Saxapahaw General Store

The aisles are lined with STP motor oil and Seventh Generation soaps.  The coolers are stocked with Gatorades and Goat Lady Dairy’s local organic cheeses.  The freezers are full of frozen Snickers ice-cream bars and Cane Creek Farm grass-fed meat.  The shelves offer Starburst candies and The Accidental Baker’s artisan crackers and granolas.  This is the Saxapahaw General Store, the gas-station gourmet food mart and restaurant that is generating lots of buzz in the Triangle food world and beyond.

Located in the tiny town of Saxapahaw, on the banks of the scenic Haw River, this might be the greatest gas station a hungry traveler could ever stumble upon.  Off of Highway 54 well south of Graham, NC, it’s about an hour drive from Raleigh, or less than 30 minutes from Chapel Hill.  But it’s a worthwhile foodie destination, and I’m looking forward to my next visit.

We went on a recent Saturday for lunch.  Scrawled on a chalkboard sign were the day’s specials – meatloaf sandwich, crabcake on croissant.  I opted for the brisket sandwich on ciabatta, with lemon-garlic aioli, swiss cheese, and caramelized onions ($8).  While we waited, I strolled around the sun-filled store and browsed the wide array of local, organic food offerings, nestled among the usual suspects of a gas station convenience store, without regard for incongruity.

The store has an extensive menu, ranging from delicious sounding breakfasts (“house-made biscuits with cane creek farm sausage and homemade gravy”) to southern brunch staples (shrimp and grits, which looked fantastic on a neighboring table) to homemade pizzas (on homemade dough, with homemade sauce) to a wide array of sandwiches, including local goat and local beef burgers.  From what I’ve read, the dinner specials are likely to feature whatever’s fresh and on hand, and generally comprise a menu that you’d be more likely to find in a high-end city restaurant such as Piedmont, Watt’s Grocery, or Poole’s Diner.

It took quite a while to get our food, but it was worth the wait.  The sandwich appeared to be served on grilled focaccia, not ciabatta (either way it appeared to be homemade), but that proved to be irrelevant.  It was exquisite, with tender, falling-apart beef and perfect proportions.  Duck fat fries ($3) on the side were not as expected – they were “home-style” fries – but they were undeniably delicious and perfectly seasoned with very coarsely ground pepper.

Also available at the front counter were a variety of homemade pastries, cookies, and other desserts.  The pastries looked great – everything from a blackberry turnover to lemon ginger scones to cranberry-white chocolate cookies.  A chocolate-pecan pie ($4/slice), on the other hand, looked a little sad, and, I confirmed later, tasted rather unremarkable.  I also sampled a chocolate chip cookie ($1.50) and the blackberry turnover ($4), both of which were respectable, if not brilliant.

Still, this place is a real gem.  Your meal can be taken inside, at a decidedly unglamorous booth, or outside on nice patio (as charming as can be, considering it’s situated 20 feet from some gas pumps).  Prices are generally on the higher side, but reflective of the top-notch ingredients employed, and worth every penny.

Rating: * * * *

Note: see their facebook page for more information

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