Less than an hour’s drive from the lake, the all-American town of Lexington is packed with diversions from boutique wineries, old-fashioned candy shops, and signature galleries to a showcase museum featuring NASCAR royalty and a spirited nightlife.
And for those looking to put a little ‘south in their mouth,’ Lexington is, of course, the Barbecue Capital of the universe. With at least 17 barbecue restaurants for a population of 19,000, ‘cue is indeed a great source of pride for the locals.
Visitors can also explore four area wineries as Lexington enjoys its geographic locale as the southeastern gateway to the Yadkin Valley wine region, North Carolina’s first federally approved American Viticultural Area (AVA).
Low, Slow, and Pit-cooked
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Clearly the star in town is the barbecue. One exciting way to taste the best Lexington has to offer is to enjoy a progressive sampling from one top spot to the next—they’re all close by and you’ll spend more time deciding over the menu than rambling down the road.
Low-and-slow pit-cooked pork shoulder is the holy grail in these parts and most restaurants use hardwood (hickory and oak are mainstays) to smoke their shoulders for eight to ten hours. After cooking, the shoulders are trimmed and served sliced, pulled, or chopped. A light kiss of “dip,” a tangy vinegar-based sauce, is served atop the piled high plates. Choose any number of sides such as hushpuppies, red-slaw (made with dip and not mayonnaise), beans, okra, french fries, or onion rings.
Cecil Conrad, 44, is the second generation owner of Lexington’s legendary Bar-B-Q Center. “We sell about 150 pork shoulders a week,” says Conrad, who notes that the pre-cooked or “green weight” of a shoulder is 18-20 pounds. “People like that we hand chop our meat and pit cook with hardwood—it’s all about the smoke.” Be sure to save room for their massive 4-pound (no kidding) banana split—at $8 it’s a steal and plenty to share.Make your next stop Lexington Barbecue, one of the city’s granddaddy’s, serving up to 1,200 diners per day. If barbecued chicken is on your list, drop in over at Smiley’s Lexington Barbecue where folks enjoy it falling-off-the-bone tender Thursday through Sunday. Hometown favorite Speedy’s Barbecue is where you can get your barbecue right alongside a fresh, crispy salad. Smokey Joe’s BBQ finds Angie Baker, 47, in charge, one of the few women in Lexington overseeing barbecue operations and serving ‘cue that will leave you in hog heaven.
If you’re still hungry and looking for treats to go, try the renowned pimento cheese made with the original decades-old recipe at Conrad & Hinkle Food Market. The old fashioned butcher, dry goods, and produce store has operated since 1919.
Popular Main Street purveyor The Candy Factory tames sweet tooth cravings offering a staggering variety of candies, hard-to-find candy bars, homemade fudge, and all manner of confections.
NASCAR legend and team owner Richard Childress built one of the most heralded wineries in the state with his eponymous Childress Vineyards. He grows 12 different varietal grapes on 77 acres, producing more than 30 different wines.
Visitors can taste house blends, premium varietals, desert wines, a sparkling wine, and special reserve wines when visiting his Tuscan-style, flag-stone-and-arbor-flanked winery. Lounge at The Bistro over a glass of wine while overlooking the estate.
For a more boutique winery experience, visit nearby Weathervane Winery. You’re liable to get a personal greeting from owner and winemaker Sid Proctor. “Our approach is award winning wines, without the attitude,” says Proctor, 55, who strives to provide a great experience for wine novices and experts alike. Native Sons
NASCAR fans shouldn’t miss Childress’s RCR Racing Museum. Childress partnered with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the original Number 3 race shop has been expanded to feature 47 rare vehicles including 22 Number 3 cars driven by Earnhardt.
Native son Bob Timberlake’s gallery boasts Timberlake designed furniture, rugs, paintings, and home accessories. Don’t be surprised if you see Timberlake chatting with regulars at the coffee shop inside the gallery.After the sun sets, make way for High Rock Outfitters. The hottest club in town features microbrews, local wines, and the best rhythm and blues bands around. www.visitlexingtonnc.com