Meet-and-Three: St. Paul's State Fair Restaurant | Food | Indy Week

Meet-and-Three: St. Paul's State Fair Restaurant

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Judy Caves arrives at 6:30 a.m. each day of the North Carolina State Fair to make biscuits for St. Pauls.
  • Judy Caves arrives at 6:30 a.m. each day of the North Carolina State Fair to make biscuits for St. Paul's.
Judy Caves has worked through 100 pounds of flour in two hours. “It’s been really busy,” she says. It looks like things will continue that way. The tables are packed at a restaurant operated by St. Paul’s Christian Church at the North Carolina State Fair, and a line continues to grow. Across from the Raleigh church's spot in a permanent building that’s in an area known as restaurant row, vendors sell deep-fried candy bars and cotton candy. But it’s no frills inside St. Paul’s. There are Caves’ homemade biscuits, Brunswick stew, barbecue chicken, boiled potatoes, stewed cabbage, green beans and black-eyed peas—simple fare that has held its own for almost 50 years against the rotating cast of novelty foods sold nearby.

Biscuits like Caves’ helped build the church, which was founded in 1959. Women from the congregation sold them with country ham to collect funds. So successful was the enterprise that St. Paul’s expanded its efforts and menu to a makeshift booth at the State Fair in 1962. “It was a two-forked program: outreach and a way to start our church,” Caves says of the initial business. “It was a way to make some money and to hire a minister.”

The congregation gathered recipes for the restaurant, which are still used today. “They came down from the charter members of the church,” Caves says. Plate meals ($8) include the choice of one meat, two vegetable sides and hushpuppies or biscuits. Barbecue sandwiches ($5), hot dogs ($2.50) and hamburgers ($3.50) are also available for lunch and dinner. But on a fall day at the fair, not much beats a bowl of St. Paul’s rich Brunswick stew ($4.50).

With their church now firmly rooted on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh, St. Paul’s helps others to their feet by sharing their building and resources. Caves explains that faith-based groups from India, Vietnam and the Philippines have “nested” in St. Paul’s congregation until they can start churches of their own. At the State Fair, members of the larger St. Paul’s community work together from 6 a.m. until well after midnight to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. It takes three shifts of 12 members to cook and mange the restaurant each of fair’s 11 days, not including volunteers who clean up at the end of the night. Members are also called upon before the fair to transition the shed-like building into a functioning restaurant with a service line and long, family-style tables draped in red-and-white checkered cloths.

St. Pauls Christian Church at the N.C. State Fair.
  • St. Paul's Christian Church at the N.C. State Fair.
Some of the church’s items stay beyond the fair. Freezers are stocked behind the building, and a youth-painted mural of the restaurant with a Ferris wheel and roller coaster has covered one of the walls for years. Though the restaurant is closed, St. Paul’s meals are available after the fair, too. They are printed in a third edition of the church’s cookbook, The Art of Cooking, which can be purchased at the St. Paul’s church office. And unlike a deep-fried Twinkie or funnel cake, St. Paul’s Brunswick stew and flakey biscuits are manageable items to make at home. Of course, they are better at the fair as a break from the glitz of the midway. But until the next fair season rolls around and St. Paul’s meat-and-three is back in its booth, the recipes will more than do.

St. Paul’s is located on restaurant row northeast of Dorton Arena for the duration of the State Fair, which ends Oct. 23. The Art of Cooking is available at St. Paul’s Church office (3331 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, 787-1278).

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