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October 01, 2019

5 foodie finds off I-95 in North Carolina

Food Johnston County

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Limited - Under the Oak food Johnston County Visitors Bureau/for PhillyVoice

Under the Oak's menu offers creative small plates, house made charcuterie, fresh NC seafood, pasture raised meat and poultry.

A little less than 7 hours south of Philly on I-95, the towns of Johnston County (or JoCo to the locals) invite interstate travelers to take a break from the road and explore the unique and growing food scene right off the highway. Just remember Exit 95 off I-95 to discover the unexpected tastes and traditions that await you beyond the exit ramp. Here are the top 5 places in JoCo to let your foodie flag fly!

1. Enjoy traveling along our BBQ Trail during your visit, with 10 stops and counting. BBQ is a noun here in Eastern North Carolina, not a verb. And BBQ means slow-cooked, pulled-pork, no sauce, just a hint of vinegar. If you’d like to widen your BBQ experience, definitely make time for the Redneck BBQ Lab. Offering traditional pulled pork, but also brisket, turkey, ribs and chicken. The Redneck BBQ Lab is owned and operated by members of the Redneck Scientific competition BBQ team. In 2016, the Kansas City BBQ Society ranked them as the number four team in the nation.

Limited - Redneck BBQ Lab Johnston County Visitors Bureau/for PhillyVoice

Pulled pork at Redneck BBQ Lab

2. The newest restaurant in Downtown Smithfield is just a few miles off I-95, Exit 95. Skip the fast-food joints and check out Under the Oak. Chef and farmer, Blake Gotliffe along with his wife Megan, started Under the Oak Farm in the spring of 2015 in what is essentially their backyard, their endeavor to grow and cook with organic produce grew into a restaurant. Under the Oak is a farm to table, nose to tail, scratch-made kitchen that sources almost entirely from NC. Counter service at lunch offers chef crafted sandwiches, seasonal entrees, salads, and sides. An upscale, full-service dinner menu is available certain days a week with creative small plates, house made charcuterie, fresh NC seafood, pasture raised meat and poultry. Under the Oak makes everything they can from scratch including handmade pastas, bread, and phenomenal pickles.

Limited - Under the Oak Johnston County Visitors Bureau/for PhillyVoice

Buttermilk Pie Blueberries at Under the Oak.

3. For those with a little more time and daring, travel further off the interstate by just 20 minutes and you’ll find yourself in Clayton, NC. A charming town with a vibrant downtown area. Do yourself a favor and try one of the many local restaurants along Main Street, but definitely make plans to have pre or post dinner drinks (maybe both?!) at Revival 1869 – A Drinkery. A sophisticated whiskey & craft cocktail bar in the heart of downtown, where the cocktails are fresh and cool, the jazz is hot, and the whiskey flows. The bar features classic cocktails like the Sazerac and the Hemingway Daiquiri, as well as a seasonal menu with all original cocktails created in-house. All mixes and syrups are crafted in-house as well. Music is also a huge focus at Revival with live jazz music every Saturday night and alternating Thursday nights featuring jazz jam sessions. It’s big city hot jazz in the small-town south.

Limited - Revival 1869 A Drinkery Johnston County Visitors Bureau/for PhillyVoice

A cocktail at Revival 1869 - A Drinkery.

4. Johnston County has quite the history of producing illegal spirits, a heritage today which lays claim to creating the NASCAR industry. Travel along our self-guided craft beverage experience, the JoCo Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail. Sip a glass of wine while sitting in a rocking chair overlooking the vineyards and watch the sun set. Try local brews using sweet potatoes or watermelons from nearby farms, and locally-milled grits. See the corn growing that will be used to make a batch of legal moonshine. Along the trail are regionally celebrated, craft brewers Deep River, Double Barley, and Fainting Goat. For wine lovers try award-winning Hinnant Family Vineyards and picturesque Gregory Vineyards. The trail also includes 2 distilleries. With real wooden barrels, a copper still, and corn growing in the field, Broadslab Distillery crafts an authentic taste from a recipe that is five generations old. Or visit brand new InStill Distillery, making classic white rum with plans to expand.

Limited - Double Barley BrewingJohnston County Visitors Bureau/for PhillyVoice

Craft beer at Double Barley Brewing.

5. Don’t just stay for the day, make a weekend of it all and book the Sip and Stay package which gets you deals at area hotels as well as coupons for eating and drinking your way around JoCo at all the amazing places mentioned in this round-up. It’s the full experience; a wonderful weekend itinerary for couples, craft beer & wine enthusiasts, and visitors that enjoy discovering local foods. The Sip and Stay package can best be enjoyed over a 2-3 day stay. All coupons and offers will be waiting for you on arrival -- in the Sip & Stay Gift Bag!

Limited - Gregory Vineyards porchJohnston County Visitors Bureau/for PhillyVoice

The porch at Gregory Vineyards.

JoCo also has plenty of brand-name shopping at the 80-store Carolina Premium Outlets as well as informative museums like the one dedicated to Ava Gardner – the famous Hollywood star born and raised in the area. Stretch your legs by taking a walk on the Mountains to the Sea Trail that curves along the banks of the Neuse River. With so much to explore, you’ll need more than one day or even one weekend to visit. Make JoCo and its many exits along I-95 a favorite place to stop on your way south or on your way back home to Philly. Don’t Pass Us By! 

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