Food & Drink » Mouthful

Counter Culture

Grab a piece of history - and pie

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During the 1850s, folks could sit at a drugstore counter and order a medicinal drink like cocaine and caffeine to cure a headache. But the US government put the kibosh on that in 1914, so drugstores turned to non-medicinal, carbonated drinks and ice cream floats. As these new counters became popular, other counter places opened. During the 1920s and 1930s, mill workers didn't have time for a leisurely lunch; small counter shops opened so the cook, also usually the owner, could quickly take orders, cook, and serve the food. Soon these counters migrated to discount stores and became the place for shoppers to grab a quick bite.

By the 1970s, however, with the evolution of drive-through fast food places, the lunch counters started disappearing. Locally, for instance, all that's left of the renowned Park Pharmacy and its cold orangeade and grilled pimento cheese sandwiches is the mosaic floor in Salute's. But there are a few places around town serving memorable counter food.

One of the best is The Soda Shop in Davidson. This spot has a timeless quality marked by pictures of local Y teams, Davidson College sports memorabilia, Elvis, and album jackets. The long counter dominates the room and the menu is crowded with gems that will convince you how delicious life can be in a small town: chili, hot dogs, Reubens, tuna melts, club sandwiches, and classic sundaes. The chicken salad lives up to its reputation as being the best sandwich in town and the only way to improve upon their burger is if you were eating off your own grill.

The Soda Shop, 104 South Main Street, Davidson. 704-896-7743.

Pike's Old Fashioned Soda Shop has been a local favorite for years. The menu has been updated, but you can still get outrageous milkshakes and root beer floats. The counter in the SouthEnd has 10 seats and they just opened a new spot in Birkdale.

Pike's Old Fashioned Soda Shop, 1930 Camden Road. 704-372-0092.

The eight counter seats at the Coffee Cup Grill are usually filled with the regulars: bankers, lawyers and construction workers. Among the items on their legendary menu are skillet fried chicken, collards, mac and cheese, and Southern biscuits for lunch; and grits, eggs and sausage (that is, link, liver-mush, bologna or bacon) for breakfast. Animal fat is used heavily, but worth the week-long oatmeal penitence. Save room for the cobbler and banana pudding.

Coffee Cup Grill, 914 South Clarkson Street. 704-375-8855.

Take a step back and hear, "More coffee, honey," at John's Country Kitchen, located in a 100-year-old building in the heart of Plaza-Midwood. The building had been a soda shop and drug store at one time and was located at a trolley stop. The city pulled up the trolley rails in 1992 to put in sidewalks. Now the city plans to put back the trolley tracks. Figures. John's serves pork brains, Neese's sausage, Alexander Virginia ham and country ham, pork chops, livermush, and rib eye steaks for breakfast, and sandwiches, salads and typical blue plate specials for lunch.

John's Country Kitchen, 1518 Central Avenue. 333-9551.

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