By Hope S. Philbrick
Whether you’re a diehard fan of The Andy Griffith Show or have only caught snippets of reruns while channel surfing, visit actor Andy Griffith’s birthplace and childhood home town—which served as the basis for Mayberry on the popular television series—and you’ll feel transported back to the good ol’ days.
Located in the heart of Yadkin Valley, North Carolina’s burgeoning wine region, Mount Airy is a nostalgic-tinged destination for fans of the actor and his various television series and movies, as well as anyone who wants to experience small town Americana.
“We’re very very proud that Andy Griffith was from here,” says Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council. “‘Mayberry’ has become an iconic word,” she says, though only Mount Airy has an authentic claim to the name and its spirit.
In Mount Airy the lines between fiction and reality blur. “Mount Airy influenced Andy’s writing,” Jones says; Griffith incorporated his hometown into the TV show via street names, local characters and businesses (only Snappy Lunch still exists). Since the show can still be seen (on TV, YouTube and Netflix), it delights longtime fans and lures new ones. Mount Airy’s Main Street evokes a yesteryear vibe, whether you’re drawn to it by the show or simply stumble into town.
Mount Airy welcomes visitors with as much enthusiasm and hospitality as the fictional Aunt Bee cooked—and fans of The Andy Griffith Show know that Opie said Aunt Bee was simply “the best cook in Mayberry.”
What To Do…
Take a driving tour in a vintage squad car and pass by Andy’s boyhood home—where you can book a stay—plus various Mount Airy sites mentioned by name on The Andy Griffith Show including Wally’s Filling Station, the Blue Bird Diner, Floyd’s City Barber Shop and Snappy Lunch, a restaurant that still serves the pork chop sandwich Griffith helped make famous.
Tour the Andy Griffith Museum to see artifacts and memorabilia collected throughout the course of the actor’s career. You can request a docent or take a self-guided tour with or without an audio guide that includes a welcome by Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou (Barney Fife’s girlfriend) on The Andy Griffith Show. Outside, snap a selfie next to the TV Land statue of Andy and Opie.
See a show at the Andy Griffith Playhouse, the community theatre where performances by local and internationally-known artists are staged throughout the year. Andy Griffith first performed on this stage when he was in the 3rd grade; he also performed in The Bartered Bride and Trial By Jury when home from UNC. Don’t miss the Siamese Twins Exhibit on the lower level; Eng and Chang Bunker were conjoined twins who became popular celebrities during the 1830s, traveling the world before settling near Mount Airy.
Visit The Earle Theatre (circa 1938), home of the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall. Open daily, the Hall preserves Surry County’s Old-Time Music tradition with exhibits, audio tours, lessons, workshops, a documentary film, and more. The weekly WPAQ Merry-Go-Round—the second longest continuously running live radio broadcast (after the Grand Ole Opry)—is hosted each Saturday at 11 a.m. The Earle also showcases feature movies (every Friday-Monday & Wednesday), jam sessions every Thursday at 7 p.m., and more.
Where To Eat…
The Loaded Goat is named for a hilarious episode of The Andy Griffith Show (Season 3, Episode 18). The casual sports pub and grill serves up an eclectic assortment of salads, sandwiches, burgers, sausages and appetizers, from nachos to a fried catfish po’boy, Buffalo chicken sandwich to a Cleveland hotdog, fried pickle chips to the Dynamite burger (an episode reference!) Flavors are straightforward, servings generous.
Miss Angels Heavenly Pies, Inc. serves sweet treats that incorporate fruit from her orchards and at least a splash of locally-made moonshine—the regional dessert sonker is therefore called zonker here. Temptations abound. Whatever you order is bound to be delicious, but if you skip the cinnamon rolls you are truly missing out on pure deliciousness.
Old North State Winery is a winery, restaurant and retailer of the Fish Hippie line housed in an 1890s mercantile building. The portfolio of 12 wines is hand-crafted in small batches using grapes that were all grown in North Carolina, including Yadkin Valley. Guided tours of the barrel room are available. The restaurant, arguably the best in town, is upscale with sophisticated presentations of dishes like crab cakes, charcuterie, fried oyster salad, seared sea scallops and more.
Snappy Lunch is home of the “famous pork chop sandwich,” which gained notoriety thanks to The Andy Griffith Show and proclaimed by Our State magazine as “the one sandwich every North Carolinian must eat” (Feb. 2015). Established in 1923, Snappy Lunch is Mount Airy’s oldest continuously-running eatery. The famous pork chop sandwich is $4.20 and tops battered pan-fried boneless meat with chili, coleslaw, mustard, onion and tomato (add lettuce and mayo if you want even more stuff on it). It’s messy, but don’t fret about that. The menu offers a slew of other options from biscuits to sausages, boiled ham to ground steak, but why not try the famous sandwich?
When To Go…
While Mount Airy embraces its most famous native son and celebrates its pop culture legacy throughout the year, things really kick into high gear each September when thousands of visitors from around the world convene for the annual Mayberry Days Festival.
– Photo Credits: magazine cover courtesy Our State; remainder © HSP Media LLC
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