“It’s all about the flavor.”
That is the passionate mantra of Debra Argyle, who with her husband P.J. owns and operates Argyle’s Restaurant in Kitty Hawk.
The obsession with flavor starts well before the pan-seared Maple leaf duck breast glazed with an aromatic pomegranate bordelaise sauce ends up on your plate.
“We grow our own herbs,” says Debra as she pulled weeds from the garden at her home. “And tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants. We have a good-sized garden at our house, and now do a lot of container gardening. Many of the plants are right in front of the restaurant — cherry tomatoes, oregano, basil, parsley. And everything we grow is organic.”
The Arglyes have been serving “farm to table” long before the phrase became a marketing tease. In fact, since the day they opened the restaurant 25 years ago, the couple has featured fresh local seafood, organic herbs, locally grown vegetables, all-natural, grass-fed, Angus beef, and free-range wild game.
With few exceptions, the kitchen makes everything from scratch, including the desserts. Debra, who is a baker, chocolatier, and master gelato maker, uses only the best ingredients, including unbleached, unbromated flour, pure vanilla, and real chocolate.
“It’s more expensive, but there is just no substitute for fresh and natural,” she says. “It is a lot of work, but worth it. Because that is the way I eat.”
The way Debra eats has guided many of her decisions and innovations. For instance, she always enjoyed sampling desserts at the end of a meal, but felt guilty about the large servings. So she created smaller portions, to give diners the option to taste a spectrum of flavors. Among those treats are small pecan pies, Kahlua mousse, tiny cheesecakes, and homemade gelato.
Always, it’s about the flavor.
“When you bite into something I make, I want you to go ahh,” she said. “And I also want you to know what it is. If it is pistachio gelato, I want you to taste the pistachio. I want it to burst in your mouth so you will go, oh, yeah.”
If that’s not enough to make diners drool, they can always go with her Belgian chocolate. Her confections were selected in 2012 by Bon Apetit magazine to showcase in Las Vegas.
No matter how memorable the cuisine, dining out is more than just “shoving food at someone.” Customer service is P.J.’s domain.
“My husband is the face of Argyle’s,” Debra says. “I am in the back. He is out there talking to customers. He is always on the floor, visiting tables, finding out where they are from and how they are enjoying their time here.”
P.J. doesn’t just talk. He listens.
“One day a fellow walked in, and P.J. had a feeling the guy was not in the best spot. He said he was on vacation, but that his mom was really sick, and he was feeling pretty miserable,” she says. “The same guy comes back a year later, and P.J. goes, ‘how’s your mother?’ The guest said, ‘How in the heck did you remember that?’ He remembers all the people that come in, always knows what they do for a living and where they are from. He tries to make them feel like part of the family.”
P.J. is also a sommelier, with 40 years of experience. He manages an ever-changing wine list, and is pleased to offer suggestions on wine pairings.
The Argyles were also “ahead of the curve” with the current fascination with cocktails.
“I have a different way of thinking,” Debra says. “I want something with dinner that is a little exotic, something that will pique the interest or open the eyes of the diner.”
So now patrons can sip concoctions — such as the Key Lime Pie Martini (vodka, Key lime syrup, limoncello, fresh lime juice, ice cream, Graham cracker rim), Pretty in Peach (Bacardi Peach, peach schnapps, orange juice, and peach nectar), and the Chocolate Raspberry Martini (Three Olives Chocolate, vodka, chambord, and dark creme de cocoa).
With the fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, the from-scratch cooking, the innovative pairings, the imaginative drinks, the convivial atmosphere — what is it that most makes Argyle’s Restaurant stand out?
“It’s not an easy answer,” Debra says. “It’s our continued passion for food, and for the experience of our customers. That really is our passion — putting food together, so when a person comes in and sits down at the table, they have an experience that is not stuffy, you can taste what you are eating, and it’s fresh.”
Like a superb dish, every ingredient matters.
“It all goes together — a great food experience, interacting with local people, sharing what we like about the area,” she says. “It’s what we love about the Outer Banks, and we hope Argyle’s Restaurant becomes their special place so they will come back again.”