Blue Moon Beach Grill: Review

By Laura Dunbar

Dinner in Nags Head was one of the most difficult choices we had to make on our trip. Compared to the other towns we had visited, Nags Head had an abundance of restaurants to offer. When we shared our dilemma with our Uber driver, she told us, “If you’re only in Nags Head for one night, you have to go to Blue Moon.” After looking it up, we learned that Blue Moon Beach Grill was one of the best rated restaurants in town, so we knew it was a must.


When we pulled up to the restaurant that night, we were surprised to find it nestled into a strip mall. The windows were dark and tinted, and from the outside it appeared as if nobody was inside. We had expected the number one rated restaurant to be a bit more popular on a Saturday night, and were sure we had the wrong place, but upon double checking we found we were right. We almost turned around and went somewhere else, but decided to give it a try.


When we walked in, we saw just how wrong we had been. The restaurant was packed, with groups of friends sitting at the bar and big family parties taking up many of the tables. We ended up having to wait a few minutes while a table was cleared for us, and the host was extremely friendly, making conversation with us while we waited. Our waitress was very kind as well throughout our meal. The Blue Moon Beach Grill was clearly a place of real southern hospitality.

Although the restaurant appeared to just be like any other bar on the inside, with flat screen TVs and neon beer signs, the menu proved otherwise. It wasn’t just typical bar food, like burgers and fries. The food was creative and new, with dishes like fried green tomato and shrimp napoleon and a braised portobello mushroom stuffed with arugula and goat cheese risotto. Everything on the menu seemed delicious, and there was also a blackboard of specials that change daily. It was clear that seafood was the specialty in this coastal town, so I ordered the seaside bucatini, a pasta dish tossed with a roasted tomato pesto sauce with sauteed shrimp and scallops, artichoke hearts, baby spinach and parmesan cheese. The shrimp and scallops were large and tender, and the vegetables and sauce paired with them perfectly. Jennifer, the group member at dinner with me, hopped on the seafood train as well and ordered the salmon gnocchi special. It came in a tomato cream sauce with fresh sauteed vegetables and a filet of salmon cooked so well that it flaked away with the touch of a fork. It was, hands down, the best meal of the trip. For dessert, we split the pumpkin cheesecake, a dessert special for the autumn months that exceeded our expectations with its creamy filling and sweet whipped cream topping. After every course, we became honorary members of the clean plate club.

We said goodbye to our waitress and left the Blue Moon Beach Grill feeling happier— and much more full— than when we had entered.

The Prime Smokehouse

By Jennifer Grant

I often think that mac and cheese should be its own separate food group. Like fruits and vegetables, it takes up a large chunk of my diet. I’ve seldom found mac and cheese I disliked, but I vehemently believe that they’re not all created equal. I would soon realize and reaffirm my belief that some are MUCH better than others.


My group member Laura and I had just arrived at our hotel in Rocky Mount and we were starving. We had made plans to return to Tarboro that evening for dinner.  After skimming over the restaurant’s menu again and realizing that going to Tarboro meant another 30 minutes in the car after we’d already spent much of the day traveling, we decided to look for something closer. The Prime Smokehouse: Barbecue and Beyond, was one of the first options to pop up in our Google search. Intrigued, I looked into it a little more and found that the restaurant’s mac and cheese had been given the honor of a spot on Travel + Leisure’s  “America’s Best Mac and Cheese” list. SOLD. After a quick call to make a reservation, and a much-needed nap, Laura and I were off to see just how good this mac and cheese really could be.


The restaurant was located in an area that seemed like it would be downtown Rocky Mount, but it was pretty deserted. If not for the several parking lots we saw full of cars, we probably would have thought no one was there that night. After driving around a few times looking for a spot where we wouldn’t be towed, we parked and walked over to The Prime Smokehouse.


It’s a good thing I made a reservation! The place was packed and noisy and bustling with chatter. Even with a reservation, we and several other parties waited a bit longer than I would have liked to be acknowledged and shown to our table. I didn’t mind too much, though, because it gave me time to take in the warm and friendly environment. Soon, we were seated at a high top and handed two very large menus.


Laura and I knew we were each going to order mac and cheese as one of our sides, but how could we possibly choose an entrée from the expansive selection? After much consideration, we both picked dishes from the “From Our Famous Smoker” section of the menu. Laura opted for the pulled pork with a side of coleslaw and mac and cheese, and I chose the Bronzed Chicken with a side of roasted broccoli and mac and cheese.  

The Trip Home

By Andrew Scott

At its quickest, three hours and fifty-eight minutes. At its slowest six hours and thirty-six minutes. On average, four hours and sixteen minutes. These are the approximate lengths of time that I have spent traveling Highway 64 east and west getting from home to school, and vice versa. Living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and going to school at Elon University in Burlington, there is virtually only one way to get to these destinations. It’s a straight shot. Seventy miles per hour through rolling farmland, flat plains, and swamplands long forgotten. At dawn there is a faint glow that harkens a new day, but you won’t see a single commuter. At mid-day, the sun melts down a depressingly eerie bright light across the asphalt that has seen better days. At dusk the sunsets in a tapestry burst of heated colors behind the sink trees across the farms mile long fields. And at night there isn’t another light for miles and miles, while insects the size of your fist pelt the windshield of your car. This road shoots straight across the state, fast and furiously; I have traveled it numerous times, yet have never taken the time to slow down and greet the quieter walks of life that inhabit it.

The road from my home in Dare County, cuts through towns that have been all but forgotten like Plymouth, Tarboro, and Nashville. These last remaining pinnacles of the pre-urbanized eastern North Carolina, live and die by the interstate. Once, the highway used meander straight through their quaint towns; but now it flies by them, leaving only quick fast food stops and gas station fill ups. This is all these towns were for me, my four years now traveling back in forth from Elon to Kitty Hawk. I knew I’d stop for food in Nashville, and then quickly fill up my tank in Rocky Mount. If I felt like going the North route I could go through Williamson to Elizabeth City, but most often ride 64 straight through to Manteo. This experience never changed. There wasn’t any exploring or searching for what lay beyond the highways path. Up until now…

The Highway 64 project has given me a new sense of appreciation for the area that I travel numerous times every year. There is heart and soul in these old-timey towns. The quaint brick housed Main Streets where people wave to everyone. The quiet and tranquility of these back-farm roads can’t be beat. The people you run into are even a complete representation of this style of life: slowly-talking, purposefully-driven, and sincerely-hospitable. When you enter these true Mom and Pop shops, the appreciation displayed is unlike any experience found within big city-limits. These transportive Highway 64 experiences flash one back to the mid 20th century America where things moved slowly and lights were out at nine. Towns where everyone knew everyone, and the world was just as big as your county lines. When missing church on Sunday morning was a gossip worthy offense. When high school football and baseball teams dictated the entire talk of the town. Despite these idealistic and often fond memories through the lens of a metropolitan dystopia, when we pass through places like this one can’t help but remember the long, tried, and rough history of diversity and income inequality in these lands. This drive through the “down-” town feels like a jump straight through time, an experience completely ignored by the four-lane strip.

Traditionally, as I’ve climbed the bridge over Mans Harbor into Nags Head, I’ve always rolled down the window to smell the salt air of home. No matter how hot or cold. Now, as I travel back through eastern North Carolina I roll the window down to smell the plowed fields and swampy forests. I drift off the main road, in search of a little soul to the speedway.

Roanoke River- National Wildlife Refuge

By Andrew Scott

Leaves of red and gold fell slowly down from the tree tops to the watery ground of the Roanoke River. The cool fall wind wisps and bites at the neck as one walks along the boardwalk and trails of the wildlife refuge. Regional birds chirp in the distance. The movement of the leaves in the wind haunt the otherwise silent forest ecosystem. The leaves drift down the slowly moving river, meandering across the flooded coastal plain toward the great release of the ocean. The scene here in Williamston is much like the rest of the coastal plain, swampy and wild.


North Carolina has a large tributary system that dumps a variety of rivers into the Atlantic Ocean up and down the coast. While these rivers may gush and flow frantically in the mountainous and piedmont regions, they alter their path drastically when they get to the coast. They ease their way into the ocean, creating seas of swamp land, maritime forests, and transportive ecosystems. One can easily image Native Americans and colonists traveling up and down these maze-like systems. The rivers slow to almost a lethargic halt, yet are more alive than ever. Some of the most abundant wildlife in the state can be found in these flooded refuges, giving off an almost otherworld affect. Kin to the Everglades or the Bayou of Louisiana, the Roanoke River and the greater Dismal Swamp area distinguish this area of the state from the others.


The sandy beaches and barrier islands of North Carolina play a huge role in the tourist interpretation of the region, but the clear majority of the region is haunted and founded on these traditions born in the swamps. The region is established on a vast habitat for animal life and human interconnectivity with the environment. The colonists had to accept these harsh terrains and find a way to survive in them, knowing that beating Mother Nature isn’t an option. The same rings true today, with the smaller coast plain communities bending to the will of the river systems. Adjusting to the flooding and movements of the environment, living off the land, and a disappearance of much of the modern essence of life takes place in these small towns. Highway 64 itself bends and flows with this land to create a seamless ecosystem. The protective services of the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge are a major part of that. 


Protecting the “219 birds, 33 mammals, 37 reptiles, 39 amphibians, and 59 fish” different species is critical to the environmental survival of the area. Without these foundational citizens of the waterways, the system would crumble. The current Roanoke River refuge contains around 20,978 acres of land protected; however, expansion of the park area is up for proposal. In this proposal, the National Wildlife Refuge tries to incorporate the members of the community into the act of saving the ecosystem. They additionally, look at the situation from a climate change viewpoint and a rapid urban development projection. All in all, much like other environmental pieces the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge is an essential region of North Carolina heritage that is in danger of elimination.

Stripers Bar and Grille

By Jennifer Grant

Our plans to eat breakfast while looking out over the marina had been slightly foiled by Mother Nature. The sky was dark and gloomy and the rainfall had just turned heavier as we pulled into the parking lot.


The stormy weather reflected how Laura and I felt about both our trip coming to an end and the four-hour car ride ahead of us that day. Determined to make the most out of our last meal of the trip, we parked, dashed out of the car, and ran for shelter from the rain at Stripers Bar and Grille in Manteo.


The restaurant turned out to be more of sports bar than I had anticipated. Along with its expansive brunch menu, we were also given a list of game day selections. Behind us, a football game played on all the televisions in the bar, while Top 40 pop music blared. Our table was in the perfect location to look out onto the Marina, but with all the fog and rain that day there wasn’t too much of a view. I found myself wishing we had visited on another day, when perhaps we would have seen boats out in the water and would have been met with sunshine instead of looming clouds.


I wasn’t expecting to see many complex brunch items on the menu, and yet I was pleasantly surprised. I was drawn to the crab egg benedict with a side of grits, while Laura opted for a benedict with pan-seared vegetables rather than crab. I laughed when she told me she was partial to Maryland crab and would only order it there.


My breakfast came out steaming with a thick layer of Hollandaise sauce and large chunks of crabmeat. By that point, I had worked up an appetite, so I quickly cut into my breakfast and watched the dripping yolk fill my plate. The grits were good, but were a different consistency than I was used to. They reminded me of rice pudding in a way, which was unexpected, but actually enjoyable.


As we ate, I overheard a very peppy and positive couple talking to a bartender. Just retired, they had recently moved to North Carolina from California, and wanted to discover all the state had to offer. Their excitement was contagious, and as Laura and I left the restaurant, I found myself feeling grateful for the opportunity we’d had to explore the Coastal Plains that weekend.

Treasures of Tarboro at Off the Main

By Jennifer Grant

Tucked away on a side street of unassuming downtown Tarboro stands a beige Victorian style home. If not for a sign in the front yard, the average passerby would just chalk it up as another sweet, southern home and not give it a second thought.


That passerby would be missing out on the hidden treasures of Tarboro. Open the door to that Victorian, and you’ll step into Off the Main, a co-retailing boutique that rents out storefront space to local businesses. The name Off the Main refers to the store’s location off of Main Street, but to me it also references the unique offerings that the boutique brings to Tarboro. In this small town, there’s nothing else quite like it.


Walking from room to room of the house, I took in everything from shirts to fuzzy socks printed with Tarboro, NC to jewelry to toys. Brooke Phillips, the owner of Off the Main was kind enough to speak with me when I visited, and explained some of the thought process behind the items she sells. She told me she looks for distinctive products that have meaningful stories behind them. For instance, a single mom from Columbia, NC makes some of the children’s clothing she sells. Some of the proceeds from a few of the dainty jewelry pieces I admired go to a local animal shelter. I was drawn to purchase Thai Basil scented wax made by a small business owner. The smell reminded me of Mike and Ike’s candy.  


Phillips is passionate about what she does, and told me opening a boutique had always been her dream. She grew up in Tarboro, but left for several years to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Upon graduation, she knew she had to come back to her hometown to open a store. At the moment, Phillips works with ten vendors to stock the boutique. The connections she builds with these vendors and with Tarboro residents are at the heart of her business. As we spoke, the front door bell kept ringing, indicating another visitor had stopped by to view her new items. I found myself wishing I could be one of those regulars, just stopping by to chat and smell the candles.

Lou Reda’s American Table: Review

By Laura Dunbar

Driving through Rocky Mount, the restaurant scene didn’t exactly look promising. Houses and businesses around appeared old and rundown, but after two and a half hours on the road we were tired and hungry, so we looked up good restaurants for lunch. With that we found Lou Reda’s American Table in the center of a strip mall. Upon entering, it was clear that this restaurant was a stark difference to the Rocky Mount we had just driven through. The inside was clean and modern, with fun pictures hung up along high, dark blue walls. Arriving around 11:30, we were the only people in the restaurant apart from two businessmen. The menu was very diverse, with a cured salmon BLT, to a pulled pork sandwich, to a roasted beets salad with whipped ricotta. Covering multiple cuisines, the modern American menu had something for everyone.


Lou Reda’s opened in fall of 2013, so it’s a fairly new establishment. The owner, Reda, and the Chef, Justin Gaines, are committed to an exploration of the vast culinaries of America and change their menu week by week with a different focus on an American region each time. Everything at Lou Reda’s is made in house as well, including salad dressings, french fry dips, soups and more.


Our waitress informed us it was her first day serving and we were pleasantly surprised with the fast and easy service, our food coming out in a timely manner and our drinks never sitting empty. By the time we ordered our food, the restaurant had begun to fill up as well, with families, business people, and groups of friends, the lunch rush settling in. We both ordered the cured salmon BLT, which consisted of cured salmon between a triple stack of toasted multigrain bread, along with creamy avocado, an herb mascarpone, crisp arugula, a juicy tomato, and the best part— jalapeno bacon. The sandwich came with a side of either regular or sweet potato fries, which included a delicious sweet dipping sauce. Our waitress was able to easily split our bill, and we walked out the door knowing that our lunch at Lou Reda’s was a surprising success.

OBX Brewtag Festival

By Laura Dunbar

The Outer Banks is a popular destination in the North Carolinian summer months, and a common misconception holds that there isn’t much to do come the off season. Though there are many less tourists and the Atlantic isn’t exactly swimmable, there isn’t a lack in activities. Among these autumn activities is the OBX Brewtag Festival, which took place on October 28th this year.


The Brewtag festival is modeled after Red Bull’s annual Flutag festival, which occurs in multiple cities around the world. Flutag is German for “flying day,” and the event features competitors attempting to fly home-made, human powered flying machines. Brewtag takes its own twist on this concept. Instead of flying machines, teams are challenged with the task of building a contraption to fly a one sixth keg barrel.


Participating teams, made up of four or more people hailing from all different states, worked for weeks on their keg-flying machines. Most resembled planes, with two wings coming out of the keg, while others had a totally different design, such as one board atop the keg. The teams all had quirky names and wore costumes to go along with it. Their excitement was palpable as they climbed the flight deck and launched the kegs into the air.

Though the concept seemed a bit bizarre to me, I was surprised to find myself getting caught up in the excitement of the crowd as the kegs went flying. Before launching, team members danced around, riling the crowd up, and by the time the keg was launched the crowd was going wild. Some kegs soared; others went crashing, face first into the ground. No matter the outcome, I found myself cheering, awe-ing, or laughing with the crowd, becoming a part of the exciting atmosphere.


The keg flying competition, though the main attraction, wasn’t all the Brewtag Festival had to offer. The festival was from 1:00-5:30, so there were a lot more activities to occupy our time. We ate from two food trucks catering the event from local restaurants, which had something for everybody— from tuna tartar in an ice cream cone to beef tacos and cheeseburgers.There were two bands performing live during the event as well, and after the keg competition we sat on the ground in front of the stage and listened to the music with other festival-goers. The first band seemed to be more of background noise to everything else, but the second band— a reggae style— had everyone dancing along. Though the event was centered around beer, it was very kid-friendly, and families seemed to be the most common of the attendees. There were many children’s activities, including a rock climbing wall, face painting, a mechanical shark, a bounce house, and an arts and crafts station. There were also many local vendors selling souvenirs and apparel, including funny graphic t-shirts that went along with the event, like a bear hugging a mug of beer saying “Beer Hug.” Because it was halloween weekend, many people were wearing costumes, which were judged in a costume contest at the end of the festival along with the awards ceremony for the keg competition, though we weren’t there to see the results.


The Brewtag also had a record number of 25 breweries in attendance, housed at their own tables under a large white tent. At the entrance to the festival you were able to purchase a punch card for 20 dollars each, good for either four beers or 12 beer tastings. The breweries had IPAs, blonde brews, ciders, etc. There was something for everyone, and there were large crowds underneath the tent for the entirety of the festival.


It was the third annual OBX Brewtag, and after talking to other festival-goers, it seemed that it was the best, despite a disagreement about whether the competition was cancelled the year before due to a hurricane. Some argued that it was, but others claimed that was a different weekend, and that the show did in fact go on. This year, though, the weather was warm, the music was great, and the entertainment was definitely unique. All in all, the OBX Brewtag was a great time and I would definitely recommend it to anyone heading to the Outer Banks during the off-season!

Surfin’ Spoon

Surfin’ Spoon is the quintessential Outer Banks shop. A small family business just a few steps from the beach in Nags Head, Surfin’ Spoon is a frozen yogurt bar that indulges in the laid-back atmosphere of the coastal town. After opening in 2012 by local professional surfing legend Jesse Hines and his wife Whitney, people have been dipping their spoon in the healthy and tasty dessert ever since. With nine different fro-yo flavors and one vegan sorbet, a full topping bar, and plenty of room to hang out with friends, this shop is something special for late summer nights. Surfin’ Spoon has the authentic spirit missing from the chain dessert locations apparent in the endless photos, memorabilia, and local artwork that line the walls. No matter if you are a local weekly customer or a once a year tourist, the friendly and genuine customer service will always put a smile on your face. Next time on the Outer Banks skip the Dairy Queen, Sweet Frog, or Wendy’s Frosty and take part in the Surfin’ Spoon tradition.

For more information about the establishment:

Nashville Exchange Restaurant Review

By Abbey Foucart, 2017

To say that the downtown strip of Nashville is slow on weekends would be an understatement. When my group visited in late October, there were hardly any cars to be seen, besides a few odd ones parked outside shops. Hungry, we walked into the first restaurant that was open: The Nashville Exchange Steakhouse & Café. The whole front half of the place was empty of people, just rows of tables in the center and bookshelves lining the walls. Beyond that was a cashier standing behind a glass case full of desserts. Brownies, cookies, assorted pastries: the Nashville Exchange had it all. We learned that the restaurant also served sandwiches and had a salad bar, although neither were out at the time.

Noticing that Portuguese bread was listed as an option for sandwiches, I asked the cashier about it. In my four years of living in North Carolina, I had never seen any Portuguese products sold, like they were in my Massachusetts hometown. Not very talkative, the cashier told me that he did not know the reason they carried it. He seemed reluctant to answer any other inquiries we made, so I paid for a giant brownie drenched in hot fudge and we perused the books on the shelves. Although there was a variety, there seemed to be a religious theme to most of them: religious detective work, religious poems, religious suspense thrillers, etc.

In short, is Nashville Exchange worth the visit? Certainly anything lacking in atmosphere and service can be explained by the absence of customers when we visited, perhaps typical for a Saturday. The books were charming. And the brownie was gooey, delicious, and almost as big as my hand for only a couple of dollars. In the future, I hope to come back to the small town of Nashville to experience the Exchange on a good day, to make a more informed judgement.