I turned 27 years old on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve adopted a “If you pinch me, I’ll punch you because it’s my birthday” policy this holiday, and along with that, an understood cheat day from any dieting. A major chunk of my family still lives in North Carolina, and a place that’s always been faithful and helpful for get-togethers is Blue Ribbon Diner in Burlington, NC. It’s about two hours east of the mountains, and one and a half hours southwest of where I stay in Louisburg.
I called a little after they opened at 11:00AM and asked if I could make a reservation. The lady on the phone was kind and explained they don’t do reservations, but could likely accommodate up to eight people if we came in at our planned time of 4:00PM.
We all got there literally at the same time and parked in the kind of tight rectangular lot. One of my mom’s good friends showed up who’s known me since I was twelve, so that was a really pleasant surprise. There were seven of us total, and we got seated right away.
It was bright and sunny inside the restaurant, with red neon signs lining the windows and chrome, black, white, and red accents everywhere. The White Stripes would be pleased going to this diner for the color scheme alone. All on the walls were black and white photographs of the local schools’ teams and students from the 1950s and on. It’s a place I’m sure some of the people who are on the wall still show up to eat there, or at least their kids, grandkids, and kin do. I’ve been going there for fifteen years and I’m not even an Alamance County native. My sister’s husband (who is about to turn 40 in May) grew up in Burlington, and his cousin has worked at Blue Ribbon for years. We usually see someone he grew up with there.
I’ve gotten the same thing to eat since I was a kid—a grilled chicken sandwich basket with no tomato and a side of AppleJack sauce. Now, my fiancé has never been there before, so I explained to him that he needs to try the AppleJack sauce. It’s a homemade marinade they use when making chicken that’s kind of like a sweeter honey mustard, but you can also get it on the side as a dipping sauce for your fries, or if you really want to up the ante, they sell it by the pint and you can take it home to use and enjoy for about a week because it’s too good to last long.
Everyone put their orders in and it gave me time to collect myself and listen to the 1950s-1980s music playing overhead. I had a Diet Coke (okay, so I kind of dieted) with no straw because they are part of the anti-straw movement—much props for promoting that in such a small, conservative town. Driving through the rest of the town, I actually saw health foods stores that hadn’t been there before, and I really dig the growth and balance Burlington is putting out there.
The food arrived in two stages, but quickly one right after the other. Everyone was in heaven. I could seriously drink the AppleJack sauce, and could make a meal just with that and the fries (which are endless, so you can request more throughout your meal). But the grilled chicken sandwich was juicy and sweet, the lettuce nice and dark green, and the sesame bread was soft. It made me feel comfortable eating it, not guilty, and I enjoyed every bite of it like I always do.
My sister had made cupcakes and my party people sang Happy Birthday to me. Our server wished me a happy birthday and so did a lady from another table as we were leaving. No one was really shy there, they all treated it like they’ve been there forever, because they probably have.
If you’re traveling through central North Carolina, take the time to feel like a local and eat at Blue Ribbon Diner.