By Doc Lawrence –
Many places are called heartland, but few deserve the title more than Shelby, the lovely North Carolina town that gave America some of her greatest music and also helped secure independence from England. Both Country Music Hall of Fame member Don Gibson and Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs were born here and the decisive victory over the British during the Revolutionary War was at nearby King’s Mountain.
Not far from Charlotte but a million miles away it seems from urban sprawl and noise, Shelby was selected by Carl White, the producer/host of the Emmy-nominated TV series “Life in the Carolinas” for a special tribute focused on the history, architecture, music and culinary heritage of its incredibly impressive town square. Four sidewalk-lined streets with tributaries include diverse restaurants, a wine shop, art galleries and stores plus a world-class bookstore.
Apalachicola has oysters, Brunswick Georgia claims a stew and New Orleans is gumbo headquarters. Shelby might trump them all with the local delicacy Liver Mush. “It’s not liverwurst,” said George Rizkallah, owner of the celebrated Shelby Café, a revered family dining place. “It has a distinct texture from ingredients like cornmeal and it comes in loaves that you can slice and eat or fry for a meat with any meal.”
The North Carolina birthplace of country music great Don Gibson and Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs is the epicenter of regional Revolutionary War history that includes the battleground of Kings Mountain. It even has its own favorite delicacy called Liver Mush.
Situated on the foothills of the South Mountains, the area includes Crowder’s Mountain State Park, South Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park with a variety of outdoor activities like bike routes, hiking trails, lakes and rivers.
Cleveland County is home to an assortment of artists from potters to wine makers. Owl’s Eye Vineyard and Winery inspires visions of Napa or Burgundy with lush greenery, smiling faces and a tasting room where guests enjoy classics like Merlot and Chardonnay and Carolina blends that reflect local terroir.
Restaurants mirror the local diversity with a selection of fine dining to popular places found throughout North Carolina. Smoke on the Square has a menu that includes Carolina-style barbecue to gentle dished like goat cheese salad. Ni Fen Bistro, next door to Linda’s Park’s fabulous Fireside Books, is Shelby’s answer to big city gourmet dining. The fried oyster salad (that includes the Chef’s choice of a lagniappe) is truly original and the desserts are loaded with imagination. The wine list is equal to the best restaurants in Charlotte or Atlanta.
Designated as a National Preserve America Community, popular self-guided walking tours of the “Shelby Dynasty” area known as the Central Shelby Historic District provide a sense of the contribution this area made to the forming of North Carolina.
Carl White’s “Life in the Carolinas” is a highly popular Sunday morning television staple on Charlotte’s FOX Carolina and syndicated throughout North and South Carolina. A skilled emcee and veteran producer, White is often compared to the late CBS legend Charles Kuralt. The high quality performances, however, confirmed that he is a Southern version of Garrison Keillor. With performances by pianist and song stylist extraordinaire Jessica Borgnis, Native American duet Chief Joseph RiverWind and wife Laralyn, two Bluegrass bands and gospel songs by Liz Baechel, the evening took on the flavor of “A Prairie Home Companion.”
When prompted by the director, I walked onto the stage and joined the ebullient Mr. White who had warmed the audience with his signature light-hearted humor and charm. “Doc, did you enjoy the Liver Mush?” he asked. I did of course. “What wine world you pair with it?” I replied without hesitation, “Champagne.”
It wasn’t a joke. The art of pairing wine with food is very subjective. But, the conclusion was based on discussions with local cooks and knowledgeable wine authorities. Plus, deep inside, I remembered that Champagne was a near perfect fit with North Carolina barbecue another dish too often consigned to iced tea or beer.
Shelby, a glorious destination, is my choice for a Champagne-level city. The evening with “Life in the Carolinas” earned nothing less than a celebration with a magnum of regal bubbly.