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You won’t find a Big Mac or a bucket of the colonel’s chicken around Elm City.
But that doesn’t mean folks go unfed.
Coming in from the south on Elm City Road, the city sign welcomes visitors along with the aroma of french fries wafting from Aggie’s Hot Subs.
If you turn in, the most popular meals are the Philly cheesesteak and the hibachi fried rice.
A few more yards toward town is the Piggly Wiggly where the salad bar and hot dog stand bring in a good crowd.
“It would be a good idea if we put chairs around here because it’s a community center,” said Wayne Blevins, store manager. “Everybody knows everybody, and they just chit chat around the salad bar. It’s a local icon. It’s like a tradition.”
“I come all the way from Wilson to Elm City just for the hot dogs,” said Demetrius Thomas, who eats them all the way with chili, relish, ketchup, mustard and onions.
“Best hot dogs in town. Just the flavor, they are hot and fresh,” Thomas said. “My husband wanted two. Mike (her son) wanted two. I only wanted one because I’m not greedy like them.”
Dena Marino of Black Creek works in Elm City and swears by the salad bar’s freshness.
“It’s the best salad bar ever. It’s perfect for lunch,” Marino said. “I love the crabmeat and the pasta salad. I love the freshness.”
Kenneth Wishop of Tarboro delivers Maola dairy products to the grocery store and always stops to get a salad of lettuce, pineapple, tomatoes, cucumbers and grilled chicken.
But it’s the chicken salad that tops off Wishop’s plate.
“It’s A-plus,” Wishop said. “It’s homemade. I pretty much put that on whatever I’m eating on the salad bar.”
Carolyn Ward of Elm City makes about 80 pounds of the chicken salad each week.
“I really don’t have a secret. I just make the chicken, put all the ingredients together and mix it up,” Ward said. “A lot of people tell me they need to give them the recipe. It’s really popular.”
“People come from all around just to taste our chicken salad,” said Diann Hux.
Hux gets to work at 6 a.m. to prepare the items on the Piggly Wiggly salad bar. She has tried different things and has learned what customers like.
“They want what they want — the staples. Pickled watermelon rind does really well,” Hux said. “It’s just old Southern pickle. It’s an old community. They like stuff like that. I can’t keep watermelon rind pickles in. Everybody says the same thing. ‘My grandmother used to make those.’”
“They are just basic salad bar people,” Hux said. “It’s not rocket science.”
“We get a lot of different state workers doing repairs and stuff. It’s not uncommon for us to have four or five yellow trucks parked out here eating salads,” said Matt Roman, store supervisor.
“I have been in this store and seen them lined up into the meat department.”
If the line gets too long at the salad bar, it might be advisable to jump back into the car and drive across the bridge over the railroad tracks to Oh My Lard Southern Grill for a nice sit-down meal.
Oh My Lard is right in the heart of Elm City at 103 S. Parker St.
Owner Sherry Farmer Bass said the restaurant has many regular customers in for lunch.
“It’s like family,” Bass said. “We know what’s going on. Small-town news.”
“We have people that come from everywhere. They come from Wilson, Rocky Mount, Spring Hope, Pinetops, Macclesfield,” Bass said. “We have burgers, hot dogs, hamburger steaks, pork chops, fish — just about anything you want. It’s all home cooking, fresh good food with Southern hospitality.”
The most popular meal is hamburger steak, mashed potatoes and green beans.
That’s just what waitress Sam Sheedy put in front of Diane Mitchell, who came to Elm City to have lunch with husband Tommy Mitchell.
“We come all the way from Sims to eat here,” she said. “It’s good. They don’t say potatoes. They say taters.”
“The good part is it’s all fresh,” said Tommy Mitchell, who had the fried pork chops. “It’s absolutely delicious.”
Oh My Lard is a popular meeting place in Elm City.
“They come in here and they might see somebody they hadn’t seen in years, and then they will see somebody practically every day,” Bass said. “It’s a good way to stay in touch.”
Diner Paula Garris said it’s important for the town fabric of Elm City to have a central eatery like Oh My Lard.
“It’s good for the community to have a small hometown feel when they go out to eat a meal,” Garris said. “I have seen friends in here that I haven’t seen in a while, so it is nice to run into people.”
Her mother, Judy Garris, agreed.
“I enjoy it very much. Everything’s very good. It’s a good environment,” Garris said. “Good sweets and good food. They make cakes, pies, banana pudding, everything.”
Shannon Darden, a regular customer, said it can be hard to find a seat on Fridays.
“It gets real crowded in here on Fridays for the seafood,” Darden said. “It gets packed like Flo’s Kitchen in Wilson.”
For those not able to get in the door, there are other alternatives. Boogie’s Turkey BBQ opens at 11 a.m. Friday mornings with American fare featuring fresh turkey barbecue, chicken wings, fish or pork rib dinners. hamburgers and hot dogs.