Living Here Guide

What to eat, drink and do in Cabarrus County

Kyle Busch starts on the outside of the front row in the Coca-Cola 600, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch starts on the outside of the front row in the Coca-Cola 600, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Cabarrus County can't be pigeonholed. And if you try to – or think you've seen all there is to see here – you could miss out on the area's captivating history, which dates back to the 1790s and gave birth to today's more modern amenities and world-class attractions.

Known as the birthplace of NASCAR, it's also home to the first documented discovery of gold in America and one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the state: Concord Mills. But the area's once-thriving textile industry – cotton was first mass produced here – has morphed into so much more than a motorsports mecca built around Charlotte Motor Speedway and zMax Dragway.

If you're new to town, or if you're just in town for a visit, don't be afraid to ask the ultra-friendly locals for tips and suggestions. Whether you're looking for farm-to-table food and year-round farmers markets, locally-made craft beer and (legally distilled) moonshine, a booming parks system and cutting-edge scientific research, or you just need some adrenaline-inducing entertainment, you'll be hard-pressed to experience all this county has to offer.

Eat

Local 25

25 Union St. N., Concord

New to the county's dining lineup, this locally-owned restaurant with an ever-changing menu serves up daily lunch and dinner specials, has patio seating and a full bar with locally brewed beers on tap. With artful dishes that feature locally-grown produce, and humanely raised meats and seafood from trusted sources throughout the state, it's easier than ever to satisfy your craving from yummy, local food.

Pro tip: Go for the food then stroll through historic downtown Concord or walk through the wonderfully landscaped Memorial Garden.

The Smoke Pit

796 Concord Parkway N., Concord

Known for its award-winning barbecue, this savory den of deliciousness is loved by die-hard barbecue enthusiasts and local critics. Regularly named one of the area's best restaurants since opening in 2014, it serves hundreds of people every day. The Barbecue Bros. say the restaurant serves the best mouth-watering brisket east of The Mississippi and ranks it as the fifth-best BBQ joint in the state.

Pro tip: Order online, or go early, to avoid long waits.

Sunflour Baking Company

5040 NC 49, Harrisburg

Following the success of its two Charlotte-area locations, this locally owned and operated family bakery recently moved north into Cabarrus County. Making everything from scratch, by hand, the owners prides themselves on supporting local vendors and using basic raw ingredients to make a range of fresh desserts, pies and cakes, as well as other authentically delicious baked goods, breakfast sandwiches, muffins and the like.

Pro tip: If you want to send some sweet cupcake love to your friends and family, Sunflour ships its creations nationwide, and it delivers to some locations locally. If you're more of a doughnut person, you must visit Downtown Donuts.

Drink

Lil' Robert's Place

25 Union St. S., Concord

Dozens of high-quality craft beers flow through 20-plus rotating taps at this must-visit watering hole in the heart of downtown Concord. Described by some as a "mellow haunt with a sizable beer menu," it's a hotspot for area food trucks and regular live music events that draw an eclectic, family-friendly crowd.

Pro tip: Touted as a true beer-lovers joint, don't overlook the menu here, or the patio. This isn't your typical bar fare – and it'll fill you up. Try the loaded nachos, or BBQ chicken quesadilla.

The Beer Den

Lowes Foods, 4445 School House Commons, Harrisburg

Believe it or not, beer aficionados: There's plenty of praise-worthy pints to rejoice about here. Tucked away in the corner of the town's grocery store, The Beer Den features some of the finest craft beers on draught, as well as a mix of locally brewed beers and seasonal varieties that rotate through its taps.

Pro tip: If you're a self-described beer snob, or you just want to expand your palate, this is a judgement-free zone, where you can sip samples, gulp it by the glass or take some home in a growler for some more leisurely enjoyment.

Southern Grace Distilleries

130 Dutch Road, Mount Pleasant

A few years ago, Southern Grace Distilleries opened the county's first legal moonshine distillery in the county and the success of its Sun Dog 130 moonshine skyrocketed, winning multiple local, national and international accolades. The distillery has since relocated to a former state prison, where Southern Grace offers regular and private tours of its Whiskey Prison in the day and at night.

Pro tip: If you don't have time to sample the award-winning Sun Dog 130 moonshine, it's available for purchase at local ABC stores.

Cabarrus Brewing

329 McGill Ave. NW, Concord

Cabarrus County's first, full-scale commercial brewery serves up as many beers as it does weekly activities (trivia night, running, yoga and cycling groups, live music) and it gives off a vibe like it's always been a part of the community though its roots have just begun to spread.

Pro tip: High Branch Brewing Co. is right next door, so you can mix up your beer selection and your scenery, at one of the area's more experimental, small-batch brewers. Also check out Twenty-Six Acres Brewing and Red Hill Brewing.

Shop

Lionel Retail Store

6301 Performance Drive, Concord

A few years ago, the 116-year-old toy train maker quietly relocated its world headquarters to Cabarrus County and simultaneously opened The Lionel Retail Store. It's no coincidence Lionel moved here. The retail store also sells official NASCAR die-cast collectibles. Whether you're a novice, or you're an experienced enthusiast, the hands-on environment of the retail shop will bring a smile to the faces of kids of all ages.

Pro tip: Each November, the company opens its 90,000-square-foot warehouse to the public for a killer weekend-long holiday sale – complete with a visit from Santa. Go early for the best selection. Go later if you like to bargain.

The Depot at Gibson Mill

325 McGill Ave. NW, Concord

Known as one of the largest and most popular antique malls in the Southeast, The Depot attracts folks from across the country who want to pick through an array of antiques, furniture and other artifacts from the past.

Pro tip: Not sold? More than 600 dealers stock their booths with one-of-kind items throughout the 88,000-square-foot sales floor. There also are breweries next door.

A banquet of quaint awaits

Cabarrus County has five municipalities, and if you take time to tour the downtowns of Concord, Harrisburg, Kannapolis, Midland or Mount Pleasant, you’ll easily stumble upon a memorable, one-of-a-kind boutique. Start your search at any of these locations:

Afton Village: This charming community just off Interstate 85 boasts a 60-acre park system, a growing selection of restaurants and specialty shops, and it plays host to a weekly farmer’s market and other family-friendly eventslike outdoor concerts and movie nights.

The Painted Owl’s Cottage at Midland: Browse antiques, collectibles, vintage finds, handcrafted items and everything from jewelry, wreaths and rustic signs to painted furniture and reinvented pieces.

Grammy’s Attic: Operating out of two locations in Mount Pleasant, Rene Clark, AKA Grammy, loves to share her passion for all things vintage. She recently turned her love of antiquing into a business of finding, refurbishing, refinishing and restoring furniture. Her bright, sophisticated pieces will wow you.

Do

The Cabarrus County Fair

Cabarrus Arena and Events Center, 4759 N.C. Highway 49, Concord.

Make plans to attend at least one day of this family-friendly, award-winning fair. It takes place each September and includes all sorts of activities, from racing pigs, carnival rides and live music to funnel cakes, fireworks and farm animals. Tickets are $3.25 for everyone 11 and younger, and $7.50 for 12 and older.

Pro tip: You can bring in canned food items for free admission. See website for details.

North Carolina Music Hall of Fame

600 Dale Earnhardt Blvd., Kannapolis.

If you can’t score tickets the annual induction ceremony in the fall, you can visit the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame anytime to see exclusive exhibits that feature Carolina-based artists from every genre and throughout every era of the music industry. With personal outfits, artifacts and memorabilia, you can get an inside look at an impressive range off artists, including the Avett Brothers, Jodeci, Maceo Parker, George Clinton and Earl Scruggs.

Pro tip: With free admission, it’s worth a look around. And it’s part of the Curb Motorsports Museum for Music and Motorsports.

Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau

10099 Weddington Road Ext., Suite 102, Concord

With a team dedicated to showcasing everything Cabarrus County has to offer, the Cabarrus County CVB is your ultimate resource for all things Cabarrus County.

Pro tip: Be sure to ask for a copy of this year’s destination guide, ideas for self-guided tours and coupons to help you save money while you explore.

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