Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Where Slurping Is Discouraged, But Understandable

Firefly
2706 South Croatan Highway
Nag's Head, North Carolina
(just north of the entrance to Jockey's Ridge State Park)

Elegance is not a word much thought of in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the uniform of the day is shorts and flip-flops and any d├ęcor generally carries a fine gloss of salt spray and sand. Yet the dining room of Firefly, a purely local venture, exudes a lush dignity while maintaining the casual innocence that gives this resort area its charm. 

We stopped in after watching a spectacular sunset over Albemarle Sound from the dunes of Jockey's Ridge, and the easy friendliness of the staff refreshed us while the magnificence of the room renewed our sated spirits. We were a little leery, going in, because the legend on the sign outside warned of "Southern Cuisine," which we feared might mean saturated fat in the ice tea. Instead we found down-home cooking done with flair and a minimum of lard. Everything was delicious, and seldom has self-restraint required such exercise of will. (The self-restraint was limited in duration though: the leftovers were gone before the sun was high the next morning.) It would seem there is a qualitative difference between "Southern Cuisine" and "Southern Cooking."

What does that mean?
The first dish we tried was the Meat-n-Tater Salad. Surprisingly fresh greens and other rabbit-food in generous quantity underlay a satisfying pile of shaved prime rib of beef, of excellent quality, and Cheddar cheese. Tiny roasted potatoes ringed the outer edge of the plate, each one a gem of perfection. We opted to have the salad without the ranch dressing it normally would come with, and didn't miss it at all. There was plenty of moisture and flavour in the dish without the added fat calories of a buttermilk-based dressing.

The other dish was crab pot pie. This was served in a large-ish crock, with a flaky pastry crust over chunks of flaky crab, peas, carrots, onion and other vegetables in a creamy sauce. The combination of flavours was tremendous, and each different vegetable retained its texture and taste.

The side dishes offered are all paradigms of Southern cooking, from coleslaw to collared greens; the ones we tried were cheesy grits and fried green beans. I had high expectations for the grits, and low expectations for the beans. Both confounded me. The grits were oddly seasoned and, I thought, lacking in some essential quality: a touch of bacon? a chunk of fatback? The beans, though, proved to be extraordinary. They remained tender and crunchy inside their light shell of piquant seasoned batter, which was fried in very hot oil to create a dish that was dry to the touch. They were even better as leftovers the next day.

One of the others at our table had a cold side dish called broccoli salad, which I tried. The combination of tart, sweet and sour was fabulous, and I would say that this was my favourite among the many available side dishes on offer.
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