UPDATE: This is so sad. Cafe 71 has closed. Running a restaurant an incredibly hard and very complex business, and involves much more than that cooking delicious food. New businesses usually — I think it may be 75% — fail, and this is an especially hard time, what with inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages. I feel for the good people who put a lot of their hearts into Cafe 71, and wish them well. The pit is still there, and there clearly are folks who can really cook. I hope to hear that a great manager comes forward and reopens this spot.
Welcome to Welcome.
The small unincorporated community best known as the home of Richard Childress Racing and the Dillon brothers, Austin and Ty, the 3 and 13 Camaros, respectively. Welcome sits just north of Lexington, and any barbecue place in Welcome is sure to be overshadowed by Lexington Barbecue #1 and the host of other places that give the name, “Lexington,” to a style of barbecue, much as Memphis and Kansas City. Such was the case with Rick’s Smokehouse in Welcome, a truly fine but unheralded barbecue place — unheralded but really, really good. You can read here about my bless-his-heart embarrassing but delightful discovery of Rick’s (another hat tip to the Barbecue Bros).
Now we turn to the story of love lost and a new love found. I really liked Rick’s, but COVID and the flight from the work force and inflation were too much for Rick’s. The loss of Rick’s was too much for its fans, and Cafe 71 promptly reappeared in Rick’s place under the ownership of Newlan Spears, owner of a local towing company, volunteer firefighter, and amateur barbecuer. Spears’s fire station is # 71. Cafe 71 use the same wood-fired pit and, I think, the same pitmaster.
I was thrilled by the news, and Cafe 71 became Stop #4 on Day 1 of my circuitous January 2023 North Carolina Ride through Hell Recovery Tour. The sign was a beacon.
It was a joy to pull up to the plain storefront and enter.
As you can imagine, the fourth lunch of the day is not the ideal time to have your barbecue judged. It’s still in the barbecue doldrums, around 4:00 pm, when the meat has been sitting and drying out, a least in places where they let the meat sit and dry out. And four barbecue meals within a 3 1/2 hours span can result in jaded taste buds. But you play the hand you’re dealt.
I ordered a small barbecue tray, pork and slaw, and a tray order also means the hushpuppies. (Sometimes, as at the Barbecue Center, they ask if you want hushpuppies or buns, but for me that means hushpuppies.). The tray arrived
with, as you can see, both hushpuppies. Missing from the photo are a couple of bites of barbecue, moist, tender, flavorful barbecue with a solid touch of smoke. I think the rough chop helps to hold moisture, and I’m sure that not letting it sit around helps. The sauce was pretty standard Piedmont — vinegar, pepper, and ketchup — and the same sauce graced the red slaw. Many of you have never tasted red slaw, and all I can say is that you need to head to the North Carolina Piedmont — pretty much any place between Durham and Charlotte, and well beyond, and try some. I really like it. There’s a moderate tang, and it’s invariably crisp, a nice counterpart to the pork. It lightens a meal of pork and hushpuppies beautifully.
The hushpuppies came piping hot with a wonderful crunch to the exterior and a lightly packed interior. There was onion in there in addition to the cornmeal and flour. They’re well above average, and that’s saying something given North Carolina’s very high hushpuppy standards, the highest in the country.
The food at Cafe 71 was excellent, and there was more to the meal than that. The service was prompt and as friendly as can be. And the place has a pleasant atmosphere. My first trip to Rick’s was back in the lockdown days when indoor dining was not allowed, Back in those days I just stuck my head in and took the food back to eat in the front seat of my car. Did I tell you we bought new seat covers? This visit I went inside and saw a nice, roomy seating area and very nice bathrooms. Not Buc-ee’s nice but very nice and very clean.
I sat at a booth up toward the front window, and ended up facing a veteran in the next booth. We struck up a conversation. He regrets leaving the Army before retirement. He seemed to be doing very well, with a house down in Orient, NC, which suggests a thriving business. But there was something else, and we never got deep into that, as strangers don’t, and then the Army was pretty happy to get shed of me, so …. We both moved on, however, and the server gave us each go cups without being asked, and we went on our separate ways.
It was a thoughtful conversation, a valuable conversation of the sort you can get in barbecue places, especially at slow times, and that I really missed during the lockdowns. I cherish these small, very affordable barbecue places. They provide a place where people from various walks of life, various races and backgrounds, and all across the economic spectrum, can mingle and shoot the breeze. There’s too little of that these days.
Go to Cafe 71. Enjoy a great meal and start up a conversation. Give it a chance and you might hear a great story, or meet someone you’ll remember for years, like Joe Champion. At worst, you’ll be well fed and happy.
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3 thoughts on “UPDATE – Cafe 71, Welcome, North Carolina”
You should go check out the new business in Arcadia NC
Called the southern fire pie great food great service and mom and pops place eat BBQ and different plate lunches
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much! Good to know! Next time I’m in the region, I’ll head to Arcadia
I just googled Pop’s Place Arcadia and got a place in Maggie Valley. Is there one in Arcadian now?