My daughter Heather and I debated the pros and cons of driving versus flying to the beach. We chose to drive, since there wasn’t an airport near Sunset Beach, North Carolina, the island where our Bed and Breakfast inn was located. Renting and returning a car would have been a problem.
The time on the coast was well spent. The ocean did its job. I relaxed and decompressed. We had fun one day after the other, ate more seafood than should be legal, and I enjoyed being with some of the people who mean the most to me. Nobody said a negative word the whole trip, and if you can believe it we didn’t turn on a television one time while we were at the beach, nor did we read a single newspaper.
Sometimes it’s good to just drop out for a little while.
I’d like to thank some of the people who helped to make our trip fun, safe and memorable.
First, and very important, is John Castellanos. John is assistant manager of the Grismer Tire location a block from my office in downtown Columbus. As we chatted while he checked the car in for servicing, we discovered that we have London, Ohio in common. He is a resident and I write for The Madison Press. It’s a small world. John took over seeing that my car was road worthy from one end to the other before we started out.
As we drove from Ohio to the coast, dinnertime happened to come as we were passing by High Point, North Carolina. High Point is known for the annual furniture market that draws buyers from all over the country. The entire Piedmont section of North Carolina is also famous for Lexington-style pork barbecue. You can’t find that particular type of barbecue (a vinegar-based recipe that’s hard to describe unless you can taste it) outside the area, so it was a foregone conclusion we’d stop for some. Bob Burleson, the owner of Kepley’s Pit-Cooked Barbecue, filled us in on the history of the place, which has been an institution in High Point for decades. Picking at real North Carolina barbecue occupied us all the way to the coast.
The Sunset Inn on Sunset Island, North Carolina welcomed us in the dead of night after a 14-hour drive. Yes, we stopped a time or two to poke around some funky shops along the way. Debbie called us in the car just before the office closed to be sure we were finding our way. Andrea, Kathy and Cynthia met us one-by-one over homemade breakfasts every morning. The inn faced the salt marsh beside the inland waterway oriented to view the sunsets from our screened balcony. Heaven.
We visited different beaches in the area and picked up shells to bring back. At Holden Beach, a nice lady named Hope gave Heather sand dollars and a big conch shell.
Did I already mention that we ate local seafood every night and sometimes for lunch? That said, there was one restaurant I’d seen online before we ever left Ohio that we were determined to find. The Seafood Shack in Calabash, North Carolina was worth the hunt. Penny, our server, knew about restaurants and shops and answered all of our questions. We ate soft shelled crab, scallops and fries outside by the inlet, under a thatched umbrella, as gulls flew low over the water.
Mid-trip, I drove inland so Heather could fly home from Fayetteville, North Carolina. It was a good excuse to spend time with cousins Ray in Fayetteville and Jeanette outside Raleigh before I drove back to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for three nights “camping” with cousins Mimi and Burl in their comfy Argosy trailer. The ocean was just a couple hundred feet away. My days were filled with beach dogs, shelling and a wonderful trip down the coast with other air streamers to Georgetown, South Carolina where we wandered in and out of the shops and you guessed it ate seafood.
On the way back to Ohio, I stopped for a night in Winston Salem with cousins Richard and Mel, and took in a wonderful art exhibit. The artist was Frederick Church, a luminist painter from the mid-1800s.
The Morningstar Gallery in Fancy Gap, North Car0lina, owned by potters Susan and Don Walton, provided a break and some early Christmas presents on the way back to Ohio.
There were nice people (both family and strangers) who went out of their way to be kind and accommodating wherever I went. Since I believe in “flowers for the living,” I would like to send a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who, just by being themselves, made my vacation a time to remember and to cherish.
Of course, this column wouldn’t be complete without a recipe for you to try. Not everyone loves shellfish as I do, and maybe you like a sweet, tomato-y barbecue sauce rather than the kind I wrote about but you absolutely need this recipe for the best shoestring fried onion rings I’ve ever tasted. These are served at The Big Tuna dockside restaurant in Georgetown, South Carolina. They go with everything.
SHOESTRING FRIED ONIONS
1 extra large onion, sliced very thin
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 quarts oil
Separate the onion slices into rings. Place into a gallon size self sealing plastic bag. Add buttermilk. Remove air so all the onions are covered. Soak for 1-2 hours.
Place flour into a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper. Mix well.
Add the oil to a 6-quart Dutch oven (or similar large pot). Heat over medium high until oil is very hot (but not smoking).
Add about a cup of the onions to flour mixture to coat completely. Shake off excess.
Add onions to hot oil, stirring gently to separate. Onions will cook fast. When they are golden brown, remove them from the oil and place on several layers of paper towels to drain. Repeat the process until all onions are cooked.
Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached at email@example.com.