by Karon Warren
About an hour north of Wilmington, N.C., off Interstate 40, Duplin County overflows with several small towns that offer big entertainment. From two wineries to several historical sites to plenty of local shopping and dining, Duplin County is ideal for day trips or a long weekend.
It starts with wine
A mainstay in Duplin County since the 1970s, Duplin Winery in Rose Hill is easily Duplin County’s most popular attraction and not without reason. Offering 40 varietals of muscadine wines, Duplin Winery invites visitors to sample 10 wines during its deluxe tasting. For just $12, guests ages 21 and older can try 10 different wines along with a gourmet cheese dip, homemade gourmet crackers and a glass of wine once the tasting is complete.
To find out more about Duplin Winery, sign up for the free tour of the production facility. Not only will you learn how this winery didn’t start as a winery—the goal was to farm and supply a New York winery—but also why the winery is closed every Sunday without exception. Include lunch or a dinner show at The Bistro at Duplin Winery, and make it a fun afternoon or evening. Be sure to try the S’moreo cheesecake!
Of course, Duplin County also is home to The Country Squire Restaurant, Winery & Inn in Warsaw, which offers wines crafted from not only muscadines, but also pomegranate, apple, blackberries, peach, watermelon, honeydew, mango and other fruits. Each varietal’s name pays homage to owner Iris Lennon’s Scottish heritage, which is on full display throughout the winery. For instance, there’s a pinot grigio named Jester’s Folly, a chardonnay called Pride of Scotland and a pomegranate wine known as Knicker Dropper.
The Country Squire offers free tastings every Wednesday through Saturday, which you can follow up with lunch or dinner at The Country Squire Restaurant. In addition to the wine, a visit to the restaurant is worth it just to sample the “Squire’s Cheese” spread, a blue cheese concoction that can become highly addictive.
Then it steps back in time
Duplin County is rich in history, and the community has done it justice by preserving it for others to enjoy. Honoring all those who have served from the Revolutionary War through the recent conflicts in the Middle East, the Duplin County Veterans Museum at the L.P. Best House in Warsaw contains a wealth of artifacts and memorabilia from Duplin County residents, everything from uniforms to artillery to handwritten letters to photographs and so much more. Museum exhibits are laid out from room to room in chronological order so you can start with the Revolutionary War and move forward in time. It’s amazing to see how much has changed, yet remains so much the same. It’s a haunting yet heartwarming memorial to the many men and women who sacrificed so much to serve their country.
At the Cowan Museum of History & Science in Kenansville, take a step back in time to see artifacts from days gone by. Founded in 1981 by George and Ila Cowan, the museum documents everything from early medical tools and medicines (look for the 1700s-era tooth extractor) to cobbler’s tools to early women’s fashions—and a lot more. The museum also houses The Rock Room, which showcases rocks and minerals that not only document the earth’s history but also are an essential part of our day-to-day lives.
For a look at daily life during the 1800s, head to Liberty Hall in Kenansville, which served as the home of the town’s namesake Kenan family. Because the home was closed by the family in 1906 (and restored and reopened to the public in the 1960s), there is a wealth of original furnishings, artwork and documents that provide detailed information on the family’s lives and activities. You’ll even see the wedding dress worn by Mary Lily Kenan in 1901 for her marriage to Henry M. Flagler.
Originally built in 1963 by the Queensboro Steel Corp. in Wilmington to pay tribute to Duplin County’s poultry industry, the World’s Largest Frying Pan in Rose Hill is staggering in size. Weighing 2 tons, it is 15 feet in diameter with a 45-foot circumference. It has a 6-foot handle and holds 200 gallons of cooking oil, which is heated by 40 gas burners. The best time to check out the frying pan is during the Poultry Jubilee in November when you can see the frying pan in action. During this event, the Rose Hill Volunteer Fire Department cook up more than 1,200 pieces of chicken, a truly unique way to commemorate this iconic structure.
Come full circle with local shopping and dining
If you love to shop until you drop, Downtown Wallace has you covered. Along Main Street, you’ll find a wealth of shops and boutiques offering everything you need and plenty you don’t. For instance, at Pink Willow Boutique, you can score the latest fashions and jewelry along with a touch of home décor.
At This Little Pig, you’ll find a variety of clothing, shoes, home décor, skincare and other items that make great gifts. At Westside Creations, take your home décor to the next level with handmade wreaths, wood décor, floral design, yard signs and more—much of which can be customized. At The Traveling Gypsy, you’ll find clothing and jewelry as well as a selection of home goods.
To stock your kitchen, head to The Country Barn in Beulaville, where you’ll find flours, spices and sugar along with dried fruits, nuts and farm fresh milk. You also can take home fresh baked goods (try the red raspberry pie!) and deli sandwiches. The Country Barn even offers outdoor furniture, birdhouses and outbuildings so you can outfit your yard.
When you’re ready for a bite to eat, Duplin County offers a mix of eateries with equally diverse menu items. For instance, start your day at Burney’s Sweets and More in Wallace with a fresh glazed croissant with blueberry filling. (Caution: These are highly addictive). If you need something more hearty, Shawn’s Restaurant in Wallace has a menu filled with traditional favorites like biscuits and gravy as well as more unique offerings like eggs with liver pudding or pork brains. For a quick and tasty breakfast, the bacon, egg and cheese biscuit at the Country Smokehouse in Beulaville doesn’t disappoint.
You might be surprised to find Thai cuisine in Duplin County, but Ann’s Thai Kitchen in Beulaville delivers such dishes as Pad Thai, Red Curry and Pad Ka Pow, all served with hot and sour soup. At the Mad Boar in Wallace, you’ll find dishes with a unique twist, such as the “Redneck” Charcuterie (think pickled veggies, cured sausage, homemade pimento cheese and bacon jam) and Murphy’s Law, chargrilled pork tenderloin with an apple-dijon glaze.
At The Filling Station in Kenansville, you could have a traditional cheeseburger (which is delicious!) or opt for the flour burger, which mixes flour with ground beef for a different taste. Couple it with Potato Munchers, a fried treat that tastes a bit like hashbrown bites, but with diced jalapenos to give it a bit of a kick. If you’re after traditional Southern cooking, the Rose Hill Restaurant in Rose Hill has just what you want. The menu features Southern favorites like baked ham, sirloin tips and pit-cooked barbecue pork, all of which can be coupled with such sides as fried okra, butter beans and turnip greens. If you’re lucky, you’ll visit when the Swiss chicken over rice is the special.
Extend your stay
If your visit to Duplin County includes an overnight stay (highly recommended!), the county does have some brand hotels. However, for more local flavor, consider booking a room at The Vintage Inn or at River Landing’s Clubhouse Suites. Located at The Country Squire Winery, The Vintage Inn features 12 rooms that immerse guests in a time gone by in Scotland. The winery also is home to The Country Squire Guest House, which has four rooms decorated to reflect the owner’s Scottish heritage.
At River Landing in Wallace, you can choose between rooms at River Landing Clubhouse or in the two guest cottages. All rooms contain top-notch amenities and overlook River Landing’s golf courses. Both the Clubhouse Suites and the cottage guest rooms can be connected to accommodate larger groups, making them ideal when traveling with friends and family.
Another great option, especially if you are traveling with an RV, is Cabin Lake County Park in Pink Hill. The park offers both RV and tent camping, along with such amenities as a swimming beach, fishing piers, two playgrounds, and canoe and paddleboat rentals. For guests of all ages, there is a 2.3-mile hiking trail around the lake that is perfect for exploring the park.
When traveling along I-40, make time for a stop in Duplin County. This North Carolina county is guaranteed to keep you entertained for a day, a weekend and even longer.
(Go Magazine Online Exclusive December 2021)
(photos: Karon Warren)