North Carolina

Every year we travel to Charlottesville to see family.  I am always searching for the perfect flight.  Who has an economy plus that you feel like is worth more than economy.  Who has an economy seat that isn’t misery.  Which airports are an alarming commentary on outdated infrastructure.  As you probably have heard, Portland has a terrific airport.  Dulles, while interesting from an historic perspective, is not.  This year, we tried flying into Raleigh. It’s a little bit longer but to state to obvious, better than the beltway. The Raleigh Durham airport is great.  Delta is great.  We have our good enough (not direct) flight. 


We always try to incorporate a trip to see East Coast friends and some local culture.  This local culture ended up being BBQ. Our first night was in Kinston, NC, which we discovered partially through Garden and Gun and partially through Vivian Howard. We stayed at the O’Neil


Kinston is surprising.  We had read about Howard helping its recovery but we weren’t expecting the downtown to be a ghost town.  To be fair, the street was entirely torn up.  I didn’t spend one minute researching why, but that certainly was a large part to its emptiness. We got there late on a Sunday.  It took us longer to get there because of weather.  When I say weather, I mean the sky was covered with death eaters and the rain that fell was shocking.  I guess this is what they call a thunder storm in the south.  The hotel locks its front doors at 6 pm that was also wild to me. We had a much needed drink in the self service bar in the lobby.  The hotel is a former bank built in the 20’s.  The bar was in the vault.  It all was super charming. Despite all, I was happy to be there.  The O’Neil has great rooms and is affordable while feeling luxurious.  I hope Kinston continues its rebound post pandemic.

The Chef and the Farmer,  Kinston’s main culinary attraction, was closed.  We went to an adjacent Vivian Howard joint, The Boiler Room instead which was probably more our speed anyways.  We had great cocktails, oysters, and burgers.  The place was packed and it felt like the community really loved it which makes it super sad to hear that it has since closed.  It feels like Vivian Howard was to Kinston as Ree Drummond is to Pawhuska.  Not sure how many people go there if it wasn’t for those restaurants. 

We left the following morning for Ayden which is east of Kinston and home to many delicious places.  We had lunch at Bum’s.   It was my favorite part of the trip.  We had the BBQ and Fried Chicken combo, because why would you choose, served by Bum himself. I don’t think he knew he was a celebrity in our eyes. The sides were exceptional.  I wasn’t expecting much from collards and sweet corn.  I am embarrassed in retrospect.  We sat at a booth in the corner so we could observe it all.  Unbeknownst to us, Bum’s wife was sitting at a round table next to us with other regulars.  She stopped by to talk to us to see how we liked our food. She hugged us also told us everything there was to know.  It was glorious.  We told her we were from Oregon and traveled there essentially for Bums.  I am not sure if she thought we were insane but she was very polite about it.  Best meal.  Best place. 


The next time we do this, and there will be a next time, we will need to stretch it over multiple days.  I learned pretty quickly that BBQ plates are not light meals.  So not light that you don’t want to do it again several hours later.  Regardless, we felt we needed to stop at Skylight while we are in the area.  We had the banana pudding and cheerwine.  I have no idea what cheerwine is.  It is not wine.  Maybe it is like cherrycoke?  I don’t know but it was great and I don’t drink soda.  The banana pudding was exceptional.  Ayden was filled with collard stands, piles of wood, corn fields and churches. I loved every minute of it. 

We drove to Winston Salem for the night.  More weather, insanely dark clouds with absurdly hard rain.  I was certain that I would see Jim Cantore on the side of the road trying to stay balanced in the force of it. We stayed at the Graylyn Estate which felt like Downton Abbey possibly because it looks like an English Manor. There are so many incredible things about the Graylyn.  It is old and that’s the idea.  If you want modern, move along.  There are free cookies and ice cream served by butlers.  Free ice cream and butlers.  We stayed in the Gardener’s cottage. We loved the 55 acres for long walks to adjust after the heavy meals and long drives.   Obviously, we weren’t starving for dinner.  We had a light dinner in the bar.  Be sure to explore the estate, especially the bathrooms.  The tiles are incredible.  I saw fireflies for the first time which was magical.

Our last stop on our culinary tour of North Carolina was Lexington BBQ. It was very busy and you can tell, very popular.  The smoke stack gave us the reassurance that we were on the right direction.  We ordered a sandwich, hushpuppies and a bbq plate to share which was too much food. The food and service there was fantastic but I am afraid we insulted them by not finishing our plates.  They are generous servings and it was a rookie move. I also ordered peach cobbler which came with a square slice of ice cream.  It was amazing.

We both agreed that North Carolina deserves a longer visit perhaps on its own.  Clearly we only sampled a small representation of its food, hospitality and culture.  Thank goodness I have fallen for the Raleigh Airport.  Next time we would love to see more of Durham and Chapel Hill.