Why Christmas Always Reminds me of Blueberry Pancakes


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.

The (Disappearing) Beef Dog Tradition


Here’s a beef dog with a missing bite at our family get-together a few years ago. You could say the shredded beef looks a bit like pulled pork, but it’s actually beef.

If you type “beef dog” into a search engine, it’s likely you’ll find both pictures and recipes for traditional American hot dogs and beef diets for canines. That’s not at all what you’d find if you time-traveled back to the 20th century and asked for a “beef dog” in Rutherford County, North Carolina, where my mom grew up.

For folks like my maternal great-grandmother Hassie Quinn (1911-1999), the beef dog was a favorite sandwich, usually consisting of pulled beef on a bun. No frankfurters or dog food would be delivered upon request of a beef dog then and there.

Windy Powell

Windy Powell image and recipes from what appears to be a 1983 Shelby (N.C.) Daily Star article copy contributed by several of our readers in Rutherford County, N.C. Powell was known far and wide in Rutherford County as a community servant and as a restaurateur. This article included his recipe for beef dogs. My maternal grandfather, Lee Quinn, worked for Powell at Windy’s.

Great-grandma Hassie’s son, Lee, my maternal grandfather, served up beef dogs when he worked at a restaurant and store operated by longtime community fixture Windy Powell in the Caroleen community of Rutherford County. Locals referred to the eatery as Windy’s which, like the beef dog itself, would confuse anyone in a different place and time. (Absolutely no association with Wendy’s, square hamburgers or Dave Thomas.)

Several years ago at a summertime Quinn family gathering in Caroleen, we enjoyed beef dogs. You can still find the local delicacy in a few spots, like The Fountain restaurant at Smith’s Drugs on the main stretch of Forest City, North Carolina. Diners at Smith’s, which now serves more of a cubed-style beef on a hot dog bun, like hot dog-type toppings on their beef dogs these days, a restaurant server told me recently.


A beef dog at Smith’s in Forest City, N.C. Notice the restaurant has switched to a cubed beef, a change from several years ago when they served a shredded beef, more true to Windy’s recipe and other traditions of the community’s culinary past.

Despite the deep familiarity and nostalgia of the sandwich for my family and its presence at the occasional family gathering and restaurant or two in this western section of North Carolina, I’m not sure the beef dog is known at all elsewhere.

I’d love to know if you’ve ever had a beef dog, or if you’d try one with the opportunity. Let us know in the comments section of this post, email us at mmfoodiescore@gmail.com, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Foodie Travels: Copper Penny Grill, Forest City, N.C.

Flavor: That’s how I would describe the Copper Penny Grill in Forest City if you only allowed me one word. Everything we ate on our recent first visit to the new restaurant in Forest City’s downtown was full of flavor.

We received a few recommendations from friends to check this place out and decided to spend a weeknight along the city’s Main Street. In addition to dinner, we took a walk through town, around old mill buildings and a mix of new and longtime local businesses.

My first impression when we sat down in the Penny was aided by the space in the booths. At 6 foot 4, I struggle to relax and find comfort in the booths of places like Waffle House, where I really have to fold myself up to fit and don’t have full range of motion to lift my fork from table to mouth.

We settled in and checked out the menu and had plenty to discuss. Molly and I rarely get the same thing or even a plate from the same category on the menu. At the Copper Penny, our ordering discussion included talk of fish tacos, steak, sandwiches and burgers.

In the end, we followed one of my restaurant rules (I like to try a place’s burger first to determine how they handle the basics and my favorite savory meal) while also breaking our collective rule (we BOTH ordered a burger).


Molly went with a favorite of hers—the mushroom swiss variety—while I selected the quesadilla burger. She had regular fries and I upgraded to the sweet potato fries, which I highly recommend if you like them. More on that in a moment.

The burgers were both cooked well and still juicy. The meat was well-seasoned, and the flavor that topped both sandwiches was distinct and memorable. Molly’s mushrooms were a tastebud-pleasing topping, something that’s not often the case in many dining experiences. I’ve found that mushrooms are often squishy and flavorless after-thoughts that really don’t add to the burger. The bun on Molly’s sandwich was soft but hearty, the perfect housing for a burger.


The quesadilla burger, not really a common find in an American grill restaurant in western North Carolina, was topped with a pico de gallo that was the star of my dinner show. It was neither spicy nor bland, but had a fresh veggie feel to it that really set off the experience. Oh, and my sweet potato fries! They came with a brown sugar dipping sauce unlike anything I’ve had as a fries condiment. The sauce turned the fries into a major component of my dinner, whereas an average fry accompaniment usually takes a backseat to the burgers I order.


It’s rare we do dessert when we eat out on a normal occasion, but we had already planned to see what our options were on this night. (The menu tells you specifically to save room for dessert but does not tell you what those desserts are.) When presented with the choices—a variety of cake options—we selected the lemon berry mascarpone. A waitress walking by as we ordered said, “that’s the best cake I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

When our cake plate was finished, the same waitress walked by and said, “Did I lie to you?” No, she didn’t. This mascarpone had a cool and light summery quality to it. The lemon and berry played off each other perfectly, and the cake was just the right mix of moist and crumbly.


Keep in mind that we order water most of the time for our drinks, and we did here, too, but we were still able to eat dinner, with a couple of additions to our meals and dessert (and also a tip) for under $30. That might sound like a lot for two burgers and fries, water and piece of cake, but consider this: The burgers were satisfying, the fries were plentiful and delicious and the cake was a huge piece, plenty for two people to share. Also consider that you can spend $7-$8 a meal if you go to a fast food joint and order a specialty combo.

Going out to eat is all about the experience. The Copper Penny provided a great one, from atmosphere (they also offer a bar and high-top tables if you’re so inclined) to service to food. We will go back, and we recommend that you check this place out, too.

Copper Penny Grill

146 E. Main Street, Forest City, N.C.