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.
At 8pm on a hazy summer night in Nags Head, you may find the bartenders and servers at Blue Moon Beach Grill swaying along to Gladys Knight and The Pips as they fill drinks and pick up orders from the window. Enjoying the casual, lively vibe, my husband and I shimmied into our seats at the crowded bar for dinner. We sat perusing the menu and my attention gradually turned to the hustle and controlled enthusiasm in the open kitchen. Watching Chef Nate Robinson and his crew in constant motion, artfully plating the night’s seafood specials and other fare, sending it on its way to a packed dining room, I had the distinct feeling that there are no wrong choices on the menu at this place. And no better place to relax and have a good time.
Tucked into the shopping center where the Beach Road begins at milepost 2 in Kitty Hawk, Vilai Thai Kitchen has an intimate and special feeling, a little exotic even, with orchids lining the window sills and fresh flowers on each table. It’s a family owned and operated restaurant with Vilai Hammock and her son-in-law, Eric, commanding the woks, along with Yip, a friend from Thailand helping out in the kitchen occasionally. Vilai’s husband, Mel, her daughter, Malissa, and a friend named Linda welcome guests in and serve dish after dish of Thai classics, curries, noodles, and specials. With only 3 woks in the kitchen, the speed of service is impressive. In the moments it took me to tap a few notes into my phone, and to snicker at Mel cheerfully encouraging a table nearby to try the “spicy stuff” contained in a set of tiny blue and white pots he’d just delivered, Linda was already delivering plates of food I’d just ordered.
My coming to know Joey Russo of Russo’s Bistro & Bar in Kitty Hawk occurred in three parts. Part One was an entertaining discussion honoring the OBX chef world, folks that local and visiting food lovers consider celebrities. Praise flowed easily from Joey in his fast-talking Italian cadence, recounting success stories and lessons learned over the years from Outer Banks restaurant legends requiring no last name: Mike, Bob, Randolph, Amanda, Tony, Dan, Wes, Pok and many others. Russo brushes off the notion of celebrity chef-dom, though, making it clear he, they, are just like the rest of us, walking the earth and applying passion and intense hard work to a specific art. But there’s no doubt we all feel a little special and flattered when we get Joey’s attention and a kind word during his customary visit to our table at Russo’s. That’s all part of the experience here.
Sitting in a comfortable corner booth at Thyme & Tide Café, I couldn’t help but smile at the giggles coming from the tiny kitchen where Kareen Spruill and her granddaughter, Jackie Vesley, prepared one of their special Café Samplers for me. It’s just what I was craving: a platter of fresh fruit, grilled pita bread, sliced cheeses, pimento cheese, and shrimp salad, although you could also choose tuna or chicken salad if you prefer.
This is the way I always imagine eating in the summer, light and fresh bits of things here and there, best enjoyed at sunset with a glass of wine. The Café Sampler plate and The Sanctuary Sampler plate (overflowing with gourmet cheeses, shaved prosciutto and salami, olives and other savory, grabable things) are made for doing just that – eating seated among the tall pine trees on the grounds of The Cotton Gin and Sanctuary Vineyards, maybe sipping wine and swaying along to live music during their Acoustic Sunset events on Thursday evenings.
Kill Devil Hills, our little town, home to great people, pretty beaches, and the best pizza in the state of North Carolina! TripAdvisor has compiled a list of the top pizza spots in every state based on user reviews and Slice Pizzeria in Kill Devil Hills won the honor for North Carolina!
What do we talk about when we leave reviews on a site like TripAdvisor? The food, of course. The atmosphere, maybe. How we were treated, for sure. The hard-working staff and owners of Slice have had us covered since 2008. The pizza dough and sauce are made from scratch, topped with the highest quality Grande cheese, the freshest ingredients, and baked in stone ovens. The space inside their building at the corner of Baum Street and 158 is clean and welcoming and the staff is friendly, fast, and efficient. The online reviews reflect all of this but there’s even more to Slice Pizzeria than the reviews describe. Owners Rick Amodei, Jeremiah Stewart, and Elizabeth Cubler give back. They are proud supporters of our local schools and athletics, the Wounded Warrior Project, the Beach Food Pantry, and the SPCA. Slice Pizzeria is a charitably spirited part of our community and a warm and inviting place to get a great meal.
It’s June! The sun is shining and the water is warm, it’s prime time to enjoy OBX life to the fullest. Blow a kiss goodbye to your hot kitchen, get out of the house, and have a good meal somewhere. At the top of my list this week is Two Roads Tavern, located between the highways in Kill Devil Hills.
Their menu has my heart for many reasons, most of all because of their Carolina Pickle Brine Sandwich – a fried chicken breast that’s been soaked in pickle brine and hot sauce for a good long time, long enough to let that salty, sour, spicy juice soak in and render the chicken completely plump and tender. The flour the chicken is coated in is the trick, according to Kyle Forbes, the owner of Two Roads. A chef buddy of his developed it a few years ago. It’s not just flour and it’s definitely not breadcrumbs or cornmeal; there’s a sugary, sweet, unknown component that makes it the very best.
38 years ago, Christina Brodeur and Bob Eckard’s family purchased Carawan Seafood Company from the original owners, the Carawan family. Knowing nothing about the seafood business, Christina and Bob’s mother, and eventually the rest of the family, set about operating what is now a landmark of our OBX community. Carawan’s is like a friendly next-door neighbor: always there with a smile and some yummy stuff to share. Picking up fresh catches from the docks in Wanchese every other day (sometimes daily in the summer), Carawan’s feeds our seafood cravings year-round. The rough but charming building, riddled with character, is most folk’s first stop when they land on this side of the bridge and many pass through on their way out, too, happy to bring a bit of the beach back home with them.
What is Carawan Seafood offering? Today, cobia, Spanish mackerel, tilefish, and softshell crabs are in season so that’s what they’ve got, among a few other local options as well as cod and salmon that are shipped in to meet our needs. You’ll also find fresh, local, often organic produce, and lots of little North Carolina odds and ends to help you complete your experience: grits, spices, sauces, and wine and beer courtesy of Sanctuary Vineyards, Weeping Radish, and Foothills Brewery.