Foodie Travels: Growler USA, Gastonia, N.C.

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It is normally our intention to spotlight one-of-a-kind, locally owned restaurants that offer something totally unique that you can’t quite find anywhere else.

Growler USA’s Gastonia location is one of a chain of about two dozen restaurants, including four in North Carolina and more across the South in Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas. But the Gastonia restaurant is no ordinary chain in the vein of every-town American spots like Applebee’s or Cracker Barrel.

This place serves special food, but it’s also in a very special and unique location in part of the old Loray Mill textile production complex in the western part of town. The Loray Mill has been renovated in recent years for use as high-end apartment housing, premier event space, the Growler restaurant location and more. But it has a very high-profile past that makes it a historic spot of note regardless of what’s happening there in the present.

Loray was once just one among a sea of textile mills across the South. My grandparents worked in textiles. My wife Molly’s grandparents worked in textiles. So many Southerners in the day did. As every town has its chain restaurants now, every town had its mill back then. But the Loray Mill became the site of one of the most talked-about labor strikes in American history. At its core, it was a struggle over workers’ rights like many other strikes in that era, but it was a situation that turned very violent and had lasting impacts on the people of the region.

The strike itself and the history of both the Loray Mill and the textile industry of the region have been the subjects of many books and other reports over the years, including the 2017-released “The Last Ballad” by Gastonia native and noted North Carolina author Wiley Cash. A program spotlighting Cash and his novel telling the incredible story of Ella May Wiggins was what led Molly and me to Loray for our first visit inside the incredible property. It was a spectacular and beautiful space, with lots of the old brickwork and other vintage features preserved in the restoration. Seeing the place in person planted a desire to return and visit Growler for a meal.

So, what did we try when we returned to Loray to eat? Well, it was, in a good way, a very tough choice from a menu full of tempting options.

This place serves phenomenally high-quality burgers without a high price tag. (You get a burger and side in the neighborhood of $10.) You can also get plates of mahi-mahi, chicken and waffles, and skillet macaroni and cheese. There are salads, soups and daily specials. If you’re a beer lover, the offerings are unique and extensive. And there’s a list of brew accompaniments that includes wings, queso, beer-battered and loaded fries, baked pretzels, hummus and burger sliders. As if that’s not enough, there’s a Sunday brunch menu that features breakfast bowls and burritos, pancakes and French toast, and more.

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After agonizing about needing to choose one dish for lunch, I decided to sample the Home-Sweet-Home Burger, a generous patty of fresh beef on a hearty and soft bun, topped simply with a red onion marmalade, Swiss cheese and an avocado aioli that I’d slather on top of just about anything savory! It came with a pile of what Growler calls “sidewinder fries,” delightfully crispy and perfectly potatoey.

Molly ordered the blackened mahi-mahi tacos, which she found to be incredibly fresh and flavorful, and a side of tots. It appears the tacos are among a set of menu items that may change from time to time, so be sure to check your location’s menu for what’s currently offered at the time of your visit.

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We’re going to have to re-visit Growler, and I have a feeling we’ll stick with this location, though with the quality of food we enjoyed and the price—we both ate for less than $30—I’m sure all spots in the chain are great. This one just takes it to another level with the historic feel in the mill. And as if that’s not enough, the place is just gorgeous, with all the beautiful wood and brick included in the design.

While we were eating on our first visit, we realized that it felt like we were eating in a restaurant in a bigger city like Charlotte or Raleigh. Maybe that’s because Growler operates restaurants in those cities and many others, too. But we can guarantee that none of those offer exactly the same unique history as the one in the Loray Mill. And all of that together makes Growler’s Gastonia restaurant a one-of-a-kind #FoodieScore!

Growler USA, 300 S. Firestone St., No. 150, Gastonia, N.C. (#FoodieScore Tip: If you drive up to the front of the Loray Mill from the Franklin Boulevard side, there’s plenty of parking, but going in the front door might mean you have to do a lot of walking to get to Growler. That will allow you to see the historic building in all its glory, but if you just want to get to the restaurant, drive around to the back side of the old mill for a more direct entrance.)

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