Queen City Caffeine Crawl [@CharlotteNC]

I’ve done it before and I’m doing it again – this time on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and this time with a Queen City caffeine theme.

Charlotte, North Carolina has been home for over 2 years now. Since the day I arrived, I’ve been pretty bent on finding the best coffee this place has to offer. Come to think of it, that’s one of my top missions anywhere I go. It’s a close jostle with bookstores. But before going any further with this, let’s get something out of the way. Writer, you ask, is Charlotte known for its coffee? Reader, I say, no it is not! This search has been a difficult one but are they a-changing or what, these times?

I’ve been noticing a slow but sure growth of new places to stop for a cup of coffee in the Queen City. I love the idea of a ridiculous crawl and now felt like as good a time as any to launch the next installment. Café Cake Crawl wasn’t going to work here, so I had to scrap visions of a part two. Of the many coffee places I started to peg as potential stops while researching, none too many featured café cake options. If anything, planning for this yielded a clear North Carolinian distinction between coffee shops and bakeries. Down here those two just don’t mix (are you having that??) and Café Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread Crawl didn’t have the same ring to it.

Let’s get going with this quest for the best caffeination station. The rules: No chains (but local multi-locationers accepted). No additives to the coffee (I drink it black anyways and yes, my teeth do hate me). No to-go cups because I’m not that busy of a woman – substitute in some worry over a personal problem where if it’s served in a mug I will try to drink it before it’s cooled enough and therefore will ruin my t-buds and thus and thenceforth this crawl. Smallest size only, for fear of cardiac arrest (remember this one for later). And last but not least, must sit down to absorb the vibes (as the kids say) for at least 30 minutes in each individual location.

Understood? All aboard? Great. Now, prepare your heads for this second-hand rush.


Trade and Lore

I purposefully chose to kick off with Trade and Lore because the name and photos from Google Maps were extremely intimidating to me. It seemed like the type of place that looks at you like you have 14 heads and they’re so bored of seeing people with 14 heads so kindly stop breathing their air and go sit in the corner uncomfortably until your coffee is ready, but not announced, so it’s actually been sitting at the counter for a few minutes and was mistakenly picked up then put back down by two other customers before you apprehensively stood up and went to go get it. You know what I’m talking about? Good, because Trade and Lore is nothing like that type of place.

Trade and Lore is upstairs above a NoDa Brewery, Salud, and the space feels exactly like that. It actually went so far as to remind me of some of my favorite spots in New York City. Except instead of astral ambient electro synth, they were playing some tracks in the stride of ‘All Because of You’ by Rise Against. My new preferred way to kick off 8am. The entrance was a little tricky to find so I ended up walking around the block (a fault entirely of my own, I can confirm that there was in fact signage) before climbing to the top of some cool looking stairs that led into a cool looking second floor which I guess I’d describe as a really, really cool looking den? When I thought the thought that I was glad it felt hidden and protected and wasn’t a more obvious in-your-face glass storefront, I realized that I was becoming too annoying for my own good.

I give this coffee a rage against that espresso machine out of 10.

Basal Coffee

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I’m obsessed with the floors here. Also pretty much everything else about here. Confession: never knew this place existed. Never knew it was even about to exist, but allow me to introduce you to yet another fault entirely and all the way of my own. Basal Coffee opened back in March of this year, further emphasizing my point that the Queen City coffee scene is positively blooming (that… are you having that??). The biggest difference I noticed was that where other spots have waited until 100% to open their doors to the community, Basal opened with the minimalist necessities and so many exciting growth plans to share with their customers. I know this because the owner happened to be behind the counter while I was there and gave me a very passionate summary of what’s to come (Block parties! Coffee block parties! Do you hear the people sing?). It’s really cool that our community is going to get to go through this journey alongside the employees and owners of Basal. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something about opening a place like this of my own some day (Hopes? Dreams? Is that you? How are the children?).

My Colombia pour over (pourover? pour-over? Pour Over? poor over!) was a presentation and a half. Coffee is taken seriously here. Not pretentious seriously, but you can tell that they love it like one of the family. People were coming in all morning describing the tastes and styles that they were looking for and the guys behind the bar weren’t disappointing. I must find out exactly what type of Colombian coffee this was because it was delicious.

I give this coffee a best pour over I’ve ever had in my quarter century of a life no seriously I’m equal parts floored and amazed and also stunned but mostly thankful out of 10.

Not Just Coffee

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Quite a few of my young millennial friends have social-media’d about this place and a new Charlotte city limits location seems to appear every other month so I figured it was time for me to jump on in. The Not Just Coffee spot in Atherton Mill was fine. It wasn’t exactly my scene, if I’m being entirely honest. It is literally situated in the middle open space corridor of a modernized mill. My personal feeling is that a little more greenery could have enhanced the space to feel less pop-up industrial but I think that might actually be what they’re going for here?

Unfortunately my no to-go cups rule was broken at NJC but it didn’t seem like they had any of the capabilities to deal with dishes so I get it. It also didn’t seem like anyone was coming here for that? Of the short time I spent sitting and watching, most of the people cycling through were intentionally picking up something to leave with or they were bringing in their lunches and getting a cup of coffee to go with it, then back out and on with their lives. Given its growth, Not Just Coffee is clearly great for the citizens of Charlotte, but it’s just not the coffee for Cass.

I give this coffee a paper cups for paper people out of 10.

Queen City Grounds

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Absolutely without a doubt couldn’t leave Queen City Grounds off the crawl, could I? Again, I judged by Google Maps images. I searched coffee, this place popped up, and I audibly groaned because I wanted to stay out of Uptown and, to be honest, it didn’t look super inviting from the photos. Let me say, completely different impression when I walked through the doors. Energy levels were great for an early afternoon. People were sitting and chatting or working away on laptops. Hanging plants! Off of an open loft area! Now we’re talking, this was a vibe.

On the way here I had to make a stop for french fries as a last-ditch effort to build up a liner because at this point the caffeine on the empty stomach was really starting to buzz directly to the tips of all ten fingers. I know, I’m dumb, I know. We’ll speak about that later. I went for a Guatemalan drip brew by the name of Finca Los Chorros. No idea what that means but it was really good. At this point I was really devolving into preserving the integrity of the crawl and not so much focusing on enjoying what I was drinking. When I ordered, the barista behind the counter was super energetic and friendly which made a lot of sense for someone working in a roastery surrounded by coffee shakes, rattles, and rolls all day. A few short minutes into sipping on this, the foot tapping had begun.

I give this coffee an I imagine this is what lightly smoldered firewood tastes like and I’m super into it apparently? out of 10.

Central Coffee Company

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My neighborhood favorite. Had to add Central Coffee Company even though it’s not a new find like the others on this crawl, mostly because I wanted it as a control group. Really didn’t need it, but wanted it. By the time I got here, it began to feel as if all of the coffee in my system had made itself a body-sized reservoir in between the epidermis and hypodermis layers of my skin. A jitter that hadn’t quite taken over my body yet but was definitely enough to make me feel extremely… weird. Ever feel like that? No? Huh.

I love coming to Central in South End first thing in the morning because it’s extremely well-positioned for natural sunlight in the early AM. I bring my tree encyclopedia to veg out for a bit with a to-here, then pick up a to-go for the trek (read: barely half-mile stroll) home to start the rest of my day. Central also has the best weekend hours of any coffee place in Charlotte. Fact. On this trip I tried a Papua New Guinea Kange brew, but there is one particular light roast that I’ve had here a handful of times and it’s the best light roast I’ve ever experienced and it kills me that I don’t know what it is. The flavor profile (if that is its real name) reminds me of crispy birch bark with a hint of toasted marshmallows (don’t ask). I’ll never be able to make it at home though because, fun fact alert, I am terribly horrible at making coffee myself. Seriously. Can’t work out the “mathematics” of it. And people have tried to help. Save yourselves.

I give this coffee a central to my mental and emotional comfort company out of 10.

Undercurrent Coffee

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When I was living in the Plaza Midwood area, I used to drive by this place and anxiously await the day when the “Coming Soon!” signs would be replaced by “Now Open!” signs. Undercurrent Coffee reminds me of exactly what it is: a house that was converted into a coffee shop. It’s refreshing to be in a place that offers multiple brew styles to their customers sans pretension and judgement. I don’t know where it is that hurt me to expect that type of vibe from every coffee place I go into now, but I’m delighted that the Queen City has wrecking-balled that into a very friendly and welcoming dust of nothing.

The ladies and man behind the counter here are phenomenal. They honestly make the place. They make it feel like Undercurrent actually wants you to learn how to appreciate coffee. It doesn’t expect you to walk in the door as a master roaster with a world class palate. They’ll help you figure out what you want (they quite literally offer classes) and “I think I like things that are light and woodsy and kind of taste like caramel” was sufficient for them to make a recommendation and for all of us to move on with our day. Related to vibes, the man and woman sitting next to me were practicing tarot while I worked on writing this – making me feel right at witchy home. The playlist was set to a roll of the “rock and” persuasion but at one point the Kate Bush classic “Wuthering Heights” came on… I just about internally strangled myself to prevent a cry laughing scene. Do yourself all the favors and watch that music video.

I give this coffee a HEATHCLIFF out of 10.


As with the cake crawl… I did not feel great at the end of this! Shocking!

In fact, I sincerely discourage anyone from trying this if you’re not extremely in touch with your caffeine intake limits. Seriously, for health and safety and well-being purposes do not do this. On a normal day I usually drink anywhere from 2 to 4 disturbingly large coffees so I figured I could handle 6 small ones but I was duped, my friends! Firstly because hardly anyone served me in sizes that I would describe as anything other than full. Out went the “small only” rule.

Secondly because it was a lot of caffeine in not a lot of time. This whole crawl took me around seven hours to complete. When I reached the last few stops, I was able to recognize the signs that enough was enough. In fact, I even went so far as to fear caffeine overdose because I’m the Queen of Internet Diagnoses. In all seriousness, the mild chest pain and twitchy shoulders insisted that I not finish the last few sips of some cups. I love coffee, I do, but I love it because I enjoy it. At the end of the day, this started becoming very not enjoyable.

I’m an idiot, I know, but as Eddie Vedder once said, I’m still alive.

Follies & Fixations: July 2017

Yikes, when was the last time we did a Follies & Fixations around here? Unfortunately for all of us, I’ve been running a little low on Follies lately. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of Fixations to share. Time to bring back an old favorite. Read on.

Morning Fog Candle

I’ve mentioned these folks before in a previous Follies & Fixations post, but left out the bit about my obsession. We did a case study on United By Blue in college and they’ve been one of the few brand names that have stuck with me over the years. They’re amazing. Please go check out all of the incredible work that they do and then come back to this. Also follow their insta, as the kids say, for a LOT of wanderlust (not sponsored, just wishing my life was lived through their lens).

Back? Great. This candle was a recent purchase that I was very worried about. I generally don’t trust ordering candles online if I haven’t in-person scent tested them first but ‘Morning Fog’ just sounded so intriguing! “This soy wax candle has a fresh, earthy scent with hints of dewy moss.” Confirmed. Everything it was cracked up to be and more. Now, please join me in patiently waiting for the Pine Tree Hat to not be sold out anymore because, ouch UBB, break my heart wide open. This is why people impulse shop. Take it from me: do not just think about it for literal months because it’ll pull a Dan Stevens and SELL OUT.

Arrival (2016)

Okay, so, this movie has been out there in the world for a while now. It’s been positively ingrained in my brain (crazy insane, got no brain! … no?) and I just can’t get it out of my life. However, I’ve been very distressed to find that not many people I know have seen it. Visually, it was wondrous. Storywise? Wondrous. Scorewise? Wondrous. Similar to Pacific Rim (another film I highly suggest seeing if you haven’t), the promotions and trailers really didn’t do the story justice. Whatever you think it’s about, I promise you that it holds so much more. So many emotions. I sobbed my eyes out for over half an hour in the theater parking lot after the first time I saw it. Please do yourself and myself and every self there is a favor and watch Arrival.

Rainier Galvanized Bar Cart

The recent move (yes, that happened) has led to quite a few new furniture acquisitions for Casa del Cass. Let me tell you, this bar cart and I had quite the flirtation. I saw it online one day and couldn’t get a feel for it. Weeks passed, and when I finally decided that I wanted it I dragged my entire family to the mall only to find that it was sold out! Another Pottery Barn location apparently had one left in stock, but she-wants-it-not struck hard so we went back home and I resolved I’d find another in the future. Fast forward to the next day and it was back in my heart’s desired. In the car we piled and hark! What happiness was achieved wheeling this galvanized beauty into the pre-designated bar corner of my living room and piling it high with bottles of this, that, and the third (not so high, any friends who would like to send me belated housewarming gifts should see below for suggestions). This is such a Southern-aesthetic piece and quite a cost-effective alternative to the gilded gold glass carts currently in fashion elsewhere. Add some terra cotta plant pots and you’re in business, baby.

Scotch

Your girl has recently begun her slow emergence into the whirled wide web of Scotch. By which I mean that a few years back I submerged myself into some bourbon and haven’t looked back since. Every now and then I’ll try a whisk(e)y (aside: one time my best friend made me try a Japanese whisky and wow, did I hate it a lot… tears of hatred level, a lot) but currently my eyes are on this highlander heritage prize. I want to get good at Scotch. I want to just like Scotch, full stop. So here we are. My first big-girl-,-bottle-of-my-own foray was into Glenkinchie (that’s definitely not the way to hyphenate, Cassie, you menace):

My review: “Tastes like wood with a hint of soap.”

My best friend’s review: “A slight cheerio taste on the palate and a swift kick to the windpipe on the swallow.”

Basically, we love it?

Visitors to the Queen (and her) City

Now that I no longer hate my apartment, it’s been quite the treat having friends and family by to visit! In the past few weeks both of my best friends have come down to the Queen City, one for the millionth time and one for the first time. Also my brother, sister, mother, and grandmother – yes, all 4 at one time and yes, all 4 staying with me in my one bedroom apartment. Even though Charlotte has never felt like a permanent home to me, I’m thankful that it has been so kind in the interim and that I get to share all of that kindness with friends and family. Can I entice you to come visit? That bar cart of mine has recently gotten its own guestbook (thanks to a friend’s suggestion) so come on over and let me make you a drink and then you can write about how awful it is and think about how you wish you never had it and warn others to beware and come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide! Oops, I broke me again.

“The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben

The second page of the Foreword. That was how long it took for this book to make me cry. Usually I save all of my bibliove for specifically designated posts, but I couldn’t help myself with this one. A recent search for a tree species guidebook (we’ll get into reasons for that in a different post on this site some day, I’m sure) led me to this bestseller about, well, the hidden life of trees. When my family came to visit I teared up just describing what I learned from the first few chapters and my sister, who rarely reads, felt compelled to rush out and get a copy for herself. It’s such a beautiful read, please join us! And then also become friends with me on Goodreads and let me know what you thought about it.

Tuneage

It’s been absolute ages since I made you all a playlist, hasn’t it?? No theme this time around, just some recently discovered tunes that I’ve been listening to lately. Enjoy.

Learn Stuff: 10 Tips for Making Moves

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Next weekend marks the one year anniversary of my move down from Rhode Island to North Carolina. Can you believe it!? I cannot, and yet here we are. I’ve been thinking back on the past year of life I’ve lived down here in the Tar Heel state (fun fact: still no idea what a “Tar Heel” is) and let’s get one thing straight. Making moves is not easy. Especially when you’re moving to a place that you’ve never been to before, where you know no one, and you’re starting off on a brand new chapter of your begrudgingly “adult” life.

Let’s just say I learned some things. Things like vampire teeth bottle openers are a necessity in every modern home. Things that I would like to share with you in the event that you are thinking of making moves of your own. Enjoy.


1. VISIT

Do not search for apartments from the screen of a computer, way across the Atlantic, while sitting at a desk in a house on the Emerald Isle. Not my most brilliant idea because, shocker, I hated my first apartment here in Charlotte. Even though I hadn’t seen it before I moved in, I happen to be pretty… let’s call it unaffected (when I looked up synonyms for that I found ‘unsophisticated’ which also works) when it comes to stuff like this, so I knew I could make it work for the length of the lease. Understandable that everyone is not like that, so my advice is take a flight to the place you’re thinking of moving towards. Rent a car, get out there in the neighborhoods, and get away from the tourist attractions of the city / town. If you move there you will not be a tourist, you will be a resident. Go see where you want to reside. With your actual eyeballs.

2. Keep an open mind 

When I was first looking for apartments (again, stupidly from afar) I was convinced that I needed an outdoor patio and a fireplace. There was a compromise on the fireplace but I was still completely unwilling to budge on the outdoor space. Which then led me to spend an entire year never once using said space because I hated my surroundings, so, refer to #1… then also remember that the things you think you are dead set in need of you probably aren’t. Scope out all sorts of arrangements from your wish list and go with the place that gives you the best vibe. It might be the one you expect to like the least but you’ll never know if you don’t keep an open mind about the whole thing.

3. Clean first, move boxes later

When you finally find your dream dwelling and moving day comes around, take your time. Let the moving trucks idle for a few minutes. I know, this can be difficult, but trust me. Pick up your keys and walk into the place. Look around, see what the layout is like, if everything is prepped and ready for you to really immerse yourself and your boxes and boxes of useless belongings (no one needs that many mixing bowls, NO ONE) into it. If the guys who gave the place a fresh coat of paint weren’t so careful about leaving their shoes at the door, give the floor a quick mop down (or Swiffer if you’re not fully embracing that adulthood thing yet) before you start bringing everything in. Take the time to prep the place before you start the fun parts of unpacking. You don’t want to clean at the same time, trust me. I did that with my first apartment and it was miserable.

4. Don’t rush through it all

This goes for unpacking the old and purchasing the new. There is no race to unpack. Take your time, look at the things you’re moving in, and see if any slipped through the first round of “spring cleaning.” Put them places with a purpose. If something seems to have no place, and you’re stressing about where to shove it off to (because the hall closet is somehow already miraculously full with your two costume bags which you simply cannot downsize in any way), maybe just chuck it out. I am the QUEEN of holding on to things. I genuinely still have an old acorn in my possession from… no less than 6 years ago. Couldn’t tell you where or why or any semblance of significance but it moves with me everywhere.

I also happen to be the Queen of impulse buys, a woman of many talents. I see something or think about something that I want and it becomes a need to have it as soon as possible. Don’t be like me. Think about that children’s train rug from Ikea before you buy it. Give yourself a week or two or four to really think on the new things that you want to purchase. Then come back and see if they’re still in your head and if so, no one will stop you from buying them. Hopefully no one will stop you anyways because I assume you are an adult and are capable of making your own decisions, but you get the picture. I will not practice what I preach so be a doll and do it for me.

5. Get used to new creatures

Especially if you move down to the South. Let me tell you, this little Northerner had never seen bugs until she moved to the other side of the Mason-Dixon. There were a lot of new creatures I had to become accustomed to and… you know, I’m still not fully there but I’m doing alright for myself. And I have decent friends who will kill things for me when I ask them to… with tears in my eyes. Just accept that this is a new part of the culture, wherever you go. There will be new animals and critters to get used to. I believe in you.

6. Don’t let everyone scare you

You’ve never met My Nana but let me tell you, a more terrifyingly superstitious tiny Scottish woman you never did see. My first month down here she sent me a care package comprised of one little newspaper clipping. The harbinger herself sent me an article about a brain-eating amoeba that was found at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte. Other people I knew warned me against certain parts of my new town and tried to repress the habits I’ve cultivated growing up in a close-knit Rhode Island city. There is danger out there in the world in every place, city or small town. Not trying to get too deep into that rabbit hole, and I’m not saying to trust every stranger you encounter, but know that it’s not healthy to let every little panicky Patricia out there get into the core of your livelihood when you’re moving to a new place. Just be smart about yourself.

7. You are much tougher than you think you are

Two weeks. That was how long it took before I had a complete mental breakdown, sitting alone on top of my bed in the early morning hot summer air, with about two months left before I started work, realizing that I just wanted to go back home. It was really hard to be in a place where I knew absolutely no one and at the same time, I knew that I had done this to myself. I wanted this! I wanted a change and a new area and I knew that came at the cost of friends and family nearby. I had to remind myself that I had never experienced a new place before where I had gone the whole duration without meeting anyone (and Charlotte has been no different – I’m very thankful to have met all sorts of wonderful and interesting humans, a few of which I get to call my friends). That reminder didn’t come to mind very quickly, and it didn’t make things any easier to deal with for a while. It probably took me a good month or two before I came to terms with the fact that I’m a tough cookie. I can stick it. But tough cookies still get homesick and that’s okay. You will get through it, even though you might not think so.

8. Find routines

Anyone else a big routine person? A planner person? A, I believe what they call us is, “type A” person? Part of what helped me get acclimated to my new city and my new life is the Sunday morning routine I’ve built for myself. I love going for drives with the windows down in this Southern swelter, so on Sunday mornings just before 10am I hop in the car and hit the road for a 20-25 minute-ish trip down to one of my favorite coffee spots. I turn on NPR’s Car Talk (shoutout to my best friend’s mom for getting me into that one) and laugh along with the radio as I cruise there and back for my caffeine fix. It’s an hour of my time, in all honesty, that has kept me sane. It’s something that I look forward to every weekend and it’s a routine that’s helped me adjust to my hectic work-life down here. Highly recommend getting something similar for your own.

9. Know your space

Whether it’s a walking city like Boston or a driving city like Charlotte or a small town in, I don’t know, wherever you’re going with a small town, get out there and know your space. I pride myself (on many things, but on this in particular) on knowing how to navigate most of the bottom half of Charlotte without a map. Queen of the (yeah, one more) backroads… in my own heart and mind. When I first moved down here I experienced getting myself lost a few times and eventually finding my way home. Figure out where your favorite stores are, where the best coffee place is, what routes to take when your usual cut-through is blocked off for a 5k. It makes you feel really good about yourself and like you’re actually getting a bit more settled. Sidenote: my uncle is one of those guys who can tell you directions for literally 99% of the country (“85 has a lot of traffic? Just hop on 49 to 77 to breaker breaker 1-9” etc. etc.) and I aspire to be that so this helps.

10. Receive change

Refer to the above, god knows how many times, when I mentioned some form of my stubbornness. Charlotte has never been on my radar as a forever home. When I moved down here I was convinced that I was going to absolutely love my first apartment and live in it for the few years that I stayed down here. I thought my trusty little blue VW would get me through those next few years. I thought work would have me traveling all over the country and I’d never get to know this fair city. I thought I would keep to myself and make 0 friends. What I’m getting at here is that, basically, I thought a lot of things and very few of them have held true. Yeah, guys, I made friends.

In March my best friend came down to visit and as I told her my woes of having to start the new car search process, she voiced the very core of my fears out loud. Change happens. Plans get deviated from and that’s okay! In my head, it was everything but okay. I had all of this figured out, it was step by step, cookie cutter. And now, merely a year later, almost everything has changed from what I expected. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: don’t fight that. I did, until I realized I can’t. Receive the changes that happen in your life. Tell yourself what I tell myself:

It will all be a-okay, Jack.

 

Voyages: Hickory & Blowing Rock [@NorthCarolina]

Last weekend I had a hankering to get away from the city. My usual preference would be to go to the ocean but that trip is more of a commitment down here so the second best choice was to get up into the mountains.

Are you ready for the tale of another hysterical attempt at my navigating myself sans GPS? Good, because I’ve shown up to tell it. Like the journey up to Kancamagus, I wanted to try my hand at navigating this one with only a general idea of where I was going – a reliance on road signs, if you will. The excitement of that only lasted about an hour until I decided to take a quick peak at my Google Maps location to make sure I was on the right track. Yeah, sure, the road looked right, but the direction looked oh so wrong. For a second I had myself a bit of a panic over the idea of spending the day in South Carolina instead of the Appalachians, but much like my destination, that blew over once I figured out my phone was showing me the map flipped upside-down.

Deep breath, hearty laugh, and away I went.


Hickory, NC

First stop. The town was absolutely Saturday morning silent when I arrived. It took a few drives around the block to orient myself, but once I found a parking space I hopped out of the car on a mission for good coffee. Don’t ask me how the “city” of Hickory made it onto my list of North Carolina locals in the first place, it just did. And the only real research I did on it was for coffee shops so here we are.

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Taste Full Beans is clearly the spot in Hickory. A hugely expansive menu greeted me from the back wall and the baked goods arranged along the counter drew me closer, but I had my eyes on the prize: the two wonderfully friendly young women who I knew were my gateway to the good stuff. They laughed as I confided that the menu overwhelmed me and all I wanted was the largest cup of coffee they were legally allowed to give me. A small selection of options lined the counter to the right and I went with a blend called “Dark Bliss.” If you know me at all, I shouldn’t have to explain why.

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As I settled in to a comfy chair-coffee table-couch setup, my tunnel vision now dissolved thanks to the achievement of my coffee getting goal, I took a look around. The best part of local cafes is the local culture support. Art available for purchase lined every wall, fliers were at the counter or on the tables with information about more goings-on, and one man was even chatting with the women behind the counter about some local theater productions. This is my favorite part of small towns! I desperately wished I could have become a more habitual customer, but I’ll settle for making Taste Full my passing through Hickory haunt.

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As I continued to drain my super large cup of coffee in record time, I noticed the magazines stacked on the coffee table in front of me. A dozen issues of Rolling Stone and a Wall Street Journal magazine with Meryl Streep on the cover. My visit was starting to feel eerily fated.

Another note on the general vibe of this place. The setup to my note is that playlists are huge to me, and that goes for pretty much any place I go. A restaurant, a cafe, a clothing store, anywhere. A good playlist gives me validation that I’m actually supposed to be there, that I made a good choice. So my note about Taste Full’s music comes in two parts: an excellent Fields of Gold cover and the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. Game over.

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Caffeinated and satiated, I trekked back around the corner to my car to continue on my voyage North-Westerly. Right across the street from my parking spot was this attractively aesthetic Carolina Theater which I didn’t even notice upon arrival! Thankful I did before departure because look how freaking pretty!

Blowing Rock, NC

Next stop was Blowing Rock and again, do not ask me how I got it in my head to visit this place. I just did, okay?

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Since Blowing Rock is more situated on the edge of the mountains, the scenic route happens pretty quickly. The highway starts to wind you upwards and suddenly the roads are narrowing (partly from construction, partly from actual nature). Then all of a sudden you round a corner and a huge sign pops up pointing you in the direction of the town-namesake: THE Blowing Rock.

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The legend of this location is 80% of what drew me to it in the first place. I’m a sucker for romantic history, especially when it includes a little bit of fantastic occurrences. The other 20%? The temperature cool down. It was mid-70s when I arrived at high noon. A wonderfully pleasant experience compared to the high-90s I left behind.

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The Blowing Rock itself was quite literally just a big slab of rock jutting out from the side of the mountain. I climbed up to the top pretty confidently but the wind made me immediately sit right the heck down for fear of getting pushed over the edge.

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It was indescribably cool to look out and imagine a young woman probably younger than myself sitting in the exact same place before the mountains and valleys below, spotting the love of her life wandering the wilderness. Too sappy? Okay, I’ll rugged it up a little bit. Imagine how good of a shot she must have been to make her arrow navigate the wind and get close enough to attract the attention of that guy.

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In all honesty, I could have sat up there in the breeze of the mountains all day. The fresh air felt so good and the scene before me so relaxing. Unfortunately it was time to get back on the road, but I made a vow to come back and visit the mountains again soon.

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Believe me when I say that I’ve got a list a mile long of places to go and things to do in North Carolina, but please do let me know any recommendations of yours! I’m gonna have to get to know this state at some point or another and I might as well start with the good stuff.