Mount Gilead (zip code 27306), a town incorporated in1898 and with a population now of fewer than 1,500 residents, caught my attention because it’s the home of The Ford Place, which bills itself as a restaurant, pub and event center. As I arrived in town, it was easy to find – on Main Street in the center of town and a prominent part of the Mount Gilead Downtown Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I always have to look at the dessert options before giving my order to a server. Because banana pudding cheesecake was the purpose of the trip, making this decision was not difficult. The dessert had been featured in “100 Foods You Must Eat in 100 Counties” [of North Carolina] in Our State magazine, which had recommended The Ford Place as the one location to dine in Montgomery County (in the central part of the state).
The food at The Ford Place is exceptional, due to the culinary talents of Steve Flaugher, who trained in Chapel Hill under the highly regarded Bill Neal. Our State had also drawn my attention to the Carolina Slider Plate, the first item on the menu under “sandwiches and burgers.” I knew that I was in trouble when the plate arrived because it was overflowing with three sliders in freshly baked yeast rolls. In addition, the plate comes with a side (as do all sandwiches); my choice was sweet potato fries – yum! The first slider that I picked up was the one with house-made pimento cheese and a slice of summer tomato – if only I could have chosen a whole meal of it! Next was a yeast roll with pulled pork topped with cole slaw – excellent! Knowing that I had to save room for dessert, I only sampled the last slider (and took the rest home); it was a fried green tomato sitting on top of smoked bacon and lettuce (not a bad snack later that evening).
My wife, who ordered the fried chicken dinner that comes with two sides, kindly shared her sides: mashed potatoes and collards. The chicken was crispy, and the sides made our table look like a Sunday family-style dinner – too many choices. Even as good as the chicken was, my wife raved more about the homemade flavor and texture of the mashed potatoes, which evoked more memories than Proust’s madeleine.
As we waited for our food to arrive (which was only a brief time), our server Dinah proudly walked us around the establishment. The building, constructed in 1922 and operated until 1960s as a Ford dealership (thus its name), had been recently restored, opening in March 2009 as a restaurant. Dinah pointed out original windows and doors as well as a car lift (now used as a stage for entertainment) that had been used to bring vehicles into the showroom (now the dining room); original sales offices have even been converted into restrooms for restaurant customers. On the restaurant’s walls are several historical photos of automobiles from the 1920s in the showroom.
Before becoming a place to sell cars, the location had been a livery stable – adding to the historic importance of The Ford Place, where the food is reasonably priced. The bill for two full meals with two beverages and a dessert that was shared was less than $25. The banana pudding cheesecake, however, made the trip one that we must repeat. Next time we may consider other entree choices, such as shrimp and grits or rainbow trout. Of course, the banana pudding cheesecake will be ordered again.
Update: The Ford Place is no longer open for business.