Drivin’ For Lunch: Thinking About Dessert First

by Ray Linville

If you want a delectable dessert with lunch, where do you go? For me and many others, it’s Mrs. Lacy’s Magnolia House in Sanford.

The restaurant is known as much for its desserts as it is for its soups, salads, sandwiches and quiches. Everything is homemade.

Patricia and Lorin Jenkins from nearby Harnett County, about 20 miles away, come at least once a week. He says, “Sometimes it’s up to three meals a week. 

“The atmosphere here is so casual. We were introduced to Mrs. Lacy’s about 10 years ago. Every place we’ve lived – New Jersey, Georgia, Michigan – we’ve always had a tea house. This one is just as good if not better than the ones we’ve been to.”

Although the menu is extensive with many choices for salads and sandwiches, he was more interested in discussing desserts. What’s his favorite at Mrs. Lacy’s? “Actually, it’s three: lemon lush, strawberry shortcake, and key lime pie,” he says.

My wife and I have to argue with his choices. For us, the butter pecan cake (with butter pecan ice cream) and Victoria’s Secret, a cherry-pineapple cobbler, can’t be beat. (We also took home a lemon lush, and it’s as good as its name. Made with cream cheese, it has a pecan crust and a lemon filing with a whipped topping sprinkled with pecans.) 

Lorin also recommends reservations because sometimes out-of-towners come by the vanload for lunch before they head to the Temple Theater for an afternoon performance.

After I talked to the Jenkins couple, Faye Shultz—the restaurant’s owner—whispered to me her secret for having such great desserts.

“My grandson Chad makes the cakes. He comes in at 4 in the morning, starts them, leaves to work out, and then returns to finish the cakes,” she says. All this occurs before he goes to his “regular day job” at Munday Scientific, which services and repairs microscopes.

“We make a few extra desserts each day. It all depends on how we’re feeling. We usually have 13-15 desserts each day,” she adds.

Of all the desserts, the shortcake is obviously a winner because Shultz sells a shortcake mix so customers can make it at home just like she serves (well, they try).

Although Shultz uses local strawberries and peaches in season with the shortcake, she can continue to serve strawberry shortcake in most months because that fruit is so readily available fresh. 

How good the shortcake is, is no longer a secret. “Sometimes people order as many as 20 at a time when local berries are in season,” she says.

Travelers to Mrs. Lacy’s come from far away to enjoy the food, particularly the desserts. Schultz has a book with signatures from all over the United States and from many foreign countries such as Japan and the Netherlands.

Schultz named the restaurant after her grandmother, Mrs. Lacy Jones Coggins, who had 15 children and was called Mrs. Lacy by everyone in the community. Shultz’s fondest memories of her years growing up are eating lunch with the family on Sundays after church at Grandma Lacy’s.

The restaurant, which first opened in 1995, occupies a charming Victorian two-story house built in 1902. At one time it was the home of Dr. Margaret McLeod, Sanford’s first pediatrician. Although the influence of women is abundantly clear at Mrs. Lacy’s, it is more than a lunch place for only ladies, as several men were dining with their wives and significant others.

In the sunroom I met a couple who had just connected on an online dating site and were meeting for the first time. Each was also at Mrs. Lacy’s for the first time, and both had been told it was the best place for lunch in Sanford, a halfway point between where each one lives—Ruth in Southern Pines and Tim in Fuquay-Varina.

How did I feel when I realized I was interrupting an initial date after they had just met? Awkward! But they were most gracious, and with sparkles in their eyes, they spoke romantically about … the food.

Tim had a sampler salad plate, a popular selection with plentiful servings of four of the eight salads at Mrs. Lacy’s. (Although all eight are excellent, I recommend chicken, broccoli, Waldorf and cranberry.) 

Ruth picked a quiche that is served with a side salad. “It was moist, had a nice flavor, and was a generous serving,” she says.

Both say that they will return (and I hope that it’s for another date).

At 405 Carthage St., Mrs. Lacy’s is easy to find in Sanford and is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Plan to arrive early or call ahead (919-777-6787) for reservations. When you go, save room for dessert. Better yet, order extra to take home.

Got extra time? After lunch, attend an afternoon performance that begins at 2 p.m. on selected Thursdays and Fridays at the Temple Theater, only three blocks north on the same street.

Ray Linville writes about local connections to Southern food, history and culture. He can be reached at linville910@gmail.com.