Breathe Easy: Flat Rock City Guide
Say you’re returning emails at your desk in downtown Greenville and you’re feeling a little stressed. Say you need a break, so you let your thoughts wander to quieter locales, tiny mountain towns just over the border where Bobcats aren’t tearing up trees by the roots just outside your window. Say your imagination isn’t quite cutting it—Sandra won’t quit humming in the neighboring cubicle and that’s killing your outdoorsy vibe— and you decide you need to actually go to one of these towns. Here is a thing I have learned: In the span of a single podcast, you can be reading poetry surrounded by goats, including baby ones, in downtown Flat Rock, North Carolina. Talk about stress relief.
Flat Rock doesn’t bill itself as a destination city exactly, but it has to be among the world’s loveliest examples of quality over quantity. Which is to say, while there’s not that much to do, you’ll want to do it all and for as long as possible. I’ll expand my list of things you might experience in Flat Rock, in case you’re not yet convinced: Pizza. Goats. Pottery. Baby goats. Mountain streams. French toast. Poems. Lazy hikes. Massage. Sleepy brown dogs. Coffee. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of a pleasant day, you might be reading the wrong magazine.
I’ll make this easy on you: I’ll plan your entire day for you, keeping the whole excursion in a few-mile radius, and I’ll even include a map. All you have to do is figure out how to sneak out the back exit without your boss noticing.
HONEY AND SALT
If it’s between 7 am and 12 pm, drive straight to Honey and Salt. (From the ONE building on Main Street, this will take you a mere 46 minutes.) Open just five months and named after Carl Sandburg’s 1963 book of poetry, this brunch spot is the latest addition to “Little Rainbow Row,” the colorful string of buildings that includes shops, restaurants, and bakeries in downtown Flat Rock. This is where you order the French toast, made from fresh-baked cinnamon brioche and topped with a scoop of whipped butter. Or if you are in the mood for something savory, order the Farmhouse skillet. You might be tempted to split it; don’t. Piled in a tiny skillet are hash browns, bacon, perfectly seasoned spinach, avocado, an egg, cheddar, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes. You might be worried that it will all run together and taste the same, top to bottom; don’t be. The bacon and hash browns stay crisp, the basil wilt-free. (How? It is better than it should be.)
CARL SANDBURG HOME
Now you’re going to need to walk around some before you can eat again, which is the result of your having ordered both the things I suggested instead of just one. I can’t fault you for that. Just leave your car at Little Rainbow Row and walk over to the historic home of American writer and activist Carl Sandburg. Linger around the entrance for a while, reading the signs and brushing up on your literary history. By the time you make it to the front door of the white house up the hill, you’ll be feeling a lot better. Every thirty minutes a new tour of the house begins; take the tour. Learn about Carl’s bizarre writing habits and his wife’s adorable goat habits. Then wander around back of the house and find the goats. Don’t pester the goats; they are accustomed to this and will avoid you. Try to blend in. Let the goats come to you.
THE WRINKLED EGG
Amble back down the hill and across Greenville Highway into The Wrinkled Egg. Browse around for home goods with a decidedly quaint and Southern flair: frames, tea towels, purses. Take a photo of the “Life is Short, Buy the Horse” t-shirt and send it to your mother, who has always dreamed of owning a horse. In the back half of the shop find a fantastic selection of kids’ toys, games, and “boredom busters,” specially curated for creating camp care packages. It’s okay—go ahead and buy yourself that bacon-flavored dental floss.
THE GALLERY AT FLAT ROCK / FIREFLY CRAFT GALLERY
Since you’ve spent the morning tromping through goat fields, it may be time for a more elevated experience. This art gallery displays collections from local ceramicists, painters, and jewelers. If you’re lucky you might catch one of the gallery’s frequent workshops or events, which invite the area’s best. Charlie is the brown dog who will inevitably be found sleeping near the back of the store. When you’re finished at The Gallery scoot across the street for a peek inside Firefly Craft Gallery, a collection of quilts, stained glass, bowls, and other, much quirkier creations by local artisans. Yes, your uncle would love that birdhouse.
VILLAGE BAKERY AND CAFÉ
Now you can eat again. If you see an open table at the Village Bakery and Cafe, throw something on it, like your umbrella or shoe. There are maybe three of these tables, so the chance won’t come around twice. Order a salad (the spinach one because the house-made lemon basil vinaigrette is tops) and a pizza (any of them). These will be simple, unfussy, and amazing. When you’ve finished lunch, grab some fresh bread and granola to take home with you. Do not think for one second about the amount of bread you’ve consumed in a single day. We’ll rectify that later with some apples. (Or, in lieu of apples, some cinnamon doughnuts, which are not quite the same as bread.)
FLAT ROCK FARMERS MARKET
If it’s between 3 and 6 on a Thursday (it probably isn’t, but if it is), visit the Farmers Market behind Little Rainbow Row. Here you’ll find local honey, (very) fresh shrimp, veggies, eggs, herbs, and—for ten bucks—a massage administered right there, outside, on a table in the middle of the farmers market. As the sign promises, after this massage your face will change from a frowny one to a smiley one.
SKY TOP ORCHARD
On your way back to town, pick some apples at Sky Top Orchard to share with your boss as an apology. Better yet, go home to make a pie out of them and share with the whole office the next day. Or just stock up on those cinnamon doughnuts, which we all know are worth the trip to Flat Rock in themselves. Drive back home full, calm, and in the company a fresh podcast (consider Invisibilia or Dear Sugar). Go in to work the next morning knowing next time you need a break, Flat Rock will be waiting for you.