by David Cecelski
I discovered a real treasure yesterday on a trip to Fountain, a little town in Pitt County: the R.A. Fountain General Store and Internet Café. Operated by ECU English professor Alex Albright and his wife, Elizabeth, the store is a celebration of eastern North Carolina culture that should not be missed. On weekends, you can hear the best of the region’s bluegrass, country, gospel, blues, and other roots music performed there. They’ve also hosted musicians from as far away as Canada, Sweden, and France. But it’s not just a music venue. You can also buy books, CDs, and other products with an eastern North Carolina focus there (or via the store’s web site, www.rafountain.com). Constructed in 1916, the old general store building has great atmosphere.
Alex and Elizabeth also sell some incredible treats. They serve orangeades and lemonades, desserts made by a local pig farmer and homemade ice cream from the Jones Fruit Farm,a pick-your-own farm north of Snow Hill, in neighboring Greene County. Ashley Jones, of the Jones Fruit Farm, uses the farm’s own strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and cantaloupes to make his ice cream, but also makes banana, vanilla, and chocolate. A 10-year-old boy was eating a cup of cantaloupe ice cream when I was there yesterday and he looked awful happy.
I also bought several jars of muscadine grape hull preserves at the store. Alex and Elizabeth carry a really exceptional variety of homemade preserves, a lot of them made by Alex’s friend, Gary Thompson, in Greenville, the county seat. Gary’s jams and jellies have won several blue ribbons at the North Carolina State Fair and dozens at the Pitt County Fair. Relishes, pecans, and other local products also show up on the store’s shelves seasonally.
The store is also a great place to host an event. If you can talk Alex into hosting a gathering for your club or group, you’re likely to discover some of the region’s best eats. Nobody knows eastern North Carolina’s barbecue or the region’s other culinary traditions better than Alex.When I was there yesterday for the North Carolina Folklore Society’s annual shindig, he showcased two local eateries that are worth mentioning.
The first is Mickey’s BBQ and Grill, a little restaurant in Fountain, just a few hundred yards from the store, on NC 222. I had two cheese biscuits for breakfast yesterday and they were amazing: big, fluffy “cat head biscuits”—so-called, of course, because they’re as big as a cat’s head—and made with big, gooey hunks of farmer’s cheese. Unbelievably good. Worth a trip.
The second is Jack Cobb’s Barbecue Placein Farmville, 7 miles south of Fountain. If Alex recommends a barbecue joint, I know it’s the best around. And it was. Jack Cobb catered yesterday’s lunch and the barbecue was top-notch, but so were the cornbread and side dishes. You can’t say that about very many barbecue joints. The collard greens, in fact, were outstanding.
The R.A. Fountain General Store and Internet Café is now one of my favorite places in all of North Carolina. Alex and Elizabeth Albright are celebrating a region’s culture, revitalizing a small town, and building a community. They’re also feeding folks very, very well.
The R.A. Fountain General Store and Internet Café is located at the corner of NC 222 and US 258 in downtown Fountain. It’s open Fridays and Saturdays for music and other times by appointment. You can check their internet site for hours and bands or call them at (252) 749-7974 . You can also email them email@example.com to sign up for their weekly dispatches on what’s coming to the store.
photos by David Cecelski