WeCouldEat needed a little time away from NYC and decided to go on a little road trip down south through Delaware to Virginia Beach and a day in North Carolina. Since this trip was going to be food focused (shocking!), we consulted our guru, Roadfood.com. Jane and Michael Stern have spent their careers investigating, photographing, and writing about road food, and based on our experiences with their picks, they know their grub. This country has outstanding regional food. NYC is still my favorite culinary destination, because it has it all, but it does lack authenticity when it comes to Southern grub. A Chat n’ Chew or BBQ joint in the urban island cannot compare with the genuine joints across the country that have been offering the same recipes in the same shabby roadside joints for generations. So here is our journey…
People’s Too Family Restaurant
Traveling through southern Delaware, we quickly learned that searching for road food joints can be arduous and frustrating, especially on back roads that lack addresses. It was approaching lunchtime and as we searched for Helen’s Sausage House in Smyrna and the Countrie Kitchen in Dover, we started to let our hunger pains get the best of us and needed food badly. We chose the People’s Too Family Restaurant in Harrington, DE. As we passed by, we saw an overweight group of Red Hats entering, so we knew it would be good. We ordered the Virginia Ham Dinner with peas and dumplings, stewed tomatoes, collards, and pineapple casserole. We were definitely the only non-locals and it was a bit of a culture shock, but that’s the fun of it. The food was a good start to our journey and the price was definitely right.
The Great Machipongo Clam Shack
After another few hours we stopped at this seafood shack which knows how to advertise. The spiced shrimp we snacked on was fresh and the outside air was warmer than NYC and refreshing. One odd tidbit was that there were “Free Tibet” signs and articles all over the store. Not sure how that relates to seafood, but I’m all for a free Tibet.
As we rolled into Virginia Beach that evening, we were a little disappointed by all the fast food, traffic, and strip malls in the center of the city. However, once we got to the shore and found a great hotel, we felt more in our comfort zone with the off-season beach vibe. For dinner we did something we hardly ever do, we ate at a traditional Irish pub. The food at Murphy’s was actually pretty good. I had fish and chips, the first of many fried foods for the weekend. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with fried food. When it is good, it is amazing, but when it is saturated in coating and dripping with oil, it can be a little sickening and not worth it. As I found out, the people in this part of the country know how to fry! The batter was light and flaky and did not overpower the flavor of the fish. The chips were brown and crispy, while still having a quarter inch of potato. Spud got the beef stew, which she enjoyed, although the portion was shockingly small. However, the apple cobbler made up for it.
Pocahontas Pancakes and Waffle Shop
Virginia Beach, VA
Day 2 started at Pocahontas Pancakes behind our hotel. There’s just something about the beach and huge stacks of pancakes that are intrinsically linked. I am not at all sure that there is a link between Pocahontas and pancakes, and the huge murals of dramatized scenes from Jamestown don’t really mesh with flapjacks and syrup, but whatever, it’s breakfast. The pancakes were so big that we were satisfied with splitting an order of their fluffy goodness. We even returned the next morning for pumpkin pancakes with pecans — also a winner.
We then hit the road down to North Carolina BBQ country. After traveling for a few hours through beautiful countryside and many one block towns, we reached our oasis…
Bunn’s is the real deal. The old converted gas station is suitably shabby from the outside, but inside the people are warm and friendly and have a passion that comes through in their food. There are only 3 choices: Pork, Brunswich Stew, or a combo of both. We had the combo and it was possibly the best barbecue we have ever had. Typical of NC, the pork was so flavorful, seeped in tangy vinegar and spices. It’s all about the meat itself. The Brunswick Stew is basically a reduced soup of corn, lima beans, carrots, etc with chunks of meat. The two dishes balance each other and go very well together as a single bite. They’re served with two squares of corn bread, but not the cake-like overly sweet style. This corn bread is more savory and harder, but once it’s dipped in the meat or stew, it’s the perfect complement. Topped off with a couple glasses of perfectly sweet tea, this meal is incredible. It’s definitely one we will remember and savor for years to come. The service was so warm as well. Our meal was done in literally one minute and the small town friendliness was palpable. You can keep all the high priced trendy Manhattan places, I would eat this meal every day if I could.
But Windsor had even more in store for us, thanks to the awesome recommendations of the Sterns. We stopped at the Bertie County peanut factory and left with 6 jars and 1 bag of some of the biggest and best peanuts in the world. All the nuts are fantastic, but the butterscotch covered peanuts are the best. They have the salty-sweet thing perfected.
The Purple Cow
Virginia Beach, VA
We knew we couldn’t match that eating day at dinner, but found a cute burgers and fries place.The Purple Cowhas two locations and seems like a chain because of its style, but was pretty solid. We had burgers and fries and onion rings to top off a great eating day. Interestingly, we encountered one of many not so subtle reminders of the strong religious beliefs in the South. See our bill below.
On the way to Doumar’s, we made a wheel-screeching-u-turn spontaneous stop at this tiny bbq joint with a pig on the sign. Megollan was a good find of a mom and pop place with a small counter and two tables. The owners were painting the facade a bright pink as we pulled up. We had pork and slaw sandwiches with potato salad and delicious hush puppies. The pork was different than Bunn’s, it was finely shredded or ground and had a peppery sauce.
Doumar’s Cones & Barbecue
Apparently curbside service did not become extinct in the 1960’s. At Doumar’s, you pull your car into the parking lot and a server in a little white paper hat takes your order and delivers it on a small tray that rests on your car door. We each just had an ice cream cone (the concept of the cone was supposedly was invented at Doumar’s). They weren’t anything special, but the real attraction was the throwback service and the great people watching. The guy next to us was trying to impress his girl in this bright red hotrod and kept revving the engine and blasting tunes. Quite amusing.
Virginia Beach, VA
We got a local’s recommendation to go to a seafood joint/bar a few blocks from our hotel. She was right on the money as Shucker’s looked like not much from the outside, but perfect for us on the inside. It was only locals and was loud and rowdy during the March Madness game, with individual tv’s at every table. The real story was the seafood. The fried clam strips were plump and golden brown and the best I have ever had. The crab cakes were also amazing, with so much crab, that it didn’t seem like there were any breadcrumbs at all. We had a great time and if I go back to Va Beach, I would definitely visit Shucker’s for some local flavor.
The Jewish Mother
Virginia Beach, Va
Nothing like spending Easter Sunday with a Jewish Mother. This place is a local music venue and quite inviting on the inside with decent food. We had brunch here and I had eggs, lox and onions with marble rye. Spud had fried eggs and bacon with latkes. The service was really friendly and I imagine it would be a great venue for a show. The lineup varies from rock to jazz to reggae, with some well-known artists.
For Easter dinner, we hit the jackpot. The hour drive to the Virginia Diner was definitely worth it. We hit the buffet (with items listed below) and it was awesome. The ham and the fried chicken were the standouts, the “vegetables” were great, and the famous peanut pie is really something special. Watching all the people dressed in their Easter best, with their entire families carrying plates piled high was really something to see. The experience was really special, because even though this place probably sees many tourists, these were real people appreciating food the way it should be enjoyed – with family and friends and with all the fat and fixins’.
If you haven’t been on an eating road trip, you should go. It is a great way to really see the day to day lives of real, friendly people and with the help of Roadfood.com, the eating is spectacular.