Two of my favorite places to order old-school fried fish.
“Wanna get a dolphin boat?” If you are new to the Outer Banks and someone says this to you, say yes and figure it out as you go. This is a live-and-learn experience. Once on your way, start considering what type of milkshake you should order. This might not make instant sense, but it soon will.
If you have lived in or visited these parts for any respectable amount of time, this is a typical, Pavlovian response. You will understand once you have visited John’s Drive-in on the beach road in Kitty Hawk. Only open seasonally, John’s sells generous portions of piping hot, fried fish in a paper “boat” with fries, or chips and slaw, and it has become something of a beach legend. And lightly battered and deep-fried chunks of mahi-mahi (dolphin fish) have never had a better accompaniment then John’s classic, aforementioned, creamy-yet-half-frozen milkshakes.
Oh, the milkshakes. The flavors are childlike and classic and all sorts of bits and tastes can be added. I have a hard time ordering anything but a chocolate–peanut butter–banana, but I imagine they are all delicious. Like I said, it is Pavlovian and that is my combo. Bite of hot fish, sip of milkshake. Salty, hot, fry. Sip of milkshake. Repeat often.
Here’s the deal. You can order a chocolate, vanilla, mint or root beer milkshake and to that you can add any of the following: mini M&M’s, peanut butter, Oreos, cookie dough, root beer, brownie bits, mini chocolate chips, cherry, apple, hot fudge, coffee, chocolate syrup, caramel, strawberry, pineapple, peach, blueberry and/or banana. (Re-reading this list, I might be inspired to try something new this year!).
If you eat this at a picnic table, serenaded by the sounds of crashing waves, you will want to savor this beachy combo again and again. John’s does have a varied menu in case someone could possibly want to eat something else. If you’re in a hurry, call ahead. It is closed on Wednesdays. John’s Drive-in, 3716 N. Virginia Dare Tr., Kitty Hawk. 252-261-6227l; johnsdrivein.com
At Nags Head Fishing Pier House Restaurant, piping hot, freshly fried fish and potatoes topped with runny egg yolks was a thing way before it was a thing in the fancy restaurants and on the cooking channels. Served on the breakfast menu at the Nags Head Pier Restaurant, this traditional coastal breakfast is one of my local favorites for so many reasons.
I’ll start with the obvious. Dining wave-top is not something you can do every day, nor is experiencing the ambiance of an old, coastal Carolina fishing pier; this is a sacred place. Next, depending on the time of year, you can watch the sunrise as you linger over a typical Outer Banks breakfast. Sunrise over the Atlantic is almost mystical and changes every single day. All this and someone pouring me hot coffee. Dreamy. Consistent, dependable, friendly, clean, are also on the list but there wouldn’t be a list if it wasn’t all topped off by some some darn good eating.
Oh, yeah, the folks at the pier are pretty accommodating, too, so when you order that fried fish for breakfast, you can order your eggs any way you like if runny yolk is not your thing.
After you eat, or before, take a few minutes to enjoy the pier. There is a good chance you will see a dolphin, a small shark, a ray or any of the variety of fish caught seasonally by anglers right on the pier. A great way to learn more about our local seafood is to chat up some of the fisherfolk with lines in the water as well as the good people who work at the pier store; most of them love to talk about fish and the art of fishing and what makes for a good eating fish.
If you are an angler, or are about to become one, remember, we are talking about a restaurant on a real, live fishing pier, so, if you are fishing and do some actual catching, too, consider having the kitchen team cook up your catch just the way you like it. Fried, grilled or blackened, you can enjoy your freshly caught fish with your favorite beverage, fries, slaw and hushpuppies. Someone to cook for you and you do not even have to clean up the kitchen. Yup, I do love this place. The pier serves lunch and dinner.
Nags Head Pier Restaurant, 3335 S. Virginia Dare Tr., milepost 11.5, Nags Head. 252-441-5141; nagsheadpier.com