We had planned our route out of Charleston so that we would cross the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and head north on state highway 17 along the coast. The bridge is a cable bridge stretching over the Cooper River and it is quite spectacular. Unfortunately, we were departing Charleston on the same day as the annual Cooper River Bridge Run for which the bridge is shut down so that 40,000 plus runners can cross it in a 5k and 10k event. Drat!
Luckily we learned about the run a day before our departure so we rerouted and found another way out of town. We got on the desired highway and took off north with our final destination undecided. We thought we might stop in Myrtle Beach if it appealed to us, but when we got there we rolled in one side and right out the other. It didn't appeal to us in the slightest. Granted, the beaches are fantastic, but the rest of the place seemed to us to be really touristy with lots of manufactured (and expensive) "fun". Not our thing, or at least, mostly not our thing, so we kept going. Having basically left Charleston unexplored, we weren't ready to dive into another tourist-heavy experience.
We made our way to the Morehead City-Beaufort Elks Lodge. I know it must sound like I am on the Elks payroll as much as I talk about them, but the fact is, our experience has been so overwhelmingly positive, it's hard not to share. As we do everywhere we travel, we checked out the parking lot on Google Earth and knew it was plenty big enough for big rigs. When we arrived the place looked deserted, but well-kept, so we figured it was just a day with no lodge activity. We pulled up next to the water spigot on the side of the building to take on water, and then walked around to see where to park based on notes in the Elks guidebook.
As we walked we were met by a lodge member who had arrived to play pool with a friend. He invited us in and the two of them gave us a ton of information about the area. They told us where we could park and plug in, and when we offered to pay they asked that we simply sign the guestbook. We ended up staying four days with 30 amp, access to water and Wifi. From the side windows we had a lake view. And other than Bingo night, we saw no one at the lodge. It was awesome.
One of the first things we do when we arrive in a new place is to get the lay of the land. We noticed right away that Morehead City was nothing like Myrtle Beach. Although there were plenty of sugar-sand beaches and quaint little towns nearby that no doubt get fairly crowded in high season, for us the area was so much more enjoyable without all the waterparks, theme parks and the like. Our entertainment consisted of taking walks on Atlantic Beach and on the waterfront path in the cute little town of Beaufort.
The highlight of our stay was visiting Fort Macon State Park. We've seen several forts as we traveled through Florida and beyond, but this one is our favorite so far. Fort Macon itself is a restored Civil War-era fort, and the park also includes a museum-quality coastal education center. The displays were fantastic and the views from the fort went on forever. We really enjoyed our time here.
For my birthday last year we met friends Laurie and Odel in Napa for a double celebration since Odel and I have birthdays one day apart. We ate at The Pear Southern Bistro and there I had the finest Shrimp & Grits I have ever eaten. Wild Gulf shrimp wrapped in applewood smoked bacon over creamy cheddar cheese grits and red-eye gravy. I have dreams about how delicious that dish was and vowed when we came to the south, the land of Shrimp & Grits, I would eat my fill and try to top the dish in Napa. I have not yet found a better version, but it is not for a lack of trying on my part! In Morehead City, however, the shrimp & grits served for breakfast at the The Banks Grill came very, very close. Still, I figured I'd just have to make my own and having procured the stone-ground grits in Charleston, I went on the hunt for fresh Atlantic shrimp. Fail.
I like good shrimp, but not so much that I am willing to spend time beheading, peeling and deveining. Ew, no. Gross. So my plan was to buy several pounds that had already been processed and just toss them into my freezer. Unfortunately, there were none to be had in any of the markets and seafood stores we visited. In fact, we learned, it's still too cold for shrimping, so we'd probably have to wait a couple of weeks. Ugh.
As we move north I am keeping my eyes peeled for shrimp. In the meantime, I am studying the lovely cookbook that Steven bought for me (IPad version) by Nathalie Dupree called, what else, Shrimp & Grits!! Nathalie Dupree was one of my favorite PBS chefs and over the years I've had a few of her cookbooks. When she would cook on her show she would wear a huge diamond solitaire and I always thought if I had a diamond like hers I'd be a much better cook. Well, I eventually got the diamond as an anniversary gift and guess what? It didn't do a damn thing to improve my cooking.
NEXT UP: The Outer Banks!