Restaurants & Bars 35

New Bern, NC and Vicinity Report (long, very long)

MMRuth | Jan 4, 200804:36 PM

I drove down to New Bern for the holidays, stopping in Richmond for the night en route. Got up v. early the next morning, got a cup of terrible coffee at the Jefferson Hotel that I promptly threw out, and got on the road. I quickly got lost looking for I-95, but fortunately a McDonalds was at hand for my annual breakfast of hash browns and a sausage biscuit, as well as accurate directions about finding I-95. I craved good coffee along the entire drive, but didn’t stop for any. I did stop at the Country Butcher on 70 around Kinston, and picked up some slab bacon, butter made in Winston-Salem and some baby Lima beans (frozen – and called something else).

That night, my mother and I went to Moore's BBQ our first evening. I'm embarrassed to say that though my mother has lived there for 7-8 years now, we'd never been, though they were v. helpful in our search for suckling/roasted pig. I had the pork BBQ sandwich and fries - loved the pork, but the bun was a bit much for it and so I mostly ate the pork, which had a lovely smoked flavor to it. The fries were quite soggy. My mother had the shrimp platter - sweet, well fried fish, with slaw and great hushpuppies. One of the owners told us about the hushpuppy making machine when I asked about it - apparently expensive and adapted from a donut machine. They have lemon pie on the menu which sounded interesting until I saw that they were pre-packaged Sara Lee. Everyone working there was very friendly. I bought some pork to take home for my husband when he arrived later that evening. He was less than thrilled with it, and said it was only redeemed by the vast amounts of ketchup he added to it (note to Mom - buy more ketchup). My mother has told me to make sure to mention the large piles of wood out back.

The next night we went to Lieu Secret. My mother and I had done a "drive by", so we knew it was located behind a bunch of trailers - no problem. The chef here is “Jag”, the disqualified finalist in Next FN Chef. The décor is a bit scary – grandmother tea parlor style, with some jarring neon lights on the ceiling – but, well, the food could redeem it. We had a v. sweet waitress, who explained to us that the sous chef had taken off the week before, because he couldn’t handle the Christmas rush, and that things might be a bit slow as a result. And indeed, things were slow, but well, we were having nice time. We started with the oysters Rockefeller, the crabcakes, and the beef & crostada. I enjoyed the latter, which had some nice rare filet mignon, though I’m not sure the mushrooms were wild, as on the menu. Crabcakes were good, but my husband thought the oysters were just ok. We had a long wait for bread, because apparently the chef insists on heating it himself, which led us to believe it would be something special, which it was not. For main courses – I had the Coq au Vin, which was advertised as chicken breast with the usual accompaniments, but I did not expect the breasts to be cutlets. It was pretty flavorful, and decently executed. My mother had the Veal Marsala, which she thought was disappointing, which, given that she doesn’t eat out much or cook, is saying something. My husband had the duck special, which he said was ok. We skipped dessert. The total check was about $145, which included two bottles of Pinot Noir (limited wine selection) and a bottle of beer. The main courses come with a salad – quite good, though as my mother said, the salads needed to be smaller or served on a larger plate. Jag came out of the kitchen as we were finishing, and we had a nice chat with him, as we did again in the parking lot. Looks like he has plans for a place in downtown New Bern, with music and fusion-Latin cuisine. The upshot – the food was pretty good, the price very good compared to NYC, but I think there was a subtlety missing in the food somehow.

We went to Harris Teeter to do our Christmas meal shopping, and it has certainly improved even further from last year. I was pretty much able to find everything I needed, and they now have Italian Parmesan rather than Canadian, and a nice selection of French cheeses. Also a v. good selection of produce, and great pastas, including artisanal ones. The wine selection is also good. We stopped into what used to be Beartown French Bakery on Glen Bernie – decent baguette (Harris Teeter not great in the bread department) and a great brioche loaf. We also picked up a couple of things at the cookware store next door, the name of which I always forget. Oh – and we also picked up the Pork Tenderloin I’d ordered ahead of time from the Village Butcher – it was the best one I’ve had yet for the Porchetta Sardo I make, though they were unwilling to pound it – only butterflied it. I couldn't find hazelnuts at Harris Teeter, but did find them at Piggly Wiggly, thanks to the very helpful clerk who pointed me to the ones in their shells. Thanks, Mom, for shelling them for our cake.

On Sunday, my husband and I had a couple of last minute elf errands to run, and so called Capt’n Ratty’s to order 2 dozen oysters to go as the final destination on our route. They were ok – a lot of grit in the oysters. I did embarrass myself by asking where the oysters were from, which apparently is not a frequently asked question, though the answer is – from the James River. We’d stopped by Mitchell’s Hardware store for some of the last minute gifts – can’t believe I’ve never been before as they have a great selection of kitchenwares – my husband picked up the needed meat pounder the next day.

My husband left on Christmas Day, so he missed our annual Thai Thai outing with friends. As usual, an excellent meal. My mother and I shared the spring rolls and fried shrimp dumplings – the former were very good, the latter made with wonton skins, and less good. My mother also warned me to avoid the crab appetizer. I had the ginger chicken as a main course, and it was excellent, as was my mother’s green curry. I tried the meatball appetizer – good, but a little lacking in flavor, I thought. But, we enjoyed our meal there with our friends who lived in Bangkok when we did.

Earlier that day, my mother and I did our annual road trip to Morehead City/Atlantic Beach, to check out my favorite antique store there and visit the beach. We’d planned on going to the Crab’s Claw where we’d had a great meal the year before, but my mother craved the all day breakfast at 4 Corners Diner. She was very happy with her Western Omelet and grits. I ordered the shrimp burger and onions rings, thinking that the shrimp burger would be some sort of shrimp patty. However, it was fried shrimp – albeit well fried and tender fried shrimp – on a hamburger bun. I’m guessing the onion rings were frozen – not much taste to them. I asked hopefully if the pies were homemade, but was told they were the one thing they don’t make on the premises, so I passed on that. As my mother noted though, not a speck of grease on her omelet, nor on my shrimp or onion rings.

On our way home after a lovely walk on the beach, we stopped at Asian Imports in Havelock where she wanted to buy some dishes. I was amazed to discover the incredible selection of Asian ingredients there and immediately chastised my poor mother for not telling me about this before – the things I could have cooked! Next year! I picked up a large bag of star anise for us to share, some Thai tamarind paste (soft, unlike the ones I find in NYC), and various other random ingredients, and my mother bought some ginger candy and ginger tea.

The day before I left, we meant to meet friends at Morgan’s for lunch, but despite another previous “drive by”, the sign now said they weren’t open for lunch on New Year’s Eve. Fred and Claire’s was full, so we went to MJ’s. I had the crabcake sandwich and fries – both very good – the crabcakes were all meat and well seasoned. My mother had – and enjoyed – a fried seafood platter of shrimp, scallops and oysters – the scallop I tried was sweet and tender. They seemed quite busy and our waitress was a bit harried and slow with our requested mayonnaise and mustard, but no big deal. Again, we were having a good time!

So – another fun trip to New Bern – great chow can be found everywhere, I think.

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