Road Trip­ping

Driv­ing to the south­ern United States from points east this win­ter? Re­becca Field Jager sug­gests a pit­stop in North Carolina

ZOOMER Magazine - - SNOWBIRDS 2017 -

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE a snowbird to con­sider a va­ca­tion in North Carolina, but for any­one driv­ing south, par­tic­u­larly from On­tario, Que­bec and other east­erly spots, this is a nat­u­ral stopover. So what’s the hurry? Tack­ing on a mini-hol­i­day gives you the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence an­other south­ern state’s food and drink en route.

CITY BREAK EATS

Sit­u­ated along In­ter­state 77, Char­lotte, the state’s largest city, boasts a bur­geon­ing gas­tro­nomic scene. I spent a half-day tast­ing my way through NoDa alone, a small dis­trict that was built in the early 1900s as a vil­lage for mill­work­ers’ homes and mer­can­tile build­ings. Hav­ing been re­vi­tal­ized dur­ing the past decade, to­day it’s a hop­ping hood fa­mous for its art gallery crawls, di­verse se­lec­tion of restau­rants and craft brew­eries. The eclec­tic, whim­si­cal decor of Amélie’s French Bak­ery & Café with its bistro ta­bles and cosy nooks is rea­son enough to visit NoDa, never mind its homey soup-and-sand­wich fare and fresh pas­tries. Cabo Fish Taco of­fers up ev­ery type of taco imag­in­able from black­ened mahi-mahi to lemon-grilled shrimp. And Heist Brew­ery, a huge handcrafted beer haven housed in a former mill, lures lo­cals and tourists with its wood-fired of­fer­ings, end­less Sun­day brunch buf­fet and beer flights.

Ac­com­mo­da­tions in the city are plen­ti­ful, but if you’re in the mood for es­cape or itch­ing for one last golf game, head to the Bal­lan­tyne Ho­tel lo­cated in the south­ern part of the city, less than 20 miles from Up­town. This stun­ning re­sort fea­tures a PGA golf course, golf school, lav­ish in­door and out­door pool ar­eas, spa and out­stand­ing Gallery Restau­rant. My evening farm-to-ta­ble feast in­cluded oys­ters with caviar cream and foie gras for starters and cof­fee-rubbed cow­boy rib-eye, topped with a duck fat-basted hen egg, as the main. The ad­join­ing bar serves top-shelf spir­its and cock­tails – try the Bal­lan­tyne Mar­tini, in which pome­gran­ate vodka and juice share glass space with co­conut rum and mud­dled rasp­ber­ries.

WINE COUN­TRY SIPS

A 1½-hour drive on 1-77 takes you to the Yad­kin Val­ley Wine Trail. Rel­a­tive new­com­ers to the world of wine­mak­ing, Yad­kin Val­ley be­came North Carolina’s first Amer­i­can Viti­cul­tural Area (AVA) in 2003. Soil that was once used for to­bacco is now in the hands of grape grow­ers, and the area’s 40 or so winer­ies are uti­liz­ing the fruits of viti­cul­ture re­search to ex­pand their of­fer­ings be­yond its sweet na­tive grape, mus­ca­dine, to in­clude Euro­pean va­ri­etals. At Shel­ton Vine­yards, the largest fam­ily-owned win­ery in the state, af­ter a wine tast­ing and fab­u­lous din­ner at its up­scale Har­vest Grill, ex­ec­u­tive chef Paul Lange ex­plained one rea­son why Yad­kin reds are lighter-bod­ied than their Cal­i­for­nian coun­ter­parts. “Al­though we have sim­i­lar ter­rain to Sonoma and Napa Val­leys, they have longer, warmer nights,” says Lange. “Our colder nights mean we pull the grapes ear­lier.”

GO THROW­BACK

My fi­nal stop was Mount Airy, Andy Grif­fith’s home­town and what is thought to be the in­spi­ra­tion for the fic­tional May­berry. For nos­tal­gia buffs, this is an un­canny step back in time. Horse-drawn car­riages take vis­i­tors along Main Street, which is lined with quaint ma-and-pa shops, an­tique and vin­tage bou­tiques, a tiny post of­fice, lo­cal mu­seum and the his­toric Earle Theatre, renowned for its live blue­grass and old-coun­try jam ses­sions. How­ever, the down­town’s Old North State Win­ery re­turns you to the present. There, I ex­pe­ri­enced a lovely spread of lo­cal, sus­tain­able, south­ern-for­ward dishes ac­com­pa­nied by red, white and rosé tast­ings. “There’s a lot go­ing on in the North Carolina food and wine scene,” says the win­ery’s Amanda Edger­ley. “We’re ex­pand­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing with an eye to the fu­ture and get­ting even bet­ter.” www.vis­itnc.com

A statue of Andy Grif­fith as May­berry Sher­iff Tay­lor out­side the Andy Grif­fith Play­house, Mount Airy, N.C.

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