Tony and I spent New Year’s 2009 at Downtown Raleigh’s Acorn Drop. It was fun….until the cold air sent us hailing a taxi and racing home to see the ball drop in Times Square. For 2010, we wanted to do something a little special.
Tony had heard about something Carolina Beach does each year called “Island of Lights,”
where they have lights displays and set off fireworks. Plus, since we’d be at the beach, we figured there’d be at least some good seafood. We got a little nervous when we first showed up, it didn’t seem like there were many places open, which shouldn’t be surprising in the off-seasons. We rode down the strip in vain, looking for a place to eat before the New Year’s festivities started. Luckily, we stumbled upon the Treehouse Bistro (308 S. Lake Park Blvd Carolina Beach, NC 28428) just as we were about to head back and order some pizza to our room. It’s a small cafe and wine bar that serves Italian-inspired fare. A glass of an awesome pinot noir and an antipasto platter chosen by the chef was a great way to start things off. After a long day in a car, having delicious manchego and prosciutto made me so happy. Plus, the owners were so nice and quite happy to discuss wine with us. It was so tempting to stay there for the champagne tasting they were having later, but the island had more in store for us.
Around six o’clock, more places were opening up. More importantly, the bars were starting to fill up. There were a few interesting places, but the one that has a place in Tony’s and my heart was The Fat Pelican (8 South Lake Park Blvd, Carolina Beach, NC 28428). It’s not the fanciest of places, you can’t even get mixed drinks there, but the beer is cheap, the jukebox plays old country, there are plenty of couches to crash on, and the people are amazingly friendly. A lot of people there were the actual locals, people who hang around the beach when all of us tourists go back home. Everyone was laidback and just happy to be there. We were regaled by drunken stories and introductions to at least three Davids, who I guess grew up together or at least known each other for years. We didn’t really feel like tourists, which is nice when you’re away from home.
Between the fireworks display (which was amazing over the beach) and the many, many drinks we had, the morning after was a nightmare. But, judging from the blank stares and messy hair, it seemed our fellow New Year’s revelers were feeling it too. The only solution was to get out and explore. Since Wilmington’s so close, we headed over there to have some fun and not focus on our hangovers. Unfortunately, we hit a snag, every place was closed for New Year’s Day. Once again, we managed to be saved just before we considered gnawing off our arms. Nikki’s Gourmet restaurant and Sushi was open (16 South Front Street, Wilmington, NC), but I’ll admit that we were hesitant to go. The menu is a mixed bag of various sushi offerings, but they also offer deli sandwiches and wraps. It seemed like they were suffering from wanting to please everyone, but they’ll be much better served by concentrating on just the sushi. We definitely didn’t start the meal off right, we ordered the BBQ tofu, which we requested warm, but it came to us obviously microwaved, since it was cold in the middle. My hopes were dwindling until my sushi came out. The American Dream roll, which has tempura shrimp, tuna, avocado, and roe was delicious, with fantastic texture, with the creaminess of the avocado and the crunchiness of the tempura. Tony had the fantasy roll, which has eel, tempura shrimp, and scallions. The eel was the star of the meal and wasn’t too chewy. The atmosphere was nice and the crew is young and obviously happy to be there. They would just benefit by dropping the sandwiches and focusing on making great sushi.
Our last night at the beach was bittersweet, mostly because I was developing a cold and couldn’t really enjoy being outside watching the waves. I was determined though to have oysters before we left. I have never had oysters, I was always a little scared by them. They just look so alien and slimy. But, after reading Anthony Bourdain’s description of his first oyster, I knew I had to have one. We went to the Shuckin’ Shack to introduce me to those bivalves (6 North Lake Park Boulevard Carolina Beach, NC 28428-4925). The first two nights we tried to go, but the bar was always filled, so we were so happy to finally grab two seats at the bar. The traditional bar fare there is stellar, the hush puppies are crisp and flavorful and the fried mac and cheese managed to have that delicious fried texture and was still creamy inside. But, finally, our oysters came out, raw and shucked for us. I was nervous when I slid one into my mouth…until I was horrified to discover that due to my stuffed nose, I couldn’t taste a thing. I could taste the brininess, but that was it. Luckily, Tony enjoyed them, but I was disappointed that I finally got the guts to try an oyster and couldn’t taste it.
Overall, our mini-vacation to Carolina Beach was just what we needed to start driving away the post-holiday blues. We found some great new places to eat, made some new friends, and made lots of memories. Who could ask for better?