Once ubiquitous in pharmacies across the South, soda fountains have waned with the advent of fast food. Today, it’s not easy to find the pressed sandwiches, milkshakes and drinks that made them so popular, but Pharaoh’s at North Hills and at the Museum of History is keeping the tradition alive with old-fashioned cheeseburgers, chicken salad, french fries and…orangeades.
Co-owner George McNeill—who calls the process of making an orangeade “rendering the nectar”—grew up in the early 1960’s working in his family’s pharmacy in Whiteville, North Carolina, which claims to be the state’s oldest. There, he perfected the art of making simple syrup. Medicines were often doctored with this sweet addition before the advent of flavor enhancers; the syrup then served double-duty as sweetener at the soda fountain for hand blended Coca-Colas and orangeades.
This nostalgic thirst quencher with a healthy dose of vitamin C has four basic ingredients: squeezed-to-order orange juice, simple syrup, water and shaved ice.
Pharaoh’s ice is “shaved by angels,” McNeill claims (you can buy a cup of it alone for 25 cents), and its syrup, handmade by the gallon, is “the key.” Don’t get him started on the history of the orange—an exotic Oriental fruit, to hear him tell it.
“People like to see us do the work,” he says, and Pharaoh’s old-fashioned hand-squeezers do take some muscle. “They know they’re getting a fresh product.”
Pharaoh’s Grill at North Hills: 4421 Six Forks Road, 919-420-0840; Pharaoh’s Grill at the Museum: 3 East Edenton Street, 919-807-7879