By Ray Linville
What about cold temperatures makes us hungry for hot, homemade soup? When you’re traveling on a chilly winter day, do you look for a diner and hope that it has freshly made, steaming hot soup ready to serve?
As I was traveling on U.S. Highway 64 near the eastern edge of Asheboro in Randolph County, I spotted an interesting-looking two-story building. On one side was a sign for “Heritage Diner.” A diner with “heritage” in its name has to be legendary and rooted in tradition. A local favorite, the diner has won first place for “favorite meal under $15” in the people’s choice awards by the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro.
When I entered, I was immediately attracted to the menu display that included soup and all the sides a Southerner could want plus a few specials (such as chicken pot pie) and desserts as well. Before I could decide what to order, the bins of motorcycle parts behind a service counter and original art of local scenes on two adjacent walls grabbed my attention. I was not sure if I was in a diner, a motorcycle parts store, or an art gallery. Actually I was in all three on the first floor of this building, and upstairs was a motorcycle museum with about 45 bikes (models from 1936 to 1978) and other memorabilia on display.
I almost forgot about the soup until Sherri Kidd, my server, directed me to an available table. She works for Ed and Virginia Rich, her uncle and aunt, who own the building and operate the businesses. Several recipes used at the diner since it opened about 20 years ago are from Venie Rich, his mother who passed at 2010 at age 99.
Although I had made my mind up on what to order before I sat down, I was entertained by looking over the menu because it links the food to the motorcycle theme of the rest of the building. For breakfast, pancakes are “Dunlops,” biscuits are “spark plugs,” and side orders are “saddlebags.” For lunch, salads are “low rides,” mozzarella sticks are “axles,” cold plates are “oil coolers,” drinks are “fluids,” specials are “choppers,” and sandwiches are listed as “places we’ll remember” and named for destinations such as “Myrtle Beach” and “Milwaukee” (where Rich took some of his collection to celebrate Harley-Davidson’s 105th anniversary).
The soup of the day was vegetable beef, and it was excellent. With a tomato base, it came loaded with carrots, green peas, potato, lima beans, green bean, white corn and ground beef. It was definitely the right choice on a cold winter day.
“All the soups are homemade,” says Nicole Hammell, who has worked at Heritage Diner for 10 years as the full-time cook. “We make soup every day, and the vegetable beef usually sells out before we close,” she says. Other favorites she makes are chicken noodle, tomato, and potato.
The chicken pot pie is still made using Venie Rich’s recipe. It is so popular that Hammell always uses a huge pan, but it was already sold out when I arrived. She adds cream of chicken soup and sour cream to chicken pieces. A pastry topping made with Bisquick mix, milk, butter, salt and pepper finishes the pan.
Even though I’m not a regular motorcycle rider, I thoroughly enjoyed my stop and had a great time talking to the staff. Visiting the museum and enjoying the paintings added an extra dimension to a special lunch at Heritage Diner where the soup is always homemade.