Sure. I know it’s almost a straight shot on Highway 64 between Raleigh and the Outer Banks. And, yes, I know you’re eager to dip your toes in the Atlantic Ocean. But what about stopping to taste some delectable food and see an incredible art gallery and museum that has risen from an abandoned tobacco factory? Wouldn’t that be a worthwhile use of a few hours?
PLAN YOUR STOP TO COINCIDE WITH LUNCH OR DINNER!!! That’s a very strong suggestion. And head directly to Prime Smokehouse — “Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.” The building, located at 207 E. Thomas St., is a former auto garage. Now, though, the mouthwatering smells of smoked meat will lure you in. The soft jazz and blues are always playing in the background, reminiscent of the owner’s father, Ed Wiley, Jr., a famous jazz saxophonist in the late 40’s/early 50’s, whose records and pictures are displayed along the walls. Even though it is considered to be a casual dining place with stained concrete floors and no tablecloths, the food is authentic and special. Typical Eastern North Carolina barbecue is vinegar-based, but Ed Wiley III learned his smoked meat techniques from his father while living in Texas. Ed III says he doesn’t bother with sauces, but instead he “lets the wood determine the flavor of the meat.”
I sampled the prime beef brisket with collards and a serving of their national award-winning macaroni and cheese with whole-kernel cornbread. Others tried the barbecue beef platter with broccoli and rice, the smoked links, and the orange-ginger yams with a hint of fresh lemon.
The owner’s wife Yalem Kiros is from Ethiopia. We bonded instantly because of our granddaughter who was adopted from that country. How gracious she was to stop by our table and answer dozens of questions. She insisted on serving the guys some of her special Ethiopian coffee and told us about the importance of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony carried out each morning in her native country. The men declared it to be smooth, rich and creamy without any need of adding cream to it. She also wanted us to sample their amazing peach cobbler. It was truly worth the calories.
I definitely recommend the drive from Raleigh/Durham to try this special menu. Check out their beautiful website. See and hear the owner and listen to an excerpt of his father’s music.
TAKE TIME TO VISIT IMPERIAL CENTRE for Arts and Sciences. Originally the Rocky Mount branch of Imperial Tobacco of Great Britain and Ireland Ltd., the Imperial Centre now houses the Rocky Mount Children’s Museum and Science Center, the Rocky Mount Arts Center, the Braswell Memorial Library, and a newly-constructed Theatre. All of this came about by a couple of significant events. One in particular occurred in a single September day when 25% of Rocky Mount was completely flooded. Old buildings that had been used for arts, museum and library purposes were destroyed. A very generous federal grant made the renovation of the giant former tobacco factory possible.
The Imperial Centre also received $1 million from Maria V. Howard, a wealthy fashion designer in the area.
Did you know that Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech was first delivered in Rocky Mount?
Did you know that Buck Leonard, a great baseball player referred to as both “Black Lou Gehrig” and “Black Babe Ruth” was born and died right there in Rocky Mount?
You will enjoy displays about people and so much more when you take time for the Imperial Centre.
Have I convinced you to visit Rocky Mount? I hope so. I’m very glad I did.