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.

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