Hey y’all, I’m down in Southport, North Carolina for some creekside R and R. You may not have heard of this coastal town but you've definitely seen it. Dawson’s Creek? Under the Dome? Safe Haven? I Know What You Did Last Summer? That's Southport. I've been batting .500 with the weather but, thankfully, knocking it out of the park with the eats. Over six years of visits I've developed a routine of visiting family, and restaurants that are like family, during each Easter vacation. At first, I scoffed at the small southern town’s ability to produce anything other than barbecue, shrimp and grits or crab cakes. I saw Southport as an extra in the major motion picture of the North Carolina shore. While I wasn't totally wrong about the shrimp and grits thing (it's on every menu), culinary risks are increasingly popping up on menus and old favorites are being perfected. Now, Southport is just about ready for its lead role. Ready to see what a trip tastes like? Three, two, one, action!
Thursday: I’ve peeled myself out of pajamas and away from my schoolwork to attend to my growling stomach. I arrive at Taylor’s during the local lunch rush; every salad or sandwich comes with a side of smiles or laughter. Everyone knows everyone. Except me. Sure, I come down every year but that does not a local make. But that quickly changes when my server dubs me “baby girl” and treats me like I’m a Thursday regular. She’s quick to bring out my oversize sweet tea and fried green tomato sandwich. The pillowy foccacia bread is layered with a healthy dab of goat cheese and lightly breaded tomatoes but it’s the herb mayo that makes the dish. Heck if I know what’s in it but it gets better each time I visit. With an extra sweet tea to go, “baby girl” is on her way back home to tend to more lesson plans.
Friday: If you ever find yourself in Southport be sure to spend some time visiting the many galleries packed with local artwork. Pottery and paintings are in the majority but you can find some jewelry and, at the Art Shak, downright awesome metal sculpture. When you find yourself hankering for a bite you’ll find plenty of options in town. If you’re craving something sweet head to Side Street Bakery for doughy cinnamon rolls that let the cinnamon do all the talking. Or maybe a brick sized slice of indulgent lemon orange chiffon cake. Or if you're me, both. Chiffon cake is what happens when an angel food cake and a traditional vanilla cake love each other very much. When done right, it should taste exactly like Side Street’s; sugar and citrus permeating every crumb without inducing diabetic shock.
Perhaps you'll want something a little more substantial; head down to the water and you’ll find a handful of dockside restaurants. They may all look the same at first but upon closer inspection you’ll find each has its own solid house specialties. Hop in line at Provision Company and grab a heaping scoop of grouper salad and minimum two bloody Mary’s. If it’s high season, prime mealtime, or both, be prepared to wait (hence two bloody Mary’s). You could try Fishy Fishy or Frying Pan for similar eats, views but we’re partial to Provision. There will most likely be a wait at any of these establishments but they’re absolutely worth it for truly fresh seafood. Basically, there’s no shortage of neighborhood lunchtime eats.
Saturday: It’s the second sunny day in a row so I spend most of the day sunning (read: burning) on the deck. To give my aunt a night off from cooking we head down town to find a restaurant that strikes our fancy. It’s not all seafood shacks in Southport you know. There are a few fine dining options that rival those in larger cities, Live Oak Café for instance. The specialty is seafood gumbo but there are more inventive dishes like duck crepes topped with blood orange infused duck confit. For a small town dominated by seafood I’d say that’s a pretty big risk. We end up at Southport’s rising star, Ports of Call, which opened a few years ago in the old maritime museum. Featuring a mix of Mediterranean and American cuisine, they offer dishes with well-paired, high quality ingredients. Rotating seasonal specials like my blackened mahi mahi is a perfect example. Served with Spanish rice and roasted asparagus it sounds pretty conventional. By drizzling a light yet smoky poblano pan sauce over the fish the meal transforms. The sauce highlights the blackened fish and gently ties all the ingredients together in a savory pool of goodness.
Sunday and Monday: Take five, guys. It’s cooler and drizzly, downright pouring at times. I'm holing up on the couch with a good book and wine. Later we have “the fish”.
Tuesday: As a general rule of thumb we eat lunch out and dinner home. If you couldn’t already tell, my aunt’s cooking is just as good, if not better, than any place in town. You don’t have to believe me but the proof is in the (rutabaga) puree and lamb shank.
As for the view, does it get any better?
I’m going to soak up a bit more sun before going back to my regularly scheduled program and blood sugar level. It’s never easy leaving, but it’s always easy finding a good meal. Whatever your palate prefers, you can surely find something in Southport. End scene. Until the next dish, ciao!