There’s a famous quote attributed to Herbert O’Keefe, the 1950s-era editor of The Raleigh Times: “No man has ever been elected governor of North Carolina without eating more barbecue than was good for him.”
While I disagree with the premise that there’s such a thing as too much barbecue, the point stands: Food and politics are inextricably intertwined in North Carolina.
Here’s your list of the most powerful restaurants in the state. These are the places where campaigns are announced, babies kissed, votes whipped, strategy discussed, deals made, and lobbying conducted. In other words, where political people hang out.
[Want to read like a politician as well? Sign up for the free Longleaf Politics newsletter.]
Have an addition to the list? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlotte: The Original Pancake House
If you hit up the Midtown location between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., you’re almost certain to run into somebody on City Council over your bacon. The booths are constantly packed with Charlotte’s movers and shakers. Try the country ham.
Runners-up: It comes just once per year, but the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church BBQ brings out all the big names regionally. In recent years, Midwood Smokehouse has carved out a niche here as well. President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton visited in 2016.
Raleigh: The Mecca
Opened in 1930, the Mecca is a time capsule of old Raleigh. Word is that the entire North Carolina Supreme Court would file out of the courthouse together and into the booths here.
Runners-up: The Roast Grill. Bring cash. And, naturally, the Legislative Cafeteria inside the General Assembly building. It’s surprisingly good. Try the Wednesday fried squash special1
42nd Street Oyster Bar2 dates back to 1931, and the most recent iteration is owned by the son of Thad Eure, who served five decades as North Carolina’s secretary of state. A mural of Eure, business icon J.W. “Willie” York, former Gov. Bob Scott and “Sodfather” Jim Graham dominates the decor, and politicians across the state donate their license plates to hang on the walls.
Gastonia: Tony’s Ice Cream
Vice President Mike Pence stopped in here on the campaign trail, and presumably had to get in line behind half of Gaston County’s population. All types of folks enjoy the sandwiches here, every day of the week. Try a black walnut milkshake.
Runner-up: R.O.’s BBQ
Smithfield: Holt Lake Bar-B-Que and Seafood
“Good Roads” Gov. Cameron Morrison held a major Democratic Party rally near the lake here in 1923, and this restaurant has continued the tradition.
Concord: Troutman’s Bar-B-Que
Hillary Clinton stopped by on the campaign trail in 2008, and the Troutman family has made multiple runs for office.
Greensboro: Stamey’s Barbecue
Donald Trump stopped by on the 2016 campaign trail after speaking at High Point University. Rate his Stamey’s3 order: “a glass of sweet tea, chopped BBQ, hushpuppies, slaw, and cherry cobbler with ice cream,” according to WFMY.
Burlington: Hursey’s BBQ
The owner reports serving take-out to every president from John F. Kennedy through George W. Bush. When MSNBC wanted to take the pulse of politics in North Carolina last year, they chose this spot.
Asheville: 12 Bones Smokehouse
Former President Barack Obama is almost a regular here at this point.
Henderson: Skipper Forsyth’s Bar-B-Q
This spot is a hit on the campaign trail, including for former Gov. Pat McCrory.
If you’re into this sort of thing, be sure to check out D. G. Martin’s excellent book, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries.”