After I’d completed my post-independence Day barbecue wind-down, I headed to the beach to meet Nancy, Liza, Ella, and Lily. We took two cars to take all of Ella and Lily’s gear (and our own) down. I had left a day early and eaten at the Hillsborough BBQ Company and the Durham outpost of The Pit. We connected at the realtor’s office, unpacked, and set off for the Food Lion where we caused a minor spike in the GNP, and then turned our attention to the real business of the beach: shrimpburgers.
Regular readers will remember that last year I transferred the Best Shrimpburger crown from the very good Big Oak to the Captain’s Kitchen. It was an easy call.`
If that isn’t worth 1,000 words, I don’t know what is. The real question was whether the Captain’s Kitchen could maintain their extraordinarily high shrimp count, their amazing quality, and their ridiculously low prices.
The first visit told the tale. The prices —
The shrimp count — I had eaten a few errant stray shrimp before taking this picture, as had Ella.
As to quality, the Captain simply cannot be equalled. If you don’t believe me, try one yourself. It is amazing that anyone can produce a sandwich like that and sell it for $6, or for double that price — triple that price in Washington, DC, and it wouldn’t be fried nearly as well.
The Captain’s Kitchen is still on top. I confirmed that their quality is consistently high by several more tests during our stay. And we branched out well beyond shrimpburgers. As you recall, Mike had tried their soft shell crab last year and pronounced it excellent. This year, he had the oyster burger (eight oysters on a bun!) and pronounced it “mmmphh” with obvious satisfaction. On my next trip, we tried a grouper sandwich ($7); that is, I ordered a grouper sandwich in addition to a shrimp burger, and I say “we” because others had pieces of grouper.
Again, the picture was taken after some chunks of grouper had fled to eager hands. What a good sandwich! Fresh as can be grouper, expertly fried, with far too much grouper for a regular bun. Like all their sandwiches, it comes with an outstanding cole slaw (always say you want the cole slaw), which is perfect for the Captain’s Kitchen sandwiches. It is fresh and very lightly dressed, and it provides a nice texture and lightness to fried food. This was easily the best fried fish sandwich I can recall.
I also tried a monster fish sandwich — 1/2 pound of catfish on a bun — with cole slaw, of course. A half pound of fish for $6 is a ridiculously low price. It’s not as good as the grouper — the catfish has never been born that was as good as grouper — and you probably don’t need to eat 1/2 pound of fish at a sitting. If, however, the need arises, this is the sandwich to get. Otherwise, get the grouper.
In light of their triumph, I have given the Captain’s Kitchen the coveted Top Places tag. Here’s the Captain himself:
He looks good, doesn’t he — likable — even while working in a hot food truck set in an acre of asphalt with the air temperature in the 90s. No one works harder, and no one makes a better shrimpburger.
The Captain’s Kitchen moves between two locations, Indian Beach and Emerald Isle. The site near us is still in the parking lot of a second hand furniture store. The store used to have sofas out front, tempting the Captains’ customers to sit and eat. This year, possibly in response to spillage on the sofas, the store’s front display was all stacked chairs. The Captain graciously has provided a couple of picnic tables, which are fine on a cool or cloudy day.
You may want to get some cocktail sauce for the shrimp or fish that overflows the bun, and doesn’t really get the benefit of that slaw. Get Kelchner’s, which is available at Willis Seafood, not far from the Captain’s Indian Beach location. You’ll go to Willis to get your shrimp and other seafood, so you’ll have some on hand, anyway. Kelchner’s is the best commercial cocktail sauce I’ve tried,
probably because Kelchner’s is, first and foremost, a horseradish company. I usually make my own cocktail sauce, and end up adding lashings of horseradish. I might still add horseradish to my own portion, as I’m pretty much of an outlier in terms of horseradish, but Kelchner’s is good as is. And the Captain’s food deserves the best.
NOTE: One important detail from the drive down: in previous years, we always stopped at Wilber’s for me to eat a second lunch (the first was Parker’s) and to stock up on peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, muscadines, and boiled peanuts. The tragedy of the closure of Wilber’s was a double blow. Where to buy produce? The answer on this trip was the stand by the Neuse Sports Shop just past Kinston which, alas, does not sell muscadines or boiled peanuts. I welcome suggestions for future trips. Detours that take me by good barbecue places are not a problem.
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