Foodie Travels: Mamie’s Drive In, Laurel Hill, N.C.

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For North Carolina beach travelers from Charlotte and points west, it’s a common conundrum: Where can we stop and eat on the way? When the eastward destination is a place like Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach or Southport, there are several good joints to discover. But there may not be a more local, beloved place than Mamie’s Drive In, almost halfway between Charlotte and Wilmington along Route 74 in Scotland County.

Mamie’s opened more than 50 years ago and continues to serve favorite American fare like homemade cheeseburgers, hot dogs and meat-and-sides plates the way its late namesake did for so many years. It’s a humble place, where you walk into a small building, step up to a small order window and then have a seat in the small dining area or at a few tables out front.

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We enjoyed the Southern hospitality of the staff on our visit and the simple, satisfying meal—my cheeseburger and fries, my wife’s chicken strip plate. And the food was fast, a good thing for travelers ready to reach the beach or get back home after a few days of sand and sun.

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Many folks opt for a couple of barbecue joints on the route to the coast, but I’d argue that you won’t find a more iconic, down-home stop than Mamie’s. That tradition was honored by Our State magazine in its 2010 list of “100 Foods You Must Eat in 100 Counties.” Its place in the state’s food lore was then further cemented by a segment on WRAL’s Tar Heel Traveler in 2017, highlighting its adoration by both beach-goers and locals alike.

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So if you find yourself headed east (or west) on Highway 74 and asking the question about where you’ll eat, just pull into Mamie’s. You’ll get a good, fast, affordable meal, and you’ll become part of a longtime tradition for both locals and visitors to Scotland County, N.C.

Mamie’s Drive In, 9460 Andrew Jackson Highway, Laurel Hill, N.C.

Culinary Confessions: What We Pay for Groceries

Culinary Confessions

This is the first post in a new occasional series we’re calling “Culinary Confessions,” a feature focused on opening the books on our eating habits and sharing our shopping, cooking, dining and diet strategies with you. We hope you enjoy!

We take great pride in our home cooking and the recipes we share through #FoodieScore. We’re also quite resilient and proud to seek the best deals we can find on food, both at grocery stores and in restaurants.

When it comes to groceries, we see no point in paying more than necessary for items in our cart. Why should we buy milk for $2.50 when we can get it for $1, or a bag of chips for $3 when we can get it for 75 cents? That mindset is the reason we buy a lot of non-name-brand products, and it’s why we shop at Aldi, which operates stores in 35 U.S. states.

We fully endorse Aldi’s model built on its own unique brands, a discount-shopper-friendly store layout and self-bagging. We rarely prefer the name brand of a product to a generic-style version, and in some cases we actually much prefer the generic! Aldi’s double-stuffed chocolate cookies, for example, have more cream and a better chocolate cookie taste than actual Oreos. And Doritos, we’re sad to say, taste no different to us than a simple bag of ‘nacho-flavored tortilla chips.’

Since switching 95 percent of our grocery shopping to Aldi—we do still relegate occasional products to other stores when necessary for a recipe ingredient—we’ve cut our grocery spending for our household by half. There are two of us, and we use about $150 of our budget each month for groceries, whereas we spent about $300 a month before making changes. We shop twice a month, planning ahead with a list to avoid forgetting items that will send us back to the store—a trap for unnecessary extra purchases that are as dangerous to your wallet as those impulse items at the checkout.

The new total is still higher than it could be. We’ve made a healthy shift in our eating, but we still allow treats in our diet, so we haven’t cut our food allowance to the bone. Still, we try to shop based on what meals we have planned, with a heavily calculated list prepped before going to the grocery store. That way we roll right down the aisles when we shop, passing by most of the impulse buy temptations. And we buy less food that gets wasted because we purchase based on what we’re already anticipating we’ll eat.

So what do we pay for common items that are part of our basic everyday diet? Take a look:

Grocery List

How much do you pay for these same items? Are you willing to pay less by sacrificing brand loyalty? If the answer is yes, you could save quite a bit of money that you can enjoy for something else, or you can bank that savings each month!

Let us know what you think of our basic strategy. And share your own food tips with us! You just might have a Culinary Confession!

Lemon-Buttermilk Icebox Pie

Lemon Pie

Our family loves the sweet tartness of a good citrus pie, especially of the lemon or key lime variety. And perhaps no one enjoys such a pie more than Molly, our pie specialist. She recently found this recipe for a Lemon-Buttermilk Icebox Pie in Southern Living magazine, and we knew it was destined to be a hit, especially with her dad Stacy and my mom Chris.

Southern Living’s recipe actually worked in a sort of a la carte fashion, where you could pick your specific crumb crust, either use buttermilk or make your own, then fashion a sweetened whipped cream topping. Molly put together all of the pieces perfectly, so much that the pie was said to be better than Edwards brand’s frozen pie variety, which has been popular among Tessnear family members for many years. My grandpa, the late Lee Quinn, especially enjoyed cool, light desserts, and I believe this recipe would’ve been right up his alley. Here’s how you put this delight together in the A-plus order Molly selected.

The Crust

1 ½ cups crushed graham crackers

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons melted butter

Vegetable cooking spray

Directions: Crush your cracker crumbs, sugar and salt in a food processor until well combined. Add melted butter and process again until well combined. Press on bottom, up sides and onto lip of a lightly greased (with cooking spray) 9-inch pie plate. Freeze 30 minutes to 1 hour or while preparing fillings.

The Filling

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon loosely packed lemon zest

½ cup fresh lemon juice

3 large egg yolks

¼ cup buttermilk (see note below if you don’t have any)

Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk (or use electric stand mixer as Molly did) milk, lemon zest and lemon juice. Beat egg yolks with a fork in a small cup for about 4-5 minutes. (If you have a hand mixer as well, the original recipe suggests beating the egg yolks at high speed 4-5 minutes or until yolks become pale and ribbons form on surface of mixture when beater is lifted. We don’t have two mixers, so Molly decided beating the eggs with a fork was good enough.) Gradually mix in sweetened condensed milk mixture and blend until thoroughly combined. Mix in buttermilk. (If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make it with regular milk or whipping cream. Add 1 tbsp. of lemon juice or vinegar per cup of milk or cream.) Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake at 325 for 20 to 25 minutes or until set around edges. (Pie will be slightly jiggly.) Cool on a wire rack 1 hour. Cover pie with lightly greased (with cooking spray) plastic wrap and freeze 4 to 6 hours.

The Topping

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Directions: Beat cream and vanilla at medium-high speed until foamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until soft peaks form. Makes about 2 ½ cups. Use as topping for slices of pie. You might also add a lemon wedge to garnish each piece.

Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie

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Sweet potatoes possess a “superfood” reputation for the mega nutrients they contain and are widely considered one of the most healthy and versatile vegetables available for the human diet. (Sweet potatoes are also honored by a wonderful Winston-Salem, N.C. restaurant that takes their name.) I remember my Grandpa Lee Quinn always relished the opportunity to bake and eat a sweet potato with supper, correctly believing it to be a smart food choice. I have the same perspective, enjoying the sweetness of such a potato, as long as it’s not drowned in butter and brown sugar. Let’s reserve those ingredients for an occasional sweet potato pie!

I love both sweet potato and pumpkin pies, despite my opinion that they’re very similar in taste and appearance and my understanding that most of America prefers one over the other for the family Thanksgiving table. Am I the only one who thinks it’s easier to get away with making a sweet potato pie year round because pumpkin is so closely associated with fall, both for Halloween and Thanksgiving?

In our kitchen, if it’s a pie, any pie, then it’s acceptable any time!

This is our tried-and-true recipe for homemade Sweet Potato Pie. It’s called “Mama’s” because the ingredients are directly from my wife, Molly’s mother. And also because we added a twist borrowed by the famed Mama Dip’s restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (By the way, Chapel Hill is one of the South’s great foodie towns, if you’ve never been.) “Mama Dip” boils her sweet potatoes, instead of baking them, prior to mashing. We couldn’t tell a difference in taste when we boiled our potatoes, but we did find it to be an easier process overall.

Regardless of how you cook it up, sweet potato pie is truly worthy of the old Alabama song that sings, “Song, song of the South. Sweet Potato Pie and I shut my mouth.

Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie

Ingredients

1 pie crust

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

Directions

1. Stir all filling ingredients in large bowl.

2. Poke holes in pie crust with fork.

3. Pour filling into crust.

4. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. (#FoodieScore Pro Tip: Sometimes we make mini pies, and the baking time for this recipe is about 15 minutes for such pies in our oven.)

5. You can sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg atop each sweet potato pie either before or after baking.

Five Southern Places We Love to Eat Pie

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Much like the Golden Girls found great comfort in sharing middle-of-the-night cheesecakes while discussing life, we find immense joy in the partaking of delicious homemade pies in unique shops during life’s travels across the South. We’re always on the lookout for places to procure pie when a need for sweet treats strikes. There are so many great restaurants in the South that serve pie, but shops with a wide selection are often difficult to find if you don’t know where to look! We’re here to help with these recommendations as some of our very favorites!

 

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Baked Pie Company, Asheville, North Carolina

It’s quite possible this pie shop with beautifully rustic décor in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains introduced the world to the Pie Flight, a $13 treat with three generous slices of pie and a scoop of freshly made ice cream. Regardless, the place is now the standard for great pie in the region. We especially recommend the honey pecan, blueberry crumb, sweet potato, lemon chess and fudge brownie selections.

 

Possum Pie

Honey Pies, Little Rock, Arkansas

This cute little pie shop on the city’s west side is bright and cozy with a great selection of fruit, cream and other pies. In addition to full-size pies, we love that a complete menu of mini pies is available. It’s a nice alternative to ordering a single slice cut from a whole pie. We especially recommend the Arkansas-specialty Possum Pie, a layered masterpiece of chocolate, cream cheese and meringue in a Graham cracker crust.

 

House of PIes

House of Pies, Houston, Texas

You’ll be hard pressed to find a deeper-dish pecan pie than their Texas Pecan Pie. It’s yet more proof that everything really is “bigger and better in Texas.” House of Pies on Westheimer is like an oversized Waffle House-style diner, and the reason for the restaurant’s name is evident when you see the pie counter and rolling multi-shelf carts full of pies the minute you walk in the front door.

 

Miss Angel's

Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies, Mount Airy, North Carolina

We’re not sure we’ve seen a larger, broader selection of unique pies anywhere, including the South, than Miss Angel’s, which draws you in with its bright pink décor and holds your attention with its long counter of sweet treats. You can even get pies baked with moonshine here at this friendly spot in the heart of the town that inspired TV’s Mayberry in the legendary “Andy Griffith Show.” Miss Angel’s also serves a wide variety of mini pies, which we’ve come to love as a single-serving alternative to slices.

 

Pie Society

Pie Society, Savannah, Georgia

In the heart of downtown Savannah, a city bursting with Southern history, this British pie shop offers a delightfully different selection of sweet and savory treats. Like French pastries, British pies aren’t quite as sugary rich as their American counterparts, and we appreciate that more subtle take on dessert. If you’re strolling Savannah’s picturesque streets in the hot and humid Southern summer, this is a great place to duck in and savor a bite…or two…or three.

 

What’s your favorite place in the South to eat pie? Comment on this post, share on our Facebook page, or email us here!