by David Cecelski
I visited Stonewall’s Grill & Restaurant on my way back from the farm today. It’s in the Hood Swamp community, in Wayne County. When I got there, everybody was talking about the big dinners that their mothers and grandmothers used to prepare during tobacco harvests, a topic of conversation inspired, I imagined, by the big servings of barbecue pork chops, field peas, butterbeans, and hushpuppies on their plates.
During the old-time tobacco harvests, the crowd at Stonewall’s was saying, the farmwomen got dinner going early in the morning. Then they joined the rest of the family in the fields or at the barn. Every now and then, they’d come back to the kitchen and check on their dinners, but mostly they fixed dishes that could simmer long and slow without a lot of extra attention.
They were usually feeding a crowd, too, including cousins, neighbors, and hired hands who all gathered to help them “make a crop,” as people used to say.
“You never smelled anything so good in all your life as granny’s dinners at tobacco harvest,” one gentleman, a farm machinery welder, said.
Speaking of tobacco harvests, another diner, a mechanic at the feed mill next door, said that he also missed the aroma of tobacco curing. He was talking about that sweet scent of tobacco leaves being seasoned in barns over a low, steady fire—a process, not by coincidence, a lot like pit-cooking barbecue. Curing turned the leaf that golden hue that gave Brightleaf tobacco its name.
A more modern, mechanized way of flue-curing tobacco is used these days. “You can’t even smell the tobacco curing now,” the mechanic said.
Stonewall’s is the kind of place that makes you think about long lost ways of life. Located in the heart of tobacco country, it’s a homey little diner with 3 or 4 booths and a handful of other tables. Nothing is fancy, but everything’s nice.
A married couple runs the kitchen and one of their moms was my waitress. A fellow that lives just up the road comes over once a week, on Friday nights, and stays up all night cooking a hog in the pit out back for Saturday.
Saturday is the big day at Stonewall’s. That ‘s when they serve barbecue pork and chicken. Most of the weekday fare is grill food, but they always have a daily special, too, like the barbecue pork chops today. You get the special, two vegetables, and hushpuppies or rolls for $6.50, including tax.
“Be sure to come back on a Saturday,” my waitress—the mom—leaned in and confided to me, like I hadn’t seen anything yet. “That fellow up the road knows how to cook a pig.”
Stonewall’s address is 1419 Hood Swamp Road, Goldsboro, NC. It’s open 11 AM to 1:30 PM and 5:30 PM to 7 PM, Tuesday thru Saturday.