by David Cecelski
been eating at the Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant in Morehead City
all my life. My mother’s been eating at the Sanitary almost all her life—and she’s 82. She remembers
when the restaurant first opened in 1938. At that time, the little waterfront café
had only 12 stools and a two-burner kerosene stove. She had one of her first
dates there, a poor fellow who was so nervous that he spilled ketchup all over
his dress shirt.
I was a child, my grandmother often took us to the Sanitary for our birthdays and
other special occasions. It was a little ritual. Mr. John Tunnell, who began
working there in 1944 and knew everybody, always greeted us at the front door. We
sat at one of the tables near the back windows—the Sanitary had 600 seats by
then—and the waitresses, clad in all white, brought big pitchers of sweet tea
and trays of hushpuppies.
we waited for our food, we watched the boats go by. Or, when we were very
little, we went outside and tossed hushpuppies to the sea gulls.
we finished eating, we’d stroll down the waterfront and look at the charter
boats. We’d walk as far as Capt. Ottis Purifoy’s fish market. I found the fish
market enthralling. It had thuggish-looking cats, a loggerhead turtle that occupied
a water tank on the sidewalk, and, best of all, murals of lovely, bare-breasted
our way back to the car, we always stopped at Dee Gee’s Books and Gifts and
browsed the shelves. My mother’s cousin, D. G. Bell, opened that bookstore back
started taking my children to the Sanitary when they still had to sit in high
chairs. We celebrated family birthdays there, lunched with elderly great-aunts
there, and entertained out-of-town guests there. We ate lots of fried fish, bowls
of clam chowder, and, always, hushpuppies.
have always thought that the Sanitary’s hushpuppies are the world’s best. They’re just globs of deep-fried cornmeal and
buttermilk seasoned with a little salt and sugar, but they’re culinary works of
art: long, crisp, and flavorful, every one was a unique size and shape. For generations
of beachgoers and locals alike, they define what a hushpuppy is.
yesterday, my son and daughter and I picked up a to-go bag of those hushpuppies
and made a picnic meal out of them. Mr. John
Tunnell, I noticed, was still greeting folks at the front door.
You can find the Sanitary Fish Market and
Restaurant’s hours, menu, and recipe for hushpuppies at www.sanitaryfishmarket.com. Dee
Gee’s Books and Gifts, the state’s oldest independent bookstore, is still on
the Morehead City waterfront, too, now located just across the street.