Let’s chat for a bit about great food, created with a little bit of heart and soul in downtown Manteo. Maria and Thomas Williamson, the husband and wife owners of Avenue Grille, stay true to who they are by featuring coastal southern cuisine reminiscent of Thomas’s grandma’s cooking combined with clean, real food that, in some cases, also happens to be gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian. Their menu has something for everyone and is a reflection of how they love to cook and eat at home. But there’s another element of great importance to how Avenue Grille operates: community. Maria and Thomas wholeheartedly support their town and their restaurant has become a gathering place for locals, as well as hungry visitors. We are not just customers in this place; we are friends, here to enjoy fantastic food and breathtaking views.

Located in the Waterfront Shops overlooking Shallowbag Bay in Manteo, Avenue Grille is surrounded by small businesses and a loyal community who’ve had their own influence on the menu, as well. Chef Thomas added homemade gourmet pizzas and burgers to the menu because, as Maria said, “It’s what the people wanted!” We like burgers, right? You may even be imaging one right now, but, I promise you, the hamburger in your head is no match for what Avenue Grille is offering. I’ll share with you one tiny Avenue Grille burger detail to prove my point: mozzarella cheese curds. Do I even need to elaborate? Creamy, warm, stretchy mozzarella cheese curds that have been lightly breaded and fried... Not to mention the shallot bacon jam on top that is just the right sweet/salty counterpoint for the juicy, all natural, hormone and antibiotic free burger. This, paired with a house made fresh Ginger Soda, is the right idea for an afternoon. Or, if you’re in the mood, make it a Hurricane Ginger with local Kill Devil Rum from Outer Banks Distilling, house made ginger syrup, lime, and soda water.

No matter what your want is, you can satisfy it here. If you are a seafood lover, Thomas and Maria are procuring fresh seafood from the neighboring docks in Wanchese all week long for you. Whatever’s fresh is featured on the menu in specials or any of their seafood dishes, including the gluten-free Fish Tacos. These tacos come topped with a light homemade slaw, made from ribbons of Napa cabbage, thinly sliced red onions and carrots, and a bright and tangy oil and vinegar dressing. Next comes homemade garlicky chimichurri, lime-infused sour cream, then a bit of fresh crunch from sweet and spicy peppers, all piled into a tortilla.

The Fish Tacos are Avenue Grille’s most popular gluten-free item, amongst many. Maria adheres to a gluten-free diet in her life due to an autoimmune disorder that is directly affected by what she eats. Through her influence and Chef Thomas’s skill, Avenue Grille has become a trusted and reliable source for outstanding food and service for everyone, especially those who eat vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. Avenue is home to a tempting array of plant-based options, like the Pulled Port BBQ sandwich – a smoked portabella mushroom sliced and tossed in a scratch made BBQ sauce – and the Super Kale Salad, which was inspired by Maria’s belief in using food as medicine. In cold and flu season, Maria regularly turns to the omega-3’s and vitamin-rich ingredients in this salad, like carrots, ginger, and hemp seed, to help keep their three kids healthy.

One more note about fresh seafood, though, because we must discuss one of Avenue’s house specialties: Tuna Sushi Style. As superb as the fresh, local tuna is, quickly seared on the outside, rosy pink and velvety on the inside, it’s also the accompaniments that make this plate so drool-worthy. In the center lies a jasmine rice cake that’s been seared to create these crispy, toasted rice bits that add a deliciously crunchy contrast to the chewy center of the cake. On top of the rice cake, you’ll find creamy sliced avocado and curls of sweet pickled ginger. The expertly prepared tuna is sliced and fanned around the outside and surrounded by a cucumber seaweed salad, which offers a sweet and acidic bite to compliment the mellow flavor of the fish. And last, a drizzle of two sauces to tie it all together: a ripe citrus-soy reduction and a wasabi cream sauce that’s just the right combination of spice and richness. A forkful of crispy rice cake and rare tuna with a bit of cucumber seaweed salad, dragged through a drizzle of these luscious, flavorful sauces is something you won’t soon forget.

Outer Bankers and visitors to the area are fortunate to have Avenue Grille and their genuine passion for sharing delicious food that everyone can enjoy.

Megan Scott is co-owner of The Spice & Tea Exchange of Duck, 1171 Duck Road in the Scarborough Lane Shoppes. Check out her food blog, ServingTonight.com.

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