Earlier this year, the boyfriend did something pretty impressive—he surprised me with a weekend in Cape Hatteras. The day before a long weekend, he sent me the confirmation for two nights at Cape Hatteras Bed & Breakfast, so I packed my bag and away we went!
I’d been to Nag’s Head, Kill Devil Hills and Duck plenty of times, but this was my first chance to travel all the way down to Hatteras Island, which has a more remote, relaxed feel than some of the other parts of the Outer Banks. It was definitely a longer drive—probably about an hour farther than Kill Devil Hills, but the relaxing atmosphere with fewer crowds and more scenery was worth the trip.
We drove down on a Saturday and checked in to our bed and breakfast. What I loved about Cape Hatteras Bed & Breakfast was that every room had its own private entrance. I’ve stayed at some beautiful historic homes, but if you get up early or come home late, it’s easy to feel like you’re waking up the whole house. Private entrances remove any such issues.
We stayed in the quaint Andrew room, which was a perfect choice both for its proximity to the dining room where breakfast was served and the fact that it was right next to the spacious patio, making it almost feel like an extension of the room.
As soon as we arrived we hit the beach. While Cape Hatteras Bed & Breakfast is not directly on the beach, it’s at the end of a short street with easy beach access. The B&B also provides beach chairs, which you can grab from a shed and carry the few steps to the sand. The actual beach at Cape Hatteras is narrower than in some of the parts of the Outer Banks I’m more familiar with, but as a result it was also less crowded. The day we arrived was a little overcast so it almost felt like we had private beach access.
After we soaked up the sun for a bit it was back to the room to change and find dinner. Our B&B was located in the small town of Buxton. We wanted to keep the evening relaxed and easy, so we ended up strolling down the street and around the corner to Diamond Shoals. If you mention this restaurant to any local, they will immediately mention the “largest salad bar on the island.” I’d recommend you skip that and dine on the bar side of the restaurant. Start with a margarita, which is scratch-made and nicely balanced. What better way to launch a beach weekend? Well, a split of Zonin prosecco isn’t a bad idea either.
The sushi bar, also on the bar side, is where the menu really shines. We started our meal with the tuna poke—a mass of deliciously marinated, raw tuna arrived over a seaweed salad alongside crispy wonton chips. If you are in the mood for traditional seafood, there is a generous menu of locally caught fish—I couldn’t resist ordering local soft shell crabs, which arrived crispy fried in a nice portion size, but overall I found the sushi to be the real standout.
The next day, I actually woke up early and took about a mile jog down a wide, grassy path to the area near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Just as I was congratulating myself for actually running a mile, something it had been a long time since I’d attempted or finished, thunder began to rumble and seconds later rain was pouring down on me. Luckily, I had brought my phone and called my boyfriend for a ride home.
Dried, cleaned and changed, we decided to restart the day with breakfast—another thing that turned out to be a differentiating factor at this inn. The owners hire a chef from Rusty’s Surf and Turf (also in Buxton) to cook a full menu to order for breakfast. On day one, angel food cake, fresh strawberries, and coffee greeted us while we perused the menu.
I ended up going for a crab omelet, which was freshly prepared, cooked perfectly, and absolutely delicious.
Even though the last thing we needed was more food, we headed over to Orange Blossom Bakery & Café where I’d read the apple uglies were worth the wait. And wait I did—the bakery closes at 11 a.m. daily and when we rolled in around 10:30, a long line was already winding pretty much through the entire bakery and out the door. I was determined, though, and held my place.
When I got to the front, I ordered two uglies, but my attention was also immediately caught by the big, beautiful cinnamon rolls. Available with or without frosting, with or without rum, and with or without raisins, they were oversized, enticing, and impossible to miss. As I was quite obviously ogling, owner Charley Pereira wandered by. Despite the impending crowds pressing in, he stopped for a moment and picked up a cinnamon roll: “These were my addition when I took over this bakery,” he told me. “You know how you can tell a good cinnamon roll? Check the bottom.” He turned his over to show me. “It’s the slime,” he said, pointing the enticing and gooey cinnamon/sugar/butter mixture oozing out from the bottom of the roll. “You get cinnamon rolls at the mall, and they look good, but if you turn them over, they are dry. Always check the bottom. If there’s no slime, it’s no good. I want slime in every layer.”
With this kind of description, how could I not try a no raisin, with frosting and rum cinnamon roll? The apple uglies are basically big apple fritters, but the kitchen makes them fresh all morning, so when you get your order they are hot, gooey, light and apple-y with glaze that melts in your mouth with every fresh bite. It was hard to not totally devour one even though they are huge. While I’d definitely wait in that line again, I think I’d try to arrive earlier before the late sleepers’ rush. True to Charley’s promise, the cinnamon roll also did not disappoint with plenty of satisfying cinnamon-sugar goo through every layer of soft, delectable dough and a creamy, decadent frosting. The roll was in fact so dense, I brought it home, reheated it for several days, and continued to enjoy it.
After all that, we needed to burn a few calories, so we headed back to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The largest brick lighthouse in the United States at 208 feet tall, this iconic black-and-white tower is 257 steps to the top or the equivalent of climbing a 12-story building. The haul is worth it for the stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding beach and island.
After that climb, we decided we were entitled to a little rest, so back to the beach we went. A few hours of swimming and soaking up sun later, we decided to venture to Pop’s (48967 NC-12, Buxton, 252-995-7734) a seemingly locals spot, for some snacks and beverages. I say this spot felt like it was geared to locals because it was certainly no frills—the décor was bare bones without much other than some TVs, tables and, of course, a big bar in the center.
This is not the spot for specialty drinks or wine—stick to simple cocktails or beer. What you do go here for is the seafood. We went for a dozen local raw oysters which were inexpensive, briny and delicious.
Up next crab nuggets, which were basically tiny, flavorful crab cake bites with the right ratio of crab to nugget filler to make them satisfying and a crispy, fresh-fried batter. To finish, we got some fresh peel and eat shrimp that were cooked just right and smothered in Old Bay. All the items represented the classic, well-prepared dishes you want to enjoy at the beach and arrived quickly, making this this the ideal spot for a midday snack.
After fueling up on seafood, we returned to the beach but rain appeared, so we retreated to our covered porch and popped a bottle of champagne we’d brought from home—a prime opportunity to use the eye-catching wine bucket that was provided in our room. The calm breeze, cooler air, and sounds of the ocean lulled me into total relaxation.
Later in the evening we decided to try our breakfast host’s restaurant, Rusty’s Surf and Turf. The menu is inspired by places Rusty has visited on vacation and combines Caribbean, Cajun, Latin and Southern flavors for one of the more unique menus on the island. We started with Kahuku peel and eat shrimp. The freshly steamed shrimp were smothered in a bright, spicy Hawaiian style sauce and we lapped up every messy, delicious bite.
For my meal, I decided to take a break from seafood and try the carne asada. Fairly traditional, tender, marinated, spiced, and perfectly cooked Black Angus beef was seared and served in tortillas with the traditional burrito fixings.
My boyfriend went for the dish the chef mentioned as one of his favorites—fruit of the sea pasta, which featured spicy Italian sausage, crayfish, lobster, shrimp and peppers in a creamy Cajun sauce with linguini. It was flavorful and indulgent with the right spicy finish for a standout main course. For dessert—which Rusty’s wife prepares daily—we chose the bourbon chocolate pecan pie, which was every bit as indulgent as we expected.
The next morning we had one more breakfast before leaving and after trying Rusty’s Surf and Turf, I decided to go for the shrimp and grits, which were just as light, creamy, cheesy, spicy and satisfying as I’d hoped. I also couldn’t resist an English muffin topped with local jams.
The weather was overcast, making the decision to pack up and leave a little easier, but I’m still looking forward to another visit.