TRiO, if you don’t already know, is the gorgeously modern market and restaurant in Kitty Hawk that feels like its own little neighborhood inside. There’s people you know, and those you don’t. Lots of activity, and good smells everywhere. Drinks being shared, and plenty of pretty (and delicious) things to look at and pick up.
It’s also the go-to source for things that will make a get-together or, for me, a game night with friends, way more special. The secret ingredient: TRiO’s cheese. Specifically, a stunning and diverse cheese board I ordered in the afternoon and picked up a couple hours later, arriving to game night like a champ with my fancy, shareable snacks for everyone to enjoy. I didn’t have any special requests for the cheese board, just that it would feed four people and I casually mentioned to Scotty, who works in the kitchen and behind the cheese counter, “The funkier the better.” A little while later, I wondered if I shouldn’t have thrown that comment out there so haphazardly… maybe not everyone in my group loves the overripe, moldy cheeses that I’m so smitten with?
Christmas traditions are a funny thing. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts- the value is actually in all the little components and the story behind the tradition. Given the opportunity to peek into three local chefs’ Christmas traditions, a few things became clear to me. Food is more than just food, traditions keep important memories and bonds alive, and kindness is hiding in plain sight on the Outer Banks.
Holidays meals have a rhythm and feel all their own. Chef Joey Russo described it as a symphony, with friends and families playing the music of kitchen hustle and bustle, all culminating in an epic, heartwarming feast. Hoping to capture the almost tangible food energy surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas, I met Joey in the kitchen at Russo’s Bistro & Bar, ready to cook a holiday dish to share here. But, Joey Russo’s undeniable cooking prowess comes second to his ability to inspire you and make you feel a part of a moment. We cooked food. And I learned a few things, for sure. But the act of preparing a meal, amid talk about holiday memories and traditions was so satisfying; it crystallized for me the basic goodness and peace that’s found in cooking and feeding others. It doesn’t really matter what’s on your holiday table; the celebration and symphony is in getting it there, and sharing it with people you love.
Lacy, coffee-colored cannolis, with creamy, chocolate-chip-dotted filling peeking out of each end. Cupcakes swirled high with buttercream under a shower of cookie crumbs. Artfully decorates cakes and pies, almost too pretty to eat. These were the first things to grab my attention walking into Tullio’s Bakery in Duck. The next was Dawn Amoruso with bright blue eyes and a pretty smile, busying herself behind the counter. She and her husband Tom have owned Tullio’s since 2003; Tom is the baker and when he and Dawn decided to move to the OBX from New York and purchase the bakery, he learned all he needed to know practically overnight from the previous owner.
Is there a connection between who you are and what you eat? The adage is likely hinting at our waistlines more than our personalities but, in my view, I’ve never met a person who truly enjoys some good North Carolina-grown produce that I couldn’t get along with. Sweet potatoes, scuppernong grapes, butter beans, and the prized mattamuskeet sweets breed kind, good-humored people, as far as we can tell here on the OBX. Those friendly folks near Kill Devil Hills all seem to gather in one place, around another kind-hearted soul – Ed Goninan at Tarheel Too Produce Market.
Tucked comfortably into a live oak-shaded nook of Duck’s Scarborough Faire sits Treehouse Coffee Co. and Biscuits, a cool, comfortable, inviting space that is the personification of its owner, Craig Readman. Time slows down a bit when you’re talking to Craig, he radiates a peaceful calmness that’s contagious and relaxing and there’s a connectedness about him that seeps into his restaurant at every turn. The handsome hardwoods and grey tones on the walls are a cozy back drop for the shiny, state-of-the-art coffee equipment housed behind the front counter where friendly baristas greet you and take your order. You can watch as they quietly and patiently prepare your coffee or tea, a methodical process that feels soothing in a way, like someone is really doing something special just for you. It sets the tone for your day in the best way.
I met Wayne and Shawn Everhart of South Beach Takeout, Catering, & Delivery in between the lunch and dinner rush on a Wednesday afternoon. These guys are all “yes ma’am’s” and “no ma’am’s” with lots of eye contact and polite, fluid conversation. They’re the type of guys you’d love to bring home to mom- charming and friendly, not to mention super-talented in the kitchen. They both come across a little modest and reserved but any shyness is unwarranted. Wayne, Shawn, their sister Miranda, and the rest of the Everhart family with a hand in the restaurant, could afford to be a bit cocky. With a contemporary mix of Asian, Mexican, and American food plus plenty of guilty pleasures and outside-the-box vegan options on the menu, the flavors here are deliciously loud and alluring, benefiting from homemade sauces, fresh ingredients, and edgy concepts. This food is recognizable but with interesting twists, offering something for everybody.
Any encounter with Dan Lewis, chef, sommelier, and owner of Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar and Wine Cafe, leaves you feeling enticed and curious, wondering what was left unsaid or unseen. You get a sense there’s more he can tell you, more he can feed you, more he can teach you. It’s not that he’s holding back, it’s that the depths of Dan’s knowledge, experience, and skill open pockets of perspective and flavor that keep you wanting… more.
Everything is interesting and layered – the food and where it came from, the wine and what it goes with, us and our collective impact on our town, our waters, our planet. When Dan and business partner Scott Foster opened Coastal Provisions in 2006, it began as a gourmet market and evolved over time to a full-service restaurant and oyster bar. Dan’s understanding of oysters runs deep- not just how to prepare them (there’s a raw oyster topped with spicy ginger shaved ice and salty pearls of soy sauce that’s still floating around in my head from a dinner I had here two years ago), but Dan also understands and preaches the oyster’s massive role in cleaning our waters and supporting our ecosystem. More than just a chef, somm, and owner of this Café, Dan is also now a partner in a local oyster farming operation, helping to further educate and share the sustainability of these tasty bivalves with us.
Dining at Masala Bay Grill is an immersive, sensory experience. The traditional Northern Indian food they create always leaves me with a comfortable, full, glowy feeling that I suspect has to do with all the spices, flush with nourishing antioxidants, good for your body and mind. The curries, vindaloos, and tikka masalas are warming and comforting and enticing; each dish inherently rich in flavor and nuance. The bewitching accompaniment to dinner at Masala Bay is the sunset view that’s almost too pretty to post on your Instagram. The setting, the food, and the kindness of the staff blends together for a tranquil, inviting afternoon or evening meal unlike any other on the beach.
There’s a singular thrill about slipping away from a busy workday here on the beach, or maybe sneaking out of a noisy afternoon at your vacation house, and kicking back with a great glass of wine in one hand and a delicious sandwich in the other. My husband and I happily sank into that comfort zone at Bacchus Wine & Beer Bistro in Corolla this week, enjoying a late lunch, cold drinks, and a little shopping in preparation for a get-together with friends.
The Tencza family owns this gourmet retail store where the focus is on high quality, interesting finds that folks won’t see everywhere else. While I talked with Jessica Tencza about their unique wine selection, more than one person came through in search of a Bacon Pepper Dip which Jessica praises as one of their most sought-after products. It’s a staple in the 100-plus welcome gift baskets they deliver to vacation rental homes each week and is the thing that brings guests into the store on Monday mornings, in search of more. Of course I grabbed a jar to share with friends for our upcoming festivities. One whiff of the roasty, smoky spread and I understood the Bacon Pepper Dip fever.