Monday, September 15, 2014

Lots of growing going on in Greenwood, SC

Like many county seats in the South, Greenwood, SC, has a charming, antebellum and turn-of-the-century downtown for its population of 23,000. Unlike many of the others, the movers and shakers here work to make sure their downtown - or uptown as they call it - thrives.

Kelly McWhorter of the Greenwood Regional Visitors and Tourism Bureau gave us a quick tour of three adjacent, re-purposed buildings on Main Street that had been turned into a cultural arts center, a community theater home and a science and history museum. All three nonprofits are interconnected as the Emerald Triangle.

Images from the center's files.
The Cultural Center is airy and spacious with well displayed art by regional artists in what was once a federal building built in 1911 as a post office and expanded in the 1930s.

Handsome inside and out.
Since opening in 2006, the 3,300-square-foot gallery space has had 180,000 visitors.

The Museum fills three levels with special exhibits plus permanent ones. The Regional History and 1900s Main Street exhibit takes visitors back in time. Naturally, we had to try on hats in the Milliner's shop.

How's this for 1914 chapeaus?
Given time we would have loved to explore the M. J. "Doc" Rhodes Gems and Minerals Gallery, the Epic Journeys of Animal Migration and the interactive Discovery Lab.

"Footloose" is the next production, opening Oct. 17, 2014.
The Theatre, once a movie house, is home to the thriving Greenwood Community Theatre. Executive Director Stephen Gilbert showed us around the 300-seat facility and talked about the group's success.

Musicals, staged with a 13-15-piece orchestra and at an average cost of $25,000 to $35,000 apiece, are particularly popular, playing to Standing Room Only audiences. There seems to be no lack of enthusiasm on the other side of the curtain: the recent "Wizard of Oz" production drew 212 auditioners for the 70-80-person cast.

It's a true year-round season with main and second stage productions, a children's theater, special events and movies when the stage is dark.

Connected to the Museum but located at the other end of Main Street, The Railroad Historical Center is a work in progress. Historically a railroad and textile town, Greenwood had five different lines coming through it in 1914. Now four of those antique cars are being restored and memorabilia and artifacts collected and displayed.

Speaking of Main Street, Greenwood's was once considered the widest in the world but reconfiguring it to add store front parking probably ended that status. It's still pretty wide and the convenient parking probably adds to uptown's success.

Topiary to show
Another reason for Greenwood's popularity is its festivals - barbecue, catfish, discovery, 4th of July stars and our favorite, flowers and the giant topiary featured during it. The SC Festival of Flowers began 47 years ago and peaks the fourth weekend in June. They start putting out the topiary in May and leave it up through most of July.
Prepping for new moss.

We visited horticulturist Ann Barklow, keeper and grower of the Disney-scaled creations in the greenhouse where volunteers were preparing the beasts for their next plantings.

The original 13 have grown to 40. A giant tiger and gamecock honor college mascots, Safari wildlife from apes to elephants stand waiting for a fresh foundation of moss for the flowers that will make them standouts.

Lunch time brought us to Kickers, a tiny restaurant with huge flavors across from the Farmers Market, where Chef Abdel Dimiati and wife Andrea serve an international, innovative, organic cuisine. His soups are outstanding and dessert
came as a lagniappe, a fried Oreo. Never would have ordered one but the almost pudding consistency of the cookie and the non-greasy crust was a flavorful surprise.

A surprisingly good fried Oreo.
Don't miss this little gem.

Note the quilt square on side of far left building.
McCormick was another tiny destination, but we were a bit disappointed. The gold mine over which the town is built was closed, the steam-driven cotton gin, one of two in the country, didn't work, the historic house was for sale (its exterior in need of TLC) and the vaunted Quilt Trail a mere few stops long with small- to medium-sized painted quilt squares.
A quilt square in progress.
With the South Carolina portion of giant Lake Thurmond, the county does have three of the state's six state parks with excellent outdoor recreation facilities including a golf course. Alas, none of them were on our schedule.

Our list of next times is getting awfully long.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Tasting at Childress Vineyards: Sipping and Slipping

On a Sunday morning I took a short walk from the lovely Holiday Inn Express at the Vineyards (where I stayed during my Lexington visit) over to Childress Vineyards. The commanding 35,000-square-foot building is reminiscent of a Tuscan villa and features state-of-the art wine operations, educational tours, lunch at The Bistro, a seasonal concert series, and elegant banquet and meeting rooms.  

Childress Vineyards

NASCAR team owner Richard Childress fulfilled a longtime dream when he opened Childress Vineyards in 2004. When he first began auto racing in California, he visited many estates and became passionate about wine. Although he considered creating a vineyard in California and New York, he chose to grow grapes in his hometown: Lexington, North Carolina. The terroir, with its combination of humid climate, long growing season and gravely, red clay soil are the key natural features of the vineyards. 

Like his RCR Racing team, Childress employs top personnel and the best equipment at Childress Vineyards.  He lured award-winning winemaker Mark Friszolowski and put him in charge of the winery production. The August 12, 2014 edition of The Dispatch, a newspaper in Davidson County, NC, quoted Childress as saying: 

The reason this winery has survived is the quality of wine Mark has been able to make. If we had just average wine, we probably would have closed the doors years ago. I built this winery like a race team. On a winning race team you have to have the best. Mark is the driver, he is the guy who drives this business, and we have a lot of other great people on our team who have contributed to our success.

The Good Girls savored a gorgeous fresh fruit/chicken salad at brunch overlooking acres of grapes ready to be harvested and manicured formal gardens. They then made their way to the atmospheric cellar barrel room stocked with award-winning varietals, reserves, signature, dessert, sparkling and Muscadine wines. The barrel select tastings include eight half-ounce pours and a souvenir glass. They sipped on Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Pinnacle (a Bordeaux-style red blend), Merlot, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Three Red- the vineyard best seller, and a Finish Line Port. All were superb but I liked the Reserve Cabernet best. 

Prices generally range from about $10- $25 per bottle; the special select  2010 Richard's Red goes for $50. ChildressVineyards was recently selected as one of America’s top 25 tasting rooms by Wine Enthusiast magazine. 

A special appearance by Richard Childress, himself, was a most unexpected and delightful surprise. The Good Girls would have had their photo taken with the entrepreneur except --  Judy's hip replacement decided to pop out, incredibly while she was seated.  At least she had the wine to dull her pain!

Once again I watched EMTs carry Judy on a gurney (as happened on the Good Girls 2013 trip to Georgia) and met her at the local hospital. She received excellent and very timely treatment. We give the staff a thumbs up. By 4:30 the Girls were back on the road and off to Greenwood, South Carolina where the trip would continue. 

I would like to note that Childress Vineyards is a primary sponsor of the annual Lexington Barbecue Festival held in October each year. Artist Bob Timerlake designs the label and Childress bottles a special vintage called Fine Swine  Wine. Bottles go on sale the morning of the Festival and we hear they sell out quickly.  Sorry we will miss the extravaganza which has been called one of the Top Ten One-Day Festivals in the US. 

The Barrel Room at Childress Vineyards


Thanks Lexington Tourism for a fantastic time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Swine-ful Progressive Barbecue Dinner in Lexington

Lexington, NC  keeps its pork lovin' residents content with 17 barbecue restaurants, all at very reasonable prices.  Although the Swine, Wine and Dine Tour aimed to sample each of them, seventeen in two and a half days was impossible. However, we did manage to cover three in one evening by going on a piggy progressive dinner. It was swineful.

We started at Speedy's Barbecue with a barbecue salad; slices of pork barbecue on top of lettuce with choice of dressing and side dipping sauce.  I chose blue cheese dressing and truly enjoyed the salad as I  had consumed trays of barbecue at Barbecue Central the night before and lunch platters at Lexington Barbecue: chopped barbecue, sliced barbecue, coarse chopped barbecue, barbecue with bark and without. Oh my!

Owner Robbie Johnson says Speedy's  has been in the same location for 50 years. His restaurant uses the rotisserie method of cooking the meat, which is more efficient and cleaner than the pit process. Robbie explained that the pork fat drips while roasting and saturates the pork shoulders below. He says meat cooked this way is very moist. Typically an 18-20 pound raw shoulder will shrink down to 12 pounds.

Speedy's serves an accompanying dip made from one third ketchup, one third white vinegar and one third water with a little salt, pepper, sugar and crushed red pepper added in. The comfortable joint was hopping with satisfied patrons,  but we had to move on.    

Next we went to Smiley's Lexington BBQ where the Good Girls were smitten with the pig statue outside the restaurant. He makes a great photo op.

"Hooray," I shouted, when I learned Smiley's is known for their barbecue chicken. I was delighted with the change to poultry from pork, although they, of course, keep all customers happy with pit barbecue pork, too. My chicken leg tasted moist and tender, truly delicious, and I also appreciated the coleslaw that was white, not red, like at most of the other Lexington establishments. 

Smokey Joe's Barbecue in Lexington

Carrot Cake 
Onward with full stomachs, we headed to Smokey Joe's Barbecue. This restaurant is one of several recommended by Southern Living magazine. They pit cook their pork for 10-12 hours, so the dishes served to diners were cooked the day before. Fortunately, for me, Smokey Joe's is also known for their cakes and pies made locally by The Cake Ladies of Welcome.  I was so full of barbecue, I skipped it and went for  dessert. I chose carrot cake and found the texture wonderfully dense from lots of grated carrots and layered with sweetness from cream cheese frosting. Yummy!  After a few bites, I could eat no more. Lexington, the barbecue capital, burst my seams. I now felt I blended in with all those adorable artworks from a fund-raising initiative known as the "Pigs in the City."

Here are some of the Lexington's famous pigs:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Learning about NASCAR at the RCR Racing Museum, Welcome, NC

The Good Girls admit they don't know a lot about NASCAR, but they recognize the names Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt and Jeff Gordon. Residing in Florida, they also know the story of the France family who helped establish racing in Daytona Beach. Their recent visit to Lexington, NC put them in the neighborhood of Welcome, North Carolina, home to the Richard Childress Racing (RCR) Museum, and the Girls figured they'd get a warm reception. Come on, who wouldn't in Welcome - right?
Entrance to the RCR Racing Museum

They met Steve Ramey, Museum Manager, who indeed took them on a guided tour. The RCR Museum is an immense 47,000-square-foot facility that encompasses the original No. 3 race shop built in 1986 and the original RCR Museum built in 1991. A 3,500-square-foot structure was constructed between the two buildings to tie it all together.

RCR Racing Museum Lobby

Dale Earnhardt No 3- 1998 Winner at Daytona 500

Many rooms in the museum showcase cars, displays, memorabilia and photographs, including NASCAR Winston Cup championship banners and NASCAR Winston Cup championship owner’s trophies. Visitors find all 25 No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolets driven by Dale Earnhardt (Sr), but the highlight is the 1998 Daytona 500 winning car that Dale drove to victory. There are also 16 video screens in the facility replaying key victories and you can walk through a retired race hauler- a giant truck that carries two race cars to events and is stocked with all sorts of back-up parts and equipment. 

Childress started as a race car driver in the NASCAR's top series in 1969. He went on to record six top-five and 76 top-10 finishes in 285 starts. He finished fifth in the point standings in 1975. However, he decided to retire as a driver in mid-1981, naming Earnhardt to finish the season in his car.

Childress' real success came from building teams and cars, and sponsoring Dale Earnhardt. Their legendary partnership continued until Dale's tragic death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. 

Austin Dillon Car
Today, Richard's grandson, Austin Dillon, is embarking on his first-full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and competing for 2014 Rookie of the Year honors. He now drives the historic No. 3 on his Chevrolet. 

Before leaving, the Good Girls also met crew member Danny "Chocolate" Myers and his personable wife. They learned that Chocolate was the gas man for the #3 GM Goodwrench Chevy driven by Earnhardt. Over the past 18 years Chocolate and team owner Richard Childress have visited victory lane no less than 83 times. Chocolate now works on the radio and TV.    
Chocolate Myers

Having seen how Richard Childress made his fortune, the Good Girls planned to  visit a place more familiar to them the next day - the Childress Vineyards.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Art of Art, Wine and Barbecue

Bob Timberlake's Lexington Gallery.
We began our day in Lexington, NC, with a trip to the Bob Timberlake's Lexington Gallery, where the affable artist greeted us with great coffees and amusing stories.
Timberlake was readying for a show in New York's Hammer Gallery, but was more than willing to give us as much time as we had - never enough.

This is what you see as you walk in. Gallery extends way back.
The gallery, conceived by his son, is a treasure trove of sophisticated Americana, from Timberlake's art featuring rural lifestyles, hunting and nature to his home decor and clothing lines. He comes by his style naturally - his family has been in North Carolina for 250 years as has his wife's.

Bob Timberlake.
Timberlake proves that creativity is infinitely flexible. He has done PSAs for Iron Eyes Cody and designs wine labels for his pal Richard Childress's Winery (their Fine Swine Wine, signed by both, sells out all 90 cases during the annual Barbecue Festival). There are 72 new designs of carpets and rugs with Mohawk and Karastan.

Lots of fun, you realize, wandering through the gallery.
"Ideas hit you everywhere," he said. "I have fun with every one I work up."

Naturally, the Good Girls struck a pose with Bob.

BBQ 101
We had fun at our next stop, an early lunch at Lexington BBQ, also known as Lexington #1, Honey Monks and The Monk. You'd better aim for early or very late because lines form around the building during regular lunch and dinner times.

Bub Wright
Keith "Bub" Wright gave us a lesson in Lexington, N.C. style barbecue and Lexington BBQ style cooking. A few stats:

• an 18-pound pork shoulder yields 6 pounds of usable meat; they smoke 6,000 to 7,500 pounds of usable meat on an average day.Christmas week that goes up to 35,000 to 40,000 pounds.
There's an art to turning at just the right time.
• Pit men must train for at least a year; there's $500 worth of meat in those smokers.
• They sell 60 to 65 gallons of hush puppy batter, 500 to 600 pounds of barbecue slaw and 200 to 300 gallons of tea a day.
The finished product.

It's all good as the lines stretching through and outside the building as we left attested.
This line extended outside of the building.

 Time for a bit of liquid refreshment so we headed to Weathervane Winery.

There's a gift shop, too.
What started in the basement has become a business that produces 4,500 cases a year and has three full-time and seven part-time employees.

Sid Proctor.
Retired radio advertising exec Sid Proctor and his wife offer a variety of wine down evenings, special tastings and festivals as well as daily wine tasting for drop-in visitors. Five different varieties, one white and four reds, and seven fruit-style wines are on the shelves.

Situated at the southern end of North Carolina's Yadkin Valley, they make, as Sid says, no frills wine for the market.

The market wants it a bit sweet for our tastes, but expect improvement in anything produced in North Carolina's first federally-approved American Viticultural Area.