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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Beyond Breakfast With Nick: Seafood on the Outer Banks

Our annual Outer Banks vacation means many things for us: time together as a family, getting to play in the waves and sand, catching up on reading, visiting the small towns along the Banks, and eating lots of seafood. As you make the journey to the Banks (and understand that one of the only ways to get there is to enter from the north, taking rural routes through Virginia and North Carolina), you encounter more and more signs boasting local seafood. We stay fairly far south on Hatteras Island, and as we travel down the coast to our destination, one of our first stops is to pick up fresh crab at Daniel’s Crab House. It’s not much more than a small shack on Pamlico Sound, where a tiny crew is steaming, peeling, and packaging fresh crab.

At the tiny counter, which is really just a large box filled with ice and bins of crab, you can catch a glimpse of the crab-peelers at their work. It’s amazing how quickly and smoothly they move.

One of our favorite things to do with the crab is to a make a simple dip out of it: layer of cream cheese, one pound of crab meat, and Grandma’s homemade cocktail sauce. Crackers for scooping. It’s a simple pre-dinner treat, and with a crew like ours, it gets polished off quickly.

Another favorite is shrimp. Many times we’ll get a couple pounds at a seafood store, steam it, and then dunk it in homemade cocktail sauce. In recent years, however, we’ve amped things up by making our own shrimp and grits. Allow me to demonstrate…

First, peel, clean, and de-vein the shrimp, then toss them in a pan. They cook quickly – usually only 30 seconds a side – so keep an eye on them.

Once the shrimp is done, remove it and set aside. While you’re preparing the shrimp, cook some bacon and chop it. Toss it in the pan with shallots, seasoning, and herbs of your choosing.

When the bacon has cooked down, toss in the shrimp, mix it all together, then remove it from heat.

Oh yeah, while you’re doing that, cook up a big pot of grits. Once the grits have cooked thoroughly, we like to stir in some butter and a cup or two of a sharp cheddar (like Dubliner).

Plating is fairly simple: a big dollop of grits, a scoop of the shrimp/shallots/bacon mixture, and then we garnish it with a fresh salsa of tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro. Sometimes we’ll make a small batch of guacamole and put a small gob of that on top, too.

This is a great dish to make for a crowd. All of the ingredients are easy to make in bulk. Your only real limitation is how much shrimp you have and how many you want per dish.

One night, we went all out and made the shrimp and grits plus some fresh tuna. Tuna is one of my favorite types of fish (especially rare), and you can cook it easily. We just sprinkled the steaks with a mix of seasoning and then cooked it in the same pan as the shrimp.

We like it fairly rare (look at the one in the upper left), and we often joke that in order to cook it, you simply wave the tuna over the grill and call it done.

And there you have it. One of the many reasons why we love the Outer Banks. Simply put: good, fresh fish.

Beyond Breakfast With Nick: Quality Seafood | Elizabeth City, NC

Every year, I travel with my wife’s family to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We look forward to the vacation all year long: it involves days of sitting on the beach of a narrow strip of barrier islands. We do a bulk of the driving in one day, but we stay overnight in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, a couple hours away from our destination. That’s usually about twelve hours of driving, including stops, all the way from Columbus through the Virginias and into North Carolina. And at the end of that trip, like a shining, golden promise, a symbol that we’ve arrived on vacation, is Quality Seafood.

When you ask the people at the hotel desk where to get good seafood, they all and always say Quality Seafood. It’s one of those places that looks completely nondescript from the outside. You might ignore it entirely if it wasn’t for the parking lot jammed with cars. Inside is crowded with a diverse mix of locals – and almost only locals, we always feel secretly in-the-know and a little bit out of place. Quality Seafood is about a simple as  you can get: an unchanging menu above the counter, plastic silverware, styrofoam plates, pre-packaged condiments. You could almost mistake it for a generic fast food restaurant… if it wasn’t for the seafood counter in the next room, loaded with fresh-caught goods.

All throughout the twelve-hour drive, we dream and drool over a plate like this. Fries, a dollop of cole slaw, hush puppies, and a pile of fried seafood. Complemented by a big, styrofoam cup of sweet tea.

Sure, you can include some peel-and-eat shrimp steamed with Old Bay.

But what you really want is the fried seafood. I love the the mixed platter: shrimp, scallops, oysters, and the fish of the day. It’s really a superb dish of food. Everything’s breaded and fried just right – not greasy at all. The seasoning is rich without being salty. The seafood is tender and flavorful. If you like seafood at all, this place is a dream. Obviously, we love this place partly because it signifies we’ve arrived on vacation. But even without that, it’s one of those treasures that features the regional specialty and is populated by locals.

If you want to visit:
Quality Seafood
309 E. Ehringhaus St.
Elizabeth City, NC 27909
(252) 335-7648

Quality Seafood Market on Urbanspoon

Five Years of Breakfast

Five years ago today – June 4, 2007 – I made my first post on a little Blogger site I set up and called “Breakfast With Nick.” It was a Monday. The post is a short rumination and justification on why I felt like writing about breakfast. The week before, I had submitted my 200-page dissertation for grad school, but I still had the writing bug. I mentioned to my wife that I was thinking about writing a blog about breakfast. I liked recording the unique places we had visited while traveling, and I loved having a specific focus while exploring Columbus. Do it, she said.

The Sunday after that first post, I walked across the field at the Ohio Stadium, where my adviser hooded me, the Provost read my name, and President Holbrooke handed me my diploma, smiled, and said, “Congratulations.” As I strolled across the stage, I craned my neck to glimpse Bill Clinton and John Glenn chatting in the seats behind the podium. Stepping off the stage, I was officially “Dr. Dekker.”

It wasn’t until later that month that I posted my first “review,” focusing on the Gingerbread House Bakery in Frisco, North Carolina. Frisco is one of many small towns lining the Outer Banks. Following graduation, we took the annual family vacation to the Outer Banks, and I had my sites set on this little bakery and pizza shop. The word “breakfast” was now on my radar, and I immediately spotted the breakfast sign there. Like my second review – of a Bob Evans, of all places – this early post had one washed-out picture and a large textual description of the food. I knew very little technical language about preparing and eating food, but I plowed ahead, figuring I could learn as I went.

(Picture from my Bob Evans post. Why did I crop this down so much?)

I’m humbled and pleased that a simple blog based on my favorite meal has grown and expanded. The past five years have been a delightful little journey. I’ve found that many people love breakfast, too, and they’ve shared stories, ideas, and secret favorite restaurants with me. I’ve been fortunate to do some some paid writing for a couple magazines, meet some of the great folks in local TV and radio, write for other excellent blogs, win a couple awards, appear on a snippet of national television (PBS, baby!), and even write a book!

People ask if I’m done with breakfast in Columbus. Definitely not. Writing the book showed me how many more places I need to visit around town. New restaurants open monthly; old classics still beg to be visited. But I’m trying to keep the momentum forward, so here’s a few what’s next items:

1. Events! I’m trying to schedule some more book-signings, talks, and food events in the coming months, and there are some very exciting collaborations ahead. On Saturday, June 30th you can enjoy a mobile breakfast with me at Dinin’ Hall. In July I’ll be cooking and judging at the Ohio State Fair. August will bring an (almost-confirmed) book signing at Barnes & Noble, and this fall I’m doing an event at the Thurber House.

2. Books! Sales of the book have been going well, and I’m excited to reach more people with it. Many of the events will double as book-signings, but look for more spots carrying the book, too.

3. Lunch! Wait, what? Yes, you read right. Many people have joked that, now that I’ve written the book about breakfast in Columbus, am I going to start the blog Lunch With Nick? The short answer is a resounding no. But over the past few years, as we’ve learned to explore and appreciate more styles of food and types of restaurants, I keep finding places that I wish I could write about and share. Sometime in June or July, look for a new series of posts called Beyond Breakfast With Nick. The blog will most certainly still be breakfast-focused, but I want to share the love about some other favorite places to eat.

I’m very grateful to all of the readers, e-mailers, and breakfast companions over the past five years. It’s been especially exciting to see Columbus’ culinary scene grow, and to be part of a dedicated and active food blogging community here in town. Everyone has helped turn a breakfast aficionado’s hobby into something much more, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

So… are we doing breakfast tomorrow?

Nick

P.S. I’m sharing the breakfast love this week! Look for a bunch of breakfasty giveaways on Facebook and Twitter.

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