Four Centuries of Outer Banks Seafood Legacy – The Virginian-Pilot

The dark blue waters are still off Roanoke Island, and a canoe with four men in it floats on the placid surface. Two are standing, two seated, with nets and weirs – a rake-like device made of reeds – sunk.

Beneath them, the waters teem with life. Crabs, herring, mussels, rays, oysters, scallops, turtles, trout, etc. Small ripples radiate as nets and booms are cast, and the fresh catch is added to the harvest that already fills the boat.

Behind the canoe, others wade through the waters, using wooden spears as de facto harpoons to pierce passing fish.

Later, on the tree-lined bank, the fishermen will join others who have piled up logs and set them on fire. A kind of grill is fashioned over the fire; four stakes are positioned evenly and others are fixed on top. Dressed seafood is added, smoke enveloping the catch of the day, its flesh roasted and its juices dripping below, hissing and snapping.

A feast will be enjoyed by all.

It is a timeless scene, in fact, although it may be current, this one took place in 1585. Observed and described by the English Renaissance man Thomas Harriott in his 1588 account, “A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia”. images of Native Americans fishing and cooking their catch were also captured in time by engravings by Theodor de Bay in the same work.

It’s been over 400 years, and while a lot has changed on the narrow strip called the Outer Banks, many of our most cherished tastes and traditions have only gotten better with time.

“I’ve been blessed to see OBX-style cooking evolve from grilled or fried dishes to what it is today to reach the endless possibilities of the culinary world,” says Wes Stepp, celebrity chef/owner of the Red Sky Cafe, Red Sky Cafe Catering and NC Coast Bar & Grill in Duck.

“I think the visitors we receive each summer inspire this development; they tell what leaders are doing in other areas. With the blessing of some of the freshest and best seafood in the world, we start with the strongest base ingredients and are compelled to present and prepare them in inspired and new ways.

Stepp has been cooking professionally on the Outer Banks for 30 years, and his Southern-contemporary menu at Red Sky Cafe has been served for 20 years.

The chef recommends the prawns with Redneck Risotto.

“It’s always on top; this is the pony I rode at the show,” he says. “The risotto is prepared in the traditional way with a slight deviation; instead of arborio rice, we use stone-ground oatmeal, hence the “redneck,” topped with Asiago cheese.

“To this we add local shrimp, Cajun cream and smoked apple bacon. It’s sure to turn grain’s staunchest haters into newborn fans.

At Stepp’s new restaurant, NC Coast Grill & Bar, there’s also fresh seafood, but with a twist.

“The preparation is globally inspired; Korean, Indian and European culinary techniques are used to prepare the finest Outer Banks ingredients,” he says. “A customer once said to me, ‘It’s not just a meal, it’s an experience’.”

Stepp recommends the chef’s tip at NC Coast, an impressive arrangement of homemade tapas and donuts; “Charcuterie, OBX style,” he says.

Drive south from Duck to Kitty Hawk, where Pok’s Art Asian Fusion Kitchen & Catering also adds international flair to OBX dining. Chef/owner Pok Choeichom has been cooking for 35 years, 8 of them at his current restaurant.

The space is ideal for quick pickups and offers delivery throughout Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Southern Shores. There’s a small dining room to take advantage of in-restaurant cooking, and Choeichom notes that the restaurant offers on-site catering and prepared dinners for people to enjoy for their convenience, especially visitors to their vacation homes.

“I love having access to the best fresh, local seafood,” he says. “It’s important to use fresh, local ingredients as much as possible.”

The chef offers his favorite dishes, “Crab Slough oysters, soft shell crabs in season, greentail shrimp, Outer Banks tuna and all other types of freshly caught fish”.

Crab Slough oysters are an OBX treasure, growing wild in the Crab Slough area of ​​Pamlico Sound. They are soft with a buttery finish and have a big salty sloppy fuck. Open the deep cup and find the oyster inside and, most likely, a hitchhiker – a tiny “pea crab” living inside the bivalve.

Look for fresh flavors at Pok’s Art, but with a nod to its Choeichom Asian heritage.

“Homemade pad thai, sautéed fresh thai basil, homemade spring rolls and crab rangoons”, recommends the chef as signature dishes.

Further south still and just west of Whalebone Junction, Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe has been a favorite since 1996. Overlooking the Roanoke Sound, local fishermen stop by the restaurant’s docks daily with their fresh catch , where it is cleaned and prepared in the restaurant.

Vicki Basnight and her family own and operate the venerable restaurant.

“I was born and raised here,” she says. “The water, the fishing, the shrimping, the clams, my big family and just being here on this strip of land, that’s what I love. I’m lucky to have grown up on the Outer Banks.

Basnight’s family has fished these waters for generations.

“Using locally caught seafood is something we are proud to serve. Our chefs make the seafood shine without overpowering the delicate freshness.

“Seafood from these waters is what we grew up eating and as long as our business people bring it in, we’ll cook it and serve it,” says Basnight.

Visit the Lone Cedar Cafe and start with crab soup and crab dip before moving on to one of the seafood platters, blackened fish, pan-fried fish or shrimp and grits, she notes .

Also try the clam chowder.

“One of my favorite foods is something we always had growing up; my mom’s clam chowder. She loved to go cockle fishing and being the daughter of a commercial fisherman. She could always catch a cooler full .

The dish is filled with fresh clams, potatoes, bacon, onion and the love of Basnight’s mother, Sandy.

Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe is located at 7623 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head. Call 252-441-5405 or visit

The NC Coast Grill & Bar is located at 1184 Duck Road, Duck. Call 252-261-8666 or visit

Pok’s Art is at 3701 N. Croatan Hwy., Kitty Hawk. Call 252-715-4421 or visit

The Red Sky Cafe is located at 1197 Duck Rd., Kitty Hawk. Call 252-564-8606 or visit

Patrick Evans-Hylton is a chef, food writer and culinary educator in Hampton Roads. Join it at

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