Along the Outer Banks there are countless chances to try food that is special in this region. The area has many restaurants that serve cuisines from all over the world, but since you're here, why not try some of the foods that residents of the area have perfected? Fresh local seafood combines with straight-from-the-garden produce for exquisite tastes. Here are the some of the best dining "opportunities" you should try while on the Outer Banks…
Shrimping is a huge source of income in the coastal Carolina fishing industry. Every year, more than 4.5 million pounds of shrimp are caught in the local waters and end up on dinner plates throughout the United States. The good news is that the shellfish is incredibly sustainable largely because shrimp only have a life-span of approximately 2 years. Three different types of shrimp are likely to be part of your culinary experience: pink, brown, and white (also known as green tail). All can be used in any recipe and once they’re cooked, you usually can’t tell which one you’re about to eat. However, the most abundantly caught (67%) are the brown shrimp. These are probably the shrimp you will be served, and they are often seasoned and steamed, fried and broiled. The local chefs have many interesting recipes to try using shrimp including soups and bisques, dips, stuffed shrimp or fish topped with a shrimp stuffing. Enjoy!
Native residents of the region are all familiar with Hatteras chowder. This Carolina staple is a clam chowder that uses local littleneck clams that are readily available, tender and flavorful. The recipe used in coastal Carolina differs substantially from its New England and Manhattan cousins but is very similar to Rhode Island chowder (except for the quahog clams). For true clam lovers, this soup really lets the flavor of the bivalve shine through. It consists of simple broth made with clam juice that is traditionally flavored with bacon, onion, and potato. This recipe has been handed down through the generations for over 200 years. On a cold rainy day, there is no better food to warm you up than Hatteras chowder.
Carolina BBQIn North Carolina, two forms of barbeque reign supreme—east and west. With western NC or Lexington style barbeque, just a shoulder is smoked. After the meat is pulled, a red sauce made with with tomato, vinegar, and pepper is slathered on top. In the Outer Banks, you’re more likely to find eastern NC barbeque. This style requires the smoking of an entire hog (not just a cut) for about 12 hours on an open-pit with a charcoal base. Depending on the fire, a corrugated tin is sometimes used to control the temperature to ensure that the cooking process is “low and slow.“ After the pig is “picked” a vinegar and pepper based sauce (with no tomato whatsoever) tops the meat for a nice finish.
This soda, not wine, is THE soda of North Carolina. Since 1917, the Carolina Beverage Company has been bottling Cheerwine—a black cherry flavored beverage—in its traditional glass bottles. And though you may prefer the vintage packaging, Cheerwine can also be purchased in aluminum cans and plastic bottles for worry-free transport—perfect for the beach! Because of its distinct taste, Cheerwine continues to grow in popularity and is considered a favorite accompaniment to North Carolina BBQ. The company even sells a tomato-based sauce mixed with a touch of their cherry soda to put on some pork baby-back ribs fresh from the smoker. Since the soda just celebrated its 100-year anniversary, visitors know it will be good. If you’re on the Outer Banks, take a sip!
Small Bites with Big Flavor
Many regular visitors to the Outer Banks all seem to have one thing in common… grabbing a small bite to eat when they come off the beach. The seafood shacks and raw bars on the Beach Road specialize in locally caught seafood, juicy burgers, crispy chicken wings, and small plates. Fish tacos are particularly popular and you can find some of the best in the nation on the Outer Banks. To get a true sampling of incredible food, share a mixture of tasty appetizers from crab dip to a plate of nachos—try them with tuna on top! Stop in and stay for a spell—it’s a great reprieve after a day in the sun.
Have a Drink
Beer, Wine, Liquor… The Outer Banks makes it all! There are five breweries in the region, each with several beers on tap: The Weeping Radish in Grandy, the Northern Outer Banks Brewing Company in Corolla, the Outer Banks Brewing Station in KDH, the Lost Colony Brewery & Cafe in Manteo, and 1718 Brewing in Ocracoke. For wine lovers, Sanctuary Vineyards is a popular stop that not only makes varietals that are commonly recognized, but also produces wines that are made with regional grapes. Rum made at the OBX Distillery is exclusive to the area. In fact, the relatively new company distills a rum that is made with locally sourced pecans and honey. Make a non-traditional mojito with their white rum, lime, soda water, sugar and a local fruit from a farmers market to enjoy after a long day at the beach. Delicious!
Fresh, Local Produce
The counties that make up and surround the Outer Banks are rich in farmland and grow produce unique to the region. In the spring to early summer, Mattamuskeet sweet onions are in high-demand. Every year, local farmers sell out of this coveted onion that locals prefer over the famous Vidalia onion. Potatoes are also popular crops in this region and large sacks are often available at local farmstands. Be sure to try the (flaky when baked) Camden County potatoes and some of the local sweet potatoes that could almost pass for a dessert. And speaking of sweets, don’t forget the local fruit! Purchase a Rocky Hock melon from a local farmstand for a refreshing breakfast side or pick up some Knotts Island peaches and serve with a touch of whipped cream for a delicious treat. By purchasing these foods, you’re not only getting farm-fresh produce—you’re also supporting regional farmers.
Sustainable, In Season & Locally Caught Seafood
Many years ago, the oceans were “filled to the gills” with fish. That was before the fishing industry adopted proficient methods to harvest fish. Now, the United States is a worldwide leader in providing sustainable seafood that is both farm-raised and wild-caught. Visit outerbankscatch.com to see how you can do your part in sustaining local fish populations. The site offers tips on buying replenishable seafood of the best quality. And when you dine or shop for seafood, ask for Outer Banks Catch by name.
From fine dining to cheap eats and outstanding beverages, you’ll find a smorgasbord of culinary creations that will tempt your palate. Dig in and try some of the best cuisine that the Outer Banks has to offer!