by Evan Hatch
Lexington, North Carolina is rightfully praised for its contributions to the North Carolina Barbecue tradition. Lexington style is a well know contender for the best barbecue in North Carolina, indeed the entire south. Much ink and blood have spilled over the years in an effort to establish the reigning barbecue king in North Carolina. The effort has proved futile. And it often overshadows other revered institutions.
Take, for example, the nearly century old Conrad & Hinkle Food Market. Entrenched firmly in downtown Lexington’s business district, Conrad & Hinkle Food Market seems to have changed little in its tenure. A grocery store set in two large tin-ceilinged rooms, it offers basic stores, fresh vegetables, and a hand-cut meat selection. Granted, Conrad & Hinkle is a grocery store like many that served rural southern communities during the 20th century. However it is still in business. And it is still hopping. This institution is well loved by its local clientele, and known by few outside the city’s borders. So cherished is Conrad & Hinkle that it even offers a preferred entrance to its clientele in the know. Regulars know to enter through the rear door from the off-square parking lot. The amount of traffic passing through that parking lot on a Friday afternoon is stunning.
It would appear that a visit to Conrad & Hinkle is mandate for those new to Lexington, an add-on to any of the famous BBQ joints in the city limits. Take it from me, just get Conrad & Hinkle’s pimento cheese! On a recent field work excursion to document an historic barbecue pit in downtown Lexington (conveniently adjacent to the aforementioned, local-friendly, rear-entrance parking lot) an NC Folk-sponsored team grew hungry in the late afternoon. The humidity of the early spring afternoon was forgotten after stepping into the dim and cool grocery store. In the meat department stood a case of house-made pimento cheese (regular and spicy) and chicken salad (traditional and chunky). Other house made items were featured, but none so prominent as these two staples.
Conrad & Hinkle’s pimento cheese is made from an original recipe perfected by Mrs. E. Odell Hinkle in 1940. The cheese is made daily, a testament to its popularity (as well the cheese’s myriad uses – spread and dip). Creamy and rich, this variant of a southern classic must be experienced. The recipe is simple, and somewhat guarded, and rightfully so. In these days of vehement food advocacy, staking out Conrad & Hinkle version is a good bet as one of the best examples in North Carolina. One other mighty impressive bit is to notice that Conrad & Hinkle products are available at other stores in the area, but only shops that are locally owned and operated. But the smart money is on a visit to Conrad & Hinkle Food Market. In the downtown business district, Lexington, NC. The red and white Coca-Cola awning marks the spot.
Conrad & Hinkle
6 North Main Street
Lexington, NC 27292
(336) 248 – 2341
Evan 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.