Skip to main content

An Unexpected Birthday Treat

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know these two things:

1) I've been very lazy about writing posts and 

2) I was born and raised in NJ. See this blog post for more on that...Tomato Pie, Pork Roll and Oyster Crackers

 I'm trying to get back to posting more often and I hope this is the start of that. I bring up the New Jersey connection because I spent a lot of my youth at the shore. Yes, we called it the shore, not the beach. Those from NJ will understand. Well, these days I rarely, if ever, get to the NJ shore but in the last 4 years, Cynthia and I have fallen in love with another beach community, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Just about 5 hours from our home in Northern Virginia, OBX, as they call it, is a narrow strip of islands just off the East Coast, connected to the mainland by the occasional causeway or bridge. 

That's where we recently spent 3 days celebrating my birthday. Did I mention it was one of those "round number" birthdays? The ones that seem to have all kinds of special meaning and sometimes traumatic effect? For me, this one was number 60 - or as I prefer to call it, 30 version 2.0. The trip was a bit of a last minute thing that Cynthia convinced me to do. After all, we have a week scheduled back down there at the end of September. But, it was my birthday, so I managed to rearrange some stuff at work and Cyn found a bed and breakfast willing to rent us a room for exactly the three days we needed AND allow us to bring both our dogs.

gratuitous dog picture

Our first full day was a Monday, my birthday, and after a perfect day at the beach and then an exploration of a part of the area that we hadn't seen before, Cynthia mentions, oh so casually, that she had done some research and found a restaurant that looked pretty interesting. You know, good reviews from people on Chowhound, good looking list of craft beers, solid menu - and that she hoped we could get in.

The restaurant, the Brine and Bottle, is less than imposing from the road. It's the kind of place you might ride by for a really long time without giving it a second glance. That would be a mistake. When we arrived and I say to the person who greets us, "two for dinner", Cyn manages to slip in, "we have a reservation, Cynthia and Alex". Next thing I know, we being escorted across the room to the perfect table for two overlooking the deck that sits right on the Roanoke Sound. As we're seated, I see she has that sly smile on her face giving me a look like "fooled you, didn't I?"

Then, I look down and see this.....

Note the date and the "Happy Birthday Alex". My wife had been planning this little soiree for quite some time and had been working with the owners, Andrew and Ashley Donovan, to plan the individualized six course meal with paired craft beers!

I won't bore you to death by recounting the meal blow by blow, but do know that the food was nothing short of outstanding and the beer pairings were spot on. Well, maybe I'll bore you just a bit, if only to show off the presentaion.
If you haven't had bacon jam, find some or find a recipe and make some. This rich, slightly sweet dollop of heaven is making my mouth water just looking at the picture.

Scallops can either be great when done right, or terribly disappointing when done badly. These were clearly the former. Perfectly seared on the outside and translucent on the inside they were paired with summer squash fritters that just screamed southern food. The charred tomato vinaigrette was tart and complemented them both.

Admittedly, foie gras isn't my favorite (OK, I'm a heathen, I admit it), but I will say this was prepared expertly and I ate my share, you know, just to be polite. For the record, I think Cynthia is still salivating over hers. For me, the stewed honey fig compote was the star of the dish.

It wouldn't be a southern meal without shrimp and grits, right? Well, these local shrimp were perfectly complimented by the rich cava creme and the grit cakes were a surprising and pleasant twist on the typical version.

Perfectly cooked duck breast with goat cheese spoon bread - this is about where I started to run out of steam. I wonder if the 5th beer had anything to do with that?

I rallied a bit when this inspired choice of desserts was served - watermelon brulee with a beautiful little cheese plate

Seriously, if you ever find yourself in or around the Outer Banks make a point of eating a meal at the Brine and Bottle. Thanks Andrew and Ashley!

Side note from Cyn:  These smaller, 'boutique' restaurants are worth seeking out - no matter where you are.  Usually owned and managed by dedicated and educated food people, they're working their butts off to make sure your dining experience is spot on.  Ashley was a dream to work with on this surprise for Alex, and the wait staff at the restaurant followed up with amazing service.  The kind you don't expect from a little place on the causeway to Manteo but are delighted to receive.  I didn't catch our servers name (thank goodness she wasn't required to give us the 'spiel') but she was personable, friendly and had exactly the right amount of personality while maintaining a professional attitude.  If the food didn't impress the heck out of me (and it did! Chef, you're talented!) then the service we received would have made us repeat customers anyway. Can't wait to see these guys again in late September and see what new seasonal offerings appear!


  1. What a wonderful surprise for you! Cynthia rocks! And a happy belated birthday to you. A fantastic menu.

  2. Galina, you're right about two things - it was a wonderful surprise and Cynthia does rock!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Oven Roasting Fresh Tomatoes for Pasta Sauce

A while back I wrote a post about using the preserved tomato sauce from 2008 that we still had in our pantry. It was the last jar of what was the best tomato crop we have grown -- to date. This weekend we picked and roasted the first batch from this year's garden with high hopes that we could match the richness of flavor from that magical year.

I wanted to share the process, especially since it's so simple, at least up to the canning, which I won't cover here. Those of you that can know it's not really hard, just a little time consuming.

The first step is pretty obvious, get yourself some tomatoes. We like to grow our own, but you can also buy them from a farm or farm market. Here's a little tip if you decide to buy -- offer to buy the "seconds", you know, the less than perfect tomatoes that everyone else has passed on. They can have blemishes, partial spoilage and even the occasionally bug hole. Don't worry, you're going to cut away any bad par…

2008 was a very good year....

...for tomatoes in Newburgh, NY. That's where we lived then and where we grew, roasted and canned tomato sauce. We actually did that every year but there was something magical about the quart mason jars full of that 2008 vintage. Last night, as part of Meatless Monday dinner, we opened the last one.  Nearly 4 year old tomato sauce you say? Isn't that, um, dangerous? Not at all if the jars are initially prepared correctly, the canning process is carried out properly and the seal remains intact. It was both exciting and a little sad to crack open that seal, but the finished meal made it all worth it. Cynthia's original recipe was a perfect use for that special vintage.

Herbed Crepes with Ricotta, Spinach and Chard Filling
Ingredients (crepes) 1 cup AP flour1 cup + 2-4 tbsp liquid of your choice, could be stock, milk, beer, water or any combination thereof - I used 1 cup Better than Bouillon No Chicken and 3 tablespoons of Duck Rabbit Milk Stout beer3 large eggs2 tbsp unsalted q…

Authentic Unbeatable Swedish Meatballs!

Think Ikea, But 100 Times Better
A Guest Post by Anneli from Delicieux
I am delighted to be back here on A Reluctant Foodie doing another guest post for Al. Our last challenge (Stuffed Peppers) was such fun that we decided to do it again and this time I suggested 'Balls"!

'Balls' was a fun choice as it gives such a large scope for experimenting - meatballs, fish balls, rice balls, chocolate balls, ice cream balls...the possibilities are endless. Not to mention the childishness of repeatedly writing 'balls'!! (and yes, I'm 36, not 3!)

In fact, I had no trouble at all deciding which 'balls' I was going to make, it was inevitable. I am half Swedish and I was brought up in a house where certain Swedish foods were regulars at our table. I was aware of Ikea and their meatballs before the rest of the world began their love affair with them.

My Mormor (Grandma) used to make them fresh and serve them with dollops of sweet lingon berry sauce, boiled potatoes …