Fuel for Adventure: The Best Food and Trail Parings in Gaston County

A basket of wings and a pint of beer is power food after a run on a nearby trail
A basket of wings and a pint of beer is power food after a run on a nearby trail Rob Glover
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Anchored by stalwarts who have served the county for decades and spiced with newcomers bringing fresh ideas, “grabbing a bite” in Gaston means an eclectic mix of traditional southern and contemporary styles. From the best of southern BBQ to huge buttermilk biscuits covered in country gravy, Gaston County is a destination for anyone seeking true southern comfort food.

And when it’s time to burn off those perfectly battered onion rings, well, Gaston County can help with that as well. There are mountains to climb, trails to bike, and waterways to paddle, so you can enjoy all the fall-off-the-bone ribs you want, guilt free. Here are five restaurant and activity pairings to get you started on your culinary adventure tour of Gaston County.

1. Southern-Style Breakfast and a Shady Trail Run in Lowell

The name says it all. Grits N’ Greens Southern Cuisine is an all day celebration of the way granny used to cook. Country style steak and crispy fried chicken share space on overstuffed plates with mac and cheese and mashed potatoes and gravy.

But for a day of adventuring, you can’t beat fueling up with a hearty Grit’s ‘N Greens breakfast. A house specialty, the Josh’s loaded omelet is three eggs wrapped around sausage, hash browns, grilled onions, and cheese. The Belgian waffle is big enough to serve as a life raft. And big Mike’s breakfast plate (eggs, bacon, sausage, grits or gravy, 2 pancakes, and toast) will stick with even the hardiest hiker all day.

An appetite-building jog

For two miles, the South Fork Trail mirrors the tree-lined bank of its namesake river. Sometimes wide and sometimes singletrack, the mostly flat path is a perfect change of pace from running on neighborhood roads. In the mornings, tall pine and hardwoods harbor songbirds who sing an encouraging soundtrack for your workout. Knowing that a plate of pancakes and freshly brewed coffee awaits is a pretty good motivator as well.

2. A Pint of Beer and a Peaceful Walk in Bessmer City

What do you get with a spacious covered patio, a dozen seasoned wings, and a cold pint of draft beer? A really great evening. Oh, and the Whiskey Mill Bar and Gill in Bessmer City. This laid back neighborhood haunt features live music and a friendly atmosphere to go along with a menu full of well-crafted pub grub.

The burgers are big and come with tons of toppings but it’s the wings that win awards around here. Sold in half or full dozens, they are large and served with a choice of several wet sauces or dry rubs. The chipotle is a great option for a little bit of spice and a smoky flavor that pairs great with a heady beer. Speaking of beer, the list at the Whisky Mill isn’t huge, but there are plenty of seasonally appropriate options to satisfy. And once the Bessemer City Brewery, which shares space with the Mill, re-opens, there will be ultra-local options to sample as well.

Walk it off

Just around the corner and within an easy stroll of the Whiskey Mill is Bessemer City Park Trailhead. This 1.3-mile section of the Carolina Thread Trail is the perfect distance for a comfortable walk with a belly full of beer battered onion rings. Heavily wooded on either side, the trail offers a quick escape into nature after a great meal.

3. A Slice of Americana and a Day on the Lake in Cherryville

Blacks Grill has been serving Cherryville since just after the end of WWII.
Blacks Grill has been serving Cherryville since just after the end of WWII. Rob Glover

Walking into Blacks Grill is a little like entering a diner scene from a 1950’s movie, only in full color. And this is no surprise considering Black’s has been the go-to lunch spot in Cherryville since 1946. Checkerboard flooring and bench-style booths are surrounded by the simplest décor. Friendly waitstaff bring wax-paper lined baskets of chili dogs, crispy fries, and BBQ.

For the hungry adventurer, the double cheeseburger is just the ticket. It’s huge, sloppy, and perfect. Add a side of crispy, fried potato puffs (basically tots) to share. If by some weird reason there’s still room, a slice of coconut cream pie will sort out the rest.

Get Your Hooks on Some Great Gear

You’ll need time for that meal to settle, so spend some time chatting up the good folks at The Great Outdoors just a couple streets from Black’s Grill. The 15,000 square foot shop serves as a home base for many of the area’s best fishermen and women. The knowledgeable staff can help you find the best spots to find elusive bass, and the store stocks everything you need to perfect your carp bait recipe.

4. A Drive-In and a Paddle-Out in Mt. Holly

The Paddle Club at Tailrace Marina has a fleet of kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddleboards ready for an exploration the Catawba.
The Paddle Club at Tailrace Marina has a fleet of kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddleboards ready for an exploration the Catawba. Rob Glover

Expect no frills at the Brightstar Drive-in Grill . Here it’s all about simple comfort food, served quickly, with a smile. The burgers are a great choice and you can get them with chili so you have something for your fries to scoop up. But the chicken sandwich is the surprise on this menu. A favorite of those in-the-know, it’s a hearty size piece of chicken served on Texas-style toast. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for daily specials, making their already reasonable prices even better.

Hit the water

There are plenty of paddling options in Gaston County, but few are more convenient than launching from Tailrace Marina. With a large fleet of rental kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes, the Paddle Club at Tailrace Marina can outfit your adventure on the Catawba River. Float into the quiet tributaries and coves of the wide, easy-going Catawba. Watch overhead for swift osprey and towards the shore for elegant blue heron. The Paddle Club offers group and solo lessons and boat storage, should you need a convenient place to keep your kayak.

5. Surf and Turf in Dallas

Poached, broiled, fried, or sautéed—how do you like your seafood? No matter your preference, Northstar has a dish for you—huge, heaping dishes, actually, filled with sweet shrimp, tender catfish, and stacked with hushpuppies.

Fish camps are an important part of the southern dining experience and the spacious confines of the Northstar Seafood Restaurant have been a Dallas staple for three decades. Local favorites include the perfectly char-broiled flounder and jumbo fried shrimp. If you can’t decide, then it’s the combo plate for you. Come hungry though—generous portions of seafood are matched with fries or baked potatoes and a side of tangy slaw.

Bike the Best Trails

For more than ten miles, the challenging singletrack trails at George Poston Park slice through dense pine and hardwood forest and climb the ridges around Spencer Mountain. Built and maintained by the talented trail guru’s of the Piedmont Area Singletrack Alliance , the ever-growing system is among the best in the area. Five linked loops begin subtly but increase in difficulty, making Poston a great place for any level of rider.

Originally written for Gaston County Gov.

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