Sunday, June 12, 2016


We beat feet out of Reidsville for a few days to soak up some sunshine and wine, and eat great seafood.  This account is of our seafood adventure to Atlantic Beach, NC.

Breakfast - A Disaster

You probably recognize this place.  It's in Mebane.  It's where we stopped for breakfast.   It was the worst breakfast we've ever tasted.  How hard is breakfast?  Apparently it's damn hard at the Mebane CRACKER BARREL.  We are not regular CRACKER BARREL diners, but we've eaten at CRACKER BARREL many times in the past.  It's always been adequate until we encountered the Mebane CRACKER BARREL. Debbie rarely complains about anything, but the Mebane CRACKER BARREL sent her into a tailspin.  She did plenty of complaining.  First she complained to the waitress and then to the cashier when we paid the bill.  They both got an earful of complaint.

I had my own complaint.  The Mebane CRACKER BARREL makes an absolutely terrible cup of coffee.  It was bitter and bitter was the best part, otherwise it would have been totally devoid of any flavor.    How do you make coffee taste so bad?   There are two kinds of coffee beans - arabica and robusta.  All decent coffee comes from the arabica bean.  Freeze dried coffee comes from the robusta bean.  The Mebane CRACKER BARREL must order a "special" blend of robusta beans to make its coffee.

We both ordered Momma's French Toast breakfasts.  Debbie had her eggs scrambled (sorta) and mine were over-easy.  Debbie had the bacon and I had country sausage.  That's my plate you see in the photo.  My eggs were barely edible, the French toast was passable, but the sausage was right on the border  of being burned.  Debbie was expecting fluffy scrambled eggs like she always gets at CRACKER BARREL  Her scrambled eggs were stiff and flat like they had been cooked and then steam-rolled.  Her French toast was also apparently steam-rolled to make it match her eggs.  It was mystery as to how the cook was able to achieve the steam-roller effect.

The highlight of any visit to a CRACKER BARREL is the maple syrup.  Here's our Mebane maple syrup.  I suppose it was the same as the maple syrup served at every CRACKER BARREL, but I swear it was missing something.  I kept one of the unused mini bottles we were served.  I'll find out later if it really tastes different from the regular CRACKER BARREL syrup.

We later tried the CRACKER BARREL syrup in some oatmeal.  Debbie said it tasted "less maplely" than the syrup we've previously had at all other CRACKER BARRELS.

Before we leave the Mebane CRACKER BARREL, I should mention the restrooms are extra special.  The public address system that announces when a table becomes available is so loud it will cause you to jump when it fires off.  I suppose the restroom PA volume is the same  as the volume in the gift  shop where you can buy funny coffee mugs and t-shirts.  The gift shop has a rumble just like the restaurant.  Imagine 200 people all talking at once.  That's the sound of every CRACKER BARREL. Mebane was no different.

 Between announcements of "Smith, party of five", the PA blasted a country music tune that had to be called "I Saw God Today", at least that's the phrase that was repeated over and over and over in the song.  "Smith, party of five"  "Smith, party of five"  "I Saw God Today"  "I Saw God Today"

That's all I have to say about our Mebane CRACKER BARREL experience.  Debbie was given the telephone number of the Mebane CRACKER BARREL General Manager.  She may or may not call him.  She was pretty pissed.

We headed to Atlantic Beach in hopes of finding something better..

The Shrine

We've just pulled into Atlantic Beach.  The first stop is the FOOD LION to pay our respects to the brave and noble employees who didn't know whom they were dealing with.  FOOD LION is where Reidsville Mayor James Festerman had an "incident" with law enforcement.  Festerman owns(ed) a palatial estate at Atlantic Beach.

We believe this to be (was) the palatial Festerman estate at Atlantic Beach.  Debbie believes the Mayor has upgraded his digs.

We're not entirely sure what happened, but we don't think Festerman is buying his groceries at the Atlantic Beach FOOD LION anymore.  Festerman is like Donald Trump...he could shoot a man in daylight in front of thousands of people in Times Square and he would still be elected Mayor.  The man (Festerman) is amazing.  Click here for a link to the News & Record's take on the Festerman "incident".

Our grandson displays his favorite Mayor Festerman card.  The card entitles the holder to do anything he wants, anywhere he wants to do it.  What a lucky little boy!

The Seafood Place

After thoughtfully reflecting for a few moments at shrine of the Atlantic Beach FOOD LION, we stopped by ATLANTIC BEACH SEAFOOD for Debbie to make a dinner selection.  Notice the signs says SPECIALTY FOOD ITEMS.  We didn't see any SPECIALTY FOOD ITEMS, but they have a pretty nice selection of flavored olive oils, some vinegar, and a small wine section.

Debbie checks out the olive oils.

And the small wine selection.  Debbie picked a bottle of 1000 STORIES BOURBON BARREL AGED zinfandel.

Oneill helps Debbie select tuna for dinner.  It was a meaty, red fish.  Thick and fresh.

Unfortunately, soon after buying the tuna, Debbie lost her debit card.  She went into panic mode and transferred online all funds out of her account to prevent theft.  After searching high and low, she found the card in her car an hour later.  The funds were transferred back and she breathed a sigh of relief.

On the down side, the tuna was never cooked for dinner and the wine was not tasted.  We ate leftover pork tenderloin with giant cheese stuffed mushrooms.  Very good, but not the fresh tuna fillets we hoped for..


This was the first we've ever seen of these signs.  The flags were flying yellow on our visit to the beach.

The pool was filled with kids and tubes.  There should have been a purple flag flying at the pool.  A couple days later the pool had to be shut down for 24 hours to be "shocked" with chlorine.  It seems someone decided to take a "dump" in the pool - like in the "Caddyshack" movie, only it wasn't a Baby Ruth bar.

Dinner Time - Tuna

It may look like Debbie is sending smoke signals, but in actuality Monday's dinner got off to an exciting start when Debbie set fire to a frying pan with coconut oil.  Thirty seconds sooner and a faster camera man and you would seen this pan blazing on top of the stove.  Debbie covered the pan and carried it outside where it continued to smoke for more than five minutes.  Lesson learned: coconut oil will flame up big time.  Watch your temperature very carefully.

Here are those beautiful tuna fillets we bought yesterday.

A new fry pan, some more coconut oil, and a lower temperature.set the stage for dinner.  These steaks were carefully cooked medium rare with nice pink centers.

Debbie whipped up a white wine, caper, butter and lemon sauce for the tuna.

And here's what dinner eventually turned into.  Notice the pink interior of the tuna with the capers piled on top.  It's almost a tuna sashimi.  The salad came from Lowe's Grocery.  We each made a composition at the salad bar.  Of course my salad had a lot of pasta, turkey, and ham with a little green on the side.  Cracker Barrel could not done a better job!

And the wine was excellent.  It was the 1000 Stories zinfandel purchased at Atlantic Beach Seafood.  The wine's bouquet was beautiful.  I sold wine for 20 years and never used the word "bouquet" to describe a wine's aroma until now.

Quote of the Day

Debbie: "That's a crazy sounding frog.  It sounds like a duck."

Me: "Remember that's not a Rockingham County frog, honey."

A single frog croaking would eventually turn into a chorus of thousands when the rain picked up,  It was so loud that it was uncomfortable to sit outside.  We came indoors...first me and then Debbie/  The noise was deafening outside.   I've never heard anything like it.


Lunch - Shrimpburger

I've never believed ketchup should be put on anything other than a dab on meatloaf and a big dollop on french fries.  But, BIG OAKS DRIVEIN on Salter Path Rd near Atlantic Beach proved me wrong.  BIG OAKS only stays open until 3:30 PM.  We arrived around 2 PM and there was a waiting line at the window.  There was a line when he left after eating lunch in our car and I suspect there was a line long before we arrived.  This little walk-up is listed among the 10 best burger joints in North Carolina, which is why we were there.  Click here to read all about it.

BIG OAKS is famous for its Shrimpburger.  It's a steamed hamburger bun stuffed with fried shrimp, tartar sauce, slaw, and ketchup.  If you click on the Shrimpburger link, it will take you to the web site where you will see a page as fancy as the BIG OAKS building.  I ordered the classic Shrimpburger with the ketchup.  It was very good.  Debbie said the shrimp were not "excessively battered" and the meal was not greasy.  I agree.  It was very good, especially for dining in a car.

I went full Shrimpburger classic with onion rings and a vanilla milkshake.  I can't remember the last time I had a milkshake.  It was a long time ago.  Debbie had them hold the ketchup and drank bottled water.

BIG OAKS also makes a bottled Shrimpburger hot sauce, which you can see at its web site.  Oddly, our Shrimpburgers were served with little plastic pouches of Texas Pete, not the BIG OAKS Shrimpburger hot sauce.

Our Shrimpburger lunch cost about $31 including tax and a small tip.

At Another Seafood Shop

 Just down the street from BIG OAKS is WILLIS SEAFOOD MARKET.  We stopped by to see what was available as a dinner chaser to the Shrimpburger.

We picked a big slab of Grouper (on the right) as the evening meal.

Here's a list of some of Willis' offerings for the day.  I spotted some Red Snapper, some Soft Shell Crabs, and some Crab Meat for a later visit.  The Crab Meat will make crab cakes and be scrambled with our eggs for breakfast.

When Debbie first saw this bird she thought it was a statue.  It wasn't.  It was a real Giant Egret that was hanging around the seafood market, hoping for a handout.  The big bird moved very slowly and gracefully.  The shopkeeper brought out a half-pound of shelled shrimp and fed the bird in the parking lot.

After the seafood market, we made the required $27 visit to the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.  I'll spare you the pain of the photos except for this one:  Debbie said, "You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince."   Hopefully, Debbie did not have to kiss many frogs before meeting her prince..

Dinner - Grouper

Here's the Grouper after a few minutes in the frying pan. That's a beautiful golden brown color.  The fish has been lightly floured and seasoned with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and Old Bay.  No flames and smoke this time.  Grouper is a firm fish like Tuna, but with an entirely different flavor.  Tuna is cooked medium rare while Grouper is cooked all the way through.  Grouper flesh is more moist than Tuna.  Grouper does not give off an unpleasant odor while cooking.  The kitchen did not smell "fishy".

And the finished plate,  Again with Debbie's caper sauce, Lowe's salad, and Tomato Spice Medley on goat cheese and French bread.  We served the fish with Toasted Head Merlot.  It was da bomb!

Dinner was accompanied by Pandora radio tuned to the Miracles (as in Smokey Robinson & the Miracles) Channel.  It was the perfect selection for dining at the beach.  The music made Debbie look at me with a twinkle in her eye and ask to take shag lessons.  Was she talking about dance lessons or Austin Powers shagging?  Hmm...

This is my plate after dinner.  Not much left for the dishwasher.  This is the reason we go to the beach every year.  It's a week of total gastronomic debauchery.

Tuesday was a very filling day.


Dinner - Crab Cakes and Soft Shell Crab

Debbie shows off Chocolate Overload and Tiramisu - fresh from the grocery store and bound for dessert tonight.

Debbie has declared Zinfandel to be the Official Red Wine to accompany seafood.  Yes, red wine does go well with seafood.  This one is called Sin Zin.

On ice and waiting in the kitchen sink is tonight's and tomorrow's dinner and breakfast.

Debbie pulled Lump Crab Meat out of the magic bags .  The Crab was mixed with mayo, mustard, various chopped peppers, onions, and then coated with Panko bread crumbs.  We had crab cakes.

At first we planned to have cheese stuffed Portobello mushrooms with our crab cakes.  The plan shifted at the last minute and the mushrooms were stuffed with the crab cakes, and covered with cheese and jalapeno peppers.  The crab stuffed mushroom then went into the oven at 370 degrees for about 20 minutes.

This dish was made specially for me.  I love soft-shelled crab.  Debbie does not.  She prepared a flour mixture with Italian seasoning and Old Bay.  The soft-shells were covered in the flour mix.

The crabs were popped into the frying pan with coconut oil and browned.  It's hard not to think of spiders when you see the crabs sprawled out.  They certainly don't taste like spiders.  I could eat these things at every meal.  They are that good!

Here's the finished plate.  On the left is part of a crab cake that did not go into a mushroom.  It was simply fried after the soft-shells were done.  Above the partial crab cake is a store bought kale salad.  A crab stuffed mushroom is at the very top.  On the bottom are my two soft-shells.  The dish was served with a Tarragon Aioli for the soft-shells and Sin Zin in the glass.  Magnificent!

Note: One leftover crab cake in mushroom was eaten the next day for lunch.  It was much, much better than the original.  It pays to let things mellow.

And dessert to finish the day.  Tiramisu on the bottom and Chocolate Overload on top.  I liked the Tiramisu.  Debbie preferred the Chocolate Overload.  These came from Lowe's Grocery.


Breakfast - Eggs and Crab

We haven't mentioned breakfast, other than our experience at the Mebane CRACKER BARREL.  But, we did eat a good breakfast every morning.  This is leftover baguette slices being toasted on the stove top.

Leftover lump crab meat was mixed with eggs and tarragon.

The egg and crab mixture was cooked with chopped red and green peppers and Jalapeno peppers.

Here's the final result with sliced cantaloupe and the baguette toast.  The red and green peppers may been a bit much.  The eggs/crab were very good, but the pepper flavor was not as subtle as it should have been.  Still it was a breakfast worthy of champions.

Dinner - Red Snapper

Debbie whips up a blend of 11 secret herbs and spices to go on the Red Snapper purchased at Willis Seafood Market.  We wanted to make Blackened Red Snapper, but we were missing several of the essential seasonings and a cast iron skillet.  Cast iron is very important for Blackened Red Snapper.  You want a pan hot enough to ignite coconut oil, but we had to settle for kinda hot and a close imitation of the seasoning.

Debbie did manage to find a pair of scissors to cut up the Snapper.  Isn't that flesh gorgeous?

The seasoning gets sprinkled on the fillets.

And then they are placed skin side down in a pan that was close to an iron skillet that we had.  The fish cooks in a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of coconut oil.

Chef Debbie waits impatiently while the skin side cooks for five minutes and then two minutes on the opposite side.  Notice her homemade apron.

This is what the fillets look like as they near completion.  They weren't blackened, but they looked beautiful.

Now the finished plate with kale slaw (we ate a lot of kale slaw) and an ear of corn.  It was delicious.  This is what living at the beach gets you for dinner.  Click here for Mario Batali's Blackened Red Snapper recipe


Dinner - Shrimp and Pasta

No beach trip is complete without purchasing a huge batch of shrimp.  These have been shelled (by me) and are ready for cooking.

Debbie prepares the ingredients for what she called Shrimp Scampi - parsley, lemon and garlic.

High protein pasta  noodles go into a pot of boiling water.

The shrimp are added to butter and two garlic cloves.

A squeeze of lemon is added to the shrimp that are quickly turning a nice pink color.

The parsley goes on top and it's all mixed together and cooked just a few minutes.

Boom!  Add a little Parmesan cheese on top of the shrimp and pasta, and dinner is served..


Dinner - Seared Scallops and Whole Wheat Orzo

Orzo goes into a pot of boiling water.

Chef Debbie tests whether the orzo is done...nope.  It needs a couple of more minutes.

The scallops are seared in butter.   This was another quick dinner

The orzo is dusted with Parmesan cheese.

Here's the finished plate.  It was tasty.  The orzo was as good as the scallops which were sweet and succulent.  I've always wanted to use the word "succulent".  I think this is my first time using "succulent".

Dessert - Carrot Cake and Chocolate Eclair
This is half a chocolate eclair and half of a piece of carrot cake.  The were both bought the day before we ate them.  Maybe freshness is more important than I thought because they were both not good.  The leftover dessert went into the trash.


Breakfast - Bojangles

It's Sunday and we're headed home.  This is our last meal at Atlantic Beach.  We stopped at Bojangles where we had to stand in line for more than 10 minutes to get Roasted Chicken Bites and coffee so damned hot that it burned the roof of my mouth.  It's 4-1/2 hours later and my mouth is still stinging.  All I can think about is that Granny woman who sued McDonald's for millions of dollars some years ago when coffee spilled in her lap.  Why do they serve the stuff so damned hot?  I had to add ice to my coffee to get it cool enough to slowly sip for more than an hour.   Despite the mouth burn, it was still better than the Mebane CRACKER BARREL coffee at beginning of our trip.

Almost as memorable as the coffee was a table of six senior citizens seated nearby.  One, who looked to be in her late seventies or early eighties, ran the "conversation" by talking on an endless loop about her mother - "Well, mama said...." and then "mama said..." and then "and mama said..."  Over and over and over while the five others looked like they were almost bored to an early grave with tales of what mama said.  Poor people.  Poor me.

It was a tasty vacation.  I suppose it was nice to have some motivation to come home to beautiful, scenic and historic Rockingham County.

And now a little beach news

Click images to enlarge