17 Hours in Pittsboro (Plus The Outposts)
(By Corbie Hill)
It’s 6:00 a.m., and the sun has just risen. The pines are shrouded in fog, and nobody is on the roads. I drink my first cup of coffee at home while I lace up my shoes. I take my time, because that is authentically possible in Pittsboro. There are no interstates here, no high-rises—just four thousand or so folks, a handful of restaurants, and a compact downtown. If you crave hustle or a city that is always buzzing, this is not that. This is a town with a true circadian rhythm.
By 7:00 a.m. I’m a mile in or two into my run. My route of choice starts at the popular paved trail around Central Carolina Community College’s Pittsboro campus and takes me into town, where I run past the historic courthouse, the Chatham Arts Council building, and the YMCA. I pass Sweet Bee Caffe and City Tap, S&T’s Soda Shop, and Postal Fish Company. I know who lives in a lot of the houses I pass. My kids know their kids.
My run completed, Phoenix Bakery is the source of my second cup of coffee—and breakfast. The beer bread muffin is rich and savory and filled with quality cheese. Some days, I meet my friends here, and we talk music, film, TV, politics, and life in general.
Midmorning, I see what deals I can find. I’m partial to secondhand stores, and Pittsboro is great for that, from our PTA Thrift Shop to our Habitat Home Store. There’s Screaming for Vintage for more curated retro décor, while Circle City Books and Music packs a wealth of used books and records into a relatively small storefront.
Lunch happens at Michoacán Mexican Grill—no question. Before this restaurant’s summer 2019 opening, Michoacán had been Pittsboro’s best food truck. While I can’t speak for its carnivorous menu, I can say that its vegetarian offerings are consistently diverse and satisfying.
If the weather cooperates, the family and I are headed for the water. Just a few minutes east of town (and not far from Carolina Tiger Rescue), the Robeson Creek Canoe Launch allows easy access for paddlers headed upriver to the Haw or downriver to Jordan Lake.
So far today, we’ve gone running and canoeing. So we’re hungry. If we’re being honest, I’ll be cooking supper. And the very, very Pittsboro experience is buying the ingredients. There’s Chatham Marketplace, our local co-op, and two recurring farmers markets for those looking for local flavor. It may sound Mayberry, but the other option, Food Lion, is one spot where I inevitably run into a friend or two each time I step inside.
By now, it’s—I don’t know, 7:30 or 8:00 p.m.? Pittsboro nightlife is more like evening life, which is OK by me, and this is when it tends to start.
We have Americana and rockabilly at City Tap and tribute acts and bands on legacy tours at the Pittsboro Roadhouse, but I’m partial to Oddco. It’s a cozy little hub of art, music, and overall funkiness run by the nicest people imaginable.
If you’re into late nights, you can have them. Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham are just up the road.
Me? I’m in bed before midnight and up with the sun.
Landmark: Haw River Ballroom
Where to Get a Cup of Coffee: Phoenix Bakery
Where to Visit with Friends: The City Tap
Where to Walk Your Dog: Lower Haw River State Natural Area Trail
Where to Spend the Night: Jordan Lake Campground
Note: The listings below include what we call The Outposts—places of interest in Chatham, Alamance, and Orange Counties.
Saxapahaw General Store
1735 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw, 336-376-5332, saxgenstore.com
From the road, it looks like an unusually large and busy old-fashioned convenience store of the sort dotting country roads everywhere. But the Saxapahaw General Store is actually a social center of the creative community that has sprung up in the town’s old mill infrastructure. Yes, you can get gas. But you can also get great food rooted in local, conscious farming and a variety of goods from local producers and artisans. Its breakfast is among our favorites in the Triangle, whether you eat it at picnic tables inside or on the brick patio, before you walk down the steps of an outdoor amphitheater and emerge along the Haw River for a well-sated walk.
Note: We’ve highlighted our pick for the best of each category below.
Allen & Son BBQ
5650 U.S. 15-501, Pittsboro, 919-542-2294, stubbsandsonbbq.com
If you’re looking for something reimagined and gussied-up, you’d better turn around and head back to the city. This landmark country pork palace does N.C. ’cue and fixins the old-school way.
23 Rectory Street, Pittsboro, 919-545-5505, angelinaskitchenonline.com
Chef-owner Angelina Koulizakis-Battiste runs this anchor of Chatham County’s farm-to-table community. If you’ve lived in Pittsboro for longer than six months without eating Angelina’s fusions of Greek and Southwestern cuisines, you’re doing it wrong.
Carolina Cravings Co.
84 Hillsboro Street, Pittsboro, 919-444-2023, facebook.com/carolinacravingsco
A cousin to Phoenix Bakery (see below) that operates out of Phoenix’s original downtown storefront, Carolina Cravings focuses wholly on sweets. Try the fudge. No, try the macarons. No, try the brownies. Hell, try everything.
The Eddy Pub
1715 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw, 336-525-2010, theeddypub.com
The loud, low-slung communal barroom is a great place to meet people, and local farms pump fresh produce into pub food both Southern and European in character. A menu spanning N.C. trout cakes and pad Thai washes down with local beers and a long wine list.
The Fearrington House Restaurant
2000 Fearrington Village Center, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, 919-542-2121, fearrington.com/house
If you’re going to blow rent money on a meal, you may as well do it in the gracious, sprawling farmhouse where one of the more celebrated restaurants in this part of North Carolina resides. A seasonally shifting menu fueled by on-site vegetable and herb gardens elevates farm-to-fork dining in a genteel hideaway outside of Chapel Hill.
3307 N.C. Highway 54 West, Chapel Hill, 919-928-9002, fiestagrill.us
Some of the best authentic Mexican food in the Triangle awaits on an anonymous stretch of rural highway five miles west of Carrboro. Fiesta Grill is fresh and unassumingly good, and you can’t beat a lunch combination for $5.95.
964 East Street, Pittsboro, 919-542-9950, greekkouzina.com
If you’re into low-frills establishments that sell good food at a fair price, well, Greek Kouzina is exactly that: Spend a few dollars, wait a few minutes in the unassuming dining room, and receive consistently good falafel.
Left Bank Butchery
1729 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw, 336-525-2092, leftbankbutchery.com
For those who want to eat meat responsibly, this butcher shop exclusively uses whole, healthy, local animals that were raised ethically and sustainably. Beef, pork, poultry, and fish are sold with a populist philosophy and prices to match.
Michoacán Mexican Grill
440 East Street, Pittsboro, 919-704-8751
What had been Pittsboro’s best food truck is now a brick-and-mortar, and we’re happy to have it. It’s been especially exciting to see the menu expand. For vegetarians and carnivores alike, the burritos and fajitas never let you down. And kudos to Michoacán for reusing an existing building (an old Pizza Hut) rather than building a new one.
The Modern Life Deli and Drinks
46 Sanford Road, Pittsboro, 919-533-6883, themodernlifedeli.com
The sandwiches are reliably good and there’s consistently interesting local beer on tap, but it’s The Mod’s wood-fired pizzas that make this downtown eatery essential. We’re big fans of the R.U. Caprese and the Buffalo Willy.
664 West Street, Pittsboro, 919-542-4452, thephoenixbakerync.com
On any given morning here, you’ll find a cross-section of the town: hippie dirt farmers, cops, retirees, college instructors, families, journalists, and various kinds of professionals all queue up for caffeine and freshly baked treats. The food and coffee are satisfying, the vibe and the décor are comfortable and easy, and the company is world-class.
Reverence Farms Cafe
6956 N.C. Highway 87, Graham, 336-525-2266, reverencefarmscafe.com
If you find yourself in Graham, don’t forget this unique stop, where the farm and table could hardly be closer. A working polyculture farm serves its own meat and veggies, as well as those of other local farms and suppliers, in dishes such as meatloaf and mushroom risotto, bratwurst, and an “Oyster Mushroom Po’ Girl.”
The Root Cellar Cafe & Catering
35 Suttles Road, Pittsboro, 919-542-1062, rootcellarchapelhill.com/pittsboro
We won’t hold it against the Root Cellar’s Pittsboro satellite for being part of the massive Chatham Park development, which, over the next decade or so, is going to reshape life in Pittsboro as we know it. After all, it’s become one of our default lunch spots, with the grits bowl alone bringing us back time and again.
580 Craft Beer
354 East Street, Pittsboro, 919-542-5431, 580craftbeer.com
With rotating taps and some fairly obscure selections on the shelves, 580 functions as both a snug little bar and a bottle shop for the beer nerd in ya.
The City Tap
89 Hillsboro Street, Pittsboro, 919-545-0562, thecitytap.com
This watering hole serves all the essential roles of a small-town bar. Grab a sandwich for you and your kids? Ta-da: It’s a lunch spot with a patio. Meet a friend for a beer on a Tuesday evening? Ta-da: It’s a low-key, centrally located bar. Catch a rowdy rockabilly act or test out a new song at an open mic? Ta-da: It’s a venue with a full calendar.
Fair Game Beverage Company
192 Lorax Lane, Pittsboro, 919-245-5434, fairgamebeverage.com
Thanks to a recent change in state law, this Pittsboro distillery now has a tasting room, where you can score cocktails, local ciders on tap and in bottles, as well as North Carolina wines. The Apple Brandy is pretty spectacular, tell you what.
Haw River Farmhouse Ales
1713 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw, 336-525-9270, hawriverales.com
This little brewery brings Belgian style to the bucolic South, with an open tasting room and patio year-round. Foraged, rare, hyperlocal ingredients capture Saxapahaw in unique, funky glasses—hope you like beer with pine needles and stuff in it.
Roost Beer Garden
2000 Fearrington Village Center, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, 919-542-1239, fearrington.com/roost
Don’t let its size fool you—there’s a lot packed into this tiny building. A pizza oven cranks out wood-fired pies, while beer taps offer excellent local beverages. Roots musicians hold down the porch, and all the seating is outdoors.
130 Lorax Lane, Pittsboro, 919-533-6314, starrlightmead.com
For alcohol as distinctive as Pittsboro itself, get thee to the meadery. Starrlight’s meads vary by dryness, sweetness, and type of honey, to the point that you can match specific meads to meals or moods.
400 East Street, Pittsboro, 919-542-4070, chatham.k12.nc.us/page/21006
Our favorite store in town is, well, just our humble little thrift store. But hey, it’s a nexus of uncommonly good finds.
Circle City Books & Music
121 Hillsboro Street, Pittsboro, 919-548-5954
Circle City Books’ N.C. authors mural has become a downtown landmark. Inside, the shop is packed with fairly priced used books and a respectable record selection. (We’ve scored some great jazz and country here, not to mention a copy of Thriller.) For collectors, there are some rare records and early-edition and signed books as well.
220 Market Street, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, 919-542-3030, fearrington.com/mcintyres-books
It’s the closest independent bookshop to Pittsboro, and it’s on the same book-tour circuit as Quail Ridge, Regulator, and Flyleaf, which means McIntyre’s is responsible for bringing notable authors to Chatham on a regular basis.
684 West Street, Pittsboro, 919-704-8832, realoddstuff.com
There’s not another room like this. Oddco occupies a rescued 1951 Lustron—a prefab home with enameled steel walls—and is filled with fantastic prints, visual art, and t-shirts almost exclusively created by area artists. Oddco also keeps a steady calendar of interesting, worthwhile music and events, reflecting owners Tim Lee and Cristina Virsida’s ever-evolving sonic and aesthetic curiosity.
Bynum Front Porch
950 Bynum Road, Bynum, 870-836-1030, bynumfrontporch.org
The Bynum Front Porch music series, which brings Americana bands to the stage beside the old Bynum General Store on Fridays in summer, lies at the junction of old Chatham and new, with a progressive-leaning crowd enjoying rural music beside a historic landmark in a quaint little country town.
Central Carolina Community College Campus
764 West Street, Pittsboro, 919-542-6495, cccc.edu/locations/chatham
CCCC is a fine school, but it’s the mile-long trail and disc golf course that give the Pittsboro campus a broader appeal. The paved footpath wends through woods, around the school’s working farm, and by a frog pond, which keeps the scenery interesting enough for anything from a family walk to a runner putting in a daily 5K. As if that’s not enough, Pittsboro’s library (which inhabits an architecturally striking eco-friendly building) is on this CCCC campus as well.
Haw River Ballroom
1711 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw, 336-525-2314, hawriverballroom.com
Imagine a venue the size of Cat’s Cradle with slightly more rustic booking proclivities—indie rockers like Guster, Americana giants like Gillian Welch, and their intersections, like the Mountain Goats. But, instead of being stuffed in a strip mall, it’s spread across three levels of a historic dye house floating high above the Haw River, its lanterns gently shining, like a landlocked lighthouse beckoning in all that country darkness. You’ve just imagined the Haw River Ballroom, the gorgeous music venue at the epicenter of Saxapahaw’s cultural life, adjacent to both the General Store and the Eddy Pub.
280 State Park Road, Apex, 919-362-0586, ncparks.gov/jordan-lake-state-recreation-area
Technically the lake is in Apex, but it’s right on top of us. A major part of the Pittsboro experience is getting a lake pass every summer and taking the kids swimming. You can also meet up with friends to go canoeing, either launching into the lake itself or from the Robeson Creek Canoe Launch, which is in Pittsboro. From the Robeson Creek put-in, you can choose to paddle upstream into the Haw River or downstream to the lake.
Pittsboro Center for the Arts
18 East Salisbury Street, Pittsboro, 919-533-6997, pittsboroyouththeater.com
The main attraction at this arts center and auditorium is the Pittsboro Youth Theater, but it also includes gallery space for exhibits by local artists, pop-up readings, concerts, corporate events spaces, summer camps, and more.
Saturdays In Saxapahaw
1612 Jordan Drive, Saxapahaw, saxapahawnc.com
Each Saturday from May through August, here’s Saxapahaw’s own little farmers market, complete with a music series that skews toward Americana but is also full of surprises.
Shakori Hills Community Arts Center
1439 Henderson Tanyard Road, Pittsboro, 919-542-1746, shakorihills.org
Mainly you’ll come to this seventy-two-acre property to get muddy at the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance or cut the lawn at the Hoppin’ John Old-Time and Bluegrass Fiddlers’ Convention, but it also hosts arts classes and youth programs throughout the year.
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