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Northern Banks


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Hatteras Village

We view the Northern Banks (Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, etc.) skeptically. It seems to us that people who vacation there come to the ocean to shop, play golf, go to movies, bar hop, and engage in a dozen other activities but never go in the water and sometimes do not even go to the beach. We see the Northern Banks as a great place for day tripping to the Wright Brothers Memorial (above left), the Lost Colony, hang gliding off Jockey Ridge (above right), touring the Elizabeth (shown at right), or going up in one of the airplane experiences at the airport.

However, there are great restaurants on the Northern Banks. The larger population supports larger restaurants, more of which can remain open year round. They have access to fresh seafood with the commercial fleet and packing houses in Wanchese. And because the Northern Banks are closer and easier to get to, those restaurants get reviewed more often in the major dailies and magazines of Norfolk, Washington, Raleigh, and other cities. The result is a collection of seafood restaurants with attitude.

Stripers is in Manteo, on Roanoke Island. It is where you eat the day you drive up, browse along the historic waterfront, spend the afternoon at The Lost Colony Historical Center, tour the 1600s ship The Elizabeth, and watch the outdoor drama Lost Colony that evening. Stripers is not only right on the water, but right on the Inland Waterway, and some of the largest yachts and sailboats on the Atlantic Coast cruise past on their way up and down the coast. It is a three level restaurant. Try to sit on the third floor outdoor deck. Boaters will sail in from other islands, tie up and have dinner here, so Stripers is busy, but you have to be here early anyway to make it to The Lost Colony performance. Their menu is not extensive but everything is very good. If all you want is a sandwich try a Jalapenoburger. It's bizarre and not authentic Carolina, but it's delicious. They do a fine job with all their seafood entrees. Since their Happy Hour is a local institution, their appetizers are worth sampling. The wine list is not extensive but they do a great job with mixed drinks. Your biggest problem will be finding the place. Stripers is a block from the street past a Sailing Club and a condo complex. Most people drive back and forth past the sign three or four times before finally noticing it. Since most of their clientele comes in by water or from local residents, they don't feel motivated to post a bigger sign for vacationing landlubbers. Your kids will love it here. They can watch ducks, seagulls and pelicans flying past, landing, taking off, feeding, waddling around and watching you eat. Many big time restaurants have more extensive dinner menus but no place beats Stripers for lunch.

The Tale of the Whale is located on the causeway out over the water between Nags Head and Manteo. It's a spectacular location, with tables looking out the windows onto Roanoke Sound and magnificent sunsets. But then there's the food. Don Bibey had collected recipes around the world during his U.S. Air Force career and he and his wife Carole used them as the foundation when they opened the restaurant in 1980. Among the appetizers, we like the Blackened Fish Bites With Marinara Sauce. We strongly urge you to try one of their three great soups : She Crab, Lobster Bisque and Chowder. There's a Lighter Fare Menu which includes such entrees as Broiled Scallops, Broiled Flounder and Sun Dried Tomato Pasta. From their Steamed Menu we like the Snow Crab Legs and members of our group have had great luck with their Steamed Special of the Day. But the real reasons we keep going back are three Specialties of the House on the Main Menu: Stuffed Flounder (jumbo lump crabmeat in a flounder casserole, broiled and topped with a lobster cream sherry sauce), Crab Imperial (jumbo lump crabmeat with minced green pepper, onion, herbs, spices and lemon), and Shrimp and Grits, an item we've never seen anywhere else. They offer Prime Rib and Steak if you insist. And as a final stroke, try their Death by Chocolate Martini.

Windmill Point is at milepost 16.5 on the Route 58 Bypass in Nags Head. It's pretty easy to find --- just look for the giant windmill turning in the wind. We suggest you roll the dice and order the Appetizer of the Day. But there's also their She Crab Bisque and Jalapeno Crab Cake. Among the entrees, we like the Parchment Salmon (salmon baked in parchment with oranges and dill), Fish Trio (the chef's choice of the three best fish available that day), and the Windmill Platter (a medley of all the seafood they're currently serving). But if you're not in the mood for fish, consider the Duck (in a raspberry port glaze). Among their pastas, our favorite is the Capelli Con Scampi (angel hair pasta with shrimp, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms and herbs).
Big Al's is on the main street in Manteo right across from The Christmas Shop. It is a Must See as a lunchtime stop. Big Al and his family have run this place for half a century and spent all of that time accumulating Coca Cola paraphernalia. The result is the greatest collection of Coca Cola memorabilia north of company headquarters in Atlanta, and you eat right in the middle of it all. They also have a jukebox, dance floor and model car display. Anyone who's a 1950s or 1960s lover will feel right at home here. The menu is pretty interesting, too. They've got a whole block of Classic Patti Melts, a block of Classic Fish Sandwiches, the traditional Vanilla Cokes, Chocolate Cokes, Cherry Cokes, plus real ice cream milkshakes in the old fashioned tall glasses. For the less nostalgic, there's a salad bar and more 21st century items. Big Al's is rumored to serve Clam Chowder, but on five visits we've ordered it every time and still haven't tasted any. The waitress always "forgets" to bring it. We still aren't sure if they actually serve it or if this is some inside joke they play on customers. However, service is prompt and cheerful otherwise, and we highly recommend a stop at Big Al's.
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