Ah! Back to tales of my trip from Washington to the beach at Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina, after special bulletins from Wilber’s and the Captain’s Kitchen. We are now beginning Day 3 of the trip in Wilson, North Carolina. Besides my desire to try Marty’s, I’d spent the night in Wilson so that I could get the famous biscuits at Flo’s the next morning. My cousin Sinclair Griffin told me I had to get the fried tenderloin, and I was loaded for bear.
I rose at a reasonable hour and lingered over coffee to avoid the early morning rush. I then stopped to get some gas (for $1.79 a gallon at the Harris Teeter!). There I met Mr. Warren Pridgen. He noted my DC license tags, which are as good as Alabama football gear for starting conversations. I mentioned that I was planning on going to Flo’s and he told me that they were closed for vacation. I reeled in dismay, but Mr. Pridgen said that I could go to the Oak Level Cafe up near Nashville, only about 20 miles to the north. They have very good biscuits, he said, although he opined that their fried tenderloin is not as good as Flo’s. Now, I had not mentioned fried tenderloin, and the fact that he volunteered the detail is the sort of little detail that reveals expertise.
A great joy of travel, and one of the joys of eating in barbecue places, is meeting people. It was a joy to talk to M.r Pidgen. He’s cheerful, friendly, helpful, and interesting. Talking to him reminded me of a lot of other delightful conversations I’ve had with people I’d never met, such as the one with Mr. Joe Champion at Red Bridges or the man on the airport shuttle who presaged the demise of Bill’s. Just good people, open to strangers, happy to help their fellow human beings. If any of you know him, please send him my regards.
Although I had a lunch date well south of Wilson (stay tuned), after talking to Mr. Pridgen I headed north to the Oak Level Cafe. I’m glad that I did. It’s a small building set off to itself.
The place was busy, even though it was heading toward 10:00 a.m. by the time I got there. The cafe was well organized for social distancing and people wore masks and obeyed the rules. The staff greeted most people by name and knew some regular orders. Things moved quickly, with casual, friendly efficiency. Here’s the menu:
I looked at the absurdly low prices (a small, greasy bacon egg and cheese biscuit at McDonalds will run you four bucks in DC) and ordered a country ham biscuit and a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. Here they are, with my car keys for perspective.
Oh my. Rather large — cat head biscuits. And delicious. The biscuits themselves were good, honest biscuits, the sort of biscuits your South Georgia grandmother used to make with White Lily self-rising flour, only a whole lot larger. The country ham — I love country ham — was excellent, a generous slice of true country ham, salty and packed with flavor. The bacon was first rate, and the egg was a freshly fried egg, not a scoop of scrambled eggs that had been made an hour before. Either biscuit would make a generous and fulfilling breakfast.
If ever there were a place that warranted a detour, the Oak Level Cafe is it. If you’re ever traveling on I-95, you might want to plan to spend the night in Rocky Mount so that you can try the Oak Level Cafe, especially after things open up and you can eat inside. You might get to meet Mr. Pidgen.
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