The Lost South: horses on Main Street, old school barber shops and redneck nachos in Franklinton, N.C.
Not a lot of people are walking down Main Street during a weekday in tiny Franklinton, NC. The town is situated in southern Franklin County and just north of Wake County and about a 40 to 45 minute drive from the booming city of Raleigh. But it might as well be another country. And it remains very, very Southern. One testament to that is the number of pork products on the shelves of one local grocery store, Food Lion. Over by the bacon and sausage are stacks of souse, chitlins, fat back, and scrapple. These old school products are hard to find in Raleigh, though, vestiges of those heady pork product days-gone-by do indeed still remain in parts around the Capitol.
Back in 2000, Franlkinton was home to about 1,175 people. But that number has since been bolstered to over 2,000 with the arrival of the multi-national bio-tech company Novozymes, which employs over 450 people. Despite slow growth and everyone shopping in the nearby town of Wake Forest, there are still a few small businesses keeping busy or at least surviving on the main thoroughfare through town. Though many parts are crumbling and shuttered, and many old historic houses are falling down, there are still jewels and gems of architecture and history.
I went to downtown Franklinton initially to try out the restaurant Johnny’s on Main, known around the county for simple but delicious homemade food. As part of my Carolina burger contest in the Raleigh-Durham area – to find the best chili-cheese-and-slaw burger around, I stopped in to test out their version. I did indeed find an exemplary Carolina burger – and at the same time stumbled on much much more.
There were some other delicious surprises. The “Redneck Nachos” were incredible – flash fried pork skins served hot and still crackling from the fryer, dusted with cayenne pepper, and paired with a side of homemade melted pimento cheese dip. Sweet fancy Moses. It was delicious. The skins cool fast so you gotta eat quick for the full effect. They are still crackling as you munch down on them. Pure Southern heaven. I also tried their fresh macaroni salad – it’s made with large chunks of bread and butter pickles so it’s a great summer side dish.
After that utterly fattening and decadent meal (NOTE: I only ate about a half of each dish!!), I decided that I needed to walk it off a little. I got my iced tea to go and wandered around downtown. I went into an old-school barber shop – Privette’s – where the barbers – James, Tom-Tom, Amp, Nino, and Tri – were hanging out shooting the breeze. There was only one customer at noon time on a Thursday. His name was Jonny. I asked if I could take some photos of them while they worked. Naturally, work stopped and we had a good time as they posed for me. I was hoping to get some shots of them working but having a photographer in the room was just too distracting.
Just after I left, James came outside and called out to me. He said he forgot to mention that they had a beautician, Donna, in the back doing hair and she was royally pissed that he hadn’t told her about me so I went back in to see what Donna was up to. She was happy to have her picture taken. And the guys were happy because they said they would have caught hell all day for her not being included.
I also found a lunch counter in Franklinton’s downtown – called City Lunch Cafe. Very old school – only takes cash and there are giant paper menus taped to the wall. Evidently it has been a staple for hot dogs and breakfast sandwiches in that neck of the woods for decades.
As I headed to my car, I marveled at the wonderful sights and sounds and people I met just meandering down Main Street on my lunch break. And to cap it all off, as I was about to get into my car and head back to Wake Forest I saw someone cruising leisurely down the street on a horse. I love small towns in the South and there are many all around the Raleigh-Durham area worth exploring just for the day. As for the Carolina burger contest? Johnny’s on Main is a strong, strong contender.