My husband recently turned 29, and in celebration we packed up the car and headed to Eastern North Carolina for an overnight birthday getaway. Tarboro, to be precise, with a pit stop in Scotland Neck. We went not really knowing what to expect, and what we discovered was that within a short drive of the Triangle one can find amazing sights, great food, and genuine Southern hospitality.
The Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck was our first destination when we got on the road Friday morning. You may not have known, because I sure didn’t, but Sylvan Heights is home to the world’s largest collection of waterfowl, and is one of the premiere captive-breeding organizations for many critically endangered waterfowl species. I cannot say enough good things about Sylvan Heights – it is a fantastic experience in which the whole family can partake. I’ll let some of my photos do the talking (and check out the YouTube video at the end of the post).
I’m Tippi Hedren!
The endangered Hawaiian Nene Goose
Me attempting to kiss a flamingo
I named this crazy guy Paco – he followed us for quite a while.
Leaving Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park and Scotland Neck, we made the 25 minute journey south to our destination for the night, Tarboro, and the Main Street Inn. Tarboro is a quintessential Southern town – large homes with expansive porches cluster around the historic Town Commons. Tarboro’s Commons is one of only two remaining originally-chartered town commons in the United States, the other being the Boston Commons. If you are a fan of traditional Southern architecture and gardening, take a stroll through some of the neighborhoods surrounding the commons to check out the houses; virtually every single one of them is a registered historic home.
Photo courtesy The Main Street Inn
We arrived a bit early and headed out to lunch at Abrams Bar-B-Q, a short jaunt off the Town Commons. Our waitress asked if we wanted the lunch buffet, we said yes, and we never looked back. When it comes to buffets, my skills are what some would politely call “lacking”. I tend to hit the fried foods first, and hit them hard, leaving very little room in my stomach for anything else. This day I somehow mustered my self-control and managed to try a little bit of everything. After my fourth trip to the buffet line I was appropriately sated, and I even had room for an extra piece of fried chicken! Besides the chicken, the barbecue itself was delicious, as were the lima beans and hush puppies. Abrams was buzzing with families of all shapes and sizes; it seemed to be the social equivalent of the diners of my New England youth. Everyone knew someone, and everyone was there to eat.
Plate 1 of 4 at Abrams Bar-B-Q
Our accommodations for the night had been recommended to me by Inez Ribustello, one half of the husband and wife team behind On The Square (our destination for dinner later that evening). I cannot thank Inez enough for steering us to Denise and her gorgeous bed & breakfast. She was full of energy and incredibly welcoming, even though I had messed up my timetable and showed up an hour before check in! Our room on the top floor of the historic home was light and airy, with a gorgeous claw-footed soaking tub and multiple window benches drenched in sunlight. After a short nap (and a trip to the grocery store for wine and champagne), we dressed and made the short jaunt to On The Square for our dinner.
And the dinner! Oh, the dinner! From the candles to the wine to the intimate feel of the restaurant, everything was amazing. I have been wanting to visit On The Square ever since I met Inez and her husband Stephen at an event almost three years ago. Stephen’s food wowed me then, Inez was a gem, and I vowed to make it out to Tarboro to their restaurant. Cut to me sitting in a booth, sipping a glass of wine and perusing the menu as I made good that on vow. I ordered the Fried Chicken Livers to start and ended up getting the NC Softshell Crab for dinner. Leland ordered the lamb, as he is wont to do, and we both ended up sharing the carrot cake for dessert. All of it was fabulous, and as a softshell crab virgin I was so pleased that I not only enjoyed my dish but devoured every last delectable scrap of the creature! [Apologies for the graininess of the photos. I refuse to use flash in a restaurant out of respect for the establishment and the other diners.]
Fried chicken livers
Fried NC Softshell Crab
The next morning we enjoyed coffee on the porch of the Inn before sitting down to the delicious breakfast Denise had prepared for us – steak quesadillas, scrambled eggs, and the biggest piece of Key Lime Pie I had ever seen! Denise told us that her daddy always had dessert with his breakfast, a tradition she has implemented at The Main Street Inn and of which I heartily approve.
Coffee + Rocking Chair + Sunny Porch = Happy Matthew
One of the best B&B breakfasts I’ve ever had!
As we said our goodbyes and turned the car towards Durham and home, I was struck that all of this fun was only a short drive from the Triangle, and yet I rarely hear people talk about Tarboro or Eastern North Carolina as a viable dining and entertainment destination. Perhaps we get so blinded by the amazing offerings we have here at home that we are unable to see what lies just beyond the horizon. Whatever the case, I say bust out your suitcase, hop in the car, and head east! You’ll find fun, food, and plenty of Southern Hospitality to keep you occupied, I can promise you that.
Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, Scotland Neck. www.shwpark.com for hours and tickets.
I'm Matt. I love food. I love to grow it, cook it, eat it, learn about it, write about it, and talk about it. I believe that there are few things more important in life than what we put into our bodies. I believe food should be healthy for body, mind, and planet.
Once, while I was living in Ecuador, I ate some roast guinea pig from a street vendor. It was one of the best experiences and worst stomach aches of my life.