The Art of Dining

“The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure no slight pleasure.” ~ M. de Montaigne

I’m such a foodie that when I planned this years vacation to Ocracoke Island and Hatteras Island, I put more time into picking our dining locations than I did our lodging. Okay, that may be an exaggeration but I was looking forward to the food almost as much as I was looking forward to relaxing on the beach with a cocktail and a book!

Here we come, Ocracoke!

We hadn’t been to Ocracoke in about three years and took the ferry out of Swan Quarter this time rather than Cedar Island. It takes several hours on the ferry to reach Ocracoke but we always have fun passing time by playing cards. We were excited to arrive and check into The Anchorage Inn and Marina. The hotel is perfectly located in the heart of the village with a spectacular view of Silver Lake and a swimming pool right across the street at the marina.  For those who are not familiar with the Island’s history, Ocracoke was Blackbeard’s playground and ultimately the place of his death. If you plan to visit the island, be sure to visit Teach’s Hole and tour the little museum. You should also visit the British Cemetery and all the quint little shops, like Over the Moon and The Rag Picker. If you want to go deep sea fishing, charter the Miss Kathleen captained by Ronnie O’Neal. The boat is named after his wife who makes jewelry and has a shop on the island. We met them on our first visit to the island…they are what people refer to as the salt of the earth! Be sure to rent bicycles or a golf cart one day and venture onto the little back roads when you will find all the hidden gems of the island!

Once we were settled into the hotel, we grabbed a cocktail and headed out! While walking around the village, we were surprised by the number of new dining establishments…there is even a BBQ joint now and sushi! We didn’t plan to venture into new waters but rather stay faithful to our old favorites. Like Howard’s Pub where we had to add the date to our UNC flag that has been hanging on their wall for twenty years this year! Not to mention, they have the best steamed shrimp you will ever eat! Then there is Jolly Roger Pub where we enjoy dining on the waterfront while grabbing a late night bite and listening to some live music. Try their fish tacos!  And finally, SMacnally’s, located at our hotel’s marina and is perfect for a late afternoon snack and cold beer while you watch the boats bring in the day’s catch. Naturally we had to stop in at Sweet Tooth & Fig Tree Bakery for some goodies!! Any self-respecting foodie would not leave Ocracoke without stopping by Zillies Island Pantry! It’s a must have for simply relaxing and enjoying a glass of wine and some cheese on the porch. They even have a cigar desk and be sure to check out their fabulous pantry with an incredible selection of beers and wines.

When it comes to the fine dining portion of the island’s restaurants, we always choose between The Back Porch, The Flying Melon and Café Atlantic. We were sad to find out that Café Atlantic has closed and is for sale but we were delighted to see the new building The Flying Melon now occupies! We had to see what the inside looked like so it won out over The Back Porch.  As always, the food, beverages and service were outstanding and the atmosphere is a wonderful mix of charming and elegant.  My scallops melted in my mouth and my husband raved about his pork chop. And because the owner is originally from New Orleans, trust me…the crème brulee, that the four of us had intended to share, was to die for! Needless to say, we ordered another one.

We did end up trying a new dining option this time and my motive for that decision was a purely selfish one! We had dinner at Gaffer’s Sports Pub and truly enjoyed it! Honestly, I was surprised at how good the food was although I had to eat it fast so I could join in their live Texas Hold’em tournament! My husband and I joined in on what was a group of predominately locals and were rather proud of his 10th and my 7th place finishes! Yep, dang it…I just missed the final table! Later in the evening, there was a live band and the pub turned into more of a true bar type environment – which had been lacking in Ocracoke.

We were unable to dine at Dajio, which cleverly stands for “Doug And Judy In Ocracoke”. This is a relatively new establishment located in a space which previously housed what I would call an average dining venue…so average we couldn’t even remember the name of the old place. Dajio has great reviews and I love the farm to table concept; they even have a garden right behind the restaurant. We wanted to have dinner or at least sample one of their appetizers or pizzas while listening to the nightly live music but I guess that gives us an excuse to come back real soon!

A few side notes:

Twenty years ago, on our second trip to the island, we were so smitten that we actually spoke to several locals about moving to Ocracoke. We inquired as to what type of services the island was lacking, such as a bookkeeping service or small engine repair, in effort to hopefully devise a business which we could start up on the island.  We gave serious thought and consideration to relocating to there permanently. Honestly, I think the only reason we didn’t was because I was pregnant with our daughter and, at the time, there were no medical facilities on the island. Twenty years ago, you would have to take a forty minute ferry ride to Hatteras for many needs, including medical care. I truly do believe that everything happens for a reason. One month after that visit to Ocracoke, our beautiful daughter decided to join the world early. Rather than waiting until New Year’s, she made a surprise appearance for Halloween. At only two pounds and eight ounces, she spent the first several months of her life in the NCIU finally coming home just before Christmas. For that, and several other reasons, I’m glad we didn’t move to Ocracoke but I am certainly not opposed to retiring there!

I was born in Savannah, as was my sister, my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother and her mother! South Carolina has been credited with inventing “The Low Country Dump” and it’s incredible! I grew up feasting on this simple yet decadent meal. I introduced my husband to this dish before we were married and it’s a given that when my family gets together, no matter what the occasion, there will be a dump happening! Well, on our trip to Ocracoke this year, we discovered Captain Puddle Duck’s Seafood Steamer Pots! Absolute perfection! You pull up their website and create your pot choosing from their fabulous selection of local seafood and they make you a dump, complete with corn, potatoes and Andouille sausage. Just call at least an hour before you want it and they deliver it, with all the extras such as cocktail sauce, lemon, the works, right to your front door… campsite, hotel, rental house…it doesn’t matter. They will even deliver to one of the many beach accesses if you want to indulge on the beach! Remember I was telling you about how my husband and I trying to think of a business we could start up on Ocracoke? Dang, did we miss the boat on that one or what?

And we are off to Hatteras!

We took our time leaving Ocracoke before taking a late afternoon ferry over to Hatteras Island. For those of you who have never been to the spectacular outer banks of North Carolina (OBX), the island consist of Hatteras Village and then several other small villages as you head north. Highway 12 runs the length of the OBX stopping in Duck at the Virginia boarder. The road is constantly being jeopardized by storms and has been re-routed and re-built several times. A week before our vacation, Hurricane Arthur decided it wanted to pay a visit. While the road was not washed away this time, they were still cleaning sand off of a portion of the road in Ocracoke and we did see some minor property on Hatteras. Dealing with the weather is the price you pay for living or visiting such a beautiful slice of heaven on earth.

We checked into our amazing ocean front room at The Cape Hatteras Motel which is actually in the village of Buxton, home of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The lighthouse was moved several years ago to protect it from the elements. Be sure to climb all 257 steps to the balcony for a truly breathtaking view!  The hotel is the last one before a long stretch of uninhabited beach making it great fishing and you literally step out your front door onto the beach. After we were settled, we walked across the street from the hotel for a nice late day lunch at Shipwreck Grill. Food was good, prices reasonable and portions generous. We asked our server where we should eat dinner and she suggested The Mad Crabber saying it where all the locals eat. Well, that was all we needed to hear so for dinner that evening we made the short trip north to the village of Avon. The atmosphere was relaxed and service was good.  While I certainly wasn’t expecting fine china, I was a little taken aback by their use of all disposable produces. Nonetheless, the food was very good.

The next day, we dragged ourselves off the beach long enough to walk across the street to Fattys. They have the most interesting hot dog selection I have ever encountered! I had the Spaghetti Dog…they split the dog open and grill it, then place it in a toasted bun and top it with a meat spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese. I was skeptical but it was really good and their French fries have a little skin left on they and scream to drizzled with apple cider vinegar!  Fattys also has ice cream…sweet, delicious, creamy ice-cream! One interesting fact about Fattys is that, Jeff, the owner also gives guided kayak tours of the sound side of the island!

That evening for dinner we made the mistake, in my opinion, of following the crowd. Well, that and I let my foodie mini-me win that night’s dining decision. I had wanted to dine at Rusty’s Surf and Turf because they had great reviews and I mean really…surf and turf!! But my spawn had a craving for sushi and, in her defense, we didn’t get sushi in Ocracoke so I’m sure she was starting to get the shakes. So with that decided, we headed to Diamond Shoals where the wait was out the door! It took a good forty minutes to be seated but honestly, that had been our only major wait all vacation. I’m not sure if I was disappointed because I had been dreaming of surf and turf or if the reviews and the banner announcing it’s award winning chowder had me expecting too much. Everyone else enjoyed their meals but no one was saying they couldn’t wait to come back. My daughter did really enjoy the sushi and by no means was my meal bad but, short of sounding like a total food snob, Diamond Shoals is the kind of restaurant where you get your seafood fried or broiled…not grilled or seared.

The next morning it was time to checkout and head north for more sightseeing, shopping and of course – more food! We arrived in the village of Avon just in time for a late breakfast or hopefully a nice brunch. We kept on driving when we saw the droves of people standing outside of Oceana’s Bistro waiting to be seated. Next up was the Froggy Dog where, upon seeing no one waiting outside, we promptly park and rushed in to be seated. To our surprise, we were literally turned away! That was the first time I have ever experience that in my life. We told that they were done serving breakfast and would not be taking any lunch orders for an hour. My assumption was that the kitchen was in the weeds. So, at that point, we decided to drive north, through Salvo, Waves, Rodanthe, over the Oregon Inlet bridge and finally stopping at Whalebone Junction to have lunch at our favorite Nags Head’s lunch spot – Sam & Omie’s! Their breakfast is pretty dang good too!!  We had to wait about forty minutes for a table but it was well worth it…the perfect end to this year’s family vacation.

Photos ~

Howards PubHoward’s Pub! The best steamed shrimp ever! Their oysters are always prepared exactly as ordered. These were our appetizers but the shrimp is so good, my husband ordered more for his lunch! The fish sandwich’s were great too. Honestly, we have never had a bad meal hear. Nice casual environment, great bar and for the kiddos….their meals are served a complimentary Frisbee (always a hit with the wee ones!)

Flying Melon Scallops The Flying Melon: Scallops cooked in white wine and mushrooms, topped with cheese…they melted in my mouth. This is an appetizer but I had it as a meal along with the fresh greens and apple salad. It was perfect!

Flying Melon Pork ChopThe Flying Melon: Needing a break from seafood, my husband got their Pork Chop with roasted potatoes and carrots and loved it. I didn’t get a picture of my daughters Mahi but I sure should have because it looked amazing…but I didn’t want to waste time taking photos, I wanted to eat!

Flying Melon Creme BurleeThe Flying Melon: Crème Burlee! The caramelized topping was perfect and personally, I liked the lack of a topping…just like they serve it in New Orleans. I always feel like fruit on top is hiding the lack of a good caramelized top!

Mad Crabber Crab and ShrimpThe Mad Crabber … just simple, good seafood! Sorry about the half-eaten corn! I dug in before I remember to grab a shot!

Diamond Shoals ScallopsDiamond Shoals…and from this photo you can see what I meant when I said it was good but basic and either fried or broiled. The scallops were tender but they desperately lacked flavor. I’m not even sure they were salted.

the beachThe beautiful beach! The NC Outer Banks are most certainly one of the best beaches in the world.

flip flops and cocktails

I will spare you from any more of my vacation photos and leave you with this one … the view from our hotel in the village of Buxton, NC on Hatteras Island…oh, and of course ~ Flip flops and cocktails!

Thanks for reading my first blog post! I hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for more ramblings.

Cheers y’all!