Folks, I think I found it. After being more than disappointed with most of the Southern food offerings in the Triangle proper (although haven’t tried Bullock’s yet for their non-BBQ offerings), I set out yesterday on a late afternoon drive down the old Greensboro-Chapel Hill road about 30 minutes west of Chapel Hill to a one-intersection town known as Snow Camp. Left at the Phillips 66 station, then another mile or so on the right, down another road, signs announcing “Ye Olde Country Kitchen” and the “Sword of Peace” production at the outdoor theater just next door.
I was skeptical upon driving out there what exactly to expect. After all, this place is practically in the middle of nowhere. Where would they find the clientele to operate on a Wednesday evening? Well, I had no reason to fear. Upon pulling up to the restaurant around 7 p.m., not only was the gravel parking lot full, but cars were parked along the roadside and across the street.
Photo 1 – the parking lot
Photo 2 – Sign beside front door (showing hours)
My fiancée and I took this as a good sign. It’s one thing to fill up a Golden Corral parking lot in a large city, but to draw a crowd on a weekday night in the middle of nowhere must take something special, right? Indeed.
The place was hopping inside, and, to my relief, all non-smoking. The atmosphere inside seems that of an old converted house with many small dining areas encompassing what in total is quite a large number of tables.
Photo 3 – interior
One has two choices, either order off the menu or go for the all-you-can-eat buffet ($7.99 for dinner, $5.99 for lunch). Everyone else was obviously doing the buffet, and I decided that following suit would provide a good survey of the versatility of this particular kitchen (and to determine whether return visits were called for).
Stepping back for a minute, I consider the mark of a good restaurant is the production of “wow” moments during the course of a meal. All restaurants that I hold in high esteem must produce at least one of these. Ye Olde Country Kitchen’s buffet produced three. The first was the beef stew, a hearty preparation chock full of meat, peas, potatoes, and carrots. Upon submerging a crisp-outside/fluffy-inside biscuit and spooning it in...oh my goodness, pure heaven. The second pure moment of joy came when tasting the fried chicken. A perfect batter, chicken meat underneath so juicy. No joke, best fried chicken I have had in my life (and I’ve experienced a lot of fried chicken in my days). The third “wow” came from the green beans – I have no idea how they do it, but the beans had the perfect firmness with a sweetness that suggests the beans came straight from the farm to the kitchen. This is Southern food done right.
Everything else scored major points as well. I was hesitant to take the collard greens since the condiment of green pepper vinegar sauce was not available, but I need not have worried – the greens were so tender and naturally flavorful that any addition would’ve been a distraction. Best greens I’ve had since my uncle’s grandmother prepared the Thanksgiving feast down in South Georgia a couple of years ago. Corn on the cob was obviously fresh but tasted just okay. Fried squash was amazing. My fiancée also gave thumbs up to the apple crisp, peach cobbler, and banana pudding. I did not have room for dessert because I loaded up on two full plates of veggies in addition to the chicken and stew. Oh, and the sweet tea – as good as it gets.
Photo 4 – fried chicken and stew; collards, mac and cheese, corn
Photo 5 – more collards, green beans, squash
Needless to say, I will be taking the pastoral drive out to Snow Camp many times to get my Southern food fix. They do a lunch buffet Wednesday-Sunday in addition to the dinner buffet/menu offerings. Friday and Saturday evenings they add seafood to the buffet as well. Dare I try their offering of Calabash-style fried shrimp, trout, or catfish? Absolutely...I look forward to it.
This place does NOT displace Market Diner in Thomasville, GA as the best Southern food I’ve had in a restaurant. The variety offered at Market Diner is about double of Ye Olde Country Kitchen (beans of all kinds, casseroles, more types of meat) and the quality about 10% better. I assume Ye Olde Country Kitchen may expand their offerings on the weekends. That said, even as a buffet, the food at this place makes you feel like having been invited into someone’s home for some great authentic Southern chow.