My plan…..Drag Donna into the car kicking and screaming and head south to Hatteras Village –then Ocracoke Island. Yippee! As I, many have a love affair with the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But we differ on where we feel is the best place to savor its seemingly endless, wind-swept beaches and the lure of its wild tides. With forty years of salt-encrusted experience, I’d love to share what floats my boat on OBX .
The DuckersA diehard Duck fan basically lives and breathes Duck and feel there’s no life south of their line in the sand. Duck fans, are eternal optimists believing in the ability of a two-lane road to efficiently carry one million cars every 10 minutes. These are the same people who cherish a week’s vacation with the entire family including all blood relatives on both sides of the marital fence and the ex’s too, least they hit you up for more alimony. For good measure they throw in 3rd cousin Al twice removed, whose pedigree is as clear as the Chesapeake after a nor’easter—but hell that boy can bait a hook and he brings the cornhole!
With so many people on their vacation they have to wear nametags as they pack into a $10,000 per week house the size of Texas, making texting a necessity to find Great Aunt Lucy who was last seen circling the west wing in her walker. They grocery shop as if they were feeding a cruise ship and wash enough dishes to serve the tenth brigade.
For me, if I check into a vacation house that needs an elevator and a group baby sitter, I have invited too many people. Somehow, this is relaxing?
But- Vive la difference!
Then you have your Nags Head Summer Beach Vacationers. I picture these fine folks arriving in their 1960’s station wagon painted lime green with a bumper sticker that shouts, “We are the Griswolds”. Yes, the greater Nags Head area is tourist trap central—the King Kong-size papier-mâché dinosaurs looming over the golf course is your first clue.
The beauty of Nags Head is people can drive from all parts of the USA, sit on a crowded beach, and still eat at Outback. Maybe there’s comfort in knowing that even on your beach vacation one can eat at the same restaurant that you can in let’s say, Kansas?
Nirvana: Cape Hatteras National SeashoreI don’t feel like I am even on the Outer Banks until I take that left onto the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Crossing over the Oregon Inlet Bridge, driving through Pea Island, my stress level drops to zero. Halleluiah! My Outer Banks journey has finally begun. The sunny sojourn always ends at my favorite place, Hatteras Village and this time –Ocracoke Island. [My sweetheart refers to it as the Island of O. I’ll let y’all figure that one out.]
During the decades that we’ve been filming on the Outer Banks our homeport was usually the Villas of Hatteras Landing. Dangling delightfully at the end of Hatteras Island, it includes the lure of the ferries that whisk away automobiles and their happy occupants to more island adventures on Ocracoke.
Hatteras Village is just a cool place. Always has been. The beaches are beyond awesome and its surf fishing has been very good to us over the years. Along with its superb fishing its charm is in its laidback, barefoot ambience and friendly people.
Our Hatteras Village fishing success stories for head boats includes the time we filmed and fished the Stormy Petrol and it ended up being one of our best television episodes ever. During our fall trips, fishing with Captain Tommy Merrill has produced extraordinary King Mackerel fishing and reminds me why I love to do this show.
Just don’t forget your surf rod. If you park yourself at Hatteras Landing it’s doubtful you’ll go home with an empty cooler on these beaches, especially in the fall.
Staying at the Villas of Hatteras Landing is not exactly roughing it. So if you have a First Mate of the female persuasion there will be no whining about bait fish in the bed linens and scales in the shower. The Villas, once a hotel, has expertly been redesigned into attractive and comfy mini-condos. Excellent amenities include multiple flat screen TVs to replay your favorite Jim Baugh Outdoors videos and a small but easy-to-cook-in kitchen. Our show always features cooking segments and we are constantly downloading new recipes on our popular Jim’s Galley Blog. So a good kitchen while on the road is a must.
Least we forget the Villas have a wonderful pool to relax at after a big day fishing. Or as Donna chimes in, it provides the perfect escape for those who want to take a pass on hanging out all day fishing with men.
While staying in Hatteras Village there is just enough to do to keep on-shore explorations fun and stress-free. That’s a “Guyism” for you don’t have to Shop Till You Drop –Amen Brother.
Donna and I had a blast visiting the art galleries filled with local and regional artisans. Prices ranged from a pittance –vibrant prints from island artists –and a down payment on a house such as the luminous stingray mobiles, part of the spectacular glass art of Stan Harman found at Sandy Bay Gallery. [He also has lower priced artwork.] I know this threatens my man card carrying privileges but I was enjoying our excursion so much Donna actually shopped out before me. The pool and cocktails were calling as was chef JB’s seafood pasta dinner. My girl’s grandfather Pasquale came over on the boat, need I say more?
The magic of Hatteras Island includes discovering new food tips, yes, even while cocktailing at the Villas pool. We hit it off immediately with a super nice couple from Michigan. Fortuitously he too was Italian and me, well I’m always on the lookout for authentic “Mama’s Boy” recipes. I asked him if he had any secrets for good Sunday “gravy”.
“I use only fresh, home grown tomatoes, that’s the big difference,” he answered.
Okay, no big secret there I thought. But then he hit me with his finishing touch.
“While serving I put grape jelly on top of the sauce.”
Grape jelly??? Was the midwesterner playing with this old Southern boy? But straight faced he stuck to his guns and this odd, secret spaghetti condiment. What do y'all think?
Cooking in the VillasWhile I usually get lucky and catch the filets for dinner, when it comes to shrimp and scallops I need a good supplier. I decided to rent a Go Green Zero Carbon Footprint Vehicle, AKA bike, and take the roads less traveled along the beach. Finding awesome fresh seafood took only minutes. Before I even broke a sweat I found Seaside Seafood run by island natives L.B. and Mary Ann Fulcher. An authentic place with everything you need to whip up an excellent island seafood dinner.
Loaded with shrimp and scallops and remembering my high metabolism girlfriend who requires almost constant feeding, it was time to fire up the Villas’ kitchen.
Here’s a simple recipe. Make a fresh marinara –with superior San Marzano canned tomatoes if you can get them, and set aside. Peel and devein your shrimp and sauté with the scallops in fresh garlic, white wine, onion, and cilantro. Then add a cup of the marinara and simmer. Then pour over some whole wheat pasta. GREAT STUFF!
Other delights I made for my favorite I-Talian included bruschetta with Hatteras tomatoes, also provolone and fresh basil sausage biscuits. A big hit was the Sautéed Grouper [caught here] with parsley and tomato relish and my Steak Ala Villa.
The kitchen had all the necessary equipment to prepare a variety of dishes –with an added bonus. It’s just the right size for those of us who’ve been around the kitchen a few times and don’t want to contend with “backseat” cooks. You know the ones glued to the Cooking Channel 24-7? I might watch Tiger Woods play golf on TV but I’m not getting any invitations to the US Open, ya know what I’m sayin’?
If like me you cook on the road a lot, get yourself a Spice Bag to bring along your favorite ingredients. I lost my original so I decided to buy one in Hatteras Village.
Here’s a tip for single guys out there who need a new way to meet women. I discovered this –accidently of course. I went in a Hatteras store and in my usual non-obtrusive JB way announced “shyly” I needed a bag to carry my cooking spices. No sooner did my proclamation make it to the outer reaches of the sizable shop [Donna having quickly bailed] that 3 women came racing to my rescue suggesting bags of every hue and sexual orientation. One didn’t even work for the store.
“Who cleans up when you cook?” she asked.
“I clean up as I go along,” I answered.
“You cook and clean-up?”
Well boys, I tell you I had her practically eating out of my hand. I’m spoken for but take it from old J.B. get yourself a Tommy Bahama JBO TV Spice Man-Bag and flout it!
I stock it with everything from jerk seasoning, garlic, mixed peppers, pasta, and even concentrated tomato and anchovy paste. It made our meals at the Villas extra special as we enjoyed them alfresco on the balcony overlooking the pool and Hatteras Landing. A great place to stay, play and cook.
Dining FUN by the Villas
Two newbie restaurants at the Hatteras Landing waterfront caught my attention. The cool Wreck Tiki Bar & Food and a fantastic taco stand Gringo’s Tacos.
The Wreck is a great little Tiki bar that serves up fresh daily specials. Donna enjoyed the fresh Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Panini and liked that she could walk a few steps and lunch by the Villas’ pool. No doubt to re-read her favorite novel HOOKED.
I had an excellent Roast Beef and Swiss Panini. They also have live music on Wednesdays during the season.
Gringo’s Tacos was fun and flavorful. They serve up a variety of fresh seafood tacos and also offer beef and chicken. There is plenty of seating in front of the stand to take in the picturesque marina. We had the top notch Shrimp Tacos which had just the right amount of spice kick. To top it off, the black beans and rice were superb and portions were generous.
Both eateries offer truly inexpensive dining with a great view and great food –all at Hatteras Landing.
Hatteras Landing Fun Continued
The above restaurants are located at the Hatteras Landing complex which is situated just prior to the ferry docks. It’s a rather large facility including shops that cater to your beach and fishing vacation needs. The full service marina and marina store is located towards the end of the complex offering just about any water sport activity you can dream up. Fishing charters and dive boats included. The beauty of the sound location is only rivaled by its bounty. I’ve clammed and fished just outside of the marina’s sound side and always came home with a smile on my face.
While there a stroll on the wooden walkways located near the entrance of Hatteras Landing takes you through the salt marshes and over the gentle backwaters of the sound. Always loved the hush the breeze makes when playing with marsh grass; between that and the shorebirds its nature’s Mozart..
A surprise is tucked back here where history marks this spot with special reverence. A white picket fence surrounds a small family plot. Protected is the final resting place of Captain Steven Barnet and young wife Rebecca who perished tragically at sea in the fall of 1859 when the schooner Mary Lousia wrecked in the breakers of Ocracoke.
Sitting sublimely in the same grove of trees is a stately gazebo. Framed by limbs carved into a graceful arch by years of ocean winds, it’s a place of perfect solitude for an afternoon respite. And who knows, maybe someday just the right setting for a tiny wedding tween an ol’fisherman and his middle-aged mermaid.
Have to give it to that Edward Teach, he knew where to hang. It’s one of my favorite OBX oases too. Donna and I were excited about hopping the ferry to Ocracoke Island to spend the day. Not much of a drive since the docks are almost in the Hatteras Landing parking lot.
The wait if any is short. There are seven ferries with a departure schedule of about every thirty minutes. And miraculously there’s no toll! The ride over is a breeze, hardly feels like the advertised 40 minutes journey. The beautiful scenery of sound and ocean you can also enjoy in the comfortable lounge if you want A.C. The trip was pure joy. And did I mention –it’s free?
On the way to town Donna wanted to stop and show me the Ocracoke Ponies. Decedents of wild ponies who once survived on their wits, this small herd is now penned and pampered. Legend has it they swam ashore from shipwrecks and decided to call Ocracoke home –smart move.
Once you arrive rent bikes like we did to get a real feel for this authentic coastal village. We meandered around the sunny streets and pretty Silver Lake Harbor finding tucked away shops and galleries along the way. We cruised by the Ocracoke Lighthouse and chatted with locals and visitors –no strangers here.
The steamed shrimp special was firing off at the Dajio Bar and so were we. Donna and I had some awesome cocktails and feasted on endless shrimp. Even a sudden downpour couldn’t chase us away as we retreated to the open air bar –still getting a little wet, but who cared? It soon passed but we were in for another surprise. My Facebook post about our dining spot inspired a long-lost pal to call the restaurant offering to pay for our shrimp feast. No people have been that happy since Buffett found that cheeseburger in paradise.[Though we are happy to say there are no Mickey D’s or any chain stores here.]
What a blast! Being 24 miles offshore has created the coolest little coastal outpost, akin to the days of Hemmingway’s Key West. Donna and I vow to return to Ocracoke for a longer stay that includes exploring its 16 miles of undeveloped beaches. For like Ernie advised –we always do sober what we said we’d do drunk.
I certainly had time for reflection during this OBX trip. 25 years is a long time to be producing an outdoor show. I’d like to say I had more hair back then, but that would be fibbing. What I do have more of is memories of family and friends that have enjoyed Hatteras Village with me. I remember my kids when they were little making their own memories here fishing and playing on the beach. Boy, the surf fishing adventures we had along the Outer Banks and the many, many exciting offshore escapades we shared with y’all. It all remains like a cherished Monet on my mind.
Driving north out of the village we made a quick stop at the local store for some coffee.
“Where is my buddy?” I asked. “The old black lab that always greeted me at the door?”
The cashier said that Amos had passed away and showed me his picture and dedication on their window. Amos was a beloved pooch in these parts and I admit I choked up a bit. I had put my lab Tina Turner down last fall, and Donna only a few months ago lost her 15-year-old beach pup Bay-Leigh.
Tina was a loveable renegade on our Hatteras Village vacations –chasing gulls on the beach and diving like a mermaid for seashells. Truly part of my memories here included four legged friends.
Memories are treasures but like the ever shifting sands of the Outer Banks, I’m looking forward to the dynamic changes and blessings that continue to unfold.
It has been a great ride… but it’s not over.
I hope you will join us.
Jim Baugh & Donna Bozza
Author of “HOOKED”