Who hasn’t bonked on the trail or during a race at one point or another due to packing too light or throwing together the wrong combination of carbs, protein, and hydration? It’s time to put those days of poor planning behind you with a stop at nine locally owned Gaston County shops ready to amp up your performance—and enjoyment—with food and beverage options for everything from your most nutritious to your most decadent day in the outdoors.
The Most Important Meal of the Day
There’s just no excuse to hit the trail hungry now that Mugshots Coffee and Tea) is open in downtown Belmont. You won’t find a drip coffee machine at Mugshots. Owners Darren Ellis and Reuben Silberman brew their coffee the old-school way. "We do things the way that we feel gives the best extraction," says Darren. “We put the coffee bean on display.”
Both former police officers, Darren and Reuben are embracing the change of pace. "We get to learn people’s names for the right reasons now," Darren says.
An ever-changing selection of coffee beans comes from boutique roaster Mountain Grounds in California. In addition to staples like pour over coffee, espresso, and latte, chai is made daily with a secret blend of ingredients developed in-house. Loose leaf tea and kombucha are on the menu, with blueberry and cinnamon scones and an assortment of muffins fresh out of the oven each morning.
Just up Main St. at Nellie’s Southern Kitchen, the Big Mac-size biscuit sandwiches provide just the right blend of carbs, fat, and protein for hours of calorie-torching exercise. Customer favorites are the bacon, egg, and cheddar and livermush, egg, and cheddar biscuits. A smorgasbord of pastries, from pocket pies to Rice Krispie bars, are baked daily from locally sourced ingredients. All jams and fillings are made from scratch.
Ready to Run
Walk and Run Belmont is the epicenter of Gaston’s running community. Spend five minutes with owner Julie Seligman and you’ll know why. She’s a storehouse of knowledge about local running routes and races. Her individualized approach to sports nutrition is reason enough to stop by on your way to the trail. Julie wants to know you before making product recommendations. Organic, vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free, running, hiking, weight-loss, competition training—she’ll pepper you with questions before making a sale. She stocks an ample variety of protein bars, gels, and other sports nutrition products, including harder-to-find brands like Tailwind and Skratch.
Banish Tasteless Trail Food
Stop by one of Gaston’s markets to top off your pack, dry bag, or cooler with seasonal produce and locally made products to enjoy outdoors or back at home. At the Mount Holly Farmers Market, you can choose from organic, non-GMO produce and meats from nearby farms. Pick up specialty items like sweet potato waffles, goat milk cheesecake and fried apple pies, as well as outdoor essentials like sunscreen and lip balm made from goat’s milk. For that healthy boost of natural sugar in fresh fruit, try the Gastonia Farmers Market, the largest in the county with the best selection of berries, melons, and peaches around.
Pop by The String Bean Market for to-go sandwiches made to order in the adjacent restaurant kitchen. The Mile High Club, layered atop freshly baked Duke’s Bread, is guaranteed to induce trail bliss. The homemade pesto and creamy caramelized onions on The Portabella are the stuff of vegetarian dreams. Part of the fun is mixing and matching local craft brews from The String Bean’s mammoth beer selection, most available in trail-compatible cans.
Indulge a Little
All that activity has earned you the right to indulge, so bring along a bag or two of Tastebuds Popcorn for that sweet or savory treat along the way. More than 120 varieties give you plenty of flavor options, with new and seasonal flavors being launched all the time. Bear crunch, with six kinds of nuts, and loaded baked potato, made with real bacon, combine carbs, fat, salt, and protein in a lightweight, packable snack.
If your plans include an evening by the campfire, you’ll want to make a stop at North Carolina’s oldest rum distillery, Muddy River Distillery. Passionate about their products and dedicated to educating their growing customer base, owners Robbie and Caroline Delaney nurture each and every barrel and bottle from distillation in stills that Robbie built himself.
Robbie recommends the Queen Charlotte’s Reserve for whiskey drinkers. "Using virgin oak and letting it rest one year is what gives it that smooth taste," he says. “The inner layer of that barrel is charred so it’s cleaner going down.” Spiced Carolina Rum is ideal by the campfire. “Spiced rum is our newest product,” he says. “It took us two years to get it right. Spiced rum typically has 20-something spices in it. We have four.” Muddy River also produces Silver Carolina Rum and Coconut Carolina Rum.
Treat Your Furry Friends
Remember that your four-legged trail companion needs nutrition and hydration, too. The folks at Happy Dog Café have your back with lightweight, collapsible water bowls, leashes, harnesses, nutritious treats, and mutt mitts for trail clean-up. For the discerning canine, you can splurge on probiotic yogurt, protein sticks, dehydrated sweet potato fries, and a bakery case full of colorful dog-themed cookies that are baked and decorated in-house.
Because some shops and markets are open seasonally or are closed on certain days of the week, always call ahead and check their website before you stop by. You can even place your order ahead of time. Half the fun is meeting the people behind these cool, local products. They’re ready and waiting to help you make the most of your outdoor adventures in Gaston County.
Originally written for Gaston County Gov.