Here we present a recap of the culinary counties you chose as the final four from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foodie Tour series.
Rockbridge County, Va.: Infused pulled pork is the specialty at Gertie’s Country Store in Vesuvius
“We’ve been around the world and didn’t have to leave Virginia,” notes Tammy Collins as she surveys the Sharpie-inked walls at Gertie’s Country Store, where Good Gulf gasoline once was sold, about five miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
That “vertical guest book” features names from Israel, China and Vesuvius – as in Vesuvius, Va., where Gertie’s serves up pulled pork barbecue sandwiches with slaw.
“I’m told that Italian immigrants who helped build the Blue Ridge Parkway said the smoke from the foundries in the area reminded them of home, and that’s how this place came to be called Vesuvius, after the volcanic mountain in Italy,” says Collins, herself a native of nearby Staunton.
Collins named the store and restaurant after her mother, Gertrude Virginia McPherson, who now works in the kitchen. Tammy says her grandmother, Granny Lou (Lucille Katherine Redifer), taught her to cook.
Collins and her staff slow-cook Boston butt, always bone-in, and pull the meat. House-made red barbecue sauce is then added so that, as Collins says, the meat is
“infused.” The pork is quickly seared on the grill to create a “bark,” the browned pieces on the ends of the meat.
For breakfast at Gertie’s, it’s oftentimes “salt fish,” described by Collins as “salted herring, soaked overnight and then fried.” It’s served with toast and two eggs cooked to order.
Located on Va. 56, Gertie’s Country Store is a convenient stopover for travelers on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, who can camp out back for free.
Gertie’s Country Store, 563 Tye River Turnpike, Vesuvius. 540-377-9313. From the parkway: East on Va. 56 for about 5 miles.
More Dining Options in Rockbridge County:
- Bistro on Main
- House Mountain
- Nikko’s Grille
- Southern Inn
- Sheridan Livery Inn
- Red Hen
- Pure Eats
- Café Michel
Patrick County, VA: Dry Pond Cafe’s Ju-Ju Burger
My quest for oddly named hamburgers took us to the Dry Pond Café in Patrick County, Va., near the North Carolina line, despite the best efforts of our GPS device to steer us into someone’s driveway.
“GPS’s don’t work very good around here,” says regular customer Patsy Oakley, who remembers when there actually was a pond at Dry Pond – a “swampy thing,” she calls it, that eventually dried up.
The Dry Pond Café is a business without a sign. Nothing on Highway 103 says you’re there. The restaurant’s name is only painted on two windows.
“It’s a little brick building,” owner Shvonda Cockram tells me over the phone as we plan our trip to Patrick County.
“You’d think it was a house. It’s a pretty big business considering how small it is and no sign.”
Dry Pond Café is the home of the Ju-Ju Burger. Its name was a child’s term of endearment.
Cockram’s parents owned the café from 1996 to 2010. “The kids my mama used to babysit called my dad, Junior Lankford, Ju-Ju,” she says. “He died in 2005, and we’ve kept the name of the burger in his memory.”
A Ju-Ju Burger is a bacon double cheeseburger – a half pound of meat and two pieces of cheese.
While cooks at the Dry Pond Café construct Ju-Ju Burgers, they’re also smashing baked potatoes with a wooden mallet and loading them with cheese, bacon, ham, grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms.
Meanwhile, Bonnie Brown is making intensely colored sweet potato pie out of fresh sweet potatoes.
The Dry Pond Café is easy to overlook, but for travelers through this part of Virginia seeking good food and fellowship with local folks, it’s a must stop.
The Dry Pond Café, 2156 Dry Pond Highway, near Stuart, Va., 276-694-6055
More Dining Options in Patrick County:
- Good Fillas
- Mill House Pizza
- El Rancho
- The Coffee Break
- Elements at Primland
- Honduras Coffee Company
- Poor Farmers Market
Yancey County: Totally Secret Sauerkraut at Burnsville, N.C.’s Garden Deli
The last stop on this leg of our tour is a cultural crossroads. Edward Yuziuk, son of Ukrainian immigrants, moved to Burnsville, N.C., in 1968 and started the town’s newspaper, the Yancey Journal. After he sold the newspaper, he opened the Garden Deli in 1987 on the town square. Yuziuk died in 1997, but the restaurant continued, under the ownership of his son, Greg, and Greg’s wife, Hiroko. The Yuziuk family’s “totally secret” sauerkraut recipe traveled from Ukraine to Manhattan’s East Village, where Edward grew up, and Edward’s Japanese daughter-in-law now makes it for Garden Deli pastrami Reuben sandwiches.
“Our bread is authentic New York rye, the same bread that is used by the Carnegie Deli,” Greg says.
As an economics student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Greg enjoyed the Greek grilled cheese sandwich served by Hector’s on Franklin Street, so he added it to the Garden Deli menu. Melted American cheese is seasoned with oregano. The sandwich is packed with lettuce, tomato, and onions and served on lightly grilled pita bread, with the Greek cucumber sauce, tzatziki.
“The pita is handmade and hand-stretched,” says Greg. “We use Old World supplies.”
Greg says his father “showed me everything” about the food business. That knowledge has been shared with Hiroko, who makes about 80 pounds of chicken salad every week and plates it up in four-ounce servings.
In the hands of the Yuziuk family, food traditions of Ukraine, Japan, Manhattan, and North Carolina converge on the well-laden plates of the Garden Deli.
The Garden Deli, 107 Town Square, Burnsville, North Carolina, 828-682-3946.
More Dining Options in Yancey County:
- Nu Wray Inn
- Garden Deli
- Hilltop Rest
Buncombe County: Saltimbocca at Tupelo Honey Café in Asheville, N.C.
We kick off this last installment of our four-part Blue Ridge Parkway-counties Foodie Tour with a visit to the popular Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, N.C. The offerings as we head south from Buncombe County are equally as enticing, tasty, unique and – in at least one case – accompanied by a great scenic view worth waiting for.
Consider grits with goat cheese. Contemplate fried okra. Those dishes illustrate what the Tupelo Honey Café in Asheville, N.C., is all about. Innovation on an old Southern theme on the one hand, coupled with the realization that the affinity between okra and cornmeal is eternal.
Come to the table at Tupelo and a hot biscuit soon follows, along with a squeeze bottle of the precious north Florida honey for which the place is named.
The Tupelo Honey Café is a bustling bastion of traditional and emerging Southern food, in a city with a wealth of locally owned eateries.
Of Tupelo’s Southern Fried Chicken Saltimbocca with Country Ham and Mushroom Marsala, Chef Brian Sonoskus says, “I’ve always loved the Italian classic Saltimbocca, and I wanted to put my own Southern-inspired twist on it by frying the chicken and using North Carolina country ham instead of prosciutto. The classic version features sage. I switched it up further by using basil.”
Additional proof of Tupelo’s all-encompassing approach to Southern food and drink is a cocktail, Ode to Muddy Pond. It’s a four-state salute to Southern ingredients: sorghum produced by the Guenther family in Tennessee, Maker’s Mark bourbon from Kentucky, and spicy Blenheim ginger ale from South Carolina, blended in a North Carolina bar.
Tupelo Honey Café, 12 College Street, Asheville, N.C., 828-255-4863
More Dining Options in Buncombe:
- Cúrate Tapas Bar
- Sunset Terrace at the Grove Park Inn
- Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.
- Chai Pani
- Sunny Point Café
- 12 Bones Smokehouse
- The Market Place
- Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack
- Lexington Avenue Brewery