Mission impossible: finding open restaurants on Sunday

July 12, 2000|By ROB KASPER

GREENSBORO, N.C. - You know you are in the South when the iced tea automatically comes with sugar. You know you are in the South when you drive up to a barbecue emporium and see a big stack of wood out back. And you know you are in the South when restaurants close on Sunday.

I was reminded of this on a recent Sunday when I rolled into the parking lot of Stamey's Barbecue on High Point Road across from the Greensboro Coliseum. I had a hankering for a minced pork sandwich, the kind I had wolfed down, along with sweet iced tea, during my first visit to Stamey's the day before.

I had been impressed with the smooth taste of pork shoulder cooked over hickory coals. The flavor of the hickory was faint, yet it was there, helping the pork along. Then there was the slaw, a coarse, tangy type made with vinegar and coarse-cut cabbage, and served inside the sandwich. I wasn't sure how I felt about the slaw. I needed another sandwich or two to make up my mind.

Once I got in the parking lot, I glanced at the mound of hickory wood piled near the restaurant. That was reassuring. Real barbecue is cooked over wood, not gas. But I also quickly sensed that something was wrong. There were no cars in the parking lot. I checked the dashboard clock. It read 1:15. Maybe, I told myself, the restaurant opened later, say 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

No such luck. When I got out of the car and hurried to the restaurant door, I saw the posted hours of operation. The restaurant was closed on Sunday.

This stunned me, because I come from the heathen North, where Sunday is a big business day and almost every restaurant stays open. But I was in the South, and here, I reminded myself, some folks abide by the biblical advice to rest on the seventh day.

Later, Chip Stamey, the third generation of the Stamey family to run the restaurant, told me that the Sunday closing is not simply a religious issue. It is tradition. "My grandfather always said, `If you can't do it in six days, you can't get it done in seven,' " he said, adding, "We need a day off."

Still craving barbecued pork, I hotfooted it over to another barbecue joint, Country Bar- B-Que, which I spotted on West Wendover Avenue, not far from the motel where I was staying. Once again, when I wheeled into the parking lot, I didn't see any cars. Fearing the worst, I rolled around to the restaurant's drive-through window. Nobody was there. The joint was closed up tight.

By now, my stomach was grumbling and my standards were dropping. Usually, I avoid fast food, but in these circumstances, I was willing to try a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, a seasoned hunk of chicken fillet cooked in a pressure cooker. The chain grew from a small restaurant in the Atlanta area. Now Chick-Fil-A restaurants cover the South like kudzu.

My 15-year-old kid and one of his teammates on a baseball team, which had traveled to Greensboro to play in a tournament, had sampled the sandwiches earlier in our stay and told me they were "pretty good."

The Chick-Fil-A restaurant also was close. Once again, I wheeled into a parking lot. This time I pulled to the drive-through squawk box to order a sandwich. I squawked and squawked, but no one responded. Even this franchise-style restaurant was buttoned up on Sunday. It turns out it is corporate policy to close all 850 Chick-Fil-A restaurants on the Sabbath.

Where, I wondered, did Southerners eat on Sunday, other than at Mama's house. Eventually, I found an answer - the local cafeteria.

I noticed that the parking lot of the K & W Cafeteria on Big Tree Way was full of cars. K &W, I learned later, operates cafeterias in four states, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia.

Inside, families dressed as if they had just been to church strolled along a serving line picking their Sunday dinners from an impressive array of dishes, including fried fish, chicken livers and chicken-fried steak.

I eyed them all before making my selection, fried chicken. I had to wait for about five minutes for a batch of chicken to emerge, fresh from the fryer. While waiting, I peeked into the kitchen and saw that a crucial component of real fried chicken - really hot oil - was in place.

So after getting shut out at three Greensboro restaurants, this visitor from the North had fried chicken on Sunday. You can't get more Southern than that.

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