Cherokee, NC: Rat cheese, pork skins & peanuts, boiled or fried
First, you see the BOILED PEANUTS sign. Then you see the cauldron: Fat, black, dangling from chains, steam curling up from the lip. Peanuts are simmering away in their brown liquid, looking like giant Boston beans.
There's a second sign outside of Cooper's Roadside Stand which reads "Rat Cheese, Homemade Jams & Jellies, Side Meat & Country Ham, Fresh Pork Skins, Cabins on River."
Cooper's has been on this patch of road at the foot of the Smoky Mountains since 1977. Cherokee, N.C. and the Cherokee Indian Reservation are no strangers to tourist appeal—you can gamble at the casino, pan for riches at the Gold & Ruby Mine, stay at teeny motels that flag you down with their 1940s neon signs ("Papoose Motel," "The Wigwam") and pop over to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. But Cooper's doesn't blow its horn much.
Pick up some chow chow (a pepper relish) and side meat (cured ham) for your next breakfast. The boiled peanuts, regular or Cajun-style, are ladled into brown paper bags. Work fast: The bags soak through quickly.
And don't miss the fried peanuts. Local nuts—huge, like the tip of your thumb—are fried in butter and dusted with plain table salt. They are quite possibly the best peanuts you will ever eat. So good that when you're done eating the peanuts, you might hold onto what's kicking around the bottom of the bag (peanut skins and salt) just so you can sprinkle it onto something else.
Like Krispy Kremes, fresh off the conveyor belt (true story).