Dining Delights on The Crystal Coast
Most visitors to The Crystal Coast prefer seafood that is “fresh from the docks;” seafood that has been personally wrangled from the ocean with nothing but a rod and reel and a little bit of sweat equity. With one of the longest and most diverse fishing seasons on the Atlantic Coast, visitors to The Crystal Coast have the freedom to get fresh seafood just about anytime of year. From down home, delicious seafood shacks to more refined settings at one of the many waterfront restaurants and bistros, The Crystal Coast has the ideal mixture of eateries tailored to satisfy a hungry vacationer’s every eating whim.
Whether blackened, seared, fried or sautéed, area sea specialties from red drum to snapper and wahoo to yellow fin tuna are fresh from the Atlantic and straight to the plate. More than 85 locally owned restaurants, mostly woven throughout the towns of Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, Salter Path, Morehead City, Beaufort and Harkers Island, offer a casually refined atmosphere “kicked up a notch” with colorful characters and menu options.
While more than 80 percent of seafood served in the U.S. is imported, The Crystal Coast provides visitors the chance to dine “fish-to-fork” thanks to the Carteret Catch program, which is a joint venture between local restaurants, retailers and the fishing industry, guaranteeing fresh seasonal seafood caught by local fishermen off the Carolina Coast. Boasting no chain restaurants, the program supports more than 20 privately owned restaurants that change their menus daily depending on the catch of the day.
The “Napa Valley” of oysters
Capable of filtering 50 gallons of water per day, the oyster improves fish habitat and water quality, benefitting both commercial and recreational fishermen, the tourism industry and the coastal environment as a whole. At The Crystal Coast visitors can taste the “Napa Valley” of oysters from abundant local harvesters practicing sustainable mariculture. Each of these oysters possess a unique merroir — the term used to describe how oysters and other shellfish reflect the taste of the waters where they are grown. For example, Jay Styron’s “Cedar Island Selects” boast mid-level salt with a sweet meaty finish and Ryan Bethea’s “Native Son Oysters” claim to be some of the saltiest tasted, whereas “Clammerhead” David Cessna’s “Wild Ponies™” channel the crisp, salty flavor of the Atlantic Ocean mixed with a wholesome sweet flavor imparted from the fresher waters of the upper Newport River that flow on falling tides. With bivalves a plenty, The Crystal Coast offers a tasting experience like no other.
A Savory Sampling by “gem”
34º North Restaurant
Experience relaxed maritime elegance at Beaufort’s newest waterfront dining destination – featuring refined, locally-inspired eastern North Carolina cuisine with fresh local seafood, hand cut chops, and seasonal ingredients rooted in local farms and pristine waters.
Clawson’s 1905 Restaurant and Pub
Reflecting the preference for maintaining historical landmarks, Clawson’s, a Beaufort establishment since 1905, serves up southern favorites from spicy shrimp and grits and tender “Shackleford Scallops” to the famed Clawson’s “Dirigibles,” a large potato stuffed with broccoli, red peppers, onions and mushrooms topped with cheese and sour cream. Clawson’s is the recipient of five Coaster Magazine – The Crystal Coast’s vacation guide – awards for best beer selection ranging from imported specialties such as Jamaican Red Stripe and American delights including Abita Turbo Dog to rare, down home Carolina brews like Duck Rabbitt and Mash House. Also known for their signature chocolate dessert, the Clawson’s Mud Pie with stacks of rocky road ice cream and drizzled milk chocolate, the hometown restaurant is recommended by Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides.
Exceptional dining is close at hand at Town Creek Marina’s on-site restaurant, City Kitchen and waterside bar. With outstanding cuisine to match the unparalleled bay views from the waterfront verandas and outdoor decks, City Kitchen boasts one of
Beaufort’s most beautiful spots for catching a captivating sunset. But that’s not all City Kitchen claims, its culinary craftsmanship is top notch; committed to all things homemade and fresh – from handcrafted cocktails and dishes to decadent desserts – their focus shines through everything served up. Aside from the seafood-studded menu, co-owner and Pastry Chef Karen Carithers is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth; favorites include the Signature Sticky Toffee Pudding and Kahlua Coconut Cream Pie.
Front Street Grill at Stillwater
This coastal waterfront bistro in the heart of the Beaufort Historic District serves hearty food with rural roots and an urban twist with fresh regional ingredients and an emphasis on seafood native to The Crystal Coast. The panorama of Taylor’s Creek and Carrot Island, with picture perfect views of the native wild horses roaming free, is an intriguing backdrop for the upscale but comfortable dining room, waterfront decks and distinct menu items, from sweet potato raviolis with Backfin crab to their sensational grilled Jamaican spiced pork rib chop.
With a motto like “small plates, big plates, great wines” Aqua serves dishes inspired by Spanish tapas fare – small savory plates of food served with or between drinks. Taking the concept to a different level, Aqua embellishes the menu monthly with an exciting array of taste in “just right” portions, from Japanese bento sushi boxes to pan seared lumb crabmeat adorned with sautéed soybeans. Twice monthly the restaurant hosts WineOrama – a wine tasting experience wherein favored wine experts come share a few bottles of their new finds, coupled with old favorites.
Beaufort Grocery Co.
Providing guests with the hometown feel of a local grocery store, Beaufort Grocery comes complete with a cozy, captivating environment. Guests rave over their delicately sautéed Carolina Crab Cakes served with spicy remoulade sauce and Thai Rubbed Roast Duckling served on a bed of Korean rice with pineapple-soy glaze. Located in Beaufort’s Historic District on Queen Street, the Beaufort Grocery Company brings subtle grace and charm reminiscent of a French country eatery and adds a special southern touch by using dishrags in place of napkins.
This Spanish/Latin inspired restaurant infuses southern flare to create “the cure for a restless palate.” Nestled within the ever-charming Cedars Inn, and touting a seasonally changing menu, and commitment to sustainable seafood, La Perla provides a uniquely delicious getaway from the well-trodden path.
New to the Beaufort dining scene, Moonrakers features captivating rooftop dining, coastal cuisine, sea-worthy spirits and laid-back sunsets. “Moonrakers,” named after the rectangle sail flown at the uppermost height of a three-mast 17th-century ship, is centered in the Beaufort Historical District and overlooks the waterfront along Taylor’s Creek.
Black Sheep Beaufort
The misfit, the eccentric, the black sheep. They forge their own path. They march to their own drum. Nestled along the waterfront boardwalk and forging a path of their own with a creative menu, hand crafted cocktails and Neapolitan pizzas (ranging from Charcuterie Pie and Shrimp Pizza, to The Pedro featuring Béchamel and Speck prosciutto among other delightful ingredients), awaits one of Beaufort’s newest eateries.
Amos Mosquito’s Swampside Café
With a colorful name brings casual, fine dining and Thursday night karaoke, offering an eclectic selection of delicious seafood dishes and “flavors from the far reaches” daily for dinner, with the house specialty being “fish for two” with an assortment of Thai dipping sauces. The marsh-like décor gives guests the feeling of essentially being in the swamp and is perfectly situated to catch a glimpse of a glorious North Carolina sunset overlooking Bogue Sound.
Idle Hour Biergarten
Perfectly perched in the Atlantic Beach Circle lies Idle Hour Biergarten, a modern, beachside take on a German beer garden serving up an eclectic made from scratch menu, prepared in-house – think bratwurst, sandwiches, soup, salads and concessions – using fresh local ingredients and native North Carolina bier by the glass, pint, stein, bottle and can, plus wine and cocktails. Idle Hour offers both in-door and outdoor spaces, allowing guests to mix and mingle alfresco whether at a picnic table or the outdoor fireplace. With a seasonally influenced menu, guests can return time and time again for new palate pleasers.
Pescara Wood Oven Kitchen
Pescara, a new addition to The Crystal Coast culinary scene, is a coastal Italian restaurant with rustic flare. The extensive wine list touts a wide range of styles produced in Italy, including some great values from less-familiar wine regions along with excellent examples of the great Italian varietals from the country’s most prestigious appellations. Located in a magnificently restored cedar plank home – the second oldest home in the area, moved to Atlantic Beach Circle – every detail of the space has been thoughtfully designed and carefully planned. From the exhibition wood oven kitchen to the outdoor terrace, the décor reflects a sophisticated, chic charm.
The Island Grille
Cocktails and fine dining meet coastal ambiance at The Island Grille, Atlantic Beach’s “gourmet hole-in-the-wall.” Offering a respite for the discerning traveler, The Island Grille offers hyper local, small batch dishes with a modern take on honored traditions.
Seventy feet below, off the shores of Cape Lookout, lies a remarkable story, mostly untold. At 0758 hours on March 11, 1942, a cargo freighter and her crew of 28 men, sailing alone from Santiago, Cuba, to Norfolk, VA, met their fate in that stretch of coastal waters known as “Torpedo Alley.” Narrating this spectacular tale rich in historical inspiration through modern coastal cuisine, awaits a fine dining experience. Her name? Caribsea. The decadent rooftop dining experience touts a fish (sustainable locally caught seafood), prime (prime angus beef aged up to 36 days in-house) and raw forward menu concept.
The Village Market
Locally owned gourmet deli and sandwich shop in the heart of Emerald Isle, inviting the community and visitors alike to stop by for breakfast or lunch to experience homemade specialties that are prepared fresh every day. The artisan-style sandwiches are built with premium breads, fresh vegetables, homemade dressings and top-of-the-line Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Nestled within the shop patrons find some of the most unique, fun and innovative artwork and gifts supporting local artists and vendors for purchase, while the neighboring bait shop can help prepare visitors for some fishing action in the afternoon or evening.
Kathryn’s Bistro and Martini Bar
“Food with flare” is Kathryn’s motto as all dishes are perfectly paired with mouthwatering martinis with names from “The Dirty” and the “Chocolate Kiss” to “The French” and the “007 Martini.” Non-liquid meals are just as scrumptious with dishes including seafare with a twist such as “Seafood Coquina” offering a selection of seafood drenched in a rich cream sauce sprinkled with Panko breadcrumbs. The atmosphere is quiet and intimate with dark leather, woods and mellow lighting adorning the interior.
Bistro by the Sea
This chic New York-style bistro menu includes everything from exotic stir-fry and bistro style shrimp and grits to succulent she-crab bisque and a classic bistro burger. Defying culinary definition, Bistro By the Sea features fresh fare as it is in season. The décor encompasses undeniable elegant Mediterranean flair with a warm gold and deep red color palette radiating a vibrant feeling for those dining at the establishment. Always striving to make dinner an experience, not just a meal.
Know for its eclectic and unexpected tapas and cocktaileria – boasting flavors that pack a punch – executive Chef and Owner, Clarke Merrell, created everything there is to sample and see, from the custom-built bar to the ever popular Circa 81 martini, Clarke has his hand in every aspect of operations, aiming to provide creative, quality and palate pleasing food in a beautiful setting. The mouthwatering menu features small plates, perfect for passing around the table in true tapas style, medium and large plate selections – delicious sandwiches, homemade soups, local seafood and fresh-made desserts – as well as more than 30 specialty drinks on the cocktaileria menu.
No trip to The Crystal Coast is complete without a visit to this Morehead City establishment, recognized by Cooking With Paula Deen for one of the “Best Burgers in America.” The old-fashioned drive-in serves various sandwiches and dinner platters, including their “Superburger,” a quarter pound burger with chili, slaw, mustard and chopped onions, the “Shrimpburger,” a great taste of the coast’s freshest seafood, as well as Bacon Cheeseburgers, Pizzaburgers and Oyster-burgers – all delivered right to the car by a carhop. Visitors to The Crystal Coast have made the pilgrimage each year, some for 50 years or more, to get a taste of this down home yet delicious tribute to fast food done the right way (tip: don’t forget cash).
Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant
An unusual name for an out of the ordinary eatery, Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant, the first seafood restaurant in Morehead City, was bestowed the name in 1938 when the original owners promised to not sell alcohol on the premises. With times changing through the years, the restaurant now serves beer and wine, but is still know for the family friendly atmosphere it fosters and the famous “deluxe shore dinner” featuring tossed salad, clam chowder, cold cocktail sampler including boiled shrimp, shrimp salad and tuna salad and a fried seafood platter loaded with fish, shrimp, oysters, scallops and soft shell crab (Whew!). Known for their infamous Sanitary t-shirts, visitors can’t leave without one for themselves as well as bearing them as gifts for others.
The Banks Grill
This bustling breakfast and lunch joint in an unfussy setting is a local staple with its homemade jellies and XXL from-scratch, fresh-baked biscuits, to the “soon-to-be-famous” jumbo cinnamon rolls and The Lighthouse Benedict (topped with “Mom & Pop’s” deviled crab cakes, poached or fried egg and smothered in a delectable creamy tomato gravy). The outstanding food, service, and friendly atmosphere will make you want to visit “The Banks” over and over again.
Nestled amid the downtown strip of Morehead City between Raps and 8th Street is a narrow, rustic building with exposed brick housing the Arendell Room, a craft cocktail bar that would be at home in any major city. The brainchild of the Mayor of Atlantic Beach, Trace Cooper, a lawyer, businessman and developer, who has a penchant for a well-constructed drink. The design is modern and cosmopolitan, with a nod to the South and a speakeasy feel of intimacy. Backlit mason jars line the wall behind the bar and red couches stand out against white, birch-tree print wallpaper.
Known for mastering the classics, whether looking for a night cap or wanting to experience a night out on the town, this is a must-visit in Morehead City.
Jack’s Waterfront Bar
A rollicking, rustic watering hole with daily drink specials, live bands and a deck, ideally located along the downtown Morehead City waterfront. Stop in for a great selection of beers, waterfront breezes and spectacular sunset views.
Mill Whistle Brewing
Carteret County’s first nano-brewery is located on the site of a 100-year-old Safrit Lumber Mill. While the mill closed in the 1970s, the lumberyard next door is still in operation today. Carrying on the mid-19th century tradition (to signal shift change), the mill whistle is blown every afternoon at 4:45pm and can be heard throughout Beaufort – however, since Mill Whistle Brewing took over whistle duties, that sound has earned a new meaning: it’s Beer:45 in Beaufort.
The Backstreet Pub
One block from the Beaufort Inlet stands this narrow, two-story brick time machine, ranked by Garden & Gun as one of the “South’s 50 Best Bars,” and Southern Living as a “South’s Best Dive Bar” – filled with grizzled fisherman, visitors half-expect onetime Beaufort resident Blackbeard to walk in. Board games and paperbacks stand piled in the shadows while the walls are covered in nautical paraphernalia. Guests and locals alike enjoy pints in the courtyard of this 1881 former bakery building, read books on the patio, or – if a storm blows in – settle in this vintage watering hole before the low flicker of the fireplace.
Additional visitor information about these and other area attractions is available by calling The Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority and Visitor Center at (252) 726-8148 or by visiting www.crystalcoastnc.org.
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