I love the saying “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” So many times we are in such a rush to get to our destination that we miss special places along the way. Such is the case with Morganton, NC. Travelers on their way to Lake Lure or Asheville need to take the time to enjoy some time in Morganton.
To be completely honest, I had never heard of this town of 18,000 nestled in the Catawba River Valley, but being the adventurer I am, I signed on. I rolled into town to the sounds of music coming from the town green. I learned that every Friday in May, June and July they have TGIF and everyone comes down, lays out blankets and enjoys the summer nights. I personally would have loved to stay, but I was hungry and I was told JD’s Smokehouse was the place for BBQ. I was not steered wrong; the jalapeno grits were the best grits I’ve ever had. Sorry Mom.
Morganton is going through a Renaissance and craft beers are one of the highlights. Sidetracked started as a taproom but morphed into a brewery that keeps 12 taps going with beers named PB&J and Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. Brown Mountain Bottleworks not only has 400 beers to sell but also a great selection of wine and local snacks. What I found so charming was that in each place I went, there was a shelf or table with a selection of board games to play while enjoying your friends and beer.
My next day was a whirlwind of fun, beer and amazing food. I spent some time downtown exploring the shops and eateries. There is The Dapper Donut that makes donuts on demand, Oak Hill Iron and Wood, a general store and boutiques, but my favorite was MAD Bookstore where Miss Linda Brown is the guardian of the written word. Rows of books stacked to the ceiling on every topic and genre you can think of pulls you in. Another favorite place of mine is The Natural Olive. The shop is lined with over 40 olive oils and balsamic vinegars. There is a bar that serves wine and a cozy sitting area where old black and white films play. Because they are not equipped for a kitchen, patrons can bring their own appetizers to enjoy with their wine.
I headed to the next town of Valdese for lunch at Old World Baking Company where everything is freshly made. I opted for the kale and cranberry salad. Spectacular! The jelly donuts brought back summer memories of a bakery on Martha’s Vineyard. But what touched me the most on this trip laid inside the walls of this bakery. They have turned one huge wall into a blackboard called “The Dream Wall” where people go to write their dreams. I was so touched standing there and reading everyone’s dreams.
Next stop before the State of Origin Beer Festival was South Mountain Distilling Co., a family run business that actually started with the grandfather’s still. We had a tasting that just warmed my soul! The State of Origin Beer Festival had 32 breweries, four food trucks and more than 500 people. If you are a beer lover, this is an event to put on your calendar. From there, I walked to dinner at The root + vine. What a charming place, especially if you can get a table on the patio. I ate the most outstanding octopus and trout while listening to music coming from The Grind Café, a coffee shop across the street that transforms into a bar upstairs at night.
The night was winding down as I took my last few sips of wine and glanced across the street at The Cedars House, a sprawling mansion built in 1859. The uplighting around the house and grounds cast an eerie feel and I couldn’t help but think of an old Nancy Drew book. Tomorrow I had hiking on the Greenway and exploring more of Morganton, Nature’s Playground.
Debbie Martinez is a Miami Dade resident and Travel Editor for The Florida Villager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.