Thursday, May 31, 2012

In the Heart of “Funky” Floyd…

sits the Floyd (VA) Country Store.

“The Floyd Country Store served the community through most of the twentieth century. Although its origins are lost in obscurity, it is known that in June 1910 a business called Farmer’s Supply opened its doors in the building.

“Under a series of owners, the store continued to operate as a hardware store and a general store until the late 1990’s when changes in the way people shopped made it hard for local businesses to keep going. Nevertheless, the store remained open for one evening a week, for the now famous Friday Night Jamboree” (

“Purchased and renovated in 2005 by Woody and Jackie Crenshaw, the store is one of the most popular stops on The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, as evidenced by attendance at the Friday Night Jamboree, a musical celebration that began in the mid 1980’s and evolved from shopkeepers’ after-hours fiddling sessions that neighbors dropped by to hear…. Since the Crenshaws took over country store, it’s been used for a variety of community gatherings, including a children’s concert, a benefit for a young man with cancer, a seed saving group, a workshop on beekeeping, clogging dance classes, and rallies for both major political parties” (Colleen Redman at

You may, like us, have wandered in to hear the Friday Night Jamboree or the Sunday afternoon Mountain Jam. But you will soon discover that the Country Store’s shelves are full of interesting objects including one of the largest selections of “old time” CD’s. (“Old-time music is a genre of North American folk music, with roots in the folk music of many countries, including England, Scotland, Ireland and countries in Africa….The genre…encompasses ballads and other types of folk songs. It is played on acoustic instruments, generally centering on a combination of fiddle and plucked string instruments…” []).

You can still purchase such old-fashioned items like straw brooms, bib overalls, apple butter, or locally-made dish cloths.

But there are also extensive kitchenware

and clothing sections and displays of penny candy

and old fashioned chewing gum. Now I have chewed Teaberry, Beeman’s, Clove, and Black Jack. But Choward’s (or C Howard’s)
Scented Gum was new to me and is described at as “A New York tradition since 1934. Unique breath refreshment after eating, drinking or smoking. Nostalgic violet scent and flavor.”

There are racks of books, many of which promote living a sustainable
lifestyle. You can learn how to raise the backyard cow and raising goats or pigs, how to build a solar food dehydrator, how to become a backyard lumberjack, or how to plant an edible landscape.

And for the young, there are racks of cuddly stuffed toys.

But music is the heart and soul of the Country Store, and “at the store we believe in supporting music education in the area. The store currently hosts structured education programs including music classes for babies and toddlers, and we have opened our space for teachers in the area to provide private lessons to the public. Weekly donations are made by our Sunday Mountain Jam group at the store to youth education programs in the area” (

But we’re not done yet. The Country Store also functions as an ice cream parlor and lunch counter with five booths and two tables. The standard menu is basic with sandwiches like a BLT, ham and cheese, turkey and swiss, chicken salad, and that Southern favorite—pimento cheese—a mix of grated sharp cheddar, mayo, and pimentos.

“Pimento cheese is so ingrained in the lives of many Southerners that we don't realize our passion for the stuff doesn't exist outside the region. Call me provincial, but I was shocked (shocked!) when I learned that everyday people from Boston to San Diego don't slap pimento cheese on bread for a quick lunch, or slather it across their burgers for a decadent treat…. The beloved pimento-cheese sandwich is typically served on cheap white bread. It's a quick fix for children busy with play on a summer's day. And it's a staple at after-church potlucks” (Wright Bryan at

And the lunch counter offers daily specials. The day of our visit, these included vegetarian black bean soup, a BBQ sandwich, an egg salad sandwich, and a spring market salad with mixed organic greens, local asparagus, snap peas, green onions, cucumbers, and green peppers.

Both Chuck and I ordered the black bean soup ($3.95), and after one mouthful, we looked at each other and exclaimed, “This is really good.” It was full of whole black beans, carrots, tomatoes and onions and was flavored with just a hint of cumin. It may have needed just a bit more salt, but that shortcoming was easy to correct.

The soup came with a slice of locally made multi-grain bread, but I also accompanied my soup with a wedge of skillet cornbread ($1.25). If the soup was “really good,” the cornbread was really, really good. This was the richest and most buttery cornbread I have eaten. When you picked up the wedge to take a bite, your fingers came away with a buttery sheen. I asked if the butter was poured over the bread after exiting the oven and was told, no, they just use butter in the basic recipe. Chuck, no real cornbread lover, even agreed after a taste that this was “really really good.”

Chuck accompanied his soup with an egg salad sandwich. For years, you have read my disparaging comments about “white fluffy bread.” But one thing—among others—upon which Chuck and I agree is that
egg salad is best when served on very fresh white fluffy bread. Even though this bread was more substantial than your Wonder Bread or Sunbeam, it still met our criteria for the ultimate egg salad sandwich. And the egg salad was a comforting mix of eggs, pickles, and pimentos bound together by a rich mayo.

After an hour or so of listening to some Mountain jamming, we were ready for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. So I sent Chuck forth to the ice cream station with the words “surprise me.” He returned with a
giant banana split with chocolate, vanilla, and blackberry ice creams with strawberry and chocolate toppings. And a mountain of whipped cream. Is there anything more comforting than sharing a banana split with your Favorite Traveling Companion while sitting at an oil cloth covered table?

“For centuries, country stores have been the center of rural culture. The Crenshaws’ intention has been to honor that tradition and build on it. ‘It’s a general store for this age and for this diverse community,’ Crenshaw says.

“On the benches outside the store, Jamboree goers sit and watch the festival-like street scene. An inviting sign above them reads ‘Loitering Allowed.’ Inside, another message hanging near the front door announces, ‘Ya’ll come back.’

“They generally do” (Colleen Redman at

And so will we for another 5.0 Addie afternoon.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Floyd Phenomenon

Floyd, Virginia: population 425.

To get right to point: We love this town.

That point is very easy to state. The reasons are clear, but it is frustratingly difficult to summarize them in a bumper sticker phrase, much like a town motto.

How does a small town with only one stop light in a county with no other traffic signals have a degree of complexity more characteristic of a much larger city?

How do 425 people, who possess such a variety of activities and interests, present such a commonality of purpose to produce a community tapestry the envy of larger numbers of people?

The town has really captured us, so to address these questions, we want to take a look at the layers of attraction.

It is the music that has drawn us the this area of southwestern Virginia, and Floyd (25 miles south on Route 8 from exit 114 off I-81) has several music venues—among them are the Floyd Hotel, the Dogtown Roadhouse (on the right of the building below),

and the Floyd Country Store. It was the Sunday jam at the Floyd Country Store (on the left in the photo, left) that brought us to Floyd (see 5/17/12).

Within two blocks of the main intersection are most of the town’s businesses. A walk along these streets introduced us to clean streets, spruced up exteriors of buildings, and inviting entrances to stores. The hardware store

with it colorful doors

and displays that spill into the sidewalk is an imposing building.

A couple doors down from this store is the Blue Ridge Restaurant. Passing the entrance without turning in is very difficult due to the enticing aromas the roll along the sidewalk.

The book store,

the town's barber shop, and

the Red Rooster Coffee Roaster are just some of the buildings in the center of town.

No boarded up buildings, no signs of deterioration.

Along these same few blocks were these colorful benches (the next three photos).

On the afternoon of one our recent visits, some craftsmen and women had set up tables across from the Country Store.

The table with the Enchanted Forest Soaps caught Kate's eye, especially the Dragons Blood, Shea Butter Soap.

So, with the completion of this walk, we enjoyed another layer of Floyd. The jam highlighted the music of the region and the life of the people shone through in the care of the town's buildings and streets. In the next few days, we go inside some of these buildings to further learn what makes Floyd such a special place. A tour of the Republic of Floyd (below) will be coming up, but first, time for lunch.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Say the Word “Diner”…

to anyone in New England (and south through New York, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania) and an immediate image comes to mind. A diner is a prefabricated building brought to the site in whole or in sections. The most revered of these were built by Worcester, Silk City, Sterling, Kullman, O’Mahoney, Paramount, and Mountain View. There will be an abundance of stainless steel installed to make the
diner easier to clean and to add a touch of “glitz.” There will always be a counter with stools and, in the larger diners, comfy booths. There will be waitresses of an indeterminate age who will, even on your first visit, address you as “hon,” “darlin',” or “sweetie.” Some serve breakfast all day. Some are open only for breakfast and lunch. Most offer daily “blue plate specials,” although few actually serve the specials on blue plates. And to purists, alcohol is never served.

But we have learned that diners come in all shapes and sizes. I would call County Line CafĂ© (Galax, VA), about which I wrote earlier, a diner—or at least a diner in its soul.

But today we visit a “real” diner. “A landmark to Hillsville (VA) since
1946, the Hillsville Diner is now the oldest continuously operating streetcar diner in the entire state of Virginia. Manufactured by the O'Mahoney company, the facility is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Hillsville Historic District. (It was) moved here from Mt. Airy, NC, where a young Andy Griffith frequented” (

“The O’Mahoney Company specialized in pre-fabricated restaurants.
And this one…still has most of its original equipment, still used daily for breakfast. The grills have deep pockets, carved out by decades of scraping pancakes and eggs off them with a spatula….One notices the tiny bar stools. Butts have gotten a whole lot bigger through the years” (Larry Bly at

The diner is decorated with multiple “gewgaws” (or as they are often called in the South—“gimcracks).”

And just inside the front door stands an old-fashioned scale that tells you “Your Wate and Fate.”

At breakfast, the owner and short order cook is stationed behind the counter where he prepares eggs on a flattop that has two round
depressions just large enough to contain two eggs without the whites spreading over the entire surface. A giant pan of bacon is kept warm here after coming from the back kitchen.

Just to the right is another cooking surface that is just large enough to contain three of the diner’s famous hot cakes. And further to the right is this Holman Conveyor Toaster. The bread is placed on the
top belt where it is “toasted” on both sides before shooting out into the bottom catch pan. Incidentally, Holman is still producing this style of restaurant toaster.

“A real dining room has been added (twice) in the back, as has a side kitchen for preparing baked, cooked and assembled luncheon specials” (Larry Bly at

We had breakfasted at the Hillsville Diner on our 2008 visit to the
Blue Ridge Mountains and Chuck has a fond—very fond—remembrance of the diner’s hot cakes, so I was not surprised that the three stack with country ham was his choice. Oh, and he added a side of home fries. These latter were actually hash browns, and while I didn’t taste them, looked nice and crispy—just as I like. But these were Chuck’s, and he prefers home fries.

But did the reality of the hot cakes live up to his memory? Were they as good as described here by bigdaddy at “I drive to Hillsville to eat breakfast at the diner because of the pancakes. You have to understand that I want my pancakes the way I had them as a child growing up on the farm. I am not interested in all different fillings for my pancakes, nor am I interested in all kinds of toppings. For breakfast I want good, old fashioned pancakes with butter and maple syrup. At the Hillsville Diner it is as though I was back in grandma's kitchen and anxiously waiting on my pancakes and bacon. Three cheers for the pancakes at the Hillsville Diner!!”

Well, yes they were. In fact, as Chuck was busy swirling a bite of hot cake through a pool of syrup, a gentleman came from the back dining room. “I have eaten pancakes in diners all over New England,” he said to the owner, “and I have never had any as good as these.” At this point, Chuck replies (with a mouth full of hot cake), “I'll second that.”

The country ham was a very large slab of hammy goodness. It was appropriately salty. Appropriately thin and chewy. And because country ham is supposed to be chewy, most restaurants will bring you a steak knife to cut it with. I now remember that we considered the country ham at the Hillsville Diner to be among the best.

Still on my quest for the ultimate biscuits and gravy, I ordered the single split biscuit with sausage gravy and a side of country ham. And I added a side of grits (below) to be eaten with some of the gravy. But, alas, I must admit that these were not good biscuits and gravy.
In fact, the gravy had an almost sour taste. So much for spooning it over my grits. I finally took the approach of adding a bite of ham to each bite of biscuit and gravy and the intense flavor of the ham hid somewhat the taste of the gravy. This was a disappointment, since the diner’s sausage gravy is also considered to be one of their specialties.

I am going to split the rating. I would give Chuck’s 4.0 Addies after subtracting a point for calling hash browns home fries. Mine would get 2.0 Addies based on the country ham alone.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Big Walker Lookout

Our Virginia map had a row of green dots paralleling highway 52 west of Exit 52 (Bland, VA) of I-77.

With the hope of enjoying a scenic drive (a la the green dot designation), we headed west from I-77 (after briefly considering heading east to see what a town named Bland would look like).

For about three miles, the highway gradually rose. We caught glimpses of the valley through the heavy growth of trees and underbrush, but these brief exposures to the scenic byway were disappointing.

Then rounding a curve, we saw an overlook with several cars and motorcycles and a general store. Welcome to the Big Walker Lookout and its Country Store.

“At an elevation of 3,405 feet, Big Walker Lookout affords one of the most spectacular views of the Appalachian Mountains” (
Our parking site gave us a view to the east of untouched wilderness.

As the ridges spread before us, we imagined this view at sunset.

We could see purples, blues, and reds reflected from
the setting sun. Through the haze we could see contrasts of shades of blue, and, though muted, gave a good picture of other possibilities.

Looking toward the country store, we could see a bridge and the two towers it connected. One of the observation towers was 100 feet tall.

There was a fee to climb this tower, but we passed on that opportunity given the view through the haze at ground level.

The Country Store had the usual array of souvenirs (shot glasses, funny signs, and inexpensive jewelry), plus native American carvings, handcrafted goods,

and these metal pieces of art.

Several cookbooks and books related to the local culture were in one section, and nearby were fudge samples and locally-made jams, BBQ sauces, and salsas.

We then headed to a viewing area to take some photos looking toward the west. Here we could see patterned farmland and homes.

This photo shows the area to the left of the photo above.

This is a close-up view of the home shown in the left side of the first photo of the west view.

The attraction once boasted that you could see five states, but now most days you can see only three: Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

"The haze and the pollution are too bad now," according to Ron Kime, owner of the Country Store (Roanoke Times, May 29, 2012).