There are all sorts of dining destinations in the Brunswick Islands and Cape Fear Coast!
The art of food has been an important tradition in North Carolina’s kitchens for generations, stemming from family dinners centered on freshly-caught seafood and recently harvested veggies and evolving into culinary masterpieces which still feature local faire as the main attraction.
Chefs understand that vacation is the one time of year that you can get away without having a care in the world. Because of this, they want to make food the last thing you worry about but the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Brunswick Islands and the Cape Fear Coast.
Surrounded by oceans, bays and inlets, this part of North Carolina is rich with fresh seafood year-round. Some of the most pristine coastal areas are right around the corner, and thousands of fishermen make a living off reeling in an assortment of fish, including grouper, mahi-mahi, tuna, swordfish, mackerel and shellfish.
With more than 30 seafood restaurants within a square mile, the town of Calabash is known as the “Seafood Capital of the World.” The quaint town is a mecca for seafood lovers; especially those who love fish served “Calabash-style”—deep-fried in seasoned cornmeal batter.
Of course since chefs have such a variety of fish coming in fresh each day, the menu options will be different each time. Look for the blackboard listing or check with your server about the day’s fresh catch, which is served in an endless amount of ways—steamed, fried, blackened, or Calabash-style. Area chefs use their creative license to create delicious dishes with distinctive twists, combining seafood and fresh ingredients from local farms.
The most famous dish in the Tar Heel state has to be Carolina barbecue, a combination of pork, heat and smoke that makes for tender, rich, succulent meat that is chopped and usually paired with a thin vinegar sauce. While delicious, quality meals made with fresh ingredients are indeed the most important factor when dining out, it’s certainly not the only factor. “I think the most important aspect a vacationer looks for when they visit our area is memories to take home with them,” says Danny Joe Swinson, events coordinator at The Lazy Pirate Island Sports Grill in Carolina Beach. “Such as friendly faces, great, local seafood or some family-friendly atmosphere with live music and perhaps a new twist on an old favorite.”
At The Lazy Pirate, guests can expect to feast on a variety of coastal favorites including Seafood Chowder, Conch Fritters, Baked Lobster Macaroni, Bangin’ Mahi, Dixie Wings (Voted Best in Wilmington!) and the Big Grand Daddy Burger. Plus, their interactive atmosphere they provide with their sand volleyball, cornhole, free jukebox and live music may let you come in as a stranger, but you will always leave a friend. One thing that sets them apart from others is their friendly vibe. “You may have to experience it to understand,” Swinson explains. “But once you do you will never forget it.”
Nothing goes with a pot of freshly steamed crabs like an ice cold beer or a chilled glass of wine, especially if the sips were crafted locally. Just as the culinary scene in North Carolina has taken visitors on a journey of spectacular eats, the local crafts of fermenting grapes and brewing beer are steadily rising to the top of the popularity scales, and they’re nowhere near stopping.
The reason visitors and locals alike have such a passion for local beer and wines is because they want to experience everything about the Brunswick Islands and Cape Fear Coast in its truest sense. Imported beverages can be found anywhere; it’s the ones made right nearby that leave folks longing for a taste and consistently craving more.
With the largest beer selection on the island, you won’t have trouble choosing a stout, ale, porter or wheat that’s perfectly paired with your straight-from-the-docks seafood. Of course beer isn’t the only beverage that combines nicely with seafood. North Carolina’s thriving wine industry is giving visitors even more of a reason to want to taste the fruits of labor from the many grape growers and vintners throughout the region.
Muscadine is a popular grape for this region that produces a sweet, dessert-style wine. When made correctly, muscadine wine retains a refreshing and often nostalgic taste of the grape itself. However, many vineyards have chosen to plant the classic wine grapes of California and Europe—cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, syrah and zinfandel.
One such vineyard that produces European varietals is Silver Coast Winery located in Ocean Isle Beach, the only winery in Brunswick County. Maryann and her husband Dr. “Bud” Azzato operate the winery, which has been open for 12 years. Maryann says that when she moved to the area 20 years ago, folks would have to travel quite a ways to buy a bottle of North Carolina wine. “I thought I must not be the only person in Brunswick County who likes wine,” she says. And she wasn’t.
After opening Silver Coast Winery, the Azzatos received much support from the local community, which truly embraced the winery. In return, the Azzatos began supporting the local community by starting a wine label competition that drew the attention of area artists. After that they began hosting events where local musicians could share their talents.
At their tasting room in Southport, visitors can try Silver Coast wines (the Touriga is a must) along with beers brewed right in North Carolina and other regions. Finally, the Azzatos sample and sell their wines at farmers’ markets, bringing the aspect of community full circle. And after all, as Maryann says, “Isn’t that what it’s all about?”