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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The perfect BLT -- Merritt’s Store and Grill

Back in the mid 1990s, when I lived in the wild, bucolic, rolling hills of Chatham County, I used to drive pass a run down Esso station on US 15-501, built circa 1945, every few days on the way to Chapel Hill in order to pick up this or that. In those days, this or that usually meant a trip to the Wellspring, a stop at the Mediterranean Deli on Franklin Street or occasionally a pizza from Pepper's. And every time I drove passed it, there would be cars – Beamers, Volvo wagons and the like – in the parking lot, but little evidence that anything was going on inside. It looked to world that or at least to me, that this was nothing more than a little family run country store, eking out an existence on its way to being bulldozed and turned in a TGI McFunsters.

Tragic, in a personal way for the family trying to make it in an age where corporate behemoths rule the universe and little guys get trampled underfoot.

I moved away to New York for five years, only to spend hours commuting into The City and freezing myself nearly solid as blizzard after blizzard finally disabused me on the notion that the horsey part of Westchester County, New York was Currier and Ives landscape made real. Sure, it looks great dressed in white, but how in the &@#$%^! do I get to the train station in this mess?

A Double on Sourdough, with mayo
So five years later, we came back and the little Esso Station that could was still there, complete with the same complement of high buck Euro-steel in the parking lot. It was only then that I learned the magic secret: this little Esso Station was no Esso Station eking out an existence. This Esso Station is Merritt's Store and Grill and they make BLTs like nobody's business.

Hipsters knew but I didn't. But I do now.

There are other things on the menu and I have heard of people ordering fried bologna sandwiches but I never have.

No, the star of the show is the BLT, which comes in three variants: the Single, the Double and The Triple and they are exactly what you think they would be. A single is Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato between two slices of the bread of your choice – mayo optional. The double is Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, and then another layer of Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato. The triple is three layers of the BLT between two slices of bread. To put it in perspective; a triple is almost as big as my head.

This time of year, the Tomatoes are perfect. The Bacon comes from Cliff's in Carrboro and has the right balance of fat to lean, smoke to salt. Is it worth the drive from Raleigh? You betcha'. Is it special? So special, in fact, I took my Mom to lunch there for Mother's Day (okay, it was the Saturday before since they're closed on Sundays).

The prices are reasonable, with a double coming in at about eight bucks. Worth it.

Merritt's Store & Grill

1009 S. Columbia St.

Chapel Hill, 919-942-4897
Cuisine: Road food
Rating: ****
Prices: $
Atmosphere: Ex-gas station
Noise level: low
Open: 6 am to 8 pm Monday through Friday, 8 am to 8 pm Satuday. Closed Sunday.
Reservations: No
Other: Self-service, cash only

We rank restaurants in five categories:
***** Extraordinary – Intense attention to ingredients and preparation and devoid of pretense. Everything right.
**** Excellent – Attention to ingredients and preparation; in down scale environs, its something that’s absolutely true to its DNA.
*** Above average – Spotty attention to ingredients and preparation; okay but not great.
** Average – Will do in a pinch but not worth the journey.
* Fair – Don’t bother, as it probably has a help wanted sign in the window. Always the harbinger of a bad time on the horizon.

The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.


  1. Try the fried bologna! I haven't had one there - but they were one of those 2 am food cravings during both of my pregnancies, so I have made more than a few in my day.

  2. I'll try to remember but the BLTs are so darn good. Although it does sound like a craver food.

  3. there is absolutely NOTHING better than a merritt's blt. not one thing in this world. it is worth the drive of a thousand miles.

    only 3 1/2 stars? really?


  4. Well, I had to take off some points for decor or the lack thereof. But it's great stuff.