tongue.
Folklorists do know how to eat. And they know how to find the right places to eat. Trust us. We shall do you no wrong with this knowledge. In short, trust the locals, and trust the folks that trust them. Now go. Go. And he has homemade pound cake that he gets from a lady in town.
Need more Collard Sandwich stories? Check these out:
Evan Hatch is a folklorist currently working with the North Carolina Folklife Institute in Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson & Scotland counties. Since 2002, he worked in Middle Tennessee documenting traditional musical and material culture. He was producer at Spring Fed Records and served as President of the Tennessee Folklore Society.