Sometimes dining dockside means finding a picnic table under a boat side canopy and unpacking dinner from the clever little seafood joint across the street. If visiting Hatteras Village this summer, make a plan to order just made dishes from Harbor House Seafood Market and carry them just across the street to enjoy next the marina.
Eat line caught fish as you watch commercial and recreational fishing boats unload their catches in mid-afternoon. Peel and eat hot, steamed, shrimp and watch the skyscape change over the water, and reflected in the water; the view is never the same.
Seafood fans will put Harbor House on their memory list, especially after meeting the owner, Ms. Vicki. This is the kind of place where you will always know what was just caught, who caught it, where they caught it, how they caught it and when they caught it. Of course, these are questions you already know to ask every single time you order seafood at a favorite restaurant and when you buy from the local fish monger. Sometimes, though, you don’t get all the answers. At Harbor House Seafood Market, you get answers to questions you never even knew you had. One of the many reasons I love going there.
If you are not familiar with a species and want to try your hand at cooking your catch at home, most seafood dealer will share recipes and advise you on how to cook it. You are not troubling them by asking and it is not remarkable unto itself that they offer, this is part of their job.
Sure, sharing information about seafood is the norm for most fish mongers, but some do it a bit more magically than others. Vicki Harrison, or Ms. Vicki to her regulars, which you will become once you first cross the threshold, is one of the magical ones. She welcomes you in with her sunny smile, looks you deep in the eyes and hugs you across the counter without ever raising an arm. She will also tell you exactly who caught everything she sells. She usually knows them quite well, especially fisher-husband Robert and fisher-son Graham.
Whatever you buy from her will be made with that same love she shares with all her customers. Her knowledge, disposition and inquisitiveness are a huge part of the reason her family owned and run business is so popular with visitors, who return to see her year after year.
Plan on staying for a while, if you have time, because once you start chatting, she will fill your head with so much information that you will have a hard time leaving, even when your order is ready. One of my early lessons from Ms Vicki was a simple and oft-repeated one. In regards to the flavor profiles of fresh fish, she advised as she pointed to a poster filled with illustrations of bottom-feeding fish, “the smaller the mouth, the sweeter the meat.”
She was right, of course. Those tiny little mouths can only eat the sweet yummy bits from the bottom, like shrimp and crabs. She also reminds folks that seafood has a season, just like the vegetables harvested by the farmer, and to be aware of what is in season every time they are shopping for seafood.
I like to order the shrimp and crab enchiladas, which seem to taste best when carried across the street, to a picnic table near the docks, to eat. Rich, creamy and entirely decadent, this fully heated dish features generous amounts of local seafood topped with a creamy, cheesy sauce dotted with jalapenos and is also available to take home frozen
One of these days I will try the chowder — all of them. She makes her clam chowder three ways. Manhattan Style with tomatoes and bacon, New England Style with cream and sherry and Hatteras Style with clear broth and bacon. A people pleaser, indeed.
I also like to pick up a container of crab dip made with just picked local blue crabs. Made with a creamy cheese base, chock full of crab and light on the spice this treat is perfect for a mid-day snack with a box of made in North Carolina crackers from Lee Robinson General Store just up the street. When she has the shrimp Mediterranean salad on the menu, made with fresh, local shrimp, feta, olives, basil and cherry tomatoes, order it, it is completely cravable.
Both a seafood market and a take-out eatery, this little business offers an easy way to support small fisheries and local waterman. Buy the seafood they catch. Learn what is in season, find a reputable, licensed dealer, buy the harvest and make that your meal. If you can find a dealer who can also transform that catch into dinner, like they do at Harbor House Seafood, you are in for a treat. That dockside, summer sunset is an added bonus.
Amy Gaw is a food entrepreneur who has eaten, cooked and written about food on the Outer Banks and surrounding areas for more than three decades. A clean food advocate with a focus on local seafood, Gaw is also a salt maker and the founder of Outer Banks SeaSalt.