James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Order Biscuits the Way Michael Jordan Ordered Biscuits

Order Biscuits the Way Michael Jordan Ordered Biscuits

Biscuits in North Carolina

The paper bag is tantalizingly weighty as I scoot out the door and flicker in and out of the line of morning headlights. In a puff of steam, I pull out the first tender biscuit, a study in delicious contrasts; light crisp of crust revealing soft flaky dough, a hint of sweetness meeting the salty bite of sausage—simplicity and decadence all in one.

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen has been serving professors and farmers, southerners and northerners what they rightly call “Bigger Better Biscuits” for nearly 40 years. The kitchen is a shoe-box-sized drive-thru at the bottom of the hill leading to the white-columned campus of UNC Chapel Hill. The menu isn’t long, but it offers more than you might expect—even an incongruous low-carb option—and the orders are rattled off in rapid-fire displays of familiarity.

Don’t make the mistake of looking too far down the menu; everything you need to see is right there at the top, and has been since the beginning. Biscuits plain, or with jam, sausage, or fried chicken can fill you up for little more than pocket change.

Despite the efficient art of the biscuit-builders in the kitchen, the line still gets long, but those in the know, like Michael Jordan in his college days, get out, weave through the cars in the drive-thru, and slide in the door to the kitchen where there’s just enough room to place an order. The room is glowing and glorious, bustling with southern mamas buttering trays of biscuits and men with tattoos that hint they haven’t always spent their mornings folding flaky layers into the dough. Flour floats in the warm air and the scent of rising dough is nearly intoxicating. Before you know it, there’s a full bag in hand and you’re out the door.

The owner’s grandmother ironed out the recipe for these biscuits when she was putting food on the table for her 17 children. Like toast or oatmeal, the biscuit was a humble staple of breakfast tables across the south. Cheap and filling, simple yet sublimely satisfying, requiring minimal ingredients yet demanding a touch of magic, biscuits were an industrious and indulgent way to fill stomachs—and still are.

Among artisanal doughnut shops, avocado toast brunches, and even biscuits dolled up with the latest superfood or meat substitute, Sunrise is a holdout of the Southern style, when hearty excellence and thriftiness were natural companions.

I pull out my biscuit, plain, and revel in all that is wrapped up in this simple package. Taking a bite, I remember one of the men in the kitchen telling me that the same woman who created this recipe lived to be nearly 100. I pray that the biscuits were her secret to longevity and I’m doing my best to get my daily dose.


Sunrise Biscuits Kitchen
1305 E. Franklin St.,
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Monday-Saturday 6:00am – 2:30pm
Sunday 7am – 2:30pm

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