Our Search for the Best Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Time-Out Biscuit

In a happening university town in central North Carolina, we discovered a dynamite chicken-cheese biscuit we just can’t stop thinking about. Each bite of this biscuit delivers a combination of soft and buttery bread, plump and seasoned chicken, and melty cheese. It’s a huge sandwich for one equally huge appetite, or for several friends to share.

You can get your hands on the “Chicken n’ Cheddar” for $5.49 on the “Oversized Biscuit Sandwiches” menu at Time-Out, a 24/7 diner on East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. But that’s just our trouble: We can’t make a regular three-hour, one-way drive from our home in western North Carolina to get our mitts and mouths on this Southern specialty. So we decided to do the next best thing and explore the available chicken biscuits at fast food restaurants in our town, asking each to add cheese to the order.

We developed a grading scale of 1 (lowest possible) to 5 (highest possible) in the categories of Chicken, Cheese, Biscuit, Overall Freshness and Price, for a total of 25 possible points. Based on the delicious Time-Out biscuit, we laid out desirable criteria for each category. To get a perfect score in each category, a chicken-cheese biscuit needed to meet every demand with the same zeal as Time-Out’s Chicken n’ Cheddar.

With the chicken, we wanted seasoning, size and cooking perfection. The cheese needed to be melty, plentiful and flavorful. In each biscuit, we sought a crunchy outside and soft inside. Ultimate freshness meant a hot biscuit sandwich that wasn’t too hard or crumbly. And price, well that’s obvious. We’re a couple of foodies always on the search for a great meal and a great deal. So we didn’t want to pay too much for any one sandwich, and we ordered the cheapest possible chicken-cheese biscuit available on each menu.

It’s important to note that we surveyed Bojangles, Chick-fil-A, Hardees and McDonalds in this search because those are the common fast food establishments in our town that serve a chicken biscuit we could buy. This search did not include local, one-of-a-kind restaurants, which are our normal preference for any kind of meal.

Without further ado, here are our findings. We hope you enjoy, and we encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences with chicken-cheese biscuits in the comments or via social media @FoodieScore on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Foodie Travels: Wake N Bake Donuts, Wilmington, N.C.

IMG_3836

When we travel, we intensely scout restaurants for weeks in advance. That means when we arrive in a new place, we already know the top-ranked dining spots on sites like Thrillist, Trip Advisor, Yelp and Buzzfeed. We also know which restaurants are trafficked more by locals than tourists, the hours the shops are open and which ones serve the can’t-miss dishes that are iconic to the local dining scene. (As a little pro tip to all of the disappointed eaters out there: This strategy can help you improve your satisfaction with restaurants because you won’t leave your meal or snack selections up to chance at the last minute.)

But sometimes good eats sneak up on us, and that was the case with Wake N Bake Donuts in Wilmington, North Carolina. We had already had brunch on a Thursday and were walking through downtown to visit a few shops, planning to wait until dinner to eat again. That’s when we rounded a corner and Molly spotted donuts in a store windowfront. This half-dozen box had maple bacon, chocolate peanut butter cup, a chocolate-iced with potato chips and other amazing-looking donuts. We looked up and saw the sign, and you know from there we had to head inside.

IMG_3838

We were instantly greeted by the donut counter with a couple dozen creative options. There was a cotton candy donut, donuts with fruity cereals, an espresso donut, and the list goes on. As we game-planned on how many treats to try and which choices to make, we learned that Wake N Bake is not just the quiet little shop we thought we stumbled upon. This place won Cooking Channel’s “Donut Showdown” AND Buzzfeed made it North Carolina’s featured spot on its “Best Donut Shop in Your State” list. We’d uncovered a sweet gold mine and the rush was on to decide which treats to experience.

IMG_3840

Molly indulged in a Reese’s-style donut, rich with the creamy flavors of both peanut butter and chocolate. I decided to test out the “Donut Showdown”-winning entry, a maple cream cheese-glazed donut with candied walnuts and a blueberry compote. It was like the donut gods had created this prize just for me, as anyone who knows me well is aware that I love walnuts and blueberries.

IMG_3843

Wake N Bake wowed us so much with creative, rich donuts that are now among our favorites anywhere. (We took our donuts to the car and devoured them before heading to our next destination, because there’s not really any seating in the shop. We had to take a couple extra donuts with us for the road.) The shop also reminded these plan-ahead foodies to always keep our eyes open for delicious surprises. As much as we study a city ahead of time, there are always new experiences to unwrap on the travel menu!

Wake N Bake, 114 Princess St., Wilmington, N.C. (There’s also a location in Carolina Beach, N.C., at 1401 North Lake Park Boulevard, Suite 46.)

IMG_3839

Why Christmas Always Reminds me of Blueberry Pancakes

IMG-5077

This Christmas foodie adventure started in the back of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Once all the wrapped and tightly taped gift boxes and bags were inside the car, I climbed in the back seat behind grandpa Lee and grandma Vember, and away we went. It was early one Christmas Eve morning in the 1990s.

My grandparents lived in the small textile mill community of Caroleen in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Some years I’d stay with them for a few days during my Christmas break from school, and this year I’d spent a short time with them prior to the holiday. Every year on Christmas Eve we’d gather with my mom and dad at our house in the Gaston County community of Alexis for dinner, gifts, goodies and time together. Grandpa was also known to go shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve itself—he was calm, cool and collected enough to do such a thing—and I accompanied him at least a couple times. Grandma and grandpa would spend the night in my room, which meant I slept in our third bedroom on a different side of the house. The change of venue for that one night each year always produced a magical quality for me.

But this isn’t a story about the usual Christmas experiences of my youth. Rather, it’s the memory of one exceptional year when our Christmas Eve journey from grandma and grandpa’s house had a special stop on the way to mom and dad’s.

I always remember my grandma as one who enjoyed eating breakfast in restaurants. She didn’t eat eggs, grits, bacon and toast at home when she helped make it for grandpa and me. But get her in a restaurant and it was a different story. So it’s no surprise that we stopped for breakfast at The Pancake House in Shelby, North Carolina—coincidentally less than a mile from where my wife and I now live—on the way to mom and dad’s this particular Christmas Eve.

What honestly is a mystery is why I ordered a massive stack of Pancake House blueberry pancakes that day. I was known for, as the Southerners say, “having eyes bigger than my belly.” I often tried to eat more food than I could actually hold as a child. (I’m so sorry, Mom!) And it won’t surprise my close friends to read that I’d order blueberries. If anything, I’m over-known for my love of blueberries. Yet, I’ve always been one to prefer my pancakes with only butter and hot, hot syrup, which The Pancake House serves quite well!

So, the blueberry pancakes arrive, and I remember grandpa, grandma and me gawking and fawning at how they were hanging off the plate in front of me. I ate pancakes, and I ate pancakes. Then I ate some more pancakes. (If you’re familiar with the movie or book “Matilda,” perhaps imagine a situation figuratively similar to Bruce Bogtrotter eating the massive chocolate cake, but far less repulsive!) The blueberry pancakes were incredibly delicious. Grandpa finished his breakfast—what it was, I don’t remember exactly—and then he took bites of my remaining pancakes.

We couldn’t finish them.

We tried anyways, and a sizeable portion remained.

We were stuffed, and my mom is known for her Christmas goodies, so I don’t think we took them with us. I may be wrong, but I don’t think we took leftovers, which would in no way happen now. I’ve developed firm beliefs in not wasting any food if at all possible.

For years, we talked about the size of those pancakes and how grandpa and I couldn’t finish them together. It became food legend in our family, and I don’t think it will ever leave any of us.

My grandpa and grandma Quinn have passed on now. Grandpa died in 2013, and grandma passed away this year (October 2017). But they’ve supplied me with an estate of so many fond memories, including treating me to those blueberry pancakes.

On one recent morning, I had a hankering for blueberry pancakes. Maybe it was something grandpa and grandma put into my head from Heaven. So I got up and went for an extra long walk in my neighborhood to prepare myself, took a shower, got dressed and drove a mile up the road to The Pancake House. I sat down in a booth by myself, imagined grandma and grandpa side by side across from me, and I ordered a plate of two blueberry pancakes, a side of sausage links and coffee when the server arrived at my table.

For a half hour, I sat there slowly indulging in the pancakes and the memory of my childhood visit to the very same restaurant. This time, the pancakes didn’t seem quite as large, but then again I’ve grown much larger myself in the years since that adventurous day years ago. And somehow I remember the blueberries being cooked into the pancakes before, while these pancakes had a tasty blueberry compote on top. But with all of the differences between the memory of the past and the reality of the present, I still know grandpa and grandma were enjoying the Christmastime breakfast with me.

Baked Pie Company, Asheville, N.C.

IMG_4651 (1)

What if I told you there’s a place where you can get three hearty slices of delicious homemade pie alongside a creamy scoop of sweet ice cream, all on a plate just for you or to share with friends and family, for $13?

Your reaction will immediately reveal how alike or different we are.

Well, there is such a place, and it’s a South Asheville shop called Baked Pie Company. The slice trio a la mode is known as a “Pie Flight,” a takeoff on the multiple-option beer flights made popular by breweries.

Baked Pie counter

This is where we determine our degree of similarity. Beer just isn’t a thing for Molly and me. Pie, however, well, it’s the only thing sometimes. Outside of a great restaurant that serves both top-notch cheeseburgers and tacos, there’s nothing that excites us more than visiting a stellar pie shop with an array of sweet slices.

Baked Pie Company has no doubt instantly joined our list of favorite pie shops with its seemingly endless display case of fruit, cream, nut and other pies. There are sugar and gluten free options. There are cheesecakes. You can order a whole pie. You can enjoy just a slice. You can indulge in a flight, which we highly recommend.

IMG_4727

On our first-ever visit, Molly and I each sampled our own flight. To be transparent, she took home almost half of her slices to enjoy later, but I finished the whole flight in one sitting. Hey, it was my birthday, and it was my lunch that day!

Each pie itself was incredible, and the crusts were perfectly flaky and light, not overdone in the slightest.

The honey pecan, available most every day on a rotating menu, was perfectly sweet without going over the top, and the caramelized nuts on top were so fresh and perfectly placed it’s like Baked added them after the pie cooked. The blueberry crumb offered a fresh berry taste with a sweet, slight crunch. The sweet potato was rich with real sweet potato flavor and texture, while offering the balance of a fine streusel. The lemon chess was wonderfully tart. The cranberry cheesecake a creamy delight. And the fudge brownie so rich and chocolately with the taste of real cocoa!

We enjoyed our pies in the dining area of Baked, which offers wooden tables and chairs, both in a family-style table setup and along a counter-style seating option. The rustic accents around the room add another nice touch that makes the place feel just like home. That and the aroma and sight of all that pie!

IMG_4657

When it comes to dessert, we understand that many folks enjoy a slice of cake, a fancy cupcake or another favorite option. We’re not those people. No, we’re pie people, and Baked Pie Company is a kindred spirit in our foodie world. If you’re a pie person, too, it’s an urgent addition on your must-visit list!

Baked Pie Company: 4 Long Shoals Road, Arden, N.C. and 50 North Merrimon, Woodfin, N.C.

Pro Tip: Check the Baked Pie Company Facebook page each morning for the day’s pie list!

Foodie Travels: The Shake Shop, Cherryville, N.C.

IMG_4021

Don’t be fooled! If you drive by this place outside business hours, you might think it’s closed because of its rustic exterior. It’s not.

Again, don’t be fooled! If you’re a foodie fan of trendy spots, you might confuse this spot with the renowned Shake Shack, a fast-food chain based in New York City. It’s not.

IMG_4016

This is The Shake Shop, a locally owned Cherryville icon that’s been serving up Southern sandwich, side and drink favorites for decades. And it’s one of several dining favorites, along with Black’s Grill, in the western Gaston County community that have earned Cherryville press coverage as “Cheeseburger Town.”

That acclaim recently extended statewide as The Shake Shop was featured in the popular Our State magazine as one of North Carolina’s must-visit “Hole in the Wall” joints. The publication was enough to get us to finally make a #FoodieScore visit to The Shake Shop, and here’s what we discovered.

  • Don’t expect to immediately get a table on a Saturday if you arrive past 11:15 a.m. We drove up just before 11 a.m. and waited for the doors to open. After ordering at the counter and selecting a booth, we watched the small dining area fill to capacity in about 15 minutes. We also suggest you call ahead if you’re heading to The Shake Shop from outside town. We discovered the hours on the restaurant’s Facebook page are different than what’s posted on the door.
  • You must take cash here. Don’t forget!
  • Don’t expect to get a shake. While they’ve been served here in the past and the word is still in the name, it’s not part of the menu now. Do consider a handmade cherry lemon Sun-Drop, with cherries on top. It’s also a favorite drink over at Black’s Grill in town.
  • If you like Lottaburgers—a submarine sandwich-style bun filled with a burger patty and toppings on each half—you should try one here. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a place to top this lottaburger. The flavors—juicy meat, fresh slaw, tomato and pickle, also the standard sandwich toppings at Black’s Grill—and the portions are both large!
  • The onion rings are a great side choice, as heralded by locals. They’re some of the crunchiest, least greasy, flavorful onion rings we’ve had anywhere.

IMG_4014

The Shake Shop’s not the kind of place where you’ll find the crowd looking for the hippest, trendiest, most expensive and chic food available. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see families and friends meeting for a delicious meal at a good price. (We ate with tip for less than $20, and we ordered a few extras on top of the basics.) And it’s the kind of place where you’ll see regular customers arriving to a familiar question: “Are you having your usual today?” We heard that several times during just one quick lunchtime visit.

IMG_4013

Oh, and do expect to be called “honey” and “sweetie” when you order, as the Our State story reported. Southern hospitality flows freely here, and that’s just the way we like it.

The Shake Shop, 505 W. Church St., Cherryville, N.C.