Southern Season | Chapel Hill, NC
That’s what renowned New York Times food critic, the late Craig Claiborne, called Southern Season. He was on the money! A recent visit to the Charleston shop convinced us all that this was a worthy Carolina Adventure. Bright, airy, beautifully appointed – but that’s not the point. It’s got the good stuff and my credit card is here to prove it.
Grab a cup of mocha or perhaps a flavored latte from the coffee & tea bar, then stroll on. You’ll pass the coffee section, with 50+ varieties from which to choose. A picky gourmet could stand there for hours. The pastries and deli offer delights, but it was the cheese department I was interested in seeing. How good was it? Very good indeed, with a trained staff who knew their way around cheese.
And then there’s wine. I stepped inside the climate-controlled fine wine room and was helped by another staff member who reverently showed me their bottle of Petrus French Merlot from the region of Pomerol – yours for a mere $3,755. No, I didn’t succumb to the temptation of learning how something like that really tastes, but I did inquire about a nice Portuguese red. He led me straight to the source and one of those beauties traveled home with me where it awaits Saturday night.
And then the candy section – another knowledgeable staff member showed me the dazzling choices. I passed by the barbeque sauce section (remember, we’re in the South), and counted 168 different kinds of sauce and an equal number of hot sauce bottles. Could’ve stayed there for hours. And the salt, sugar and pickles. And the home accessories, cooking school, flowers. So much to love.
WOW Factor: This is not a grocery store in any sense of the word. It’s a top-shelf destination for specialty foods and products. Open since 1975, I just want to know why I’ve never been to this paradise before. With more than 70,000 items sold in-store and online, it will take some time to cover it all – but I’m willing to make the commitment. Be sure to check out Chef Vivian Howard’s favorites, on display as gift baskets.
Hint: Take a list and don’t go hungry, or you’ll simply graze your way through the cheese and around the tasting station. On second thought, go a bit hungry, so you’ll pause to savor the tastes. Take a cooler. I didn’t, but the staff provided an ice pack to accompany my cheese on its trip back home.
Learn more: www.southernseason.com
It’s easy to get lost in here. The store has been around since 1973, but it looks so much older, perhaps because it was constructed from the ruins of 1800s-era area buildings. The old signs and store furnishings offer an appealing reminder of how country stores were the life of a rural community. Linger beside the books – so many written treasures – and spend time looking at the old pharmacy and the doctor’s office (noted by the Smithsonian for their authenticity and accessibility).
Be sure to buy a jar of homemade apple butter, as well as watermelon rind pickle. The latter is a family favorite, and the art of making crisp, sweet and tangy pickles starts with an almost lost art of thumping the fruit to find the perfect melon. There are many trinkets to buy, including jewelry and soap, plus toys and lamps. Watch the little ones around the candy jars, but be sure to let them try a taste of yesterday.
An added bonus is the Civil War connection. The store/museum is positioned along a North Carolina Civil War Trail, where the Union forces burned a cotton mill in the waning days of the war. Nothing remains of the mill, but the historical information is fascinating and there is a family connection between the mill and the current country store.
WOW Factor: It sits on a green grassy hill, overlooking undulating meadows and forests of hardwoods and pines. You’re very close to I-40, but you’d never know it, especially once you enter the maze of rooms. You’ll see antiques used in your grandmother’s day. You will walk out with treasures, and you’ll have a wonderful time.
Hint: Plan to spend at least an hour going through rooms. Enjoy the thousands of vintage postcards for sale. Admire the antique buttons and the books. Chat with owners Gail and Curtis Booker. (Mr. Booker’s mother, the late Elsie Booker, was the retired pharmacist who, with her husband John, began the collection.) Plan to have lunch at the nearby Nantucket Grill and Bar (and yes, you can find a mighty tasty Maine lobster roll or New England fish sandwich in the heart of North Carolina). Return to I-40, or meander along country roads for just a little longer.
Learn more: Facebook/Patterson’s Mill Country Store
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