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Beer does a body good: Outer Banks Brewing Station

Continuing this blog’s inadvertent-but-grand tradition of reporting on mostly fried food and beer, my next recommendation comes just in time for the 5th Annual Outer Banks Marathon.By J. Barrineau I have several friends running in the 2010 race – friends who are far superior athletes than I – and although I wish I could be there, and I certainly wish them well, I don’t envy them.

After my friends run 26.2 miles, they should head to the Outer Banks Brewing Station at MP 8.5 in Kill Devil Hills. What better way to recover than throwing back a pint or three of expertly handcrafted beer at the nation’s first wind-powered brewpub?

Vintner-turned-brew master Scott Meyers, formerly of Berkeley, Calif., delivers some truly exquisite brews. My personal favorites are the Olsch and the Lemongrass Wheat Ale, which certainly speaks to the beers’ wonderfully complex flavors because I tend to favor darker beers. However, when we visit the Outer Banks Brewing Station, it’s usually after a hot day out and about, so it makes sense to quench a thirst with these food-friendly brews.

And although the beers are the stars of the show, the food cannot be missed. The menu is much more sophisticated than the usual bar fare: I’ve had the petite filet, which was tender, flavorful and cooked perfectly. The Veggie Chipotle Burger – a black bean burger – is much better than most veggie burgers, and according to my husband, the Cuban sandwich is a must-taste. If you’re just looking for a beer and something fried to take your mind off your aching feet, calves, thighs and hips, try the onion rings or fried okra. Or check out the new Jalapeño Bottle Caps, which I’ve never had, but I’d bet they’re nearly perfect. (Editor’s note: In my book, the only fried food more perfect than a fried dill pickle is a fried jalapeño.)

So if you’re in KDH the weekend of Nov. 13-14 – or ever – be sure to stop by to one of the coolest dining establishments on the Banks. In addition to the beer and fine foods, the OBB Station also has a full entertainment calendar featuring such acts as The Influence, which will be performing Nov. 19-20.

Where: MP 8.5, 600 South Croatan Highway
Kill Devil Hills, NC

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m., seven days a week

Phone: 252.449.2739 (BREW)

On Google Maps:

Outer Banks Brewing Station on Facebook: Here

On Yelp: Here

On foursquare: Here

On Gowalla: Here

Wright Brothers Memorial: Cool Off; read a plaque

After you’ve braved the searing heat on Jockey’s Ridge, you might want to drive a few mile posts up 158 and cool off at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, a must-see for the visiting history buffs who love nothing more than to spend an afternoon reading plaques and looking at old stuff in glass boxes. Wright Brothers National Memorial by Ken Thomas

When you think of the Outer Banks, it’s likely the first thing you think of is the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight. As the story goes, on Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made four flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C.; these were the first heavier-than-air flights with a pilot on board. The best flight was 59 seconds and covered 852 feet — hardly an adequate preview of a trans-Atlantic redeye to London, but still pretty exciting for 1903.

A century later, those flights were celebrated with the opening of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. There, you’ll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the Wright brothers and their flyer. Really. Trust me. And if that’s not enough, you can always road trip north to the Smithsonian.

Where: Mile Post 7.5 on U.S. Highway 158
Kill Devil Hills, NC
Directions from the NPS: Here

National Memorial hours: Seven days a week; year round.

Visitor’s Center and Centennial Pavilion hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., summer;
9 a.m.-5 p.m., September-May.
Sorry history buffs, closed Christmas.

Phone: 252.473.2111

UPDATE 8/24/2010: I realized just recently that the image used here was not pointing to the correct website with the appropriate credit for Ken Thomas. Please accept my sincerest apologies. I try to ensure any photos I have not taken are used in accordance to the photographer’s terms of usage.

Jockey’s Ridge: Historic heights

In light of the fact that I have inadvertently turned this blog into a forum that seems to advocate a diet based on beer and fried foods (You’re welcome, America!), I’m going to offer an actual activity that involves neither.

If you want to stretch your legs, work off some barbecue and oysters, lace up your sneaks and hike the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Walk this wayWe do this at least three times a visit, and somehow I manage to see the Banks in a way I hadn’t before. The hike makes for a hot day, and you have to work for the jaw-dropping views you’ll see. It’s also likely the sun will be anything but forgiving, so make sure you take some water.

After you’ve hauled your newly expanded rear end up the dunes, which vary between 80 and 100 feet in height, you can take in the views of the Atlantic and the Roanoke and Albemarle sounds. It’s almost as if you’re on the edge of the earth, and in a way, you are because you’re on a tiny barrier island just a breath from the Atlantic. Jockey’s Ridge makes you forget all that. It’s downright other worldly.

If you come back the next year, the dunes might seem different. Jockey’s Ridge is the largest living sand dune system in the eastern United States, and the Outer Banks’ famous winds shift the dunes every year.

The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation explains how the sand stays put:Not quite the edge of the world, but close.

Shifting maritime winds blow billions of grains of sand in different directions, constantly changing both the shape and size of the dune. Why doesn’t the sand blow away? In the winter, the winds usually blow out of the northeast and in the summer out of the southwest; therefore, the sand is constantly blown back and forth.

Sometimes the dunes seem smaller to me; other times larger. There is always a bit of a mystery surrounding them. When I lived on the Banks in 1992, you could see a single turret with a smiley face among the sand drifts and hang gliders. (Surreal, but true.) Eventually the dunes shifted and shifted some more, and you could see the remains of a mini-golf course that had been consumed by the dunes. It took more than 10 years, but finally, that mystery was solved.

Too bad I didn’t think to ask my roommate — a native Banker — about turret in 1992.

Traveler’s Advisory: Do not even think about hiking the dunes barefoot — the sand can be as much as 30 degrees hotter than the temperature. Also, an unexpected — and highly possible — Outer Banks thunderstorm isn’t fun on the dunes, so be sure to check the weather.

Where: Mile Post 12.5, Off U.S. 158
Nags Head, NC 27959

No admission fee

Park hours: November-February, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
June-August, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
March-May & September-October, 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.

Visitor Center Hours: November-February, 9 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
March-October, 9 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

UPDATE: As I was writing this post, I stumbled onto this is a photo of the castle and the recently revealed turrets I used to wonder about when I lived on the Outer Banks. It’s by photographer Mike Hogan of Kill Devil Hills.


Jockey’s Ribs: Great food, no bones about it

I should probably be embarrassed about how many times I’ve mentioned barbecue on this blog — it’s certainly not intentional — it just happened that I went through a barbecue phase a couple of years ago. Every outing was a mission to find good pulled-pork barbecue. I’m happy to report that we didn’t often fail.

A favorite on the Outer Banks is is Jockey’s Ribs in Nags Head at Mile Post 13, near the famed Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The smiling service and cold beer make for a nice treat after a hot day of hiking the dunes, but the menu is most important when I’m tired of seafood and want something else. I will always recommend the barbecue sandwich, Eastern N.C. style, with extra sauce on the side. While you’re at it, also order a side of the house rib sauce. I’m usually not a fan of the really thick sauces because 1) I’m from Eastern North Carolina, not Memphis and 2) the thick sauces often taste too much like ketchup, but this one has a distinct smoky-sweet flavor I loved but couldn’t quite place. (A touch of bourbon, perhaps?) The sauce complements the pork nicely, and because I’m a 7-year-old boy at heart, it’s also good on the fries, the onion rings, the awesome fried dill pickle chips — and whatever else is handy to dip. Ditto for the tartar sauce. (Not that I eat that on my barbecue.)

The tartar sauce was actually served up with the crab cake sandwich during our last visit. Good crab cake sandwiches are everywhere in our area, and although yummy, they’re not terribly distinctive. What sold us on this sandwich was the added fried green tomato. The sandwich didn’t disappoint — it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, and it’s because of the fried green tomato, which was a wonderful substitute for the lemon. I did add a little of the tartar sauce, but not much — the sandwich didn’t need it. The broiled cake itself was nearly all crab, little filler, and not dry at all. The sandwich was a terrific $10 deal.

Traveler’s Advisory: The gumbo is rumored to be fantastic. I cannot confirm this, however.

Where: 3948 S Virginia Dare Trail
Nags Head, NC 27959

Phone: 252.441.1141

Sam & Omie’s: I’d rather be there

I can’t write about food on the Outer Banks without writing about Sam & Omie’s at Mile Post 16 1/2. Sam & Omie’s is the only good thing that came out of a college romance with a dim-witted vacuum cleaner salesman, and thanks to that jackass, I’ve enjoyed it for 20 years. Mile Post 16 in Nags HeadI hope to enjoy it for 20 more with my smarter half.

What draws me and hundreds of other beachgoers to Sam & Omie’s is the cold beer, the hot food, and a laid-back atmosphere that welcomes the sandy and suntanned. Sam & Omie’s is where I want to go when my most formal attire is the shorts without the paint stains on them.

The food isn’t super fancy: If you’re looking for snooty fine dining, go somewhere else. The pulled pork sandwich and the hot dogs are my favorites, and my husband enjoys the chicken salad sandwich. In the vegetable basket, they make cauliflower the only way I’ll eat it — fried. If I feel like eating light, I’ll get a beer and the basket of fried onion rings.

Traveler’s Advisory: Closed December through February.

Where: 7228 South Virginia Dare Trail
Nags Head, NC 27959

Phone: 252.441.7366

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South Beach Grille

Just had a late lunch at South Beach Grille at Mile Post 16 in Nags Head. They served up a tasty shrimp basket with crisp fries, but the star of the meal was the truly excellent mahimahi tacos. The superfresh fixin’s were a perfect complement to the flaky, flavorful fish.

Of note: Deck-top dining is available with ocean-to-sound views.

When: Open lunch and dinner; closed Sunday.

Where: 6806 South Virginia Dare Trail
Nags Head, NC 27959-9120

Phone: 252.449.9313

P.S. Tonight: 25-cent wings; $2.50 domestics.

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Review Interrupted

I was going to review two of my favorite Outer Banks restaurants today, but one has gone out of business and one has changed management — and not for the better. The upside is I heard that the former chef for the latter has moved up to the D.C. area; I’m not above tracking down a good chef — and the D.C. food scene isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory to me.

While I’m at it, I need to note that I won’t write bad reviews here. If I go somewhere with bad food or poor service, I might mention the restaurant, but I won’t elaborate. I’m doing this mostly as a record of my comings and goings. If I help out a misguided googler along the way, great. But I’m not a food critic, just a very willing consumer who enjoys a good meal, and I’m not going to get into any prissy debates about this hot restaurant or that campy dive. If I note a place of business here, it’s because I had a satisfying exchange of goods or services. And in this day and age, that’s a beautiful thing.