Foodie Travels: Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, Cleveland County, NC

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The more I travel this amazing country of ours, I can picture the evolution of the American restaurant, living out the timeline of growth through my own eating stops.

In the past year especially, I’ve noticed a specific trend from the past that’s getting harder to find — the country grocery and diner. From Texas to Mississippi to my home state of North Carolina, I’ve experienced the wonderfully familiar feeling of walking into a longtime business that houses both convenience items, groceries and a restaurant. Or, in some cases, these places used to offer all of those goods and services. Many of the former “grocery” spots that also serve made-to-order food have turned into one or the other — but not all have changed completely.

A visit to Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill is a blissful step back in Southern time.

The roadside corner shop is a convenience and home goods store in the front and a meat counter and grill in the back. You can pick up fresh meat, hand-canned goods, a made-to-order cheeseburger or meat-and-vegetable plate and a snack for on down the road, all in one place.

“Speak up, or you’ll be hungry.”

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Photo Credit: @hamricksgrillandstore on Facebook

When you step to the back grill counter, the wait and cook staff exudes familiarity. Even if they don’t know you, they’ll welcome your order and bring it out to you. If they do know you, expect to be greeted by name. And either way, don’t be shy, or you might hear the prodding statement above.

I’ve known people who’ve eaten for many years at Hamrick’s, which as the crow flies is just a couple of miles from where my Dad grew up here in western North Carolina. Most repeat diners I’ve known are fans of the burger off the Hamrick’s grill, and so am I.

It’s like unwrapping a homemade burger, right off the grill. You can get other toppings, but I like mine with what I call the basics: lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. The tomato is like a thick cut you’d slice yourself, and the hearty bun aptly houses the whole sandwich.

“Anything else I can get for you today, hon?”

When you step toward the front register to pay, the friendly experience comes full circle. There are plenty of options to take with you from the country store. On a recent visit, I spotted a handmade book shelf, cookbooks from a nearby church, jars of home-canned food, and plenty of convenience items like bottled drinks, snacks and more.

What Hamrick’s offers in hometown gusto, it lacks in frilly and impersonal modern commercial culture. And that makes it a good place to pick up a biscuit for breakfast, pause for lunch, gather the family for supper, stop to stock up for the road, or even make a few new friends.

It’s places like Hamrick’s that connect our fond memories of the past with the lives we lead in the present.

Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, 3142 Cliffside Road, Shelby

Phone: (704) 313-7270

Foodie Travels: Burger Bar, Bristol, Va.

This was the last place legendary country musician Hank Williams Sr. was seen alive. At least that’s how local lore tells the story.

Burgers on the menu bear the names of some of his most famous hit songs.

And the restaurant sits just a few paces from the Virginia-Tennessee border, which runs right down State Street in historic downtown Bristol, the designated “Birthplace of Country Music” (there’s a museum in the city).

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Burger Bar, which was been here since 1942, has embraced the legend that Hank Williams turned down a bite to eat at the restaurant years ago, only to be discovered dead in the back seat of his car on up the road in West Virginia. And they have embraced the classic diner feel—and the delicious homemade burger, fries and shake combination that accompanies the territory.

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Whether you like mushrooms, onions and cheese (the Hey Good Lookin’), barbecue sauce, onions and cheese (the Move It On Over), or a number of other combinations, you’re sure to enjoy the ½-pound burgers you’ll find here. They’re juicy, perfectly thick and enhanced by the variety of delicious toppings.

And the sides that can accompany your sandwich are just as exciting as the main course itself. How about some parmesan fries with several dipping sauces? Or would you rather have sweet potato fries with a sweet, creamy aioli for dipping?

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If you save enough room, you will have to narrow down your choice of milkshake. There’s something for almost any flavor preference. Truth be told, we couldn’t manage a milkshake during our first visit. The meal filled us up…and we had water to drink.

This is the type of place where you can sit at the counter or choose a table. It’s also the kind of place where you can tell the locals are well-known by the wait staff, but there are an equal number of tourists crossing the foodie stop off their list. We saw people taking pictures of each other with the restaurant menus during our visit.

With plenty of history, plenty of flavor, and fast service from a kind and helpful staff, you’ll enjoy Burger Bar, whether you’re visiting Bristol itself or just passing through on your travels along Interstate 81 through northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia.

Be sure to check out the newspaper coverage of the Hank Williams legend on the walls, and if you eat at the Burger Bar let me know which Hank-inspired sandwich you choose.

Burger Bar

8 Piedmont Ave., Bristol, VA

theoriginalburgerbar.com