Railhouse Brewery founders Mike Ratkowski and Brian Evitts both did stints in the armed forces before they met while working the same job. The two shared an interest in the effervescent qualities of a good beer, and in 2009, they turned that passion into a business. Brian, a homebrewer for 20 years, oversees the production of the company's five main beers—oatmeal stout, brown ale, pale ale, honey wheat, and barley wine—and Mike handles operations, sales, and the number of bottles of beer on the wall. Together, they help bring Railhouse brews to 14 restaurants and bars in the Sandhills.
The Railhouse Brewery also frequently hosts concerts and festivals, and holds cornhole tournaments every Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, check out the event page or send a pack of investigative hops to visit the brewery.
One of the best times of day at Horizon Cellars is dusk. That's when guests out on the covered deck can relax with a glass of wine and watch the setting sun turn the clouds over the Mount Vernon Springs ridge line a soft pink. On weekends, guests can bring a picnic basket and blanket to the winery and sip everything from sweet plum wines to mellow white wines while playing fetch or Monopoly with the dog.
Inside the tasting room, which is located atop a rolling ridge, guests sample Horizon's wines and meads. Its meads are similar to its wines, but are made with honey from Horizon's bee farm instead of grapes. The winery's tasting menus change depending on season and availability, so Horizon recommends that visitors call ahead for a listing of that day's wines.
The Adams family has farmed the land of Adams Vineyards for eight generations. Years ago, though, they replaced the leafy tobacco plants they'd grown for decades with fruit trees and twining muscadine grapevines. Quincy Adams uses blueberries, peaches, apples, pears, and blackberries to make wine. Visitors can pair sips of those varietals with hors d'oeuvres such as Boar's Head cheese or chocolates handcrafted by Quincy's mother, Joyce. At the end of each summer, the family hosts a Grape Stomp Festival, where guests of all ages can participate in the timeless juicing method.
Olive walls flank White Rabbit Brewing Company's taproom, a simple space with a polished wooden bar and a tabletop supported by kegs instead of traditional human legs. On Friday and Saturday evenings, bartenders pour pints and four-ounce samples of the brewery's ales and lagers, which borrow their titles and labels from Alice in Wonderland characters. There's the Double Trouble Belgian Dubbel, a malty, medium-bodied brew, and the Cheshire's Pumpkin Ale, a spiced, light-bodied brew with an "almost cidery" mouthfeel, according to the brewers.
From its quiet perch on Franklin Street, Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop slings premium fair-trade ice cream right alongside warm hand-rolled soft-pretzels from Auntie Anne's Pretzel. Friendly staffers fill cups with famous flavors such as Cherry Garcia, a smooth blend of cherry ice cream speckled with cherries and flakes of chocolate fudge. Phish Food infuses chocolate ice cream with marshmallow and caramel swirls, paying homage to the mellow tunes of the jam band Phish with fish-shaped fudge pieces that play eight-minute guitar solos. The shop was recently renovated to include an Auntie Anne's, whose pretzel professionals prepare a wide array of sweet and salty snacks, spiraling them into ornate knots with the delicacy of a grandmotherly sailor, and baking them to golden brown in full view of customers.
Judging by his daring attitude toward fusion cuisine, head chef Michael Schiffer probably tried to fry the rule book before throwing it out the window. He founded Maximillian's Grill in 1991 with humble aspirations: it would be a 32-seat pizza restaurant where guests could enjoy quiet meals. In four months, however, he had amassed magazine awards and a clientele that would line up outside the restaurant for an hour before he opened the doors. They were there, waiting patiently, to see what delicious fusion food would sail out of the kitchen that night—Michael hand wrote a new menu every day and often invented new dishes on the spot, fusing Italian flavors with creole and Asian influences.
Unfortunately, in 1998, a fire closed Max’s for good. Though he and his wife Gayle later opened a gourmet deli, it wasn’t until 2001 that they opened Max’s once again, this time in a roomier location with high ceilings, soft light, and tinted windows. The new joint even has a wine bar in the back separated from the dining room by a partition.
In the kitchen, Michael devises fresh takes on fusion cuisine while holding onto many of the dishes that made Max’s famous, classics as the grilled caesar salad—prepped by grilling the actual lettuce—and the peppercorn-encrusted Voodoo tuna. Michael has also archived his old menus on the restaurant's webpage, viewing them as a timeline for his culinary evolution and a way to remember how to spell "bouillabaisse."