Hearty breakfasts – and ample servings – are the daily specialty at Shatley Springs Inn, the restaurant that Our State readers named the Best Breakfast in North Carolina
Article written by Leigh Pressley
“Breakfast of Champions” by Leigh Pressley, Our State magazine, October 1997. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Mmmmmm. Spicy sausage, steaming eggs, crisp bacon, fluffy biscuits, sweet strawberry jam, and aromatic coffee. The scents bring memories of special weekend breakfasts for many North Carolinians., but at Shatley Springs Inn just north of Ashe County, a special occasion isn’t needed. Hearty Breakfasts, and ample servings, are the daily specialty at Shatley Springs, the restaurant Our State readers named the Best Breakfast in North Carolina.
“This is a breakfast for people who are hungry,” says owner Lee McMillan, presiding over a family style table full of bowls and plates brimming with food. “We don’t have a great deal of variety because we know what our customers like. The traditional favorites, and a lot of it.”
Set among the Blue Ridge mountains not far from the Virginia line, Shatley Springs Inn isn’t the typical bed-and-breakfast resort. Rustic and friendly, the inn includes tiny lakeside cabins, quaint mountain shops, and the plank-floored restaurant with rocking chairs on the front porch and gospel bands on the weekends.
Where healing waters flow. In 1890, Martin Shatley dipped his hands in a cool mountain stream to soothe his skin in the blistering summer heat. A crippling disease had plagued him for years, but within hours, it seemed to be miraculously disappearing. Rumors spread of the mysterious healing powers of the waters at Shatley Springs, and people from near and far showed up seeking relief from various ailments. Then a hole in the ground walled up by rocks, Shatley Springs accommodations were in tents or in the homes of nearby families. Shatley later moved to Wilkes County, but returned each summer to bathe in the medicinal waters. Early development of the era included a bathhouse with a long bench, a small heater, and bathtub of sheet iron. Bathing water was heated in a black iron pot outside the bathhouse. In the 1920’s new owners built the cabins and the restaurant, and changed the name to Radium Springs in reference to a chemical analysis that revealed a trace of radium in the water. For a time, the water was bottled and sold by the truckload. “They’d use five-gallon jugs and send them down the mountain by wagon,” says McMillan, who bought the place in 1958 and changed the name back to Shatley Springs. “Then they’d put the water on the train in Marion, Virginia. I have a receipt for 640 gallons that were shipped to New York City.” The water which flows out of the Little Phoenix Mountain, is still considered on of the purest springs in the world. While most folks come to Shatley Springs for the breakfast these Days, it’s not unusual to see people filling up jugs from the spring and carrying them home.
Check your diet at the door. The water may be medicinal, but the breakfast could keep cardiologists very busy. On the other hand, bad-for-you always tastes better. So forget the diet for the day and dig in. Breakfast at Shatley Springs Inn is most often served family-style, in large serving bowls set out on the table for guests to pick and choose as they like. The family-style menu includes cereal, juices, scrambled eggs, bacon, country-style sugar-cured ham, sausage, tenderloin, home made biscuits, pancakes, potatoes, grits, baked apples, strawberry preserves, and coffee. Sausage gravy and red-eye gravy are included. “People are crazy about this red-eye gravy,” says McMillan, sliding the bowl to his guests. “We ran out one time and I thought we were going to have a riot. If people like it, they really like it.” Kitchen workers hustle to keep the piping hot breakfasts coming for the 235-seat restaurant with gingham curtains and tablecloths, antique coffee grinders on the shelves, and waitresses who call you “honey.” “I’ve got to have two people making the biscuits non-stop just to keep up,” says McMillan. “Then we’ll have one person breaking, one person frying, and one person doing all the eggs. These are about the lightest biscuits I’ve ever had. It’s all in the way you mix the dough.” For those with smaller appetites, breakfast is also available via six specialty meals and a host of side orders. For instance, the number one Special includes two eggs cooked to order; ham, bacon, or sausage; sausage gravy; two biscuits or toast; strawberry preserves; and your choice of coffee, tea, or milk. All for $4.25. Biscuits and coffee are also available for takeout. Shatley Springs Inn is well known to locals, but most of its diners are from outside Ashe County. “It’s nothing to drive up here from Winston-Salem for breakfast” says McMillan. “We open at 7am on weekends, and by 7:30, there’s a waiting line. Most weekends, we’ll be full until lunch time.” Xen McCoy, a longtime visitor to Shatley Springs Inn, says people like the comfort of the place. “It’s like sitting at home,” she says. “You can eat as much as you want; you always leave full and happy.” McMillan says for many folks, coming to eat breakfast at Shatley Springs is a day long treat. “It’s sort of a social event for some people,” he says. “We get a lot of senior citizens, two couples who will ride up here together, eat breakfast, look in the shops and drive home. And lots of folks like to sit down in the rocking chairs out front and talk. It’s just a friendly, relaxing kind of place. A place with good food and a place where you won’t leave hungry.”
Want to know more? Shatley Springs Inn is located just off N.C. 16 on Shatley Springs Road West, about five miles north of Jefferson and about eight miles south of the Virginia line in Ashe County. Breakfast is served from 7am to 10 am daily; lunch and dinner are also served. For more Information, call the inn at (336) 982-2236.