A 70-year-old slab of blackened pork went on display in a downtown Raleigh restaurant this week in a curious tradition that began in 1937.
The Mecca Restaurant put the rock-hard country ham in its window Tuesday with a sign saying the 25-pound slab of meat would be displayed for only one day, "for security reasons." It was the ham's first appearance in a dozen years.
"It's an ugly thing, isn't it?" said Paul Dombalis, the restaurant's third-generation owner. "It's just as ugly as it ever was."
Dombalis' grandfather bought the ham from a farmer who was passing through Raleigh in 1937, then placed it in the window. It's unclear exactly why, though Mecca became known as "that restaurant with the ham in the window."
Customer complaints eventually prompted Dombalis' father to move the ham to a basement freezer in 1970. It has made sporadic appearances since then, usually after a Mecca regular asked what happened to the pork.
"I can't tell you how many people come in and say, 'It's so good to find one thing that hasn't changed,'" said Floye Dombalis, 80, as she rang up customers on an antique cash register.