This week my editors are letting me take a break from politics and books to write about my favorite topic, roadside eateries.
Here are three gems along U.S. 421 between Sanford and Greensboro.
Rufus’ Restaurant, Goldston
1977 N. Main St.
Open breakfast and lunch Tuesday– Saturday.
“There is nothing as good as a Rufus Burger,” one of the southern Chatham County locals told me recently. “You can get one at Rufus’ Restaurant right up the road in Goldston.” Goldston (population 300) is a trip back in time. And chowing down on the burger at Rufus’ Restaurant is a world-class treat.
The Rufus Burger is the creation of Rufus Owens, who operated the restaurant with his wife, Jane, for almost 30 years until he died in 2003. These days, Jane oversees the smooth operation of the restaurant from her favorite booth.
She insists that there is a lot more good food at the restaurant besides the Rufus Burger. “And if I don’t eat it,” she said, “I don’t serve it.”
One Saturday at lunchtime, I found a group of late breakfast eaters. A former teacher, a dental assistant and several retirees sat me down to hear their praises for the Rufus Burger and Jane. One told me, “She runs the town. When people get in trouble, they don’t dial 911, they call Jane.”
Just before I left, Jane told me, “I know everybody thinks Claxton’s burger at Johnson’s up in Siler City is the best, but we think the Rufus Burger has it beat.”
Bestfood Cafeteria, Siler City
220 E. Eleventh St.
Open for lunch and supper Monday– Saturday and lunch on Sunday.
Bestfood is a place you want to be when you are real hungry for fresh country cooking. When I visited for supper, the tables were full and the cafeteria and salad bar lines were moving at a fast pace.
Co-owner Mike Terry told me his salad bar is popular not just from a wide variety of greens, dressings and sides. It also includes amazingly delicious fried chicken, which makes the salad bar a complete meal.
Still, many customers skip the salad bar to take advantage of the variety of meats and local vegetables in the cafeteria line, where there is a lot of good food for a very modest price.
Mike met his partner, Art White, while they were cooking for events at church. During their 13-plus years at Bestfood, they have added an upscale steakhouse and a gift shop. When I asked about the secret of their success, Mike said simply, “We’ve been blessed.”
Y’all Come Back Café, Liberty
119 S. Fayetteville St.
Open breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday and breakfast Saturday–Sunday.
My neighbor and local dentist, Joel Wagoner, grew up in Liberty. He talks wistfully about the joys of being a happy child in small-town America. One of his favorite memories is the little restaurant with the special, welcoming name, “Y’all Come Back.”
Breakfast is a gathering time with two eggs, bacon and grits for about $5. At lunch, there is always a special plate of meat, two vegetables and a drink for about $6.50.
But the special offering at Y’all Come Back Café is a chance to experience a taste of the village life that Dr. Wagoner remembers so fondly. When I stopped by about 8:30 a.m. recently, every table was full, mostly with family groups enthusiastically chatting.
Joshua “Scooter” Saley, whose mother once owned the restaurant, introduced me to Peggy Christenbury and her table and to former Liberty mayor Jim Parker. He persuaded me to come back for the town’s big Fourth of July weekend parade. But I am not sure I can wait that long to experience the fellowship and good food at Y’all Come Back.