by David Cecelski
Yesterday I was looking for food for a paddling trip on the Deep River. My buddy Bland and I were headed to the river on a surprisingly warm, sunny, late winter day. Neither of us had been in a boat for far too long, and we were celebrating a free day, the coming of spring and, though we didn’t realize it until we were on our way home, the 11th anniversary of our first paddling trip together. That was far to the east of the Deep, on the Northwest Fork of the Alligator River, a blackwater stream that passes through a lovely juniper swamp forest in Tyrrell County.
Of course, Bland and I needed proper provisions for our trip on the Deep. Bland was bringing beer and tuna fish sandwiches, so I kept an eye out for good places to pick up the kind of delicacies that would balance out our diet: hearty, durable, meat by-products packed in steel containers with pop-off lids.
Fortunately, I was passing over Jordan Lake, which is home to a wide array of bait shops that specialize in just that sort of thing. TheWilsonville General Store, on NC-64, had a good selection of Spam, Treet, Vienna Sausages, Beanie Weenies, and little tins of Armour potted meats, as well as Canadian herrings. The Pittsboro Bait & Tackle Shop, on 64-Business, had a good array of those products, too.
The most stellar bait shop, though, was Craig’s General Storeon NC 751. In addition to the above-mentioned canned meats, Craig’s also carried 2 other varieties of Vienna Sausages and Prairie Belt Smoked Sausages, which, I read on the label, are made with “mechanically separated chicken”—don’t even ask—and pork spleens. I went for Saltines and herring.
We had a fine paddle. The Deep arises in western Guilford County and flows into the Haw River below Jordan Lake to form the Cape Fear. It’s a beautiful river. We also saw the ruins of the Endor Furnace, a Civil War era pig-iron furnace, for the first time, and we caught sight of a pair of barred owls, several ospreys, and an otter. Mostly, I just enjoyed being back on the water with Bland.
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When you come off Jordan Lake or the Deep River, you probably want something better than Louisiana Cajun-Style Vienna Sausage for supper. (I know, you’re asking, what could that be?) Well, I love the healthy, organic fare at the General Store Cafe in Pittsboro, the county seat of Chatham County. Everything is good there. I especially like the homemade soups—the special yesterday was Vegetable-Thyme—and, for dessert, the ginger-peach cobbler.
Local musicians play there Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. On the first Monday of every month, the store also hosts the “Burrito Bash,” a fundraiser for good causes.
A place in Chatham County that I really like for old-fashioned, Southern food is theOld Place, located near Bonlee and Bear Creek, in the western part of the county. Run by Lu Anne Moore Johnson, her father Bertis Moore, and daughter Laura Johnson, the Old Placeoccupies the farmhouse that was once the home of Mrs. Johnson’s grandmother.
Whatever your heart desires, you can get pretty much get it at the Old Place: fried chicken, pot roast, chicken livers, chicken and dumplings, chitterlings, all sorts of seasoned vegetables, cracklin’ bread, and lots of desserts. I first went there when my friend Tim and I used to go hear his Daddy preach in Cumnock, an old mining community on the Deep River. Sometimes lay leaders would take Rev. Tyson out for dinner after church and we’d tag along. I remember the Reverend’s preaching and the Old Place’sbuffet with equal tenderness. It wasn’t open yesterday or I’m sure Bland and I would have made the drive.
The General Store is just west of the Chatham County Courthouse in downtown Pittsboro and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner 6 days a week. You can visit their web site atwww.thegeneralstorecafe.com. The Old Place is located at 289 Elmer Moore Road, just off NC 421, 7 miles outside of Siler City. This wonderful little restaurant is only open Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 9 PM and Sundays from 11:30 AM to 8 PM.
photos by David Cecelski