One campaign’s happy ending

Campaign and BBQ
Campaign and BBQ
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By the time you read this, the election will be over. Some will be licking wounds, others celebrating.

While the candidates have been appearing in every corner of our state, I have been traveling, too. I spent October on a non-political tour, campaigning to help bookstores sell my new book, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints.”

Thanks to those booksellers and many of you, the book is selling well. It made the Southern Pines Pilot’s weekly Sandhills Best-Seller List for most of the past two months, three weeks as No. 1 in the Paperback Non-fiction category.

On the road, I have learned a lot more about other people’s favorite eating-places. People like to talk about food and the restaurants they visit when they are traveling.

One question I got at every stop is this: “Have you got Meadow in your book?”

People love this buffet restaurant on I-40 (Exit 334) near its intersection with I-95, not far from Benson. Because there are no signs to show the way, some folks think that Meadow is their personal secret stopping place on the way to the beach. They can regale you with descriptions of Meadow’s meats, vegetables in great abundance, and its unbelievable assortment of pies and cakes, all for one modest price.

I found out new stories about eateries I included in my book. For instance, my North Mecklenburg High School friend Robert Cooke, now called Bob, recently retired as professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Cornell University. He now lives near the small farm just south of Cornelius where he grew up.

His respected farm family was not wealthy, to say the least. But when we talked about Troutman’s, a popular barbecue restaurant in Concord featured in my book, he smiled and told me his dad took the family to eat there “all the time.”

Remembering that going out for a meal was a rare treat 60 years ago, I said, “You all were not rich. How were you able to afford to go?”

He replied that his daddy cut hickory wood from downed trees on their farm and took truckloads to Troutman’s, where he got credit to use for his family to get good meals.
An enduring story in North Carolina politics is how Rufus Edmisten’s remarks about barbecue during his campaign for governor in 1984 may have cost him the election.

As he explained, “I got up one night and, in a very, very lax moment–the devil made me do it–I made a horrible statement. I said, ‘I’m through with barbecue.’”

When Edmisten showed up for my visit to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, we persuaded him to tell us the whole story. It was so good we could have charged admission.
And there is a connection to the book.

Edmisten explained that his first call about the widely circulated quote came from his campaign treasurer Wilber Shirley. Shirley is the legendary owner of Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro, an important chapter in my book. He is so important that he could be called North Carolina’s Mr. Barbecue.

As he continued, Edmisten was smiling, but it was a forced and practiced smile, as he explained that Shirley was not happy with him. His next call came from the head of the North Carolina Pork Council adding his complaint. Many more that followed. Edmisten continued, “And things were never the same. And I always believed that if I hadn’t said that about barbecue, I might’ve won the governor’s race.”

There is more.

And if my editors allow me, I will tell a few more stories in another column sometime soon.

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