Growing up, we would beg my Mom to bring home a gallon jar of Mt. Olive Kosher Dill pickles every time she went grocery shopping. I don’t know what it is about pickles, but I have always been a fan of everything salty, sour, or tart. When we moved to North Carolina, I knew that Mt. Olive wasn’t too far away, but never went to Pickle Valhalla until the recent Mt. Olive Pickle Festival. There were some surprises along the way, some less pleasant than others (Pickle-flavored shaved ice, anyone?)
On the way there, we passed a sign simply stating “We have Frog Legs.” Obviously, we had to make a quick detour to experience Fried Frog Legs at the Sof-T-Shop (302 East Weeks Circle, Newton Grove, NC). The Sof-T-Shop looks like your typical Southern road diner; hand-written menus with your standard burgers, chicken, and hush puppies, old plastic signs from the 50s. It’d be easy to pass it up, but definitely make the stop, because their frog legs are tasty. I’ll admit, I was a little uneasy about ripping a pair of frog’s legs in two, but once you get past the initial “ew” factor, I was surprised by how light and moist they were. “It tastes like chicken” is such a cliche, but it’s definitely reminiscent of a chicken drumstick. It hs the same sweet meatiness just in a daintier size. I could have eaten an entire KFC bucket full of those, but I had to save room for picklely treats.
When we got to Mt. Olive, it felt like everyone in NC had traveled there. It was wall-to-wall people, all there to watch “Little Miss Sunshine” wannabes, antique cars, and face painters. I was worried that there wouldn’t much focus on pickles. Luckily, some intrepid food stands decided to focus on the famous Mt. Olive pickle rather than offering standard fair food. The Mt. Olive sponsored booth of course offered pickles in their familiar form; kosher dill, sweet, and bread-and-butter style. I was happy with just a good pickle, but I kept my hopes up for something a little more dangerous.
The first stand we saw that was a little more imaginative offered up a pickle-laced lemonade. The lemonade was fresh-squeezed, then shaken with pickle slices. Those who were expecting something more picklefied probably would have been disappointed, it wasn’t bursting with pickle flavor. You got a hint of it at the end of a sip but only a pleasant tangy hint. To me, with the heat and sun beaming down on us, you couldn’t have asked for a better refreshment.
We had heard a rumor from a fellow pickle fan on Twitter that there was pickle ice cream floating around (hello pregnant ladies!), but unfortunately we couldn’t find it. We did however find a shaved ice stand offering dill pickle shaved ice. If you did want the classic pickle and ice cream combo (well, classic if you like weird combinations), you could have a scoop of ice cream on the bottom. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as enamored of my shaved ice, it was a little too sweet and cloying for my taste and didn’t have that nice sour punch. Still, I have to give them credit for taking a leap and based on the amount of people walking around with bright green ice, I’d say their risk paid off.
North Carolina is making huge strides in its food scene, but it’s still nice to live in an area that can have both James Beard award winners and festivals dedicated to briny cucumbers. It’s always great heading out on a Saturday, heading out somewhere new and not knowing what to expect. Between the frogs legs and pickle lemonade, it’s nice to find tasty surprises along the way.