There’s something about seafood that makes us feel like we’re at the beach even if it’s 100-plus miles away. Add in the warm-weather season, and we are smitten.
Here are some great inland catches for everything from Calabash-style shrimp to golden fried flounder — and more.
Worth his salt
James Beard Award.
Those three words — considered the Oscars of the culinary world — roll off the tongue and impress foodies to no end. So, like many other curiosity seekers, we venture to Durham and check out Chef Ricky Moore’s Saltbox Seafood Joint.
Moore, who captured the 2022 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast, also owns this casual eatery, which he opened in 2012. A nostalgic vibe greets us in the form of a seafoam green and sky blue building and a towering sign that announces, “Fried & Joy.”
Inside, we check out the seasonal menu on two overhead chalkboards, place orders at the counter, and wait for our names to be called. Picnic tables beckon outside, but we opt for the cozy dining room with nautical touches — and the framed James Beard Award.
We’re tempted to try the lightly fried oysters, which a friend declared the best he’s ever tasted. But the lure of the soft-shell crab and shrimp plates catches our eyes.
The soft-shell crab isn’t “jumbo,” as anticipated, but delicious all the same. The single crustacean has the ideal blend of seasonings and just enough crunch. Best of all, it gets me over that weird thing I had about eating it whole, shells, legs and all.
The shrimp are plump enough and perfect — a right-sized portion, for sure.
Both dinner entrées come with wafer-thin fried potatoes and coleslaw, gloriously sans heavy mayo but with a light citrus-herb dressing. We also order a side of “hush-honeys” — fried cornmeal fritters that are glazed with honey — and collard greens as good as Grandma’s, plus two sweet teas. The bill comes to $76.22, with tax and gratuity.
As the story goes, Chef Ricky Moore grew up in New Bern, where fishing is a way of life. He joined the Army at 18 and was stationed in Hawaii. He worked as a cook while in the military and, after seven years of service, went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America. Then he began an impressive culinary career working in the kitchens of some of the world’s most renowned restaurants.
But he never forgot his roots. Heralded as “the face of North Carolina seafood,” Moore is forever promoting the richness that lies within the waters just off his native state and has written a cookbook. He is an ambassador for freshness and sustainability.
He also meets the true mark of a great chef: Take the simplest of foods and turn them into something special.
Find Saltbox Seafood Joint at 2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday. 919-237-3499 or www.saltboxseafoodjoint.com/
Back in the ’Ville
Fayetteville is home to stalwart fish houses that combine plentiful portions, reasonable prices, friendly service and landlubber options, too. Here’s a sampling:
Captain Jerry’s Seafood is known for its fried flounder, but you can get it broiled or boiled if you like. Other popular choices include popcorn shrimp, jumbo shrimp, catfish (available blackened), salmon, sea scallops and much more. Take note, though: The restaurant is currently takeout only and closed on Monday. The address is 691 S. Reilly Road in western Cumberland County. 910-864-8691
Early birds, families and the after-church crowd flock to Hudson Bay Seafood on the north side of town. You can’t go wrong with the fried shrimp and catfish here, as well as deviled crab. Closed Monday and Tuesday. 2816 Ramsey St. 910-630-0007
Peaden’s boasts a loyal following for dine-in, takeout and catering options. The restaurant’s tagline, “Bringing Calabash to Fayetteville,” speaks of its specialities. Southern fried seafood is king here, but the pork barbecue is also seriously good. Closed Monday and Tuesday. In north Fayetteville at 1600 McArthur Road. 910-488-1972
316 Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill is a dinner-date place and ideal for special gatherings of family or friends. As the name implies, oysters are the draw, along with a variety of fresh seafood, including lobster tails and king crab legs, and a happening bar. Closed on Monday. 316 Owen Drive, near Raeford Road. 910-481-0530
Some other discoveries …
Crab Du Jour on Ramsey Street is known for its large Cajun seafood boils, but don’t disregard the simple offerings like a fresh and beautifully presented shrimp cocktail.
Goodness in every bite: The shrimp and grits are popular at Country Boys Grill on Valleygate Drive, in the former New Deli space. The restaurant also serves salmon and grits.
More crab, less filler: The crab cakes appetizer is served with a perfect remoulade at Vinson’s Pub + Eatery in downtown Clayton.
Still can’t resist the lure of the coast and endless crab legs? Crabby George’s in Myrtle Beach has them on a massive buffet. Make sure to arrive with an empty stomach and a full wallet. The all-you-can-eat option with a tasty beverage, plus tip and tax, is about $75 per person.