by Deborah Miller
A long weekend on Emerald Isle was in the works and as visions of sun, sand, and seafood swam in my imagination, a light bulb moment pushed through the haze of vacation anticipation. NC Food was about to publish a guest post by John E. Batchelor, author of Chefs of the Coast: Restaurants & Recipes from the North Carolina Coast. Could we coordinate a dual post of one of the restaurants in Beaufort/Emerald Isle? What if he submitted his post and then I’d visit the same restaurant for a second opinion? A great idea until reality set in and it became moot. It was expensive. It was Memorial Day weekend. It was a long drive from Salter Path since the submitted post was from Caprice Bistro in Wilmington. Back to square. I was on my own with this one.
There’s food from the coast and then there’s beach food. Big difference! I love them both, and confess that my tastes are not always in line with my income. But this weekend was all about gearing down, living in flip flops, sitting under an umbrella with a paperback, and shrimp – any, and every, way we could eat it.
You could almost miss the Big Oak Drive In & BBQ as you are driving Highway 58 through Salter Path, NC if you didn’t know to look for it. It’s one of those hidden gems unless you get caught up in the massive traffic back-up from cars lined up and down the highway with blinkers on waiting to make the turn into the former house-turned-drive-in.
Tiny with a one-way-in, one-way-out parking lot, cars and patrons jockey for spaces, turning from their place in line under the menu board only to direct cars navigating 3 or 4 point turns to exit. Once in line, you become queue buddies with everyone around you, many long timers to to the ordering process. There are no tables, and theoretically you could eat in your car but you can’t help but remember that line in the street and the Shrimpburger is a big, drippy, lovely mess of a sandwich, and you’ll want piles of napkins and room to spread out.
The Shrimpburger is the star of the old-fashioned menu board and there’s a little bit of seaside heaven in every bite. The ingredients are a near-perfect combination of flavors and textures, each simple on its own, but eye-roll and low-moan producing when tucked inside the soft burger bun.
Ours made it back to our deck and were quickly devoured in the silent joy only a mouthful of the perfect foods can produce. Our fingers were licked clean before realizing we didn’t take a single photo of the signature sandwich.
Every bite is worth the drive, and the wait, and the parking chaos.
Big Oak Drive In & BBQ
1167 Salter Path Rd
Atlantic Beach, NC 28512
Deborah Miller, former Program Administrator at the North Carolina Folklife Institute and keeper of Simmer2Sizzle, is a native Tar Heel and lifelong foodie with a deep passion for music.
Ken Broadhurst says
I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this place. I’m a Moreheader and we love El’s Drive-In, but next time I’m there it’ll be the Big Oak for me. I see it’s right across the road from Willis Seafood, which I do know.