MOUNT AIRY—It’s chilly in North Carolina. But not too bad. A light jacket will do. I am walking downtown. Hands in my pockets. It’s my birthday weekend.
I remember seeing Jack Lalane’s 70th birthday special on television. I’ll never forget it. He dove into the water of Long Beach Harbor, handcuffed and shackled, and towed 70 boats containing 70 passengers for almost two miles from the Queen’s Way Bridge to the Queen Mary.
Jack was always doing strongman stunts for his birthday to demonstrate that health and fitness wasn’t just a hobby, but good for TV ratings.
Which is why this year for my birthday, I’ve decided to follow this healthful tradition by doing something similar. Something I can really be proud of.
Namely, I will eat a fried pork chop sandwich.
In many ways, fried pork is far more dangerous than what Jack Lalane did. Ask any cardiologist and they’ll agree. Sure, towing 70 boats for a couple miles through treacherous waters is fine if you’re trying to impress your grandmother. But batter-fried pork chops? This is for men who look death in the eye.
The particular pork chop sandwich I’m talking about is world famous. It comes from a cafe called the Snappy Lunch in downtown Mount Airy. The Snappy Lunch has been around for almost a hundred years, the building has been here even longer.
The place is a small nondescript storefront eatery. A Coca-Cola sign hangs out front beside an old-fashioned tin awning. There are a few antique cars parked on the curb. The restaurant sits at the rear of North Main Street. There is always a crowd huddled by the front window, and a long line.
They tell me visitors gather here almost daily to watch the grill-cook fry the pork chops. These are mostly tourists who come from all over the U.S. to visit this well-known little township. And if you don’t already know why they visit, I’ll tell you in a second.
But first let me tell you about the crowd at the window. It’s like they’re watching a carnival. Children press their faces against the glass. One overgrown middle-aged redheaded man does the same thing.
A short-order cook in a white apron waves to onlookers from behind the window. The kids and the redhead wave back in unison.
I am told the correct way to order the famous pork sandwich is to get it “Charlie’s way.” That’s sort of the unofficial nickname for the sandwich. Another nickname would be the “Double Bypass on a Bun.” Or “Heartburn on a Stick.”
The sandwich is three and a half ounces of pork tenderloin, sliced down the back, battered in sweetmilk, fried for ten minutes on a flat griddle, served with coleslaw, mustard, a huge pile of chili, onions, tomatoes, a side of Crestor®, and a Holy Bible.
People go crazy for this sandwich. Ask anyone at the window and they’ll tell you all about it. And most of these people haven’t even tried it yet. They’re just glad to be here.
Take Kara, for instance. Kara is from Joplin, Missouri. Kara is 9 years old. I ask her if she knows why this town is famous.
Kara’s brother Mike blurts out the answer before she does. “ANDY GRIFFITH!” he says.
After this, Kara levels Mike using only her left elbow. Then, she stands over Mike’s limp and twitching body and says, “He wasn’t asking you.” After which she smiles, straightens her dress, and says, “‘The Andy Griffith Show’ is why the town is famous.”
She’s right. In 1960, things in America were changing. The economy was good, the Brylcreem was flowing, nobody gave a cuss about cholesterol yet, unfiltered Camels were the cigarette of choice by pulmonologists everywhere. America was entering Vietnam, France tested its first A-bomb in the Sahara desert, Elvis was in the army, and on October 3rd, the “The Andy Griffith Show” premiered on CBS.
From Day One the show was a hit. And it still is. The show was loosely based on Andy’s hometown. Right here.
When the program was in the first season—the seventh episode to be exact—Andy said to Barney, “Hey, let’s go down to the Snappy Lunch and get a bite.”
That sentence might not seem like a big deal to you. But ask anyone standing in this line and they will tell you what one old lady tells me:
“This is the ONLY Mount Airy business Andy ever mentioned on his show. That’s how much he liked it.”
In other words, this is hallowed ground.
I order at the counter. My sandwich comes just like it’s supposed to. Fully loaded with chili, onions, dual quads, automatic transmission, leather seats, and positraction. I find a seat in one of the booths. I take a bite and…
It’s a pretty dang good sandwich. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 42. There’s a man across from me, eating the same sandwich. His name is Jake, from Lansing, Michigan.
“I just HAD to try this sandwich,” says Jake. “Not only am I an Andy Griffith fan, but I’m gonna be seventy in a few weeks.”
I congratulate him.
His wife Judy says, “This is a bucket list thing for us. We still watch the show every night before bed.”
Jake says with a mouthful, “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do two things before I die: One, visit Andy Griffith’s hometown for a pork chop sandwich. And two, kiss Ellie Mae Clampett on the lips.”
Well, one out of two ain’t bad.
Take that, Jack Lalane.