by David Cecelski
What a strange and wonderful place this is. It’s an old roadside produce stand, fish market, and general merchandise store a stone’s throw from the Northeast Cape Fear River, on a lonely stretch of Highway 421 that otherwise is home only to endless miles of marsh and a bleak industrial landscape.
You pass the market when you’re driving south toward the Battleship North Carolina or BrunswickCounty. There’s not much else out there except the county landfill, a giant scrap metal recycling facility, the empty shell of a fish scrap factory, a cement plant, a quarry, and a lot of old chemical and fertilizer plants, many of them abandoned.
There’s a faint smell of sulfur dioxide in the air and the entire time I was there—I was in the area for four or five hours—heavy brown smoke kept drifting across the highway from I don’t know where. And then in the midst of all that there’s the Eagle Island Produce and Fish Market.
This place has everything: live bait, fertilizer, fruit and vegetables, knick knacks and geegaws, hardware, jam, jellies and preserves, smoked meats, candy, boiled peanuts, nabs and crackers, sodas and beer, and a lot more. Most of it probably gets shipped in from all over and a lot of it is awful kitschy, but just when you’re feeling overwhelmed—you can barely move inside, it’s so full of stuff—you start to discover interesting things. In a refrigerator in the back, for instance, I found a lonely box of rutabagas and another of beets, both certainly fresh and local.
Way in the back, there were also several bags full of May peas in a cooler. They looked good, too, and I’d wager that that they came from a local farmer. Most of the fruit wasn’t seasonal, but the market did have fresh strawberries from the Lewis farm in Rocky Point. The proprietor must have an understanding with the local farmers that he’ll purchase at least a little bit of their produce when it’s ready.
The fish market was interesting as well—it had some fine-looking shad and shad roe and the price was good. I’ve heard that the place has a reputation for carrying good local oysters when they’re in season, too.
All told, the Eagle Island Produce and Seafood Market is definitely worth a stop. The building is old and a little run-down, a relic I would guess of the ‘40s or ‘50s, the paint is faded, and it’s busy, crowded and loud. But it’s also full of life, and full of surprises.
photo by David Cecelski