The scene: The American South has a number of regional fast food chains that can only be found here, and Great American Bites has visited several over the years, including Zaxby’s, Krystal, Whataburger, Cookout, Bojangles, In-N-Out and Raising Cane’s, among others.
But the most unique one of all may well be Biscuitville, the biggest such chain many people have never heard of. Since 1975 it has specialized in biscuit sandwiches and now has nearly 60 locations, all of them in North Carolina and Virginia.
As you might expect at a restaurant named Biscuitville, biscuits are king, and the brand’s signature is that a new batch is cooked every 15 minutes the eateries are open, which typically means from 5 or 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. since the chain is only open for breakfast and lunch.
The restaurants look different in shape and size, but all are basic fast-food eateries, where you order at a counter with overhead menus, everything from floors to counters to tables are sleek and synthetic and easy to clean, and the condiments and soft drinks are self-serve.
But two things make every Biscuitville different from all other fast-food spots. One is the proudly displayed list of local and regional producers supplying ingredients — most notably the family-owned grain mill in Henderson, North Carolina, that has been exclusively providing the chain’s flour since the 1960s.
The other is the signature “biscuit window,” a glass-enclosed stall next to the counter where you can see the biscuits being made by hand in small batches. In the niche of specialized restaurants, Biscuitville has its specialty down pat, and has for more than half a century.
The history: The family-owned brand uses a family recipe, of course, was started by a flour salesman and actually began as far back as a pizza-centric eatery before the biscuits stole the show.
According to the company’s lore on its website, the son of the founder claims that, “On my great-grandmother’s deathbed, she gave my dad the choice of the family farm or the family biscuit recipe. He chose the biscuit recipe.”
Reason to visit: Biscuit sandwiches, especially spicy chicken with honey and bacon, egg and cheese.
The food: The biscuits are made from just three ingredients, flour, buttermilk and shortening, and they are mixed, kneaded, cut and baked in full view of customers, behind the glass.
Although the store may has a similar feel to a McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A, the biscuits are not dense like the burger-chain version or falling apart crumbly like the chicken-chain version. They have a sturdy and slightly crisp exterior that holds them together but are light, fluffy and creamy inside — making them perfect for sandwiches as they can stand up to cleanly taking a bite without falling apart. In fact, the exterior is coherent enough to handle a bath in sausage gravy, a classic but soggy Southern way to enjoy biscuits, while you can still relish the light and flavorful interior.
My favorite biscuit sandwich was the spicy chicken and honey, featuring a generous patty of seasoned breaded fried chicken (from a consortium of family poultry farms in South Carolina and northern Georgia) smeared with honey (from Winston-Salem) and nothing else. The spice level adds a little zing, and while it’s not overly hot, the spiciness definitely builds as you eat it, while the honey keeps it moist and the added sweetness pairs well with the heat.
There is also a fried-pork-chop sandwich with a sort of schnitzel-style boneless breaded and fried patty, as well as a chicken-fried-steak version, but as much as I love pork and beef, neither packed in as much sensory enjoyment as the hot chicken with honey.
Biscuitville is most popular for breakfast, and rightfully so, as its stalwart, the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, puts other fast-food versions to shame with standout bacon that’s really meaty while boasting a truly homemade taste. That’s probably because they are homemade, as every Biscuitville griddle cooks its bacon fresh, hand cracks locally sourced eggs, and the chain doesn’t use microwaves.
One of my other favorites is the country ham biscuit, simply because this is a true Southern classic you won’t typically find at competing fast-food eateries, and they use ham cured at a small operation in nearby Wilkesboro, North Carolina. It is quite salty with very concentrated flavor, you don’t need a lot, and it a perfect filling for a simple biscuit sandwich, where you don’t have to dress it up with condiments.
Another local classic is the biscuit and sausage gravy, which comes doused in a flavorful but thin white creamy gravy that lacks the sausage chunks you typically see but matches up well with the crisp shell of the bread. If you like biscuits and gravy, and I do, it is another unique fast-food breakfast option, though it is not definitely not a drive-through friendly dish you want to be eating behind the wheel.
The Biscuitville menu consists of nearly a dozen biscuit sandwich variants, combining fried chicken, pork or steak, bacon, sausage, ham or turkey sausage with eggs and cheese in various ways.
Then there are a few similar sandwiches offered between English muffins or mini-waffles, but this misses the entire point of the chain, which starts and ends with the biscuits.
There are also a few sides, the most notable of which are the grits, plain or cheesy. The grits themselves are good, but the cheese underwhelmed, so I would go classic and order them plain.
The hash brown looked like the McDonald’s version, a single flat oval, but tasted better, quite fresh and with great crunch, and is probably the best pairing option here with a biscuit sandwich – except maybe for a second biscuit sandwich.
Pilgrimage-worthy? No, but if you are in Virginia or North Carolina, it’s a unique, fun and much different way to dine roadside.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: More than 55 locations across North Carolina and Virginia; https://biscuitville.com
Larry Olmsted has been writing about food and travel for more than 15 years. An avid eater and cook, he has attended cooking classes in Italy, judged a barbecue contest and once dined with Julia Child. Follow him on Twitter, @TravelFoodGuy.
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