We’re headed west on NC Highway 54 and I have only one thing on my mind: ice cream and tiny horses. Okay, two things.
Back story: I’m here from Los Angeles visiting family. Chela is my twin sister and she’s lived in Orange County for over ten years. We’re fraternal twins, which means she loves jiu jitsu, beer and connecting people with other people, while I enjoy writing, books, movies and writing about books and movies. We both love food and adventure and food adventures (ask me about crabs in the park).
As we drive the scenic route to Hillsborough, we pass cows, horses, goats and donkeys, leading us to ponder one of life’s deepest existential dilemmas:
"Do you think life is hard as a tiny horse, because people are always so excited to see you?"
Farm animals in rural Orange County, NC
We try to come up with a Hillsborough slogan for the Taylor Swift generation. But unfortunately, "A tiny horse dressed up like farm fresh arugula" doesn't quite roll off the tongue like I had hoped.
Broken Spoke Farm
Chela remembers Broken Spoke for it's baby sheep and its world famous soft serve Sundays. I’m just here for the ice cream.
We pull up to the farm and spot the hand washing station and rows of fresh produce and other goodies. The farm stand operates on the honor system. You can pay with cash or Venmo.
Chela grabs the last bunch of basil for the tomato pie she promised the neighbors. They share their homegrown tomatoes, she bakes them tomato pie—it’s the perfect neighborly ecosystem.
Chela with basil at Broken Spoke Farm
Two teens on bikes roll up and head straight for the ice cream, a late afternoon treat. A family with two small children emerge from their minivan, one clutching a stuffed sheep and the other a stuffed martian. We chat with a therapist who prefers farm flowers to the store bought kind for her office.
I hover by the ice cream chest, perusing a number of delicious-sounding and unique flavors like hibiscus-ginger sorbet and salted chocolate.
Speaking of delicious, Chela is getting eaten alive. "The mosquitoes here are"—SMACK—"merciless."
I, on the other hand, have learned from my past mistakes and diligently applied bug repellant to every inch of my exposed skin.
Every year, like clockwork, I provide a tasty Californian feast for the bustling and hustling North Carolina mosquitoes. You're welcome.
Which brings us to your first outdoor adventuring tip. Tip #1: always bring bug spray (ABBS).
Chela chooses peach, while I grab the lemon balm. It's just as refreshing, bright and sweet as I had hoped. Chela saves her last bite for me and vice versa and I love the peach too because I have room in my heart for all flavors.
Maylin picks her ice cream at Broken Spoke Farm
The House at Gatewood
We’re all dressed up and Chela wants fatty brisket.
“You’re not from here if you’re asking for fatty brisket,” cracks Ron Spada, owner and executive chef. We grew up in Maine and Beijing, but who’s counting?
Lucky for us, he’s got brisket straight out of the smoker. We grab a drink from the bar and head outside. Seated below the twinkle lights, Chela sips on her Hop On Top IPA from Lynnwood Brewing. The setting feels perfect for a night out and I marvel at my generous pour of the cabernet (God bless the bartender). It’s surprisingly smooth.
We’re at The House at Gatewood for a girl’s night out. I wore dangly earrings for this and I don’t regret it.
Maylin looks over the feast at House of Gatewood, including the fatty brisket front left
Ron hooks it up with the fore-mentioned fatty brisket and all the sides our little hearts could desire: burnt edge baked beans, 5 cheese mac ’n cheese, cornbread and the summer salad.
“I usually get some point, some flat. What I had left was all off the point, so, you want fatty? You got fatty.”
This is quite literally music to Chela’s ears.
The brisket is melt-in-your-mouth tender. The summer salad is beautiful to behold, all yellow and red heirloom tomatoes from Walker Farm, mixed power greens, crumbled goat cheese, pickled red onion, raw sweet corn, and roasted red pepper. Always get the summer salad.
Ron explains that the peanut lime noodles we ordered are an homage to summers spent working music festivals. The noodles are rich and creamy, the perfect complement to our spread.
The House has made it as safe as possible for diners to swing by for food-to-go. There’s plentiful space to spread out and enjoy their dine-in or takeout menus. You can even call ahead to order a drink from the bar and they’ll bring it outside for you.
There’s no way we can finish all this food, but that just means leftovers for later.
“Leftovers are the best,” says Chela. “That’s why I go out to eat.” I have a feeling these leftovers might disappear before I have a chance to lay into them, but who’s bitter about that, not me.
Tip #2: If you need accommodation or have a special request (like fatty brisket), just ask. We might be in the middle of a pandemic, but southern hospitality is alive and well.
Three words: Y’all ate yet (#yateyet)?
Get Outside in Orange County, NC
Need more outdoor adventure? Stay tuned for part two where we attempt an outdoor movie among bouncy quadrupeds and see "how far I'll go" on two wheels in unincorporated OCNC.