Hatteras Village Vacation

So. My vacation. As you can tell from my lack of posting this week, I’m still pretending to be on it. I’m a firm believer that no vacation should last for less than 2 weeks and if I can’t still be on vacation in reality, I’m on the beach in spirit.

The vacation was wonderful. We rented a little cabana with bright yellow walls and starfish decorations. The whole area was practically to ourselves as not many people are vacationing in North Carolina in March (it’s still pretty cold there.) The first few days were tumultuously windy. With vacationy-good-cheer, we made the best of it and took long walks on the beach anyway. The weather cleared within a few days. We took nature-walks through lush sea-side forests. Champ was unwillingly washed. And we ate a ton of tuna.

On the super-windy days, we checked out the local restaurants. I won’t say our eating over vacation was overall-tasty, or on-average-satisfying because, really, it was some of the best, and some of the worst, food that I’ve had in a long time. About the worst I won’t say much—just that when we first arrived at “our little fishing village on the tip of the Outer Banks,” I was surprised to see a lot of people very overweight and otherwise un-healthy-looking. Not that I have anything against portliness, not in the least, it’s just that this kind of portliness—it’s the McDonald’s variety, not the foie gras and creme brulee type—is unnerving. The latter is no less health-hazardous but I find it less sad. The more I learn about the dreaded farm bill, and corn subsidies, and evil corporation’s PR campaigns, the more disheartening it is to see obese people, many of whom work what I assume to be (and I know because I’ve worked many of these) underpaid jobs.

I’ve got to admit at first I was amazed. In an area where you could get the freshest fish I’ve ever tasted for cheaper than usual prices, how can the people living there be overweight? I had imagined they were all slinky gods and goddess, with sheeny hair and perfect skin. And then I ate at the restaurants. A lot of them were teeming with fast-food type fare, sometimes without the fast food prices! I realized how good I’ve been eating over the past year (how bad some people in this country have been)—and how little I’ve spent to eat my way.

Jim and I always complain about how much we spend on our fancy cheese and organic fruit at Whole Foods, but we spent about triple the amount of money on a week’s worth of food on vacation—and didn’t even eat out the whole time! And jesus, money aside, most of the food sucked. See, I’m all for spending 100 bucks on a dinner that I can savor and enjoy, but spending 50 on something that belongs in a school cafeteria (and if I had it my way, it wouldn’t even belong there) is a damn shame. I wanted to do something. I wanted to scream that it’s not that hard to cook! And a bag of beans and rice is so much cheaper than a Mikkey-Dee’s! And it will even fill you up better—not the filled up I feel sick feeling that results from eating twice your daily caloric intake in one meal!

Did I say I wouldn’t say much about the worst? Whoops. Well, at least I won’t name any bad-restaurant names publicly (if you really want to know, email me) and I’ll stop ranting now and move onto the good stuff.

I had a few firsts down in North Carolina—my first crawfish, my first (enjoyed) oyster, my first taste of alligator(!) We ate the alligator solely for the novelty of it. The pieces of alligator tail were tender but also a little rubbery—somewhere between the texture of fish and pork, oddly enough. The restaurant owner who offered the alligator gave a nice lesson of how alligators are farm-raised in Louisiana—in big indoor swamps, kept dark at all times, with the doors only opened when the (assumedly-scared-shitless) farmer needs to feed his stock. Can’t say I’m hankering to eat alligator again but the dish was indeed fun.

I tried crawfish and enjoyed its lobster-like flavor and meatiness—after, that is, I shamefully admitted to the bar girl that I had no idea what to do with the things, presenting her with the two specimens I thoroughly mangled before giving up. She graciously obliged, showing me how to start by pulling off the tail (mentioning that I could suck out the head if I wanted to be “authentic”) and then how to “shimmy” the meat out. After I finished 1/2 a pound—my hands stained red from the Old Bay and drawn butter glistening my lip—I proudly announced to her that I’d mastered the art of crawfish eating.

At this same friendly, delicious bar, I fell in love with oysters. I ate them the way, I realize now, they should always be eaten—unpretentiously, ordered at the bar by the dozen and served on a styrofoam plate with a few wedge of lemon and a bit of cocktail sauce. Little plump pillows, the oysters were transcendent. Briny, tasting of the shells they slept in. I’ve had oysters before, at fancy NYC restaurants paying an outrageous price per pop, but I enjoyed them ten-fold more in this small, dank North Carolina bar.

Finally, the tuna. Once the weather brightened, Jim and I didn’t want to do anything but be outside, and decided to start buying all our dinners at the local seafood market. We would show up at 5PM, as the boats were getting in, and spend some time on the docks watching the fishermen slice up their bounty, the pelicans chomping at the bit. Once inside, where though it was a small room full of fish, the only smell in our nostrils was that of the fresh, crisp, ocean. Nothing was fishy smelly. It was unlike any fish I’ve ever encountered and I knew we’d have to have tuna tartare.

It was fantastic. No, that’s not the right word. It was awe-some. It was hilariously, ridiculously good—we laughed the whole time we ate, unable to believe our plates. The only bad part was realizing that tuna tartare, my favorite dish to order at restaurants, would henceforth pale in comparison to the fresh, sea-scented tuna we had in the Outer Banks.

A Tuna Tartare Un-Recipe

This is an un-recipe because it’s really just a basic idea—something that you can go off of if you have no idea how to start upon tuna tartare. But really, it’s just a bouncing-off point, and you need to experiment and find the perfect taste for you.

  • 1 1/2 pound sashimi-grade tuna
  • 1 or 2 avocados, diced
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced white parts only
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger
  • 1-2 teaspoons wasabi paste
  • pinch of sugar
  • juice of a lime

Slice tuna into strips against the grain and cut into dices. Combine tuna with avocado and scallions. In a separate bowl, combine rest of ingredients, mixing well. Taste and adjust. Taste with a piece of the tuna and if it’s to your liking, pour over tuna. Mix and serve with sesame crackers.

31 thoughts on “Hatteras Village Vacation”

  1. Looks like a wonderful trip. I agree with you about Mickey-Dee’s. A sack of rice and a bag of dried beans will last you forever and keep you healthy and full! Not to mention it will run you about $0.04 per meal.

    Tuna is the way to go, it’s my favorite fish by far when good quality and rare. Looks like a great tuna tartare – something I’ve always been afraid to do. I always leave raw fish to the Japanese restaurants I frequent, but I may have to give it a try. Tuna tartare is my favorite dish and it is so versatile! I know it’s not the same as fresh, but I just bought a huge pack of individually wrapped frozen sashimi-grade tuna steaks. I’ll have to give this a try with one of the pieces. Thanks for the recipe.

    The Peanut Butter Boy

  2. That sounds like an incredibly fun vacation. And I agree – 2 weeks is the required minimum!

    The tuna tartare sounds delicious.

    And that pooch rocks 🙂

  3. Great pix. Looks like you guys really enjoyed yourselves.

    I am not much for tuna tartare, but now give me a couple of pounds of boiled crawfish and I’ll go to town.

    It has been a long time since I’ve been to the Outer Banks, many years in fact, but I know how great it can be there.

  4. Alligator has to be super-fresh and cooked correctly in order to not have the rubbery texture. Mike Rowe did part of an episode of “Dirty Jobs” at one of the Louisiana alligator farms, and you can see exactly what those bins look like. (The episode still runs on occasion during the day so watch for it.) The folks up here at the Frog Leg Inn offer a Deep-Fried Farm-Raised Alligator appetizer that’s so much like a tender, sweet candy (and not rubbery at all) that we all end up fighting over the last pieces on the plates.

    Wonderful pics, especially those of the tuna! I like a good seared tuna … coated in peppercorns, crispy on the outside, flat-out raw on the outside. Damn, I’m getting hungry … 😉

  5. I love going down to Hatteras, Nags Head, the rest of those places because it’s only about a 45 minute drive from where I live (Edenton). Yea, there are some… larger people down there than you would expect, but a lot of those aren’t really the locals. Yeah, never do fast food there. Ew. There are a lot of places down there that are wonderful. Lone Cedar was delicious every time I went there, I`m not sure how it is after they rebuilt it. Hurricane Moe’s is a great place to go for Happy Hour with 10 Cent Shrimp & you definitely get to meet the locals. Those are the two places I`d recommend to anyone. Your pictures are gorgeous though, and makes me wish I was there now!

  6. A big fan of the Outer Banks, especially Okracoke.
    We use to go clamming. Even had our own clam rakes that we toted with us every year we went on vacation. We had a mom’s clam bar. But that is another story with 3 recipes. Glad you had fun.

  7. Ooooh! I loved your vacation. That is how we have always traveled together! The 2 of us and our 2 dogs and now the kids. We rent houses and live and eat the way we want. Food in restaurants (especially in tourist areas) are just sad. It is such a hit or miss that we have found that if we find local sources we win every meal! Not saying that we don’t go out to eat but generally themeals where we have sourced the fresh local ingredients are the best and most memorable!

  8. Great pictures and glad you enjoyed Hatteras! That part of OBX is defiantly not a gourmet hot spot – we usually jut buy most of our ingredients (or plan ahead and bring extra special stuff with us) and cook in. If you look there are a couple worth going back to – we usually try to go to the Breakwater in Hatteras – they have a nice deck on the sound that you can sit out and have drinks on. We also like Mack Daddy’s in Avon, there is also a great little wine shop and small gourmet grocery in Avon.

    I will send you a limnk to some great arial photos of the area – neat to see from above.


  9. Glad you enjoyed your vacation in Hatteras!

    My wife and I love the state so much that we bought a summer cottage (in Lake Lure) many years ago, BEFORE so many people discovered it.

    Best investment we ever made. North Carolina has it all . . . including wonderful food, if you do a little homework. Check with the locals, hit the backroads, and ignore the sometimes-overly-rustic “appearance” of the restaurant.

    Also noted that you tried alligator. We first tasted alligator at an Outback Steakhouse in Branson some years back, and have been hooked ever since.

    My wife now has it (the tail meat) over-nighted from Cajun Grocer in Louisiana. Great treat with a “Surf ‘n Turf” dinner.

    We enjoyed your shared vacation.

  10. Although I enjoyed most of your post I will say that I am very offended about your statements about overweight people. I am overweight and I work very hard to not be. I spend almost every day at the gym. Unfortunately I am “blessed” with this problem and I know many other people have worse problems. I have always been very active and overweight. I am actually healthier than some of my “skinny” friends. My hunch is that you will not post this comment. It does not matter, it matters just that you read it and maybe might understand how you can hurt people’s feelings.

  11. My wife and I enjoy vacations on Hatteras quite often.

    Unfortunately, she seems to have once again succombed to some very bad diet advice and she is currently consuming only cottage cheese and gin and tonics.

    Your tuna tartare recipe is gorgious and I have no doubt that it is even better than it looks, but it will have to wait until she comes to her senses.

    Charles T.

  12. Nick: I had always been afraid to do tuna tartare at home as well, but if you know the fish is fresh, there’s no reason not to—it’ll probably be safer than at a restaurant!

    Kaykat: Champ says thank you very much and that you rock too!!

    Donald- Have you seen The Homesick Texan’s crawfish post? It had me drooooling.

    Luna: Thanks, you’ve helped me learn about alligator—and made me want to try it again!

    Francie: He did have fun. Champ loves you too! 🙂

    Geektress- I wish I had talked to you before we went! We saw those places you mentioned but didn’t try them out. I think we were mainly tourist-trapped.

    Kim- We were wondering if there was a lot of crabbing done down there… Jim loves crabbing, so next time we’ll have to go in-season for it!

    Judy: Isn’t traveling with everyone the best way? I would feel sooo bad if we left Champ home.

    Mary- We didn’t try Mack Daddy’s though I wish we had. And that gourmet shop was fantastic—I wanted to buy a T-shirt with their logo, haha, but then forgot. It was our savior after we got sick of eating out! And have you been to the little kitchen and fine food shop in Hatteras—“The Salty Gourmet” It was soooo adorable, I could’ve bought everything in it if I had the money!!

  13. Claudia- Thanks girl!

    Lori: Thanks for writing. By no means was I meaning to say I have anything against overweight people. I find nothing wrong with being overweight—I quite often find it attractive–and I said so in the post. What I have a problem with, however, is the fast-food companies and the big meat packing and agribusiness monopolies in this country that promote eating like crap even when it is bad for both your health and your wallet. I’m writing you an email so I can be more personal about my feelings on this, but I wanted to comment here as well.

    I really don’t want to offend anyone, and would never say anything that was insulting simply for insulting’s sake. Please, if anyone finds my posts offensive, let me know. I may not change them but I will make every attempt to help you understand my point view.

  14. Sounds like you had a great vacation. I love the pictures of your champ. 🙂 I have never tried crawfish before, after reading your post I do not know whether I want to eat some seafood or just go fishing. 🙂

  15. Now I have traveled to NC vicariously through you; thanks for the trip! It looked wonderful, and I loved the drenched dog photos. Even with bad food, it sounded like you had fun. And tuna tartare? Yum.

  16. It sounds like an amazing trip.

    When we travel we have very specific rules about food. We don’t eat fast food or junk food. Nothing ruins a trip faster than tired, nauseated children. We buy from markets and search out restaurants that serve local food.

    We’ve discovered some really amazing dishes and our children are pretty adventurous. Although they balked at black squid ink pasta.

    But, this takes a lot more effort and planning. it has to become part of the purpose of the trip and a priority.

  17. thanks for the nice comment on our blog! this post is very near and dear to me as I’m from Virgina Beach and grew up surfing and fishing in Hatteras. We would eat raw tuna on the boats with tabassco or vinegar. then all of us would pile in a jacked up truck and head off for the dunes.
    and thanks for not calling it “AHI”.. not many people know that ahi simply means tuna. not the grade. Blue fin or bie eye is typically the tuna species that is caught off of the outer banks.

  18. hi robin! glad to have one of my favoritest foodies back. your vacation looks like it was just beautiful. so happy for you guys. the tuna also looks scrumptious. I’ve never made tartare but I will now!

  19. Wow, that’s an awesome vacation! The pictures are fabulous! Feel like we were there right with you!
    Champ is so handsome! We need to show Dante this picture of Champ in the water! Dante hates water!

  20. I live in Frisco & own a deli in Hatteras Village. (Not one that happened to be open back in March during your visit, I’m proud to add.) I have to agree with you wholeheartedly about the food. Usually in beach areas the people are much more health conscious in their food choices as we spend a lot of time baring our bodies in the summer; however, I am hard pressed to find a place that doesn’t serve mostly fried seafood. It’s unfortunate! I will say that because of this, we don’t even have a fryer in the deli.

  21. I’ve just stumbled upon your site and I love it! I couldn’t believe that you went to and wrote about Hatteras! I’ve been going there for over 30 years and still spend quite a bit of time there every year (my family owns a home there) and I see that you photographed one of it’s most famous natives, that’s Steve cutting up the Tuna at Hatteras Marina. Unfortunately, you are right about most of the restaurants, there are a few that serve up some great deliscious fare, but you’ve got to know where to go and what to ask for. Just so happens, I was there a few weeks before your vacation and what you missed was scalloping! They just dropped the ban for harvesting them in 08 and you were there right in the midst of it and didn’t even know it! The water’s so cold and the scallops are so sweet! They’re so many you can just scoop ’em up with your hands! now that’s some good NC eating… along w/the best Tuna in the world. Glad you enjoyed your stay! Love your site.

  22. YUM! This sounds DELISH! I am going to give it a try… Great blog! I got a chuckle out of your refusal to admit that you were no longer on vacation. 🙂

    I get that!



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