by Amy Gaw
The best of North Carolina’s signature dishes are made on the Outer Banks. Sweet, soft-shell blue crabs pulled from nearby shedders, and briny, summertime shrimp only taste this good when served fresh from the water. Red- pepper- and-vinegar- based pork barbecue is a regional specialty and is always in high demand, as are grab-and-go biscuits and zesty pimento cheese. Here are a few of our favorites.
Ms. Helen’s, otherwise known as Biscuits N’ Porn, is a deli-style eatery located inside the Stop Quik Citgo gas station in Nags Head. Never fear: the clever branding is spicier than the inventory, so it’s OK to take the family to pick up breakfast. Hot, flaky and homemade, the biscuits are available only in the morning – until they sell out, that is. There’s a cheese version, too, and the just-baked treats can be filled with traditional egg, bacon and cheese combo or with ladles of creamy sausage gravy.
SHRIMP & GRITS
Wild-caught shrimp are the star of this Blue Moon Beach Grill entree in Nags Head. It’s a locals’ favorite and can be ordered for lunch or dinner. Cajun spices lend a zip to these fresh shrimp, which are sautéed with peppers, onions, garlic and a bit of Applewood- smoked bacon. Served over smoked Gouda and aged cheddar cheese stone-ground grits, this is a dish not to miss. A variety of craft beers make perfect accompaniments.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
Rooster’s Southern Kitchen in Kill Devil Hills serves up comfort food with a twist. Its rendition of this classic puts the crispy and tart tomatoes atop grilled romaine with caramelized onions, Applewood bacon bits, Caesar dressing and lots of fresh parmesan. Indulge in the dish as a starter or make it your entrée – either way, save room for dessert:, Rooster’s custard bread pudding is topped with bourbon glaze.
Pimento cheese is one of those dishes that can go uptown or downtown. It can share a plate with sweet- potato biscuits, deviled country ham, and pork terrine, or head out in a to-go container for a picnic on the beach. The Blue Point in Duck offers pimento cheese that guests dream about. It’s just the right amount of creamy, slightly spicy and absolutely crave- inducing. Sometimes it’s featured on the menu as part of the restaurant’s changing selection called Taste of Southern Spreads. Get an extra order to take home; you won’t regret it. Community- beloved and family-owned Conner’s Supermarket in Buxton has cheese that, once tasted, will draw you back any time you’re near. Homemade jalapeno pimento cheese and a variety of crackers, as well as every other gastro-treat you might desire, can be found at this well- stocked grocer on the southern end of N.C. 12.
NORTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA BBQ
Corolla Village Bar-B-Que is tiny in stature but huge on flavor. The eatery’s slow smoked, pulled pork barbecue is seasoned with plenty of vinegar and crushed red peppers, and can be served on a bun or a plate. Orders are taken from a small, screened-in stand in Corolla Village. For a filling meal, check out the Hadley BBQ bowl, featuring a generous portion of pulled pork barbecue, baked beans, macaroni and potato salads, and cornbread layered in an easy to carry bowl.
And when on a quest for authentic, pit-cooked barbecue, drive straight to Carolina Bar-B-Que Company in Manteo. Recipes include the wood for the pit; owner Mike Weaver often wields the axe and pecan trees are a favorite. The barbecue, pulled and chopped, is just the right amount of smoky with a touch of heat in the peppery homemade sauce – vinegar based, of course.
FRIED SOFT-SHELL CRABS
I Got Your Crabs Shellfish Market and Oyster Bar, in Kitty Hawk, is run by a Bell’s Island crabbing family who guarantee that its blue crabs are locally caught. In season, the delicate, just-molted soft- shell crabs are cleaned just before frying. Eat the whole crabs with a side of sweet- potato fries or inside a soft taco, or just on their own. However you eat them, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity while they’re in season because, there is no greater treat.
Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café in Nags Head makes a version of this creamy, bisque-like soup that is chock full of just- picked crab and served with a classic lacing of sherry. Both comforting and elegant, this indulgence is available as a cup or a bowl. Make it a starter, make it a meal, just make sure to order it.