There are so many interesting things to see right under our nose in the great State of North Carolina. A plane ticket isn’t required and many things we can reach in a day and be home to sleep in our own bed. Some call it a staycation but we call it “going to check some cool s*&t out close to home”. One of our favorite things to do is just hop in the car and make some personal discoveries.
A few months back we made the 2.5-hour drive down I40 to Wilmington, NC. Anyone who knows me understands my passion for old maritime cities, so of course Wilmington is right down my alley. One of my favorite features of this city is its old brick roads. The original roads, like most early port cities were built with ballast stones. Ballast stones are rocks that were laid in the keel of an empty vessel so it rides down in the water and rolls less during the treacherous Atlantic crossings (today, large tanks are filled with water for the same purpose). Ships would come into the port of Wilmington and throw their stones from Europe on the dock and load up with raw goods from the new world. Most early seaport cities started using these piles of rocks to build new roads.
By 1900 the uneven stones had fallen from favor and the city began using bricks to pave their streets. The bricks were used until the 1930s when cheap asphalt was the way to go. If you walk around Wilmington you can find sections of brick exposed to show the names of various brick makers up and down the east coast from Catskills, NY to deep-south Alabama. The bricks were meant to lie on their side with the brick maker’s embossed name providing space between each brick but they were laid flat to save money. As the asphalt wears away, more of downtowns bricks are being exposed which adds to the already historic nature of Wilmington.
For Lunch:Mix to Contemporary Latin 5 South Water Street
As we were walking along Water Street, Mixto immediately caught my eye, not because I figured they would have good food but from its looks and location, I knew the building had serious history. A two-story building sitting across the street from the river in an old east coast port city, I knew this building had a story to tell and if we got lucky some good food too. As we walked inside, the old leaning wood floors backed up my assumption. As soon as we sat down and our server came over, I started with the questions. She was pretty knowledgeable about the building’s history and was able to tell us that back in the day it was peanut processing and storage warehouse.
After doing some digging, later I learned that 5 Water Street’s history reached much further than a 19th century peanut warehouse. The vacant lot along the Cape Fear River was owned by John Quince and when he died in 1775 it was passed to his daughter Mary.
In 1851 the Quince Building was built and Martin and Cronly Auctioneers (would later become Cronly and Morris) began operating out of the building. Michael Cronly’s obituary in the February 8th 1898 Wilmington star reads, ” during the civil war the firm disposed at auction an immense amount of merchandise that was brought to the port of Wilmington by blockade runners.” They ran their business there until around 1884. Insurance company maps and city directories of the area show a number of different uses for the property from the late 1800s through the mid 1900s, Commission and Peanut Warehouse, Wholesale Grocery, W.I. Gore and Son Meat Packers, Paints and Hardware Warehouse, Wilmington Towing and Little River Canning Company.
150 years after being built its now where Mixto serves up contemporary Latin cuisine. I can freely recommend going here to take in the history of the building but not if you are looking for excellent authentic tasting latin food, it was fair (unless of course things have changed in the last few months).
What to try: PUPUSA
Two Salvadorian masa cakes, filled with cohja cheese black beans, chicken or beef.
What to do:
Battle Ship USS North Carolina
1 Battleship Rd NE
If you are making the trip to Wilmington you have to stop and see the most highly decorated American Battle ship in the Pacific Theater. It’s amazing to stand on the deck of a ship that survived being torpedoed and kamikaze attacks. You can sit on and go inside the guns that defended our aircraft carriers and troops while beating the Japanese back to Japan island by island. You are free to roam most of the ship and really get an idea what it must have been like serving on this warship during World War II.
Pit stop:White Swan BBQ McGee’s Crossroads Hwy 210 and I40 exit 319
I like to live life unbound of rules but I do have a few core guidelines I like to live by. 1) Never look directly into the sun, simple and self-explanatory. 2) Eyes straight ahead when pissing next to another man at a urinal, even if he says “hey take a look at this” 3) Don’t piss off a Captain or Cook onboard a ship (easier said then done sometimes as you can see here) and 4) Never, Never, Never eat food from the same place people are pumping petroleum products into their car. This rule was further enforced when a former co-worker walked into the office one morning and stated that he had just consumed a hotdog from the BP station down the street. The rest of the day his stomach explained why he should never do that again.
I broke this long-standing rule on our way home from Wilmington when we stopped at exit 319 on McGee’s Crossroad highway to fill up on gas. My first indication that something was going on was the line of cars wrapped around the building leading to a drive thru window. I still paid it no mind and continued watching the numbers change on the pump until over the smell of gasoline I smelled BBQ. I poked my head in the car, “Serena, do you smell that?” to which she replied “gasoline?” “No, I smell BBQ, I think we have to go in there” “Now?” “Yup, now”
After filling up we made our way inside and among the Slim Jims, Cornuts, and Little Debbie Cakes was a small seating area. Behind the counter adjacent to the cigarettes, scratch offs and cheap cigars were all the trappings that make up a good BBQ spot, fried chicken, hush puppies, Brunswick stew etc. we quickly found out why this was the busiest gas station in North Carolina, the food was excellent. We chowed down on some crispy fried chicken, a hotdog, BBQ sandwich, fries (the fries were the only thing not worth writing home about) and potato salad. We hoped back on I-40 full and amazed that we just happened upon a really good BBQ joint at a gas station and a new life rule, ” never judge a BBQ joint by the amount of ethanol in their gasoline”.