Food & Drink

Eat Like a Local in Eastern North Carolina

From a fifties-style drive-in to a cinderblock meat-and-three, local eats in Eastern North Carolina.

Growing up on a farm in Wilson, North Carolina, Mike Moore learned to appreciate two things at a young age: the hard but rewarding work of tobacco farming and the good old-fashioned pleasures of country cooking, with ingredients fresh from the garden. “It was shell peas, tomatoes, fried cornbread, and greens,” he says. When he left a career in law enforcement to go to culinary school on the other side of the country, the cooks in his family weren’t sure he was making the right decision. But since he came home to North Carolina about a decade ago, his work ethic has helped him become one of the most influential chefs in the state.

Photo: Denny Culbert / Southern Foodways Alliance

Anne Blue of Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place adds slaw to a barbecue sandwich.

As the head of the Blind Pig Supper Club in Asheville, he has organized themed dinners based on everything from the circus to the seven deadly sins to country music history, highlighting up-and-coming cooks and raising thousands for various charities. Now, he is coming home. For six months, he has traveled the eastern part of the state trying biscuits, shrimp burgers, and whole-hog barbecue in preparation for a rare on-the-road dinner.

At an as-yet-undisclosed location in Beaufort, North Carolina, on October 10, he and six chefs including Nate Allen of Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine and Clarke Merrell of Circa 81 in Morehead City will serve a tribute to the tobacco farms, shrimp boats, and boardwalks east of I-95. Called Brogue, the dinner will be a fundraiser for the local Boys & Girls Club and an excellent excuse for a fall road trip. To whet your appetite, we asked Moore for five of his favorite Eastern North Carolina stops.

Big Oak Drive-In
1167 Salter Path Road, Atlantic Beach
“Fifties-style drive-ins are still popular in this area, thank goodness. Big Oak has been my go-to since I was a kid. The shrimp burger is fried shrimp stuffed into a sweet bun and topped with slaw. The kicker is the hot sauce, which is one of my favorites. Habaneros, carrots, onion, and garlic all come together for the perfect amount of body and heat.”

Photo: Photo by Instagram users feinknopf; Molly__Margaret

From left: The exterior of Big Oak Drive-In; the shrimp burger.

Flo’s Kitchen
1015 Goldsboro Street S, Wilson
“The country lunch specials are good, but my favorite order is the fried pork tenderloin biscuit with hoop cheese. The biscuits have been made by hand since the restaurant opened in 1933, and you’ll sometimes see lard buckets lined up in the dining room.” 252-237-9146

Photo: Photos by Instagram users theamylambert; satanfinger

Biscuits from Flo’s Kitchen in Wilson, North Carolina.

Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place
3383 South Main Street, Farmville
“Rudy Cobb took over his father’s barbecue institution in 1989, and he is now one of the senior pit masters in Eastern North Carolina. Whole hogs cooked on wood, just like they have been for over fifty years. Medium chopped, tender and smoky, with vinegar sauce.”

Photo: Denny Culbert / Southern Foodways Alliance

Barbecue at Jack Cobb Barbecue Place.

Rose’s Kitchen
4950 Hwy 903 N, Snow Hill
“A cinderblock restaurant on the side of the highway, you’ll recognize it by the hand-painted signage, particularly the Jiminy Cricket–looking character saying, ‘This good ole country food keeps me hanging around for more.’ This is home cooking, with country ham, butter beans, pork neck stew, and fresh biscuits. Open since the 1950s.” 252-747-5242

Photo: Google Maps

The exterior of Rose’s Kitchen.

Royal James Café
117 Turner Street, Beaufort
“This dive bar and pool hall has been a local favorite for decades, with old felt pool tables and pictures on the wall of great white sharks hauled in by salty locals. You want to order the Kembo, a mesquite-grilled chicken breast served with ham and cheese on toasted rye bread slathered with something they call cayennaise. Or a Carolina-style chili burger.”

Photo: Photos by Instagram users becausered; BlairMikels

Left to right: Old felt pool tables; a photo of a great white shark hangs on the wall.