A Fork in the Road

Posted by on July 21, 2015 in FOOD/DRINK | Comments Off on A Fork in the Road

A Fork in the Road


A food lover’s picks for 12 dishes to try on Highway 12.

story by Amy Gaw
photographs by Lori Douglas

One of the best things to do along Highway 12 is eat, and when I was asked to pick 12 of my favorite dishes to eat along the road, I was obviously daunted. There are hundreds of restaurants, takeout joints and food trucks from Corolla to Ocracoke, and picking 12 of my favorite dishes was like picking 12 of my favorite books, a near-impossible challenge.

After much deliberation and taste testing, I headed out with photographer Lori Douglas to chat with local chefs and to capture these 12 dishes as they came straight from the kitchen. These plates represent a small taste of what is passionately prepared every day, in season, in commercial kitchens along Highway 12. I hope you enjoy the selections!


Urban Kitchen, CorollaUrban Kitchen, Corolla  

Radish and strawberry salad

Owners Jennifer Lambertz and Chef Joe Panaras artfully present a red salad without a tomato. Roasted beets, ginger, star anise and an effervescent champagne vinaigrette dress this seasonal salad of young local salad leaves, ripe strawberries, bitter radishes and crunchy pistachios. A sprinkle of Greek feta contributes a piquant profile and creamy dimension. The menu is here is seasonal, clever and locally inspired. Urban Kitchen does not take reservations; arrive before you are really hungry. It will be worth the wait. UrbanKitchenOBX.com


Blue Point, DuckThe Blue Point, Duck

Tabasco butter shrimp and grits

Carolina shrimp are gently poached in Tabasco sauce and butter and served with a bit of Windhaven sausage, heirloom grits, local greens and benne seeds in this elegant presentation. “The tiny bit of vinegar in the hot sauce adds an extra snap to the fresh, local shrimp we get all year long from Ross Seafood,” says chef and owner Sam McGann. The combination of slightly spicy shrimp and creamy, ground grits is a simple yet refined interpretation of a beloved Southern coastal favorite. Enjoy it with a classic cocktail at the bar or with a glass of wine in an intimate booth. TheBluePoint.com


Red Sky, DuckRed Sky Cafe, Duck

Strawberry barbecue rockfish with collard egg rolls

Strawberries in the barbecue sauce is a natural combination for local chef Wes Stepp, a food and fitness expert. “Tastefully fit” is what he calls his cooking style and how he serves his meals, which are healthy and full of flavor. This dish features just-caught rockfish and N.C. grits with collard and cabbage egg rolls. Every forkful zings when complemented by the sweet and vinegary barbecue sauce and a bit of fresh goat cheese. The dining room has recently been revamped, and Chef Stepp is always cooking up something new. Stop by for lunch or dinner. RedSkyCafe.com


Beachside Bistro, Kill Devil HillsBeachside Bistro, Kill Devil Hills

Chili-glazed mahi and crispy oysters

Beachside dining is absolutely what you get with every meal at the Bistro at the Sea Ranch Motel, whether eating inside or out. Chef John Romm has pared down his menu this year to include walk-up beach favorites like fried shrimp and other easy-to-eat carry-out items perfect to accompany sandy toes and beach blankets. He also offers imaginative, locally inspired specials daily, like this chili-glazed mahi with crispy fried oysters, chipotle-roasted pommes frites and a spinach, mushroom and pepper wilt. Have a late dinner and enjoy your dessert under the stars. SeaRanchResort.com


Black Pelican, Kitty HawkBlack Pelican, Kitty Hawk

Wood-fired pizza

Executive Chef Renee Waddington Barritt performs her magic with a bounty of fresh, local seafood and veggies. But sometimes I just crave pizza, and the wood-burning oven crew at Black Pelican gets it right every time. The menu offers a dozen topping combinations, but I admit, I like mine with just cheese. They have the cheesiest four-cheese pie that I like to order a little extra crispy. That’s it. A simple pleasure. BlackPelican.com


Kill Devil Grill, Kill Devil HIllsKill Devil Grill, Kill Devil Hills

Grilled mahi on a noodle cake

Since opening this sassy little diner on the beach road, chef and owner Bill Tucker has often featured fresh local catch on an Asian-inspired noodle cake, with a creative topping and a ladle of beurre blanc. This day, he served it with an avocado-corn salsa and kept our expectations high. Really. Swoon. Whatever type of seafood he uses, however he accompanies it, order it when you see a variation of this dish on the chalkboard menu. TheKillDevilGrill.com


Red Drum Taphouse, Nags HeadRed Drum Grille and Taphouse, Nags Head

Spicy Tuna Tostada Stack

When a pub atmosphere is on tap, I often find myself at Red Drum. Raw and steamed seafood, as well as a full-service menu, are available at the welcoming and comfortable bar or in casual wooden booths. Low-key is what draws me in, and this fresh-catch special by kitchen team chef-owner Craig Erikson and Travis Markham is just my style. Energizing and delicious, this entree features spicy local tuna layered with crispy flour tortillas, creamy guacamole, a bit of mesclun salad and pico de gallo. Multiple craft brews are on tap to accompany everything on the menu. RedDrumTaphouse.com


Tortuga's Lie, Nags HeadTortuga’s Lie, Nags Head

Salad du Jour

You can always count on Tortuga’s to have a salad special chocked full of protein every single day. Fresh local tuna on a simple green salad with a sesame oil and rice wine vinaigrette is a power meal for me. In this salad, chef and owner Richard Welch added a few slices of fresh pineapple and a simple sauté of wild mushrooms and peppers and called it Salad du Jour. Thank goodness for simple pleasures. P.S. They expanded and have more seating this year. TortugasLie.com


Owens' Restaurant, Nags HeadOwens’ Restaurant, Nags Head

Jumbo Lump Crab Meat Appetizer

When white tablecloths are what we crave, we head to Owens’ for a sampling of old-school charm. Vintage mixes with modern in both the dining room and the kitchen. Fresh fish, jumbo lump crab and sweet local shrimp are some of my favorites. Enjoying fresh, local, jumbo lump crab meat is a rite of season, and Chef Steve Bogus and his team serve their version with a slice of lemon and drawn butter upon request. Understated and luxurious, the sweet local crab meat is served chilled and unadorned. OwensRestaurant.com


Haole's Sushi Bar, BuxtonHaole’s Sushi and Saki Bar, Avon  

Tuna Poke

If you couldn’t tell by now, I do love to eat fish and I like to keep it simple. I even like to eat it raw. At Haole’s in Avon, you can find sushi made from all sorts of local seafood. As supporters of global, sustainable fishing practices, owners Jessica Kelmer and Brian Harris also share sushi-grade tuna from their watermen pals in Hawaii. Try this deep red poke gently tossed with sesame oil and citrus, topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and served with a bit of seaweed salad and wonton chips. I like to eat one there and get one to take home for breakfast the next day. Yes, you read that right. Facebook: Haole’s Sushi and Sake Bar


Dinky's Restaurant, HatterasDinky’s, Hatteras Village  

Shrimp and Crab Risotto

Brazilian inspired, this creamy dish is loaded with locally caught shrimp and a generous amount of jumbo lump blue crab. A touch of chipotle pepper adds to the complexity without overwhelming the delicate sweetness of the seafood. Already the best-selling item on the menu, this dish highlights the well-orchestrated talent of the team at Dinky’s, led by Chef Dwight Callahan. Everything on the menu is good, but it is hard to beat this combination of locally caught seafood with perfectly cooked risotto, especially if you have a table by the window overlooking the marina and Pamlico Sound. VillageMarinaHatteras.com


Edaurdo's Taco Truck, OcracokeEduardo’s Taco Truck, Ocracoke

Shrimp Tostada and Fish Tacos

When on Ocracoke, try to have a least one meal at the quirky little taco truck in the parking lot of the Variety Store; keep in mind that this is a great grab-and-go spot for lunch on the ferry. Eduardo uses only local seafood ingredients and keeps all his dishes bright, clean and flavorful. You can take your meal with you or enjoy it on one of his many picnic tables under shade trees. Homemade tortillas were the bases for our shrimp tostadas topped with a tasty and slightly spicy mango salsa. Mahi was the fish in our tacos, made with soft flour tortillas. No matter what is ordered, we lustily finished every bite. Facebook: Eduardo’s Taco Stand