Tuesday, May 27, 2014

North Carolina's Most Unique Antique Festival

Outdoor Festival Serves Up Antiques with a Slice of Americana
By Lynne Brandon

Farm setting adds to downhome vibe

Quilt on display

Liberty, NC - You can hear the unusual noise before you walk into the Liberty Antique Festival. The unusual "hit and miss" sound is one-of-a-kind. It is the sound of the Hit and Miss 1937 John Deere
Serving up a "Rebel" with a cause
engine that turns the big wooden churn filled with home made ice cream. The machine was used to grind corn at mills once upon a time. Owner, Jonathan Williamson bought it from the previous owner Gilbert Key when he decided to retire.Williamson's mother, Linda, helps scoop and serve the dairy confection, and she confesses that the pre-mixed commercial ice cream base is an old Amish recipe that is a secret. And, it is not cheap.

The recipe is 100 years old and patented so it will remain a mystery. What's not a surprise is the long lines that form twice a year when Williamson and other food and antique dealers come to Liberty for the down home show that is part Antique Pickers and part Mayberry.

The people behind the event are the Pike family. The Pike's own the large field (more than two football field lengths) that becomes the Liberty Antique Festival each April and September, always the last weekend in the month. The Pike's BBQ booth is one of the first seen when walking in. The smell will attract you initially, followed by the excellent service and food served up at Dixieland BBQ. Nan Pike is in charge and she and a band of church ladies serve up pork hams cooked by husband, Don. He starts at 3 a.m. each morning and before the event is over nearly 50 hams are cooked on the massive grill that was originally an oil drum.

"Staley" style cue is served up as a "Rebel" on the menu. It is Nan's invention and comes with sauce, BBQ, mayo-based slaw (mountain cabbage) and beans. No bun. Drink of choice is the house wine of the South - a.k.a as sweet tea. BBQ sauce is homemade by Don's mother and sold in bottles.

After filling up on BBQ, a walk through rows of antique wares is necessary to work off the calories. Booths, tents and spaces are lined in rows. Each space is different from the next and anything can be found if one is willing to poke around a little. Civil war artifacts, farm equipment, antique furniture, collectible glass and books are some of the treasures waiting to be discovered. The laid back atmosphere brings out crowds who enjoy strolling through the grassy rows looking for the perfect settee, old time wall fixture, or out of print book.

Those who walk the entire festival are rewarded along the way with homemade and freshly squeezed lemonade. It goes great with Papa's Old Fashioned Kettle Korn that is sold each year from the large copper pots. The couple making and selling the corn are from Florida and they come every year. You can't miss them - the wife is the red head with the cowboy hat on. No matter how hot it is, she is wearing her hat.

If you get lost, an Aunt Bea voice comes across the PA system to direct you back to your party. The voice says today that Edith is tried of waiting and Bill needs to hurry up and get to the exit. Set in a pasture with cows grazing nearby, the scene is true Americana. You might not always find that perfect piece of furniture but you will create a memory, and eat some of the best food in the South Guaranteed.

Classic Carolina City: Camden, SC

 City of History and Horses
 by Lynne Brandon

Robert Mills Courthouse
Carolina Cup
Re-enactment at Camden Revolutionary War site

Camden, SC - A common misconception is that Camden is only for the equestrian-loving crowd. The equine industry is indeed robust in this Southern city, but it is only one part of its appeal. Camden is rich in history, arts, culture and antiques and gracious hospitality can be found on every corner.

Camden is South Carolina's oldest inland city, and its rich past is on display in its museums, historic district, antebellum homes and antique shops. Camden has more than 60 historic sites, including parks, cottages and spacious mansions. At the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site visitors can see reenactments twice a year. 

The Camden Archives and Museum is a city-owned museum that focuses on the Colonial and Revolutionary eras. Permanent and rotating exhibits such as the Ross M. Beard, Jr. Gun Collection generate a great deal of interest. The collection is one of the largest exhibits in the Southeast, featuring guns from John Dillinger.

Museums and exhibits tell Camden’s story while the horse industry are a major economic driver of the city. The estimated impact of the Carolina and Colonial Cup Races and the 31 weekend events at the South Carolina Equine Park was $10 million in 2013. The total economic impact of equine-related activities and businesses was estimated at more than $29 million for Kershaw County, the top South Carolina County for equine ownership per capita.

Signs of the equine lifestyle are everywhere--horse trailers and small barns tucked among homes, huntsman and hounds afoot on Saturdays, retail tack and feed supply stores. The 600 acres of the Springdale Race Course is central to the horse community. Established in 1928, the course is home to the Carolina and Colonial Cup Steeplechase Races. The Carolina Cup steeplechase draws over 65,000 fans annually from throughout the country to enjoy an afternoon of racing, fashion and tailgating. 

Spring heralds springtime in Camden when the Steeplechase Capital of the World gears up for the Carolina Cup. In the fall horse lovers gather for the world-famous Colonial Cup Race. Throughout the year horse shows at Equine Park, polo matches and foxhunts keep the equestrian community busy. Quarter horses are also trained in Camden for barrel racing shows and roping competition.

It is fitting that the National Steeplechase Museum resides in Camden. It opened to the public in 1998, and it is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated purely to telling the story of the American steeplechase. The white clapboard building that houses both the racing offices and the National Steeplechase Museum is on the grounds of the race course. A life-size bronze statue of Lonesome Glory, five-time Horse of the Year, greets museum visitors.  

Inside, rotating exhibits, a racing silks display, an interactive exhibit of a day in the life of a jockey, equine photography, and the J.V.H. (Bobby) Davis Memorial Library give horse lovers much to enjoy. Hope Cooper, Director of the National Steeplechase Museum, welcomes tourists from every state and several countries annually.  

The natural beauty of Camden’s landscape and temperate climate attract sports and recreation enthusiasts from across the U.S. and internationally. The clay sporting course at Hermitage Farm Shooting Sports, fishing at LakeWateree or driving a “lemon” at Carolina Motorsports Park are all fun ways to relax for those not inclined to ride horses.

After a day of outdoor sports, first-quality pampering awaits visitors at local bed and breakfast inns. The Camden House is located in the historic downtown across the street from the famed Buckley School of Public Speaking. Completed in 1832, the mansion is in easy walking distance to shops, restaurants, antique stores, a community theater and historic parks. Visitors also stay in Bloomsbury Inn, a former residence of Mary Boykin Chestnut who authored the well-known Civil War diary. Elegant surroundings and exceptional services have landed the inn on the “B& B of the Year” list multiple times.

Art and music are appreciated in the city, and blues lovers flock to the annual Carolina Downhome Blues Festival. Throughout the year, the active arts community supports more than 100 events and classes at the art center.

The vibrant city offers many reasons to visit and perhaps put down roots. From friendly people to the active outdoors lifestyle, Camden is a true Southern destination, and the town built on tradition is not just for those who are comfortable in a saddle.

SEE AND DO: Historic Camden Revolutionary War Park, Springdale Racecourse (home to the Carolina Cup and Colonial Cup steeplechase), National Steeplechase Museum, South Carolina Equine Park.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Musical Giants and Southern Cusine in Shelby

A Small Southern Town Where Legends are Made
by Lynne Brandon 

Buffalo Vineyard Riesling
Shelby, NC –“She was sitting right over there, in that corner booth,” he pointed.  Chef Jim Sander was telling me about the time Jennifer Lawrence ate at Pleasant City during the filming of the first Hunger Games a few years ago.  The actress didn’t know it but the movie inspired menu items: District Twelve pizza, Girl on Fire pizza, Peeta Pita and strawberry spinach salad.

A few years later and the District 12 pizza and spinach salad remain on the menu. Both are worth trying. The District 12 pizza is a unique twist on pie with a sweet potato base, mozzarella cheese, shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, ham, goat cheese and fresh basil. The strawberry spinach salad is topped with exceptional berry vinaigrette. Other favorites are the chunky tomato basil soup that goes perfectly with pesto mozzarella bread sticks.
Earl Scruggs Center on the historic Shelby square

Try the extensive beer list with hand crafted brews for every taste.  Owner, Chris Canoutas comes from a long line of restaurateurs starting with his grandfather who once owned the iconic Shelby Café.

Walk a few short blocks to try the famed Shelby Café, a town treasure not only for the southern comfort food but the affable and energetic owner, George Rizkallah. He starts his mornings at 4:30 a.m. to make his famous flaky biscuits that are perfection when slathered with sausage gravy. The town has an abiding affection for liver mush, a café specialty, a southern meat likened to liver pate without the finery. The popular dish is served any way you want it but most requested is the deep-fried version served with mustard. Table tops preserve history with old news clippings about JFK’s assassination and Elvis.

Burgers are exceptional at Newt’s, the place to be on a sunny day on the square. The Carolina Burger with all the fixings is worth every mess mouthful and goes down great in between bites of homemade tater tots. The best beef brisket in the country is at Smoke on the Square where BBQ is king and made with special lip smacking sauce.  For an elegant meal, go to Ni Fens where fried oyster salads (ask for goat cheese topping and pot stickers conjoin Southern and Asian elements. The decadent banana dessert slathered with strawberries and bourbon flavored ice cream are worth every caloric mouthful. 

At every turn restaurants serve up food that you do not expect in such a small town.  A manicured and well kept downtown is thriving with unique shops and art galleries. Linda Park’s cozy Fireside Books hosts national authors for special events, and for wine lover’s wineries and vineyards are in close proximity. For culture lover’s two jewels await in downtown—the Earle Scruggs Center located in a historic architectural structure and the Don Gibson Theater.

Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs and singer/songwriter Don Gibson, both inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame were born in Cleveland County, and called it home. Both icons were featured in a special tribute in April by the Emmy-nominated TV series “Life in the Carolinas.” Host and producer Carl White (the South’s version of Garrison Keillor) focused on the music, history, architecture and culinary heritage of Cleveland County with a night of entertainment and memories. 

The location in the Don Gibson Theater located in the picturesque downtown was a perfect venue to pay tribute to the man behind country music greatest hits, “Oh, Lonesome Me,” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”  

Bluegrass took the night to a new level with the exuberance and talent of the Moore Brothers. Tom Isenhour’s Nuhiway Out band added another layer with Isenhour in the lead. Dressed in a hot, pink sequined “Nudie” suit reminiscent of Porter Wagoner, Isenhour played a fierce, dueling mandolin set with Jacob Moore. It was Grand Ole Opry meets “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Before leaving town, spend the afternoon at the Earl Scruggs Center to relive the life of famed musician Earl Scruggs. The story of the beloved artist who did things his way, including his world famous picking method called “Scruggs Style,” is highlighted throughout the renovated historic 1907 courthouse with music, interactive displays and film.

See and Do:
Music aficionados: Visit Earl Scruggs Center and Don Gibson Theater where the icon’s contribution to country music are on display.
Movie lovers: See the sites in downtown Shelby where the “reaping,”  “District 12” and other scenes were filmed.
Artisans: Cleveland County is home to an assortment of artists from potters to wine makers. Visit Owl’s Eye Vineyard and Winery where you can try classic wines like Merlot and Chardonnay and Carolina blends.  Buffalo Creek Vineyard is a visual feast set in a lush setting in the countryside. Cab blends, Riesling, Traminette and other award-winning wines are graciously poured in the tasting room.
Stay: The Inn of the Patriots where Chef Martin Mongiello plies patrons with exceptional foods from his days cooking for presidents in the White House.

Budbreak Festival Brings Out Music and Wine Lovers

Mayberry Nostalgia Attracts Wine Lovers to Budbreak Festival

Snappy Lunch
Fruit wines at Slightly Askew
Barney Fife cuts a rug with locals
Premiere winery, Childress Vineyards

Mount Airy, NC - Barney Fife was handing out citizen arrest tickets while Eric and the Chill Tones crooned in the background, and people danced on the sunny spring day. What could make the day any better? Having a sip of locally produced wines from the Yadkin Valley viticulture region.

The scene was Mount Airy’s annual Budbreak Wine Festival. This year the festival made beer lovers happy with the addition of craft breweries. Seventeen wineries and four craft breweries took over for the afternoon on Main Street in downtown Mount Airy, the hometown of actor Andy Griffith who came to fame portraying Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry.

Shops and restaurants downtown are part of the tourist attraction known as Mayberry. Lining Main Street are restaurants, bakeries and soda shops with Mayberry themes, Snappy Lunch where the famous pork chop sandwich is produced, and Old North State Winery. The iconic Earle Theater is home to old-time music, jam sessions, movies and other events. Just a block away is the Andy Griffith Playhouse and visitors center where actress Thelma Lynn (Barney Fife’s girlfriend) sees visitors monthly

The Budbreak event combines the nostalgia of Mt. Airy with the burgeoning wine and craft beer scene of the region. Sampling wines and beers, local art, and listening to music was on the agenda. The Mediocre Bad Guys band started the day off on a high note featuring legendary Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys. Keys is known for his instrumental on “Brown Sugar” and other Stones’ hits.

For the pale ale drinkers, newcomer Skull Camp Brewing Co. at Round Peak Vineyards in Mount Airy had the smooth tasting ale called Galaxy. Childress Vineyards under the helm of NASCAR owner Richard Childress showcased a variety of wine blends for any taste bud. Three Red varietal combines Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Merlot for a slightly sweet finish with dark cherry and raspberry notes.

Fans of fruit-themed wines visited the Slightly Askew tent for tastes that are perfect for a day on the beach. Slut Dog Sin (Cabernet Sauvignon and raspberry), Crooked Toe Blues (white Zinfandel), and other fanciful drinks made a fan out of Gretchen Deruyta who traveled from Lake Norman to attend.

Morgan Ridge had the cure for what ails and a wine for every taste. Ales of the day were Bald Mountain Ale, Cotton Patch Gold, and Creek Bottom Pale Ale. Waldensian Heritage Vineyards had peach Bellini’s for a summer themed drink. Surry Cellars brought the expertise and education of Surry Community College’s viticulture program to the festival.  Southern Charm Winery from Lincolnton had award winning wines for tasting. Editso Black is a Gold medal winner combining the taste of blackberries with Merlot. Herrera Vineyards from Dobson had seven verities for tasting. For an earthy wine with spice accents try Tannant is made from 100% tannant local grapes.

The sounds of music throughout the day set a fun and festive tone. The little festival that could –did in rare form.  Music, fun and local wine and beer. It doesn’t get much better.