SOUTHERN LIVING MAGAZINE RECOGNIZES FULLER'S OLD FASHIONED BAR-B-Q AS A TOP STOP ALONG INTERSTATE 95
A plate loaded with food from the buffet sits on a table at Fuller's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Q in Lumberton. Fuller's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Q has been named one of the South's Top 5 Interstate eateries by Southern Living magazine.
LUMBERTON - National food blogger Robert Moss was looking for barbecue.
He found a little slice of paradise in Lumberton - with a generous helping of fried cornbread on the side.
Moss, a regular contributor to Southern Living magazine's "Daily South" section, recently named Fuller's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Q one of his Top 5 "Great Interstate Highway Barbecue Joints." The reaction, including phone calls and emails from across the country, took restaurant owner Eric Locklear by surprise.
"My phone's been blowing up for the past few days," Locklear said during an after-lunch break.
Even when the lunch crowd leaves, there's still a steady stream of customers drawn from nearby Interstate 95 to Fuller's promise of "home cooking - and plenty of it."
"My mom always said, 'If you're going to cook, cook with your heart,'" he said. "Treat people like family, and feed them like family. Never serve up something you wouldn't eat yourself."
That attitude, and quality, is what led Moss to choose Fuller's from an interstate ocean of what Moss called "big blue sign" dining. Most barbecue restaurants, even the good ones, can afford to pay for that coveted spot on the blue "Food - Next Exit" signs. Fast food chains generally gobble up the available spots, leaving places such as Fuller's unseen to drivers zipping past.
Moss offered five spots in the South less than a mile from the exit. Fuller's and Carolina Barbecue in Statesville were the only spots in the Carolinas to make the cut.
"I never met him," Locklear said of Moss. "He didn't let anyone know he was coming, so we take it as a compliment that he enjoyed his visit.
"But that's the way we like to treat people here. So many spots on the highway, you're a customer. Here you're like family."
It's been that way since Fuller and Delores Locklear opened a small barbecue sandwich shop on N.C. 211 in the mid '80s to augment their farming income. Ironically, that shop wouldn't have made the Top 5 list, because it was more than a mile from the interstate.
"It was a few miles down the road, but it was a place all the locals knew," Eric Locklear said.
"Everything was fresh from the community. Mama and Daddy put everything we had into the shop, and they did the cooking. Our first buffet table was bout four feet long with three or four sides."
Things are a bit different now. The new Fuller's, which opened in the '90s about a quarter mile south of I-95, boasts a 40-item all-you-can eat buffet, with parking for tour buses.
Most of the recipes, however, haven't changed. Moss praised Fuller's for "local Lumbee Indian specialties, like collards and round, flat discs of cornbread."
Put the two together and you have another local delicacy: collard sandwiches.
"We have the makings for a real good collard sandwich right there," Locklear said. "But there's a lot more to try as well.
"It's always fun to see people come in for the first time and just stare at the buffet. We've had people say they hadn't seen some of this food since they left home."
Which makes Fuller's a sort of home away from home for travelers. It's a reputation the restaurant tries to maintain.
"Folks can come in off the interstate and relax," he said. "It's not a place to just eat and run. There are plenty of those already.
"We have a place to sit back and enjoy your meal, then leave relaxed. You may be full - I hope you're full - but you're relaxed."