By Erin Pesut
There is always that one guy in town who can tell you just where to eat. Joe Sugar, a Fayetteville native and owner of Joe Sugar’s of St. Pauls, a destination menswear shop (“If you have a figure—we can fit it.”) knows best. I stopped in to chat with Joe Sugar about some of his favorite places to eat near his store on West Broad Street, in the heart of St. Pauls, a city known as “A Small Town with a Big Heart.”
St. Pauls is a place where men from Pinehurst, Fayetteville and Lumberton would come to shop for clothes. For an all day event, people needed some place to get a bite to eat before they headed back home. Joe Sugar’s, celebrating their first century of business on June 9th, was one popular destination. But it surely means Joe Sugar, the man himself, has been around long enough to know which restaurants are the best. Here are some of his favorite restaurant recommendations.
“They didn’t take long to establish themselves as a destination restaurant,” Joe Sugar told me. After they opened in 1991, the restaurant soon became a landmark. People would ask for directions, Is TarPackers near Sugar’s? Is Sugar’s near TarPackers? Each was a reason to come to town.
“They’ve always had a neat idea, marrying up Wolfpack fans and Tarheel fans, hence the name TarPackers,” said Sugar.
Inside, they have nostalgic memorabilia: banners, license plates and collectibles from NC State and Chapel Hill. On the wall there are six-foot tall posters of players and coaches.
“It’s a museum of sorts,” he explained.
His favorite dish?
“Their loaded stuffed potato is to die for. The potato is loaded with onion, peppers, turkey and ham with melted cheese over the top, in abundance.”
Though it comes with butter and sour cream, Joe Sugar said, “No butter or sour cream is necessary with this potato.”
Joe also likes their homemade chicken salad, which is served on a flaky croissant with lettuce and tomato and comes with either a baked potato, french fries or chips. For sides, he likes their most popular items, the fried squash or the fried okra.
Joe Sugar is the kind of guy who prefers water, but he reminded me that Tuesdays is “Terrific Tea Tuesday” at TarPackers, which means free iced tea all day long. If you’re part of the Wolfpack, wear your red on “Wolfpack Wednesday” for 10 percent off. If you’re a Tarheel, wear your Carolina blue for the same on “Tarheel Thursday.”
Zachary's Pizza specializes in Greek, Italian and American cuisine. According to Sugar, "The regular wings are better than the spicy ones and if you don't like them... Joe Sugar will buy them for you!" A hard deal to beat.
He also recommends the “phenomenal Greek salad, the chopped chicken salad and the other being Zachary’s Pizza Special, which you must get it loaded, you must get it all the way!” The pizza is like nothing he's had elsewhere. It's much more of the New York-style of pizza.
Zachary’s Pizza is health conscious, too, especially when Sugar is trying to eat clean. According to their website, Zachary’s Pizza “uses very little salt and no preservatives in our pizza sauce or Marinara,” and if Joe Sugar asks, Jimmy, a chef at Zachary’s Pizza, will occasionally make him a special dish.
“I’m trying to watch my diet and eat more protein and vegetables, so he made a special chicken for me.”
For the five to six days a week Sugar works at his store, he never has a set time for lunch.
“I go when the business stops. And the whole lunch hour, we have less people working in the store and the lunch places are busy, so it’s better for me to eat early or go late.”
So if Sugar is crunched for time and especially since Los Compadres is open after 2:00 p.m., a rarity in Southern dining, he will head over to Los Compadres where the service is speedy, meals are inexpensive, and their hours are convenient.
He typically orders the vegetable fajitas, which comes served with beans, rice, a bed of lettuce, sour cream and a nice chunk of tomato.
“They’re enough for me, but way too much for most people,” he said with a laugh.
While he waits, he loves their salsa that comes with free tortilla chips.
“The salsa has just the right zing, not so mild you think you’re eating vegetables and not so hot you have to have water after it.”
Once his sizzling fajitas arrive, Sugar takes his tomato from his cold plate and wedges it under the hot pan, heating it up. After a quick lunch, he heads back to the store, just across the street. Perfecto!
Broad Street Cafe
A restaurant list wouldn’t be complete without a burger in there somewhere and Joe Sugar cites the very best hamburger can be found at Broad Street Cafe.
He likes “the double cheeseburger, lettuce, tomato, pickles and the crinkle cut fries, golden brown, always hot.”
Broad Street Cafe is only open 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, and on Friday Joe Sugar said, “they serve up a famous catfish dinner and there’s great attendance for that.”
A close second is the chicken salad at Broad Street Cafe.
“I’d put her chicken salad up against TarPackers, and let the patron decide.”
“This is where you’ll find your country barbecue plates, with veggies, collard greens… and it’s fantastic!”
Joe Sugar told me, “My favorite is the fried chicken breast sandwich.”
He explained, “It’s ‘oreo-ed’ inside a hamburger bun, chicken breast, bone and all. If you drop any crumbs, you’ll be reaching to pick them up. That crust tastes like candy. You can't throw away the crust or I might come grab and eat it! I’ll cheat at Pauline’s every once and awhile. Sometimes I’ll grab that chicken sandwich for my drive back to Fayetteville and her collard greens. You can get a quart of collard greens for $2.25.”
He also recommended the barbecue or the pork chop sandwich.
On her menu, she has a long list of Southern sides: slaw, potato salad, baked beans, green beans, collards, yams, rice, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, french fries, okra, gravy, onion rings and hushpuppies.
If you care to eat outside, since there is no air-conditioning or heating, there are two picnic tables, but the drive-through is always busy and easy way to get that hot fried chicken to go.
“She knows when the workers get off, so you know there will be a fresh batch of chicken then and you want that chicken hot, if you can get it hot.”
Besides the great variety of food, one of the best benefits of dining out in St. Pauls is parking. West Broad Street is a long street and they’ve got parking spots all down either side.
“Parking is very convenient for customers here,” said Sugar. He recently helped to put in more handicap parking spots for customers so they can be closer to the door.
“We’ve got some fine places to stop in and eat here in St. Pauls,” But, this list isn’t complete. He’s got more secrets under his belt. He wouldn’t tell me, but he’ll tell you if you stop in and see him. Two things. Sandwiches. Gems of St. Pauls.
“They’re a real hidden treasure.”