Mount Airy: A North Carolinian Hidden Gem
Lauren Jablon (2022)
As mentioned prior, Mount Airy is a hidden gem that many non-local NC residents may not be aware of. However, the town hosts events every year to celebrate the town’s tradition of a delicacy known as “sonker”, among many other things. Mount Airy is located in the core of the Surry Sonker trail, a trail devoted to different locations where one can buy an authentic North Carolinan sonker.
Additionally, each fall, the town hosts an Autumn Leaves festival where shops all around the town contribute by showcasing their famous sonkers, among other products. Moreover, Mount Airy is also the real-life town behind the made up “Mayberry” town from the Andy Griffith show.
Walking around this town, it is clear that the town combines bits of modern culture, as well as bits from the past. For example, walking around the downtown area of Mount Airy, one can observe a vintage CocaCola mural on a large alleyway’s wall or a local “pop” store and diner; each of these make you feel like you’re time traveling back to the 1900s. However, walking into some of the town’s more modern shops like “Anchored Sweet Treats and Savory Eats”, the interior resembles more modern style decorations, giving the town a great balance between old and new. Mount Airy is the perfect day trip, and you definitely won’t regret trying some of Miss Angel’s french crumb apple sonker while there.
Mount Airy definitely has a more “small town” vibe and nuance to it; however, this gives the town most of its charm, as the locals go above and beyond to make visitors feel at home. Their generosity and charisma are some of what makes this place so special.
Below you will find images of a local pop shop diner, a vintage CocaCola mural in the heart of downtown, a photo of the main street where many of the local sonker shops are, and a photo of a Mount Airy-Opoly board game that was found in one of the local souvenir shops.
Importance of the Surry Sonker Trail
Located in Surry County, NC, The Surry Sonker Trail is a 8 shop/ eaterie trail that takes visitors through Surry County, NC to some of the most well-known locations where people can purchase North Carolina’s Southern delicacy: its famous Sonker pie. Many who have tried a sonker pie describe a sonker as resembling a typical cobbler, however, sonkers often tend to have a more liquidy and juicy interior than a typical cobbler. The presence of Sonker in this county dates back to the early 1700s when Scottish and Scotch-Irish immigrants began settling in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, and Surry County was officially formed in 1771. However, although the tradition of Sonker has existed for generations, it wasn’t until January of 2015 that the Surry Sonker Trail was officially established.
Moreover, each year on the first Saturday in October, the town holds a Surry Sonker Festival where stores all over the town showcase their delicacies. People travel from all over the country to taste these delicacies. This festival has been a tradition since October of 1980 and it is a crucial part of the town’s productivity and livelihood. The town of Mount Airy has been in multiple magazine editorials in food reviews.
The trail takes visitors through eight eateries including: two bakeries, a chocolate confectionery, a general store, a winery restaurant, a social house, a casual American restaurant/bar and a restaurant featuring upscale Southern comfort food. While many of the trail locations are located within 500 feet of each other, trail locations are all within 40 minutes of each other in the following towns: Elkin, Mount Airy, Dobson and the Village of Rockford. Thus, it is a very accessible route for visitors and locals alike.
Below is a map of the Surry Sonker Trail, as well as each of the 8 stops along the route.
The Beautiful Drive to Mount Airy
The ride to the Sonker Trial was just under an hour and a half. Once we got on the highway, it was pretty much a straight shot. There was not a lot of traffic and the sights were beautiful. We were able to take the highway, and luckily we went during a time where there was not a lot of traffic. Not to mention, if we had gone a day after, there would have been a lot more traffic and people on the Sonker Trail because that was when the Autumn Leaves Festival was going to start. On the way, we were able to see the hill and the trees with its beautiful Fall leaves and coloring. We went at a time right when the leaves began to change colors and right before it was time for them to die and fall off. Once we were finally able to see the beautiful trees and the hills, neither of us couldn’t help but to say something about each of them. The vibrant green color on the hills plus the blaze of red, orange, yellow, and green leaves on the trees was a great sight to see on the way to the Sonker Trail. Once we saw the Highway 64 sign on the way, it truly felt like we were right where we needed to be because we had to take the route to get to the Sonker Trail. Not to mention, we chose the Foothills region when my classmates and I were deciding what part of North Carolina we wanted to learn more about that was along Highway 64. Once we finally arrived at the point where we could get off of the highway, Winston Salem had a lot of signs, especially once we got to the Winston Salem State University campus that I didn’t know we would be passing through.
Attached below is a photo of the beautiful views observed on the drive to Mount Airy.
As far as the ride back goes, I would be lying if I said I didn't have one of the pies we tried on my mind the whole ride back, even when we were talking about any and everything except that pie. It was actually the first pie that we got a chance to try, and in all categories it blew the second pie that we tried out of the park. Every now and then I still wonder if I will actually make it back out there to try the pie before I move back home after graduation. Just as it was on the way, the ride back was smooth and the highway did not bring us much traffic. We were also able to see the hills, and beautiful trees as well. The angle was different compared to on the way there though. When we were on the way, it seemed as though we were coming into the hills and the trees, but as we were leaving it was like we were looking at the back of them and exiting out of the area as we were. Overall, the trip there and back was nice and easy and the Foothills region of highway 64 did not disappoint.
A More Modern Approach to Sonker: Anchored Sweet Treats and Savory Eats
The first stop on our three shop itinerary was a shop by the name of “Anchored Treats and Savory Eats” located on 139 Moore Avenue, right in the downtown strip of Mount Airy. Upon our arrival at Anchored Treats, we were surprised by how modern the interior of the shop was. Lined with blue and green themed walls and decor, the room was by far the most aesthetically pleasing of the three shops visited. Resembling a typical urban coffee shop, the room was surrounded by pictures of anchors-- how fitting. Additionally, the exterior decorations made it clear just how important sweets and “sonker” really are for the productivity of the town. Upon walking up to the store, there was an easel reading “Make today an Extra Sweet Day!!!”. Likewise, on the shop’s glass, there was a picture of a Sonker and a cupcake, directly implying what the shop was “so well-known for”.
With that said, upon entering the shop, we were met with some disappointment. Due to the town’s annual Autumn Leaves festival occuring the next day, there were no Sonkers being sold that day, as the town was in preparation for one of its biggest events of the year and they had to save the pies for that. While this news was rather discouraging, we made the most of being there, and I ordered myself a chocolate chip cookie. While the cookie was nothing in comparison to my beloved Insomnia Cookies back in Washington, DC, I reassured myself that this was just because the store was known for its Sonker, not its cookies.
Despite our discouragement with our inability to try one of their famous Sonkers, we decided to use this opportunity as a chance to learn more about the town, this particular shop, and Sonker in general. We sparked up a conversation with the shop owner, Samantha Coleman, and we were soon informed that the store has been family-owned since its opening just a few years back. Samantha described to us how her grandmother and mother all grew up locally and how she grew up in a family of bakers. Additionally, Sonker was explained to us as resembling a “cobbler”; however, it was described as being much more liquidy and juicier than a typical pie or cobbler that most are used to. In addition, we were told that Sonker can be made in a variety of different ways and flavors. However, the most popular flavors that Anchored Treats served were sweet potato, cherry, and apple Sonker. With that said, the flavors also vary depending on the season, so these were the most popular types for Fall. Overall, while we didn’t get to try a Sonker while at this store, the conversation was a great introduction to our arrival in Mount Airy and it made us even more excited to continue our exploration to find the perfect North Carolina Sonker.
Attached are photos of the exterior decorations I was drawn to.
Miss Angel’s Heavenly French Apple Crumb Pie
Once I tried the pie in this picture here when I realized that Miss Angel’s pies did, in fact, live up to their name. There is no better way to describe them than using the term “heavenly”. Once we entered Miss Angel’s shop, the smell of the crust, crumble, and fresh fruit all throughout filled my nose before I even set my eyes on any pie. My mouth began to water as I walked closer and closer to the register to order, and just to the left of Miss Angel, sat the pie that we would soon try.
There were over 50 flavors of pies; however, we found ourselves debating between two kinds when it really came down to it. We had the option to choose between the regular apple pie and the French apple crumb pie. We decided to go with the French apple crumb. Based on the fact that we left no crumbs, it is clear that we made the right decision. My first bite was a scoop in the middle. It was the perfect amount of crumb and french apple. The warm and soft fruit under the crumbs meshed together in my mouth perfectly, and left me with no other thought than to get another bite. I did just that, but this time I decided to go for the crust. Just as I thought, the crust was just as good; it was the perfect density and contained the perfect balance of flakiness and hardness. As we ate outside of the shop, people walking by were even commenting on how good the pie looked and smelled. I thought it was delicious, and when I saw Lauren start to slow down on her bites, she noticed that I didn't and assured me that I could go ahead and finish it. She didn’t have to tell me twice; I pulled the pie in closer and wished there was a Miss Angels Heavenly Pies closer as I took each bite. This pie was exceptional, and just as Miss Angel claims, “heavenly”.
The Angel behind Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies
Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies is located in Mount Airy, NC and is a part of the shops that are included on the Surry Sonker Trail map that is attached a few pieces above. After speaking to Miss Angel, who is originally known as Angela Shur originally from Upstate New York, it was easy to realize that she had been in the game for a while and was doing things her way which has been working out for years.
Her name is Angela, hence “Miss Angel” and she said that the shop was owned and operated by herself and her husband, Randy. Her shop is open seven days a week and her employees have been by her side for many years now as they are family or close family friends. One of the most interesting things about Miss Angel is not because everything is made fresh, but she has her own farm to produce all of the fruit that she uses in her pies. All of her fruits and berries are grown at her 65 acre farm and orchard and the shop never uses preservatives. One thing about having this much land to produce your own fruit is that she is also able to host things on her farm. She hosts different festivals and events year round. Her next one is her annual “Santa’s Coming to Miss Angels Orchard” that will be taking place Sunday, December 4, 2022 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. In an event like this, those will be able to go on a hayride with Santa, while listening to Christmas stories and music. Things to warm the body like hot chocolate, hot cider, and hot chicken stew will be available for purchase as well. Not to mention, people can bring their own cookie recipe to be entered in an Annual Cookie Contest for Charity.
Also, Miss Angel’s farm allows a weekly pick up on Saturdays. These pickups include an assortment of in-season, sustainably-grown fresh fruits, veggies, baked goods, and flowers. Miss Angel also made sure to inform us that any baked goods that did not sell were distributed among the nearby food banks, charities, and shelters of Surry County. It’s good to know that her baked goods are not going to waste, due to how many different kinds of pies her shop makes and the amount of people that love them; business is always booming. Since we were on the Sonker Trail the day before the Autumn Leaves Festival, it was cool to see the environment of the town and how they prepared for the upcoming weekend. Miss Angel mentioned that they would be very busy over the weekend, and that her and her team would be making over one thousand pies for the festival. After speaking with Miss Angel it was not hard to see that she was a good person who loves to give back to the community. She is very family-oriented and makes sure that what she produces and gives to people is nothing short of the best. I hope that more people visit her shop, meet her, and try one of her delicious pies or many other baked goods. Any visitor who stops by will not forget their visit to Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies; they are in fact, quite heavenly.
The Key to My Heart: Prudence McCabe Confections
I, myself, tried the cherry Sonker; however, my partner and classmate Bria consumed the apple Sonker. I tried the cherry pie and although I’m not a huge cherry lover, my classmate Bria found the apple pie extraordinary. Moreover, Sue described her pies to us as being unique from some of the other locations’ because hers were actually baked once through and then taken out of the oven, grated in cold butter and coated in sugar, and then broiled on high heat for a short period of time to top them off. This extra baking process gives the pies a slightly browner look to them, making them unique from other Sonkers. Not only were the pies incredibly fresh and mouthwatering, but they were Sue’s treat to us-- how generous is she?! With that said, prior to many long thanks and expressions of our gratitude, Sue topped our visit off by offering my partner Bria and I a local magazine to take with us on our way out. The magazine had an entire editorial dedicated to Prudence’s shop, praising her shop’s authenticity and the excellent Sonker it has produced for years now.
However, to me, the pie wasn’t what made this place so excellent; it was the hospitality, the service, and the overall atmosphere that drew us in and made us feel so at home. Not only did Sue make an effort to get to know us and the reasons why two NorthEastern Elon students would come to her shop on a random Friday afternoon, but she took the time out of her production time to spend a few minutes talking to us about her shop and the traditions that framed her business. She described the shop as “family-owned” and herself as “having not been able to do any of what [she] did without her grandmother, Prudence.” She described how her family grew up in a household where their grandmother Prudence was always around, cooking her pies. This soon became a tradition when she grew up, and the recipe was passed down the generations after her grandmother passed. After talking up a storm about the owner’s childhood and upbringing, she began talking about her own family and children. Panning the room, my eye immediately noticed a photo of a soldier on the kitchen wall. Curious who this photo was, I inquired. To my surprise, it was one of her sons who had actually served in the armed forces. She began going on tangents discussing how important familial ties were to her, and it was comforting to know just how much family meant to her. While her shop is only 6 years old, it was clear just how important the tradition of making Sonker was in her family.
Upon our departure, we found ourselves not only full from the Sonker, but warm from the amazing conversations we just had. I would recommend Prudence McCabe’s Confections to anyone driving through the area. You will definitely not regret it, and Sue will make sure to talk your ear off (in the best way, of course).