I am looking for iconic North Carolina eateries for a new book.
The dictionary defines iconic as “widely recognized and well-established” or “widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence.”
The iconic restaurants should be (1) widely known in North Carolina, and better yet, known throughout the country and the world; (2) have been in business for many years and have a compelling backstory that includes ownership by interesting people; (3) have a loyal following; and last, and maybe least, (4) put good food on the table.
Sunnyside Oyster Bar in Williamston, Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City and the two Bridges barbecues (Red’s and Alston’s) in Shelby are examples.
Keeping these considerations and examples in mind, what would you say is our state’s most iconic eatery?
My answer is one that might surprise you. The most iconic eatery in North Carolina is Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy. Why would a simple sandwich shop in a small North Carolina town get my nod? Following the criteria outlined earlier, here are the reasons:
1. Widely known: Without a doubt, Snappy Lunch’s name is better known throughout the world than any of our other eateries. For that, give Andy Griffith the credit.
Although Andy died in 2012, the continuing re-runs of his television program still make him a celebrity throughout the world. It has made the TV character Andy’s fictional hometown, Mayberry, a part of the world’s language, meaning “idyllic small town.”
Though Mayberry’s sandwich shop gets mentioned only a few times during the TV program’s series, many Andy Griffith fans all over the world remember its quirky name: Snappy Lunch.
The fictional Mayberry is based on Andy Griffith’s real hometown, Mount Airy, where there is a real Snappy Lunch.
2. History: Mount Airy residents – like the real Andy and many others – have eaten here since it opened in 1923. “Make it snappy,” some customers said when they ordered sandwiches. Hence the name, Snappy Lunch.
Although the founder, Charles Dowell, died in 2012 at age 84, his legacy is still present. He created Snappy Lunch’s classic, a pork chop sandwich described as “a boneless, tenderized loin chop dipped in sweet-milk batter and fried until golden crisp.” His widow, Mary, and daughter, Jamie, own and operate Snappy Lunch, with help from Jamie’s husband Seth Dowell-Young, who is in charge of the grill where Charlie held court. The family is determined to keep Charlie’s legacy alive.
3. Loyal following: Snappy’s customers include a host of locals and visitors. One local is Raymond Keith Massey, who was eating breakfast when I dropped by. He said he comes five times a week. When I asked why so often, he said, “It’s cheap; two eggs and a big piece of pork, just $2.14.”
4. Food: The food is special. On my visit to this icon, Mary’s great-nephew, Brady Horton, took my order for the famous pork chop sandwich, all the way. He brought it to me wrapped in wax paper, almost dripping with juicy slaw, tomato and sauce, with pork so large it was poking outside the bun. I needed several napkins to keep this delicious mess from spilling into my lap.
The other fare is simple and good. Breakfast is a great time to visit and listen in on the talk of the regular local clientele who gather and hang around until after 10 a.m.
There you have it. Snappy Lunch is known throughout the world, and it’s got history, loyal followers and a special food dish. No other North Carolina eatery fits these considerations so well.
So, Snappy Lunch it is – North Carolina’s most iconic eatery.
If you are willing to share your opinion, whether you agree or disagree, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.