Open since 1929, Merritt's Store and Grill is an institution in Chapel Hill and when the first tomatoes of the season start weighing heavy on the vines – my craving for Merritt's famous BLTs begins. The key to Merritt's BLTs are the fresh garden tomatoes and there are just a few weeks left to take advantage of that seasonal southern staple and therefore this incredible BLT.
The Location: Just south of the hospital on Columbia St., Chapel Hill
Formerly a pretty bare bones operation, in recent years Merritt's has upgraded their space to be more café/upscale market than gas station/convenience store. Merritt's now has both indoor/outdoor seating, cases full of beer, wine, iced coffee, bottled sodas and various other local sundries. You still order at the counter to the left, wait for your sandwich, grab a drink out of the coolers and pay at the front. Merritt's is also now regularly offering live bluegrass music. Their facebook page seems the best way to keep up with their music schedule.
The Food: Merritt's famous BLTs are a thing of beauty. Large, deep red tomatoes are sliced thin, salt and peppered, piled onto romaine lettuce, topped generously with bacon and sandwiched between mayo slathered toast. You can order a single ($5.95), double ($7.95), or triple ($9.95). You can add avocado for a dollar, which I highly recommend. Merritt's offers a variety of bread choices, but I always stick with sourdough. For vegetarians they have egg salad, pimento cheese and a veggie sandwich (guacamole, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, onion). They also serve up burgers and hot dogs. However nine out of every ten people in line are ordering a single, double or triple BLT.
The Service: Counter service, line moves quickly, they assemble your sandwich while your wait. The staff is friendly and helpful.
The Bill: $9 for a single BLT with avocado and a bottle of Cheerwine. The sandwiches are large, filling and packed full of premium ingredients.
The Verdict: There's a reason Merritt's has been a Chapel Hill staple for years. Not only is Merritt's serving up the best BLT around, it's serving up a bit of Chapel Hill nostalgia. When you walk into Merritt's, despite upgrades you feel like you are stepping back in time. I used to regularly make the trek to Merritt's in my undergrad days at the university, and over a decade later I still continue to make that same pilgrimage each summer at the first sign of tomatoes.
Grill hours: Merrit's is open Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. (after 3 p.m., BLTs are served until 8 p.m.), Saturday they are open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Chris Rhyne Reid is a North Carolina native with a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A copywriter by day, she pursues her love of all things edible in her spare time. She writes for Durham-based food blog Carpe Durham.