Should you ever think Chapel Hill, NC, is filled with too many misplaced Northerners to be truly in the South, look no further than Merritt’s Store & Grill. Located at the crossroads between 15-501 and 54 West, this small white-washed building promises one of the best Carolina experiences you could hope to have.
My first exposure to Merritt’s goes back to lunch-box days spent at Frank Porter Graham Elementary school. Sometimes, when my Dad would pick me and my brothers up, we’d go for an “old-timey” soda: a coke in a classic glass bottle. Since living in Uganda where most sodas i drank were in glass bottles, the novelty of a coke in a glass casing has somewhat worn off. But the memories, and Merritt’s, remain very much something to be reveled in.
The soda bottles in glass containers, though part of the charm of this grill, are certainly not the main attraction. The reason to go to Merritt’s is the sandwiches – and most especially, for the BLTs. Though i’ve oft contemplated going off pork, the main reason i stay a pig-eating machine is so that i can continue to bask in the wonder that is a mayonnaise and salt-n-pepper doused slab of bacon, lettuce, and tomato on sunflower bread.
It’s unreal. Like, the crunch of the bacon and the sweetness of the mayo blend perfectly with the salt and pepper to make this amazing bite that fills you to the toes with Southern meaty goodness. (Really, though, when they say their BLTs are world famous, this is not false advertising at all!)
The food, which is served to you in the kitchen by the drink stands, is really only paralleled by the delight of the grill itself. The building has the feel of a small home converted into a country store, and on any given Saturday you’ll find a bluegrass band pickin’ out heartbreaking tunes in the corner. That’s the thing about Merritt’s: the fixings are the real deal. You get your food from a kitchen, you eat crammed into a tiny but delightful storefront, and there is no escaping the music. Merritt’s is nothing if not authentic!
I thought it apt, in my last few days in the States before the Big Departure, to head over to Merritt’s for lunch. It was something of a clandestine moment; clearly, Merritt’s has enough longevity that it will still be around when i come home at the end of May. But it also is a place so rich in culture and memory for me, i couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. And then, like magic, some women in the corner began to do this Appalachian-style dance to the music. Clearly, i’m not as informed about Appalachian culture as i’d like to be, but i’ve often seen this sort of stomping-and-clapping and easy-to-do dancing that gives bluegrass percussion through bodily rhythm. It’s very cool. It also has (this i am fairly certain of) roots in Celtic music and Scottish dancing.
So as i sat there, snapping photos with my new iPhone for the last hometown tourist blog for a long while, and feeling oddly connected to my new home-to-be.
current jam: ‘as long as our hearts are beating’
best thing: making music.