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Jan 4, 2008 04:36 PM

New Bern, NC and Vicinity Report (long, very long)

I drove down to New Bern for the holidays, stopping in Richmond for the night en route. Got up v. early the next morning, got a cup of terrible coffee at the Jefferson Hotel that I promptly threw out, and got on the road. I quickly got lost looking for I-95, but fortunately a McDonalds was at hand for my annual breakfast of hash browns and a sausage biscuit, as well as accurate directions about finding I-95. I craved good coffee along the entire drive, but didn’t stop for any. I did stop at the Country Butcher on 70 around Kinston, and picked up some slab bacon, butter made in Winston-Salem and some baby Lima beans (frozen – and called something else).

That night, my mother and I went to Moore's BBQ our first evening. I'm embarrassed to say that though my mother has lived there for 7-8 years now, we'd never been, though they were v. helpful in our search for suckling/roasted pig. I had the pork BBQ sandwich and fries - loved the pork, but the bun was a bit much for it and so I mostly ate the pork, which had a lovely smoked flavor to it. The fries were quite soggy. My mother had the shrimp platter - sweet, well fried fish, with slaw and great hushpuppies. One of the owners told us about the hushpuppy making machine when I asked about it - apparently expensive and adapted from a donut machine. They have lemon pie on the menu which sounded interesting until I saw that they were pre-packaged Sara Lee. Everyone working there was very friendly. I bought some pork to take home for my husband when he arrived later that evening. He was less than thrilled with it, and said it was only redeemed by the vast amounts of ketchup he added to it (note to Mom - buy more ketchup). My mother has told me to make sure to mention the large piles of wood out back.

The next night we went to Lieu Secret. My mother and I had done a "drive by", so we knew it was located behind a bunch of trailers - no problem. The chef here is “Jag”, the disqualified finalist in Next FN Chef. The décor is a bit scary – grandmother tea parlor style, with some jarring neon lights on the ceiling – but, well, the food could redeem it. We had a v. sweet waitress, who explained to us that the sous chef had taken off the week before, because he couldn’t handle the Christmas rush, and that things might be a bit slow as a result. And indeed, things were slow, but well, we were having nice time. We started with the oysters Rockefeller, the crabcakes, and the beef & crostada. I enjoyed the latter, which had some nice rare filet mignon, though I’m not sure the mushrooms were wild, as on the menu. Crabcakes were good, but my husband thought the oysters were just ok. We had a long wait for bread, because apparently the chef insists on heating it himself, which led us to believe it would be something special, which it was not. For main courses – I had the Coq au Vin, which was advertised as chicken breast with the usual accompaniments, but I did not expect the breasts to be cutlets. It was pretty flavorful, and decently executed. My mother had the Veal Marsala, which she thought was disappointing, which, given that she doesn’t eat out much or cook, is saying something. My husband had the duck special, which he said was ok. We skipped dessert. The total check was about $145, which included two bottles of Pinot Noir (limited wine selection) and a bottle of beer. The main courses come with a salad – quite good, though as my mother said, the salads needed to be smaller or served on a larger plate. Jag came out of the kitchen as we were finishing, and we had a nice chat with him, as we did again in the parking lot. Looks like he has plans for a place in downtown New Bern, with music and fusion-Latin cuisine. The upshot – the food was pretty good, the price very good compared to NYC, but I think there was a subtlety missing in the food somehow.

We went to Harris Teeter to do our Christmas meal shopping, and it has certainly improved even further from last year. I was pretty much able to find everything I needed, and they now have Italian Parmesan rather than Canadian, and a nice selection of French cheeses. Also a v. good selection of produce, and great pastas, including artisanal ones. The wine selection is also good. We stopped into what used to be Beartown French Bakery on Glen Bernie – decent baguette (Harris Teeter not great in the bread department) and a great brioche loaf. We also picked up a couple of things at the cookware store next door, the name of which I always forget. Oh – and we also picked up the Pork Tenderloin I’d ordered ahead of time from the Village Butcher – it was the best one I’ve had yet for the Porchetta Sardo I make, though they were unwilling to pound it – only butterflied it. I couldn't find hazelnuts at Harris Teeter, but did find them at Piggly Wiggly, thanks to the very helpful clerk who pointed me to the ones in their shells. Thanks, Mom, for shelling them for our cake.

On Sunday, my husband and I had a couple of last minute elf errands to run, and so called Capt’n Ratty’s to order 2 dozen oysters to go as the final destination on our route. They were ok – a lot of grit in the oysters. I did embarrass myself by asking where the oysters were from, which apparently is not a frequently asked question, though the answer is – from the James River. We’d stopped by Mitchell’s Hardware store for some of the last minute gifts – can’t believe I’ve never been before as they have a great selection of kitchenwares – my husband picked up the needed meat pounder the next day.

My husband left on Christmas Day, so he missed our annual Thai Thai outing with friends. As usual, an excellent meal. My mother and I shared the spring rolls and fried shrimp dumplings – the former were very good, the latter made with wonton skins, and less good. My mother also warned me to avoid the crab appetizer. I had the ginger chicken as a main course, and it was excellent, as was my mother’s green curry. I tried the meatball appetizer – good, but a little lacking in flavor, I thought. But, we enjoyed our meal there with our friends who lived in Bangkok when we did.

Earlier that day, my mother and I did our annual road trip to Morehead City/Atlantic Beach, to check out my favorite antique store there and visit the beach. We’d planned on going to the Crab’s Claw where we’d had a great meal the year before, but my mother craved the all day breakfast at 4 Corners Diner. She was very happy with her Western Omelet and grits. I ordered the shrimp burger and onions rings, thinking that the shrimp burger would be some sort of shrimp patty. However, it was fried shrimp – albeit well fried and tender fried shrimp – on a hamburger bun. I’m guessing the onion rings were frozen – not much taste to them. I asked hopefully if the pies were homemade, but was told they were the one thing they don’t make on the premises, so I passed on that. As my mother noted though, not a speck of grease on her omelet, nor on my shrimp or onion rings.

On our way home after a lovely walk on the beach, we stopped at Asian Imports in Havelock where she wanted to buy some dishes. I was amazed to discover the incredible selection of Asian ingredients there and immediately chastised my poor mother for not telling me about this before – the things I could have cooked! Next year! I picked up a large bag of star anise for us to share, some Thai tamarind paste (soft, unlike the ones I find in NYC), and various other random ingredients, and my mother bought some ginger candy and ginger tea.

The day before I left, we meant to meet friends at Morgan’s for lunch, but despite another previous “drive by”, the sign now said they weren’t open for lunch on New Year’s Eve. Fred and Claire’s was full, so we went to MJ’s. I had the crabcake sandwich and fries – both very good – the crabcakes were all meat and well seasoned. My mother had – and enjoyed – a fried seafood platter of shrimp, scallops and oysters – the scallop I tried was sweet and tender. They seemed quite busy and our waitress was a bit harried and slow with our requested mayonnaise and mustard, but no big deal. Again, we were having a good time!

So – another fun trip to New Bern – great chow can be found everywhere, I think.

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  1. MMRuth, thank you for such a thorough review but I'm a bit confused with your dates-Mitchell's is not usually open on a Sunday (perhaps the weekend before Xmas is an exception) and to find so many places open, in NC, on Christmas Day is incredible. Would you please confirm these dates are accurate since we keep our boat in New Bern and may spend Christmas there next year.

    Sorry you missed Fred and Clair's, great food and wonderful hosts! Have you tried Pollack St Deli? Good sandwiches and friendly but slow service. I think Morgan's leaves a bit to be desired, I've been twice and been served a different dish than ordered.Since I was dining with others these dishes were not sent back (both times different variations on pork).

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. Happy New Year!

    3 Replies
    1. re: hipquest

      I can see the confusion - sorry about that. My husband missed them because he left Christmas Day, but the Thai Thai outing and the trip to the beach were on the Saturday after Christmas, not Christmas Day. Mitchell's was open for a couple of hours on Sunday the 23rd, and opened at 6 or 6:30 on the 24th.

      I think I've been to Pollack St. Deli years ago - will have to try it again next time - my mother works in an antique store on Middle Street and I think they get sandwiches from there occasionally.

      1. re: MMRuth

        Thank you for clearing that up. I was about to have an out-of-body experience dreaming of stores being open on Christmas Day. :)

        1. re: hipquest

          I can see why - Middle Street was pretty darn empty on Christmas Day!

    2. MMRuth, If you haven't discovered Ginny Gordon's, allow time next visit to Morehead City.
      It is a very nice little cookware & accessory shop. Staff is quite knowledgeable and products are well chosen. Glad your stay was enjoyable! Address is here:

      1 Reply
      1. re: meatn3

        Thanks - I did see that place but was in the post-Christmas "shouldn't be buying anything more for the kitchen" frame of mind, and feeling that was reinforced as I tried to actually put away all of my piles of cookbooks today!! Next year ....

      2. Thanks for the great report - and many thanks on your posting on Lieu Secret - I've been very curious about that place.

        So Jag plans to open a Latin Fusion place in Downtown New Bern? That would definitely be worth checking out.

        20 Replies
        1. re: Jeanne

          Yes it would be - not sure how well it would do ... my mother didn't think there would be much appeal locally, but just her opinion, obviously.

          1. re: MMRuth

            Never can tell - like a couple of other small coastal towns (Washington, NC for one), New Bern is really drawing a lot of boating people, retirement people and people who want to relocate to coastal areas from areas where cost of living is higher. I would think down town would be a good location.

            1. re: Jeanne

              Time will tell! I see your point.

          2. re: Jeanne

            Any news on whether he actually opened up this place? I'll try to remember to ask my Mom tonight as well. Any new restaurants or food-related shops to check out?


            1. re: MMRuth

              From his very confusing website - it appears that he is executive chef at a restaurant in Tampa, FL called Posh 28 which was planned to open in the Fall of '08


              1. re: Jeanne

                Indeed! Thank you. Any other new doings in New Bern these days? Do you live there, by the way?

                1. re: MMRuth

                  No, I live in Durham - great food in this area. Also have family in Washington, NC (and lived there for many years) which is ~ 30 miles from New Bern - I often travel through there to get to Atlantic Beach for weekend get aways but don't spend time in New Bern. I did want to make it to Jag's place though - looks like it never materialized.

                  1. re: Jeanne

                    Not too much new in New Bern over the past year. I do live here, but spend a lot of time back in Jersey with family.
                    Pia's on Trent Road is a decent Greek Restaurant.
                    Jag is no longer at Stacia's Lieu Secret and she's only open for catering events.
                    The recession has hit New Bern pretty hard. Crabby Jack's on MLK Blvd. has closed and so has The River Bend Cafe and Marina.
                    Fred and Clare's is gone, due to the death of one of the owners. The building is being rennovated and a new restaurant is supposed to open there...when I do not know.
                    Oh and Ham's on 70 is now NON SMOKING!
                    La Fontana has opened up in the old Pizza Inn building, decent Italian food, better than Paula's!
                    The old standbys are still here, Chelsea, Capt. Ratty's, Pollock St, Baker's Square, Morgans, Annabelles, The Flame, Moores BBQ, Flounders, Famous, MJ's, Sea Glass, etc. And of course all the fast food restaurants. Oh, we also have 2 Dunkin' Donuts Now!!! One on 70E just outside of Taberna and one on the corner of Neuse Blvd. and Simmons St. Whoooo-eeee! We're in the Big Time now!

                    1. re: shugga

                      I was in New Bern today and had an excellent seafood dinner in the restaurant attached to Tryon Palace Seafood on Front St. I had a cup of fish stew and a scallop burger. The fish stew was excellent- quite spicy, full of catfish, shrimp, potatoes, and onions. The scallops are some of the freshest I've ever had. Definitely the best seafood burger I've had; it beat the pants off El's and the others down around Morehead and Atlantic Beach. They also had a quail plate, which is something you don't see much.

                      I also noticed what looked to be an authentic taqueria on 55 West- El Taco Loco.

                      1. re: Naco

                        Gary's Down East, in Arapahoe, is usually good for a great meal. They always seem to have the best soft-shells; maybe the drive has something to do with it, but either way they're great. I understand they've put in an oyster bar since the last time I've been.

                        1. re: Naco

                          We were disappointed this week at Tryon. They were out of fish chowder so we tried the clam. It was o.k. but very thin. The fried oyster/shrimp combo had fresh tasting shrimp but the oysters were covered in way too much batter. Sides included good slaw and lukewarm fries that were unremarkable.

                          1. re: DaveN

                            I'm assuming this was a Hatteras style chowder; if so, that's how it's supposed to be. As for oysters, those aren't in season right now, so I'm not surprised that they weren't the best. Softshell crab still are, I believe- the season starts in mid-May, but I'm not sure how long it runs. The last thing I had at TPS was a couple of softshells, and they were great.

                          2. re: Naco

                            Any further New Bern updates? Definitely want to try the Tryon Palace Seafood restaurant this time.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              There are a couple of taquerias, El Taco Loco and El Celayense(which IIRC is also a store/butcher shop) on 55. They'd be on the left if you're heading out of town toward Kinston. I haven't tried them, though. Tryon Palace is all I want to eat if I'm in New Bern these days. Someone did post a good review of El Taco Loco in the authentic eastern NC Mexican thread.

                              Mrs. Culpepper's Crab Cafe in Morehead was pretty good for fried seafood and Thai, but I need to get back there and order a la carte instead of buffet. Even so, their buffet seafood is much better than what you'd get a la carte at most places, and the Thai was good. The crabcakes are excellent.

                              I have heard scattered rumors that New Bern's growing SE Asian population sometimes sell food at the farmer's market, but I haven't been able to check that out myself. It came from reliable sources, though.

                              1. re: Naco

                                Thanks - particularly interesting about the butcher shop. May send Mom on another scouting trip. The farmer's market is v. close to her apartment - she lives on Middle Street - so will definitely check it out as well.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  Mexican butchers are pretty common in eastern NC now. I live in Greenville, which has a pop. of about 80,000, and we have three of them.

                                  I noticed in another thread that you're looking for suckling pig. You might try Piggly Wiggly or Nahunta Pork Center. Most Pigs sell whole bbq pigs and they are the best grocery stores in the area for large cuts of pork.

                                  Also, how do you come into New Bern? There are some really good eats within 10-15 minutes of US70. La Cuata in Dudley does unparalleled Mexican, and I'm not talking tacos, but really soulful soups and stews with some of the most intense, beautiful colors I've ever seen. Bar none one of my favorite restaurants in the whole state. And Pete Jones'(Skylight Inn) is only 10-15 minutes from Kinston.

                                  1. re: Naco

                                    Thanks for the suckling pig tips - I'll do some phoning around. I sent my mother on that mission two years ago, but with no luck. Just called the Country Butcher in Kinston, also w/ no luck. I'll be driving down from Richmond on the 22nd in the morning - I get off 95 near Wilson, and then get on to 70. Could certainly stop somewhere along the way. And, the next afternoon/early evening, I'll be heading to RDU from New Bern to pick up my husband, and then dropping him off on the 27th. BTW - can't remember where you live, but if you think you might be in the vicinity at all, send me an email - address in my profile.

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      I'm not sure exactly what distinguishes a suckling pig from a regular pig other than size and age. A bbq pig may work if you get a small guy, as hogs are raised very quickly these days. Depends on what you're trying to do.

                                      As for eats on the way in along your route:

                                      Wilson has a couple of my favorite places. El Mexicanito does the best tacos I've had in NC. The best meat is the pastor if they are spit roasting it(weekends only in my experience). If not, all the other meats are fine. The tacos stand out because the tortillas are the best I've had anywhere, and they are griddled to a light crisp, which really brings out the flavor of the tortilla and adds some nice texture.

                                      The Beefmastor Inn is a really cool 8-10 table steak joint. They bring out a giant slab of ribeye and you tell them how much you want. That is the entirety of the menu. This place is all about doing one thing really well. Not ideal for a quick stop in, though- they're only open for supper, and the wait is almost always upwards of an hour.

                                      Near 70:

                                      La Cuata in Dudley, previously mentioned. 5-10 minutes south of Goldsboro on Alt-117.

                                      Several of the best eastern NC bbq restaurants are fairly convenient to 70. Wilber's is right on 70 in Goldsboro, Skylight Inn is 10-15 minutes north of 70 via Kinston, Grady's in Dudley(which I only know by reputation) is not far, either.

                          3. re: shugga

                            I heard Bakers Sq. went downhill except for the baked goods. Also I worked in downtown NB for awhile. Went to a place off Hwy 55 near Famous Subs called 37th Street Pizza. Is that still around? Thought their food was pretty good. Never tried Chelsea or Capt. Ratty's cause well who would try a place with that name? :-p

                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                              That pizza place was there last year - will take a look this year.

                2. Quite a few new restaurants in New Bern.
                  Persimmons is on the water, just off Front St behind the BP gas station and the Galley store.
                  Ribeyes, a small chain restaurant, is on Pollock St., near Carolina Creations.
                  247 Craven is at 247 Craven St., down the block from Morgans.
                  Pia's is going Italian. Will be named Bella Cucina, new owners, new chef.
                  River Bend Marina is now Boston Deli at River Bend.
                  Sea Glass on MLK Blvd. is now open for dinner.
                  Christoph'a at the Hilton has music on Fri, Sat and Sun evenings and the bar menu is good.
                  Don't forget to hit the Farmer's Market every Sat. morning for your fresh produce.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: shugga

                    We'll be visiting early this week - which would be your top three for lunch or dinner? I've got on my list now: Moore's and Tryon Palace Seafood. Sea Glass looks tempting, too.

                    1. re: kasm

                      Not that I've been to hundreds of bbq places in NC like some folks, but as a North Carolina native (Eastern NC to be exact) I have to admit that Moore's is one of the three worst bbq spots I've been to in my dear home state. They have been there for a while and there is zero competition for them in the area. I would not recommend them to anyone.

                      1. re: JayL

                        I remember going once after work because it was the only one around and I just remember it looking sad inside and lots of flies.

                    2. re: shugga

                      It's been a few months - any reports on these new restaurants? We'll visiting New Bern soon and want to find a place where we can enjoy a great evening of great food, drink, and conversation with our friends.

                      1. re: kasm

                        We went for a weekend trip last month. We ate at Morgan's for lunch. We enjoyed it so much we went back for dinner. We had fried shrimp and a shimp burger for lunch. For dinner it was mussels and soup: French onion and lobster bisque. Nicely decorated with very good service and food. Prices are also very reasonable.

                    3. Has anyone been to Persimmon yet? How long has it been open? I've got to make a trip soon and would love feedback.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: veganhater

                        I've been to Persimmons several times, but not in the last month or so. I've had great meals there and some not so great meals. Most recently I had a Buternut squash Lasagna that was excellent. I've also had a skewered shrimp dish that was over cooked. Shrimp was dry and tough. I think it depends on who's in the kitchen. The wait staff is very helpful and will try to rectify the problem.
                        Great location and view. You will need reservations.