Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Classic

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Lee, Cousin Sarah, friend Zoe in the kitchen

And on the seventh day, I rested. And I ate. A lot.

I enjoyed a semi quiet morning in the White House. Little Carrie was off in Carrboro, spending time with her boyfriend. It is nice to have some quiet time to myself.

It was another brisk morning with a few clouds scooting across a cool, blue sky. The Barn was full of people. Ginnie, Jessie, Steve, Lee, Lee's cousin Sarah, and Sarah's friend Zoe were all gathered in the kitchen. Ginnie was whipping up another feast for Sunday brunch. On the menu: sausage patties (from last year's pigs,) poached eggs, Belgian waffles made from scratch, blueberry sauce and maple syrup. Everything looked delicious.

It was really hard to resist the bounty that lay before me. I needed to save room for the country buffet at The Classic Family Restaurant in Denton. I tried to resist while drinking my strong cuppa PG Tips tea. When the hot waffles were passed around I caved in. I took a smallish square. Then covered it with butter, maple syrup and blueberry sauce. Ginnie separated the eggs and whipped the egg whites. She folded them in to the batter and then cooked them until they were light and crispy. The batter and subsequent waffles were bright yellow due to the super-bright egg yolks from their chickens. I love these eggs. I've been trying to get the perfect picture, but I can't capture the vivid hue properly. I want to take some home with me, but I don't think eggs would ship well in my luggage.

Satisfied after devouring the waffle, I knew I'd survive until dinner with Sammy. Lee's cousin pulled into town on Saturday night. She drove in from Nashville with a friend. She's a retired history teacher and likes to travel. They're going to visit Winston Salem and the Morovian community in Old Salem. They're also planning on hitting Seagrove while in the area. Nice ladies. I think they were a bit overwhelmed by Ginnie's cooking and the farm fresh food.

I bid them farewell and hit the road around 10:30. Sammy's farm is about 30 minutes away, just off of the Highway 64, between Asheboro and Lexington. It was still pretty cold out when I pulled up to the goat dairy. I parked the van near a smoldering pile of blackened trash. Looks like Sammy was burning some small boxes. I walk up to his white farmhouse. It appears to be from the 1930's. Single story with a screened in porch. I walk in the side door and enter the mudroom. There are two newborn white goats in a bin lined with towels. It is too cold out to leave them under the heat lamps in the barn. I shout "Hello!" and Sammy walks into the kitchen that adjacent to the mudroom. He give me a big hug and invites me in. We tour the house. It belongs to the family that owns the farm that he leases. Sammy explained that he's work on this land since he was 15 years old. He grew up with the eight kids that gathered in the kitchen. He's been around dairies for as long as he can remember.

The tour continues into the living room. His Venetian blinds are lowered so the room is dimly lit, even though it is bright outside. There is an ancient oil heater that is the center of attention the room. It is vented up through an old chimney. It is cranking out heat and keeps the room nice and toasty. It does smell faintly of kerosene, but it isn't overpowering. Sammy assures me that it is perfectly safe, just not terribly efficient. It looks like it is from the 1950's. It has this industrial light brown color like the color of old school movie projectors. The rest of the house is pretty bare, even the bedrooms. Sammy is planning on putting hardwood floors down in a few of the rooms and adding new carpeting in the bedrooms. I'm sure when he's done, the house will look great. Right now it is need of a bit of love. The floor in the second bedroom is a bit soft. It is like walking on a trampoline. I have no idea when he'll find the time to work on the house. Sammy works 18 hours a day right now.

We grab coats and jump in his big, red Ford truck. There are a pile of Marlboro Reds sitting between us. He grabs a pack and removes a cigarette. He lights it as we drive down the road towards Denton. He guides the truck down backroads and through small towns that are mere crossroads with a couple of long-closed storefronts. He points out Jackson Creek, a town that had many family memories for him. It is as dead as the other small communities. The general store is gone and the garage is no more. "I used to buy the sourest dill pickles and pickled eggs there," he remembered. "What happened to them?" I ask. "They can't buy there merchandise for less than the big chain store can sell them for." It is the same story repeated over and over again in small towns all over the country.

The terrain is pretty hilly. We're in the Uwharries, ancient mountains that have eroded over the eons and are now just hills. The highest is 1000 feet. There are large rock formations jutting up into yards and along side the road, They look bluish grey. Serpentine? Granite? Don't know. I ask Sammy about the rocks. "It's Randolph County. Rocks are everywhere. Makes it hard to farm."

At last we reach Denton. We drive around and find the restaurant on S. Main Street, near Salisbury Street. The Classic is in an old auto dealership. It is huge. We walk in and move towards the back. There are several large rooms set up to take a lot of customers. The parking lot is already half full and it is only 11:30. The church crowd hasn't come in yet.

We order two buffet dinners and two ice teas. Sammy leads the way to the steam tables. They occupy the center of the building. There are two long tables, filled with food. One is the salad bar, the other has the hot food. We go straight for the main course. I start helping myself to some nice looking coleslaw. I avoid the copious amounts of Jello in small white bowls. I also take a pass on the Ambrosia salad. The Seven Layer salad looks tempting. It is finely chopped lettuce with sour cream and bacon. There might be some cheese and onions on it too. I'll have to look at a recipe to see what else is in it. I then look at these light and fluffy biscuits and snag one. The mashed potatoes are needed for balance. The fried chicken looks perfect. Lightly breaded and perfectly brown. The chicken pie is unlike any I've had before. It has a browned cornbread topping. Naturally, I take some to try. I followed it up with country ham, fried streaky fatback, and some stewed apples. Some crowder peas round out my first plate. (I have no idea what crowder peas are, nor how to spell them.) I go back to the table. I don't know where to begin. I go with the chicken pie.

When I get back the table, Sammy declares, "If you don't get enough to eat it's your own fault. It's all you can eat!"

I am in heaven. With every mouthful, I make happy sounds. Everything is delicious. The fried streaky fatback is salt cured. To cut down on the salt wallop, Sammy likes to eat it with applesauce, No applesauce to be had, but the stewed apples work nicely. Mmmm, sweet, cinnamon apples with smoky, salty crispy pork. This is the first time I've ever had, let alone seen, fried fatback. I LIKE it. Sort of like thick-cut bacon, but with thicker veins of fat and meat. The sweet tea is perfectly sweetened. Not overpowering, but cuts through the grease. I make a couple of trips, taking more bacon and chicken.

While we eat, there is a steady stream of families filing through the door. Everyone is nicely dressed. By the time we're through, the place is nearly full and the staff is constantly replenishing the buffet. Everything is fresh and hot.

We finished the meal at the dessert bar. There is a case filled with slices of pie. Lemon meringue, buttermilk, chocolate cream, coconut cream, buttermilk and raisin, and some other mystery cream pies. Next to the pie case are three covered bins; banana pudding, peach cobbler, and strawberry cobbler. Sammy takes some banana pudding, I opt for the peach cobbler. Now I am stuffed. "Want anymore?" Sammy asks. "I'm very happy right now." I reply.

Sammy takes us back to his farm. We sit and digest our meals. He tells me tales of his days living in Greenwich Village and New Jersey. He has friends from all walks of life, young and old, rich and poor. People naturally gravitate towards him, and his Southern upbringing makes him a perfect host.

I drive back to Goat Lady Dairy very happy and very full.

Sammy is going to show me some good barbecue places, next.

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