Monday, October 29, 2018

WE SEAFOOD, WE EAT IT!

Bet you'll never guess why this tractor is setting on Atlantic Beach, NC.  See the answer is at the end of this review.

SUNDAY

We were on a mission to eat seafood every day for a week.

It's late October.  Debbie has just celebrated a birthday and quit her job with WGSR-TV.  It's an exciting time.

We're off to Atlantic Beach to de-stress for a week.  Easy, right?  But things didn't start off well.

First I need to mention Debbie was driving with $3,200 worth of deer damage that the car sustained three days before the beach trip.  It was damage that evoked laughter and pointing when we passed a car.  This was the second time a deer has collided with Debbie's car.  The first hit cost about $1,200.

Debbie missed a turn and then her cell phone GPS sent us round and round in a circle.  How hard can it be to follow Highway 70 East all the way to our destination?  We've been to Atlantic Beach a half-dozen times.  We should be able to get there blindfolded.

With the missed turn, a pause for breakfast,  and multiple rest-stops, we arrived after six hours on the road.  The trip normally takes less than five hours.

You need to know riding with Debbie can be a harrowing experience even under the best of circumstances.  There is much cursing and swearing.  A lot of hard braking.  Don't dare drive at 67 MPH when the speed limit is 70 MPH.   Don't pull out in front of her.  My best recommendation is for you to get your ass off the road when Debbie is driving.

During the extended journey to Atlantic Beach,  I learned Debbie inherited her charms behind the wheel from her father.


A loader is set to receive construction debris at A Place at the Beach.  Meanwhile, workers were casually mowing the lawn and leaf blowing the sidewalks.

The damage from Hurrican Florence was evident, but the damage was not as extensive as you might expect.  There were roofs still missing shingles and some piles of insulation, sheetrock and tree debris along the streets.  The hurricane hit six weeks ago, but the cleanup has either been incredibly rapid or the damage not so severe.  There were trailer parks that appeared untouched.  Wilmington-Wrightsville Beach took the real beating, but Atlantic Beach not so much.

Plastic was protecting the hurricane-damaged roof of the office building at A Place at the Beach

A Place at the Beach is still not accepting renters, but I don't understand the reasoning.  Only full apartment owners were being allowed in.  There were a couple of construction company trucks on the property and the outdoor pool was closed.  There may have been massive work going on in the interior, but I didn't see it.  The office building had plastic sheeting on the roof, but otherwise, everything appeared normal.

After checking in to our A Place at the Beach, we set out for dinner.

AMOS MOSQUITO'S



Our first meal was at AMOS MOSQUITO'S.  SKEETERS is located maybe a mile from our apartment and the food and service have always been good.

This time we were served by a very personable waitress named SWEETHEART.  The times before it was SASSY and SWEETIE.  All three waitresses could have been MISS CONGENIALITY competitors.  All three were waitresses unlike any you meet in Reidsville.

SWEETHEART said she has lived all her life in the Atlantic Beach area.  Despite former Reidsville City Councilman and retired teacher John Gentry's very serious claim that Reidsville was the center of the known world,  SWEETHEART said she had never heard of Reidsville.  Apparently, Jay Donecker's alien-inspired monument on Scales St. has not been doing its job of drawing in visitors like Donecker hoped.

SWEETHEART asked me if we liked Reidsville.  I won't tell you my answer.

Unlike the clown at 1618 DOWNTOWN, SWEETHEART gladly posed for a picture without any fear of our camera or federal witness exposure.   She just smiled and pointed at her name tag.


Per standard procedure, our meal at SKEETER'S began with a bucket of crackers, french bread and cornbread.  I don't even like cornbread, but it's the best at SKEETER'S.


Here's a shot of SKEETER'S cornbread with what was supposed to be special ordered butter, according to the menu.  We didn't order the butter, but it came with the bucket of bread anyway.  The pieces of bread and cracker are very small.  We had to place a second order for more cornbread.


Here's the spread we ordered for dinner.  Debbie and I both decided to go with a variety of appetizers.  We each had three starters.

This sumptuous feast took no more than ten minutes to arrive at our table.  It was incredibly quick service, even considering the restaurant was no more than half full of customers.  At the beach, things move much move faster in October than in June.


This was my fried Calamari (squid).  The menu said it was drizzled with eel sauce and served with white ginger dipping sauce.  I didn't detect any eel drizzle nor did I see any white ginger sauce.

You can see some sort of sauce in the upper right corner of the dish.  I have no idea what kind of sauce it was, other than damned good sauce.  It went well with the Calamari which was delicious.  It was some of the best Calamari I've ever had.  Nice work SKEETER.


This is my Bang-Bang shrimp with pineapple purple cabbage.  I have no idea what Bang-Bang is, just like I don't know what eel sauce is.  You can lookup eel sauce yourself.  Nevertheless, the shrimp were great.  Even Debbie liked the shrimp.  

Considering it was cabbage, I guess the pineapple purple cabbage was acceptable.  Anyway, I ate the cabbage, but it tasted nothing like pineapple.

Debbie just looked up Bang-Bang.  It's a spicy Thai sauce made with mayo, sweet chilli sauce, hot sauce and honey.  Bless the Google gods


Debbie and I both ordered platters of baked oysters.  The oysters were topped with bacon, spinach, Parmesan and cream cheeses.  The oysters were large and plump, but the topping was excessively cheesy.  A bit more bacon and spinach and less cheese would have been greatly appreciated.


This is Debbie's Crab and Corn Chowder.  Debbie did not like the chowder and told the waitress the dish was not what she was expecting.  SWEETHEART said she would take the charge for the chowder off our bill.  Debbie didn't request credit for the chowder.  SWEETHEART smiled and volunteered to remove the chowder charge.


This is Debbie's order of Crab Cakes with Corn.  The online menu shows the cakes with chipotle aioli and scallions.  I suppose the sauce in the little bowl could have been chipotle aioli and maybe that green piece of brush could have been scallion - I don't know.  I do know these were the same crab cakes that were served over pasta on our previous visits.  Debbie liked the crab cakes but said they were better over the pasta.  This proves my point - everything is better when it's served over pasta.



I felt kinda bad about having the crab chowder removed from my bill because the chowder wasn't what Debbie was expecting.  So I ordered a dessert coffee called BUZZ-BUZZ COFFEE.

It was coffee with Bailey's and Frangelico topped with whipped cream.  It was supposed to include an orange liqueur, but Debbie objected to any orange flavoring.  SWEETHEART had the drink made without the orange liqueur.  I drank/ate about 90 percent of the coffee.  I had to use a spoon to eat the whipped cream off the top.

I don't get sweets very often.  The coffee was definitely sweet and it was delicious.

SWEETHEART mentioned SKEETER'S will feature Karaoke and Sushi on Thursday night.  We made a note not to return on Thursday.

Dinner was around $80 with tip and tax.

Click images to enlarge

MONDAY



I bet you've never seen this before.  It's FRITOS SCOOPS on the left and the blob on the upper right is FRIENDLY BURGER DIP.  This is what Debbie came back with when she went out shopping for the ingredients for tonight's planned dinner - TUSCAN SHRIMP.  There were no shrimp to be found.

Apparently, the Florence damage was more extensive than we initially thought.  For some reason, the storm's wrath was focused on all the island's seafood shops.  The seafood shop located just as you cross the bridge from Morehead City was completely obliterated - as in gone, wiped off the map.  

The seafood market on the far end of the island (WILLIS), across from BIG OAK SHRIMP BURGER, was there.  The door was wide open, no apparent damage, all the seafood tables with no ice were intact, but there was no shrimp or any kind of seafood and no employees - just an empty shop.  Very strange.

Debris was frequently spotted along the roads into Morehead City and Atlantic Beach

Repairs were being made on the roof of BIG OAK.  Debris lined the road everywhere.  The area is technically not Atlantic Beach, but it's damned close to Atlantic Beach

As for the FRIENDLY BURGER DIP, it tasted much like a cheeseburger with no burger.  I'm not sure FRITOS SCOOPS were the best vehicle for the dip.  Maybe putting the dip on an actual cheeseburger would have been a better choice.

CRAB CAKE PIE


This is what you get for dinner when the cook can't find any shrimp to make TUSCAN  SHRIMP.  The cook refuses to buy shrimp at the grocery store.  The shrimp must be much fresher than grocery store shrimp.

The pie looking thing is CRAB CAKE PIE.  And the toast is toast.  The pie was pretty tasty, but no competition for TUSCAN SHRIMP.  The cook will buy CRAB CAKE PIE at a small market, but never from a grocery store.  This CRAB CAKE PIE was purchased at FRIENDLY MARKET which is apparently pretty small.


Important cooking tip:  Never leave a stick of butter on top of the stove while you're cooking in the oven.  It will make for bad juju.

Click images to enlarge

TUESDAY



I took a nap.  Debbie went shopping.  I woke up.  No one is in the apartment, but I find a suspicious looking bag in the refrigerator.  I think Debbie has found the shrimp for tonight.


TUSCAN SHRIMP



I was right.  These fat shrimp came from BLUE OCEAN MARKETBLUE OCEAN is located practically right under our noses.  It is just across the bridge from Atlantic Beach to Morehead City

The big shrimp were really easy to peel.


Mix the shrimp with cream, garlic, capers, dried tomatoes, and spinach.  Toss in some Parmesan cheese with salt and pepper.  Heat and stir until the spinach wilts.


Heat pasta in a pan of water until it is al dente.


Viola, you've got yourself a bowl of TUSCAN SHRIMP!

Unfortunately, our batch of TUSCAN SHRIMP can best be described as mediocre.   Debbie rarely makes anything that tastes mediocre.

The shrimp were good, but the rest of the dish was missing something.  We weren't able to identify what was missing, but the flavor just wasn't there.  Better luck next time.

A couple of days later Debbie mused the missing ingredient was nutmeg.  Yes, nutmeg does pep up a pasta dish.

BATTLE OF THE COCONUTS

Monday and Tuesday nights Debbie served something called CRUSTLESS COCONUT CUSTARD from Friendly Market for dessert.  I suppose it was supposed to be a healthy alternative to coconut pie.  The coconut pie from Reidsville's SIMPLY SWEET BAKERY put the COCONUT CUSTARD to shame.  Reidsville won the dessert round on Monday and Tuesday.

Click images to enlarge

WEDNESDAY

CIRCA 81



We had planned for Debbie to cook dinner, but she bitched about the small size of the kitchen I decided to go out rather than listen to the complaining.

This is a paper napkin from a restaurant where we enjoyed dinner on Wednesday evening.  We found the restaurant in a coupon book that was laying around the apartment.  We went online and found the menu.  CIRCA 81 sounded interesting.  The coupon offered a free tapas with the purchase of one.

CIRCA 81 bills itself as a TAPAS AND COCKTAILERIA restaurant.  We weren't sure what to expect from that description.  Neither of us is into cocktails and tapas are small plates of food.  When it comes to eating, I'm not really into small.

CIRCA 81 is named after the year during which the owner was born.  He wasn't sure his birthdate was exactly 1981, but he knew his birthdate was around 1981.  More about him later.

After being seated, Debbie immediately described the restaurant as "elegant without being stuffy."  Things are looking up already.


A glass of Shannon Ridge Zinfandel is lit by a candle.  In fact, nearly everything was lit by candle at CIRCA 81.  I had to pull out my cell phone flashlight in order to see the menu.   The lighting was not good, but acceptable after we had placed our order.

The music was almost as soft as the lighting.  We could have a conversation with each other and the two couples seated near us.  The two men knew about Reidsville and one of the ladies offered to take our photo  We declined the offer and explained we were taking photos for a food blog rather than for keepsakes.  The couples were from Durham and Falls Church, Virginia.

The slightly dark and out of focus photo was made with a cell phone camera.  The lighting was not good for photography without a flash.


This a photo of our first tapas.  It was Gambas al Ajillo.  That's shrimp in garlic with extra virgin olive oil and crostini.  The size of the regular spoon should illustrate the tapas concept.  The shrimp were quite good and you could easily taste the bits of garlic.  The dish had a slightly spicy taste that was most evident in the back of the throat after I cleaned the bowl.  I can't account for the spice flavor unless it was the olive oil.


This photo shows what was Gambas al Ajillo.  It should be obvious the Gambas were mucho grande.

Another cell phone photo.


This a non-tapas large plate that was served next.  It is a mixed grill with blackened Yellowfin tuna, pan seared duck breast, beef tenderloin, tobacco onions (fried onion sticks), and wild mushrooms.  Debbie, of course, loved the duck breast and the tuna, both of which were tender and cooked perfectly.

Debbie described the dish as "herbaceous".  I suppose that means it tasted of rosemary.

I thought the wild mushrooms were outstanding and suggested they be served as a separate dish.  We later learned the mushrooms are cooked in duck fat which explains why they were so good.  Duck fat is like pasta - it makes everything taste better.


Last came another tapas.  This is savory stuffed brie cheese with pepper jelly and toasted walnuts, wrapped in puff pastry and served with warm French bread.  It seemed a bit odd to eat puff pastry on a slice of bread, but they worked well together.


Debbie was convinced the pepper jelly (looks like chocolate syrup on top) was raspberry based.  I don't know.  It had a hint of raspberry flavor, but I wouldn't bet on it being raspberry.  Debbie doesn't really care for raspberry, but the raspberry flavor was light enough to not discourage her from eating her fair share.

Looking at this photo, I now regret not taking the shot from the opposite side where you could see the cheesy goo in the pastry.


This is our waitress.  Her name is Sonya.  She has seven years of experience as a CIRCA 81 waitress. She had all the specials nicely memorized, but we had already decided on our choices.

Sonya brought us our bill at the end of the meal.  There was no credit shown for the coupon we presented on arrival at the restaurant.  It took a few minutes to fix the error.


This grizzly-looking fellow is not the barfly he looks to be.  He is Clark, the owner of CIRCA 81.  Clark was born around 1981.  We thanked Clark for a splendid meal and suggested wild mushrooms be added to the menu.  Clark noted carrots would be added soon but made no mushroom commitment. 

We complimented Clark on CIRCA 81's online menu actually matched the menu shown to us in the restaurant.  That is often not the case.  It can be very frustrating.

Clark invited us to come to CIRCA 81 on Sunday for brunch.  The special online Sunday brunch EGGS BENEDICT menu made the invitation tempting

Clark had heard of Reidsville, but he did not mention Mayor Donecker's alien monument as a reason.  Calrk was one of three people in the same restaurant who knew of Reidsville.

Dinner with tax, tip, and coupon ran around a very reasonable $60.

Click images to enlarge

THURSDAY




Debbie pours the honey to make a batch of STICKY HONEY AND GARLIC SHRIMP  The soy sauce is ready to meet the honey.


In goes the minced garlic to meet the soy sauce and honey.


A lemon is zested to join the honey and soy sauce mixture


After marinating for an hour in the sauce, the shrimp hit the frying pan.


Debbie bakes a batch of zucchini and onions in the oven.


The finished product meets the zucchini and brown rice on the dinner plate.  As you might expect from a half-cup of honey, the shrimp were very sweet.  The sauce was good for dipping the bread, but overall the dish was not what we hoped for - too sweet.

Click images to enlarge

FRIDAY

SCALLOPS


A plate of scallops stands ready for duty in our refrigerator




Debbie tests the temperature of the fry skillet


The scallops are fried in butter and turned once when they brown on one side


Pesto sauce is readied for the dish.


The sauce gets added to the ever-present pasta.  

Excuse the fog in the photo.  It's steam from a pot of pasta under Debbie's right hand


The scallops go on top of the sauced pasta.  Notice the wedge of Parmesan cheese and grater to the right.  Grated cheese topped the dish.

This simple dish was the best thing we ate all week.   The scallops were outstanding.  They were meaty, tender and the sweetest I've ever tasted.  Thanks to Chef Debbie and Blue Ocean Market.


Around 8:30 PM the fire alarms started chirping.  We ignored the noise at first, thinking it was frogs.  Frogs can get pretty loud at the beach, although late October is not a time for frogs.

Ten minutes later, fire trucks started showing up.  The noise was not frogs.  It was a false alarm.  We still had to evacuate, which took less time than it took the fire trucks to show up.  Apparently, the alarms are sensitive to rainy weather and we definitely had a lot of rain on Friday.  

Debbie had to check to make sure her car wasn't under water (seriously).  The parking lot doesn't drain very well.


Click images to enlarge

SATURDAY

BLACKENED YELLOWFIN TUNA



Debbie excitedly opens a bottle of 1000 STORIES ZINFANDEL.  Debbie considers 1000 STORIES to be a special wine.  She first discovered 1000 STORIES while at the beach some years ago.

Debbie was also excited about the meal she was getting ready to cook.



Debbie believes tuna steaks to be the ultimate in dining.  These are YELLOWFIN TUNABLUEFIN TUNA are caught in North Carolina waters, but the breed is rarer and harder to find in your fish market.



In addition to the 1000 STORIES,  Debbie also purchased a small tin of BLACKENED SPICE RUB.  It turned out to be a wise decision.  You needed a microscope to read the label, but BLACKENED SPICE RUB is made from black pepper, lemon pepper, cayenne, garlic, onion, chili, cumin and 11 secret herbs and spices.


The idea for the rub is to apply it to both sides of the tuna steaks and cook them in a very hot pan with little oil.  The trick is to thoroughly cook the tuna but leave it rare in the middle.  I believe New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme perfected the blackening technique with REDFISH.


These steaks are looking beautiful after a few minutes in the hot pan.  You can see a small bit of the rare inside on the tip of the steak on the right.  Although I again neglected to photograph the interior of the steaks, I can assure you they were medium-rare red.


Here the completed dish for the evening.  It's BLACKENED YELLOWFIN with a WEDGE SALAD with BLEU CHEESE DRESSING and bacon bits.  And, of course, the usual whole wheat toast.

Debbie called the tuna "awesome, fantastic, perfectly cooked and seasoned, and great.  I give myself a 100".

I agree.  Her tuna was moist and tender.  It tasted nothing like STARKIST in the can.  The seasoning was still tingling my throat a half-hour after drinking a glass of 1000 STORIES.  That's good tuna!

It was a close race with her SCALLOPS, but I won't call a winner.


The YELLOWFIN TUNA before he met Debbie's hot frying pan.  Yellowfin grow to more than 400 pounds.

Click images to enlarge

SUNDAY

BREAKFAST AT   CIRCA 81



It's almost like being in New Orleans where the bars never close, not even for Sunday morning preachin'.  Beginning in July of 2017, Senator Phil Berger's Legislature authorized touristy locales to begin selling alkeyhall at 10:30 AM on Sundays.  Morehead City and Atlantic Beach were quick to climb onboard.  This photo is of the bar at CIRCA 81 where we had to wait a few minutes for a table for breakfast.

Debbie said the Reidsville City Council also authorized alkeyhall sales on Sunday morning, but I find that hard to believe.  Baptist ministers would never allow Reidsville's leaders to do such a thing.  It would be a death sentence for a City Councilman to authorize more alcohol sales.  No sane person wants to turn Reidsville into a New Orleans Bourbon St. bar.


We decided to settle for coffee for our Sunday morning breakfast.


This was better than a Bojangles breakfast, which is what we usually eat coming and going to the beach.  It's CIRCA 81 EGGS BENEDICT.  The four layers on the right are a fried grit cake on the bottom, then a fried crab cake, then a poached egg, and finally a hollandaise sauce on the top   Those are home fries on the left.  That little yellow thing sticking out from the bottom on the right is, I think, a piece of pineapple.  I don't know for sure because I don't eat vegetables for breakfast.

Debbie had the same breakfast with country ham instead of crab.


I was offered Texas Pete or Tabasco sauce for my home fries.  I declined both as they sounded a tad ordinary.  I asked the waiter to surprise me with something when he said the owner is a hot sauce collector.  This is what he brought me - three sauces made by NENA'S at Carolina Beach.  All three were excellent.

Breakfast at CIRCA 81 ran around $36 with tax and tip.

The trip home was uneventful, except for being stalled in Raleigh traffic for about an hour for two separate accidents on Highway 40.  Highway 40 around Raleigh is not a good place to be on a Sunday afternoon.

TERRIBLE FACT WE LEARNED ON THE WAY HOME:  McDonald's puts cheese on it's Bering Sea Pollack Filet-O-Fish  


Quiz Answer:  It's there to haul in a net that was cast out into the water to catch fish.  The far end of the net in the water was attached to a small wooden boat.  The unusual fishing technique resulted in the tractor hauling in an empty net.  There were no fish for supper this night.