It’s winter on the Outer Banks, and although our weather is relatively mild, we still experience winds off the ocean from the north, daytime high temperatures struggling to reach 50 and nighttime lows approaching freezing. There’s something about this chillier weather that calls out for food that is warm, filling and familiar. That’s certainly the definition of comfort food—a dish that brings back enjoyable memories of childhood and home cooking.
If there is one universal comfort food, it has to be macaroni and cheese. From its Northern European origin to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this is one food that most everyone agrees is perfect for both kids and those who are young at heart.
Some research is more enjoyable than others, and this one may rise to the top! I took it upon myself to sample some of the local macaroni and cheese fare to develop a short list to share with locals and guests alike. It is by no means a complete list, and of course, subject to individual taste.
Ocean Boulevard-Late Night Perfection
(4700 N. Virginia Dare Trail, Milepost 2, Kill Devil Hills)
Ocean Boulevard in Kitty Hawk has a well-deserved reputation for gourmet food and fine dining, but ask just about anyone who’s arrived for a late night drink or the Friday evening entertainment and they will praise Donny King’s mac and cheese to the stars.
Available only on the late night bar menu, OB’s mac and cheese features a nicely sharp cheese with perfectly al dente macaroni; but what sets this apart are tasty bread crumbs sprinkled on top and baked to golden brown in the over. Served almost scalding hot, every bite is absolute perfection.
Trio-Artisan Mac and Cheese
(3708 N. Croatan Highway, Milepost 4.5, Kitty Hawk)
There may be no better place on the Outer Banks for a superb glass of wine or a schooner of rare beer than Trio. They offer live music twice a week, freshly prepared paninis and delicious artisan cheese plates, making this an ideal place to bring a date or meet up with friends.
So, it’s no surprise that the mac and cheese they serve is truly unique and delectable. Described on their menu as “Craft Mac-n-Cheese blend of four artisan cheeses with orecchiette pasta,” the flavors gloriously mingle from the perfect cheese combination. Orecchiette is a disc-shaped pasta that’s flattened in the center, and it gives this dish a slightly different texture. Although it’s called mac and cheese, the name could easily be switched around as cheese dominates this dish, and the combination will leave a lasting impression!
Barefoot Bernie’s-A Classic with a Twist
(3730 N. Croatan Highway, Milepost 4.5, Kitty Hawk)
Barefoot Bernie’s is as close to a neighborhood bar as you’ll find in Kitty Hawk. This being the Outer Banks, it’s a neighborhood bar with a distinctive island twist!
In keeping with a Caribbean theme, the mac and cheese has a bit of heat to it. Not a huge amount, just enough to get your attention, and a crisp panko crumb topping for added texture. Simple ingredients of gooey cheddar cheese, classic macaroni noodles and crunchy bread crumbs combine to create a bold flavor worth trying again and again.
Bonzer Shack-Oh What You Can Do With a Little Lobster
(1200 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Milepost 9, Kill Devil Hills)
The Bonzer Shack is a beach grill located in Kill Devil Hills with a classic Outer Banks chic atmosphere.
Outer Banks chic in restaurant parlance consists of a very casual and laid back atmosphere, but serving soulful southern food with fresh ingredients—and the lobster mac and cheese is proof positive of that.
Loaded with gobs of cheddar cheese, perfect macaronis and plenty of lobster, the ingredients work together like a perfectly orchestrated rock concert. It is not a subtle dish, but the flavors come together perfectly. Bring a hearty appetite for this one—the serving size is generous and the ingredients are stick-to your-ribs filling.