Its summer, and we are all looking for a getaway. When I travel it is always food-centric, as my interests take me to local restaurants and in search of local food and farms where ever I go. Today I have a hidden gem to share. It’s Jacksonville, North Carolina – the other Jacksonville. Not the one in Florida (and I might add, the place of my birth.) This Jacksonville is the one nestled near the Carolina coast in Eastern NC’s Onslow County.
Jacksonville NC is just four hours away from my home base of Charlotte and only half that long away from the state’s capital in Raleigh.
You may go to for the beaches and boat rides, the military history and memorials; but you will stay for the breakfasts, the brunches, and the abundances of well-done, authentic, international and ethnic cuisine.
Our Story Starts with a Sunset Dinner Cruise
In late April 2021, we arrived in Jacksonville NC for a three day getaway.
Neither Tom or I had ever been and so we didn’t know what to expect. The Hampton Inn and Suites was our home base and conveniently located to everywhere we wanted to visit. For breakfast here, the word is waffles. 80 different choices or you may opt for a waffled bagel. Oh my! Try them, as I did, stuffed with bananas and peanut butter. Read and then, watch videos of Regina Triche, the Hampton Inn’s “Waffle Lady”; and learn all about a waffled bagel here.
Next came three fun days of eating our way through the city. I can’t wait to go back and try more. We loved every bite and were delighted to discover the vast assortment of authentic international restaurants and cuisine at hand. It’s Jacksonville NC’s culinary secret and it makes this travel destination known for shelling and shopping, quite a hidden gem.
Heidi chat’s about Jacksonville NC’s International Cuisine on TV
It was my pleasure to share all I found with my friend Ken Smith of WRAL in Raleigh. In case you missed it – here is a replay of the video with a few of the highlights from this post.
And now, let the good eats begin…
As we arrived in the afternoon, we popped in for a quick lunch at Duck’s Grill and Bar, 1207 Gum Branch Rd. 910.455.9128. One of Jacksonville’s premiere restaurants, DUck’s is known for steaks and seafood. Honestly, we couldn’t get passed the hand-cut, made-to-order, potato chips.
But, as man and this food writer cannot live on chips along – although we have tried – I also highly recommend Duck’s delicious cold pepper seared tuna salad
Dinner to Come, but First We Stopped for Cupcakes
Like is short, so when we noticed that American Dream Cakes – 1121 Gum Branch Road
910-346-2347 – was open, we stopped. You should too. This a husband and wife European-style bakery doing amazing things and is Onslow County’s longest operating, family-owned, veteran-owned bakery.
In business 20 years this year, bakers and owners Gunilla (Pronounced like Vanilla) and Randy Kroshus, make amazing cakes, pastries and cupcakes. This talented twosome and their team bake for wedding and special events and even have a Sweet Treats Trailer so they can take their show on the road. At the bakery they offer between 10-15 different flavors of oversized gourmet cupcakes. And there are cookies and tortes and other melt-in-your-mouth pastries, too. Not a bad bite in the bunch. We left with a dozen for the road. You will want to do the same.
A Sunset Cruise Sets the Mood
Lunch and Cupcakes led to a quick power nap before we headed over to meet another dynamic duo, Lance and Marilyn Ledoux, captain and first mate of Bayonet Enterprise Cruises in Jacksonville NC, 910 554-8672.
We started with a lovely strawberry daiquiri as we were invited on board and given a tour of the Bayonet. The Bayonet is a large beautifully appointed yacht with plenty of room for soaking in the sunset and the evening breezes.
We opted for a dinner cruise; but you can also book a lunch or sunset wine and cheese, a family picnic or an overnight getaway. And, if you are looking for the perfect place to plan a proposal, Lance says they have a 100% “Yes” response rate when it comes to on board engagements.
Dinner started with deliciously large local steamed shrimp bought fresh that day from Clyde Phillips Seafood Market in nearby Swansboro NC.
Lance’s secret, “Don’t overcook them,” he said. And use plenty of Old Bay Seasoning. This peel-and-eat appetizer and a fruit and cheese tray that preceded it were the perfect way to start the evening.
A choice of steak or salmon followed and as there were two of us, we had one of each.
Plan Details Ahead When You Book You Voyage
Dinner is preordered when you book your cruise and then Lance and Marilyn cook and cater to your every need while you are onboard.
We cruised the New River as Lance and Marilyn pointed out sites from uninhabited Islands and military installations to a family of Osprey nesting nearby. Together the couple did 3 tours with the Marines in Jacksonville at Camp Lejeune and retired in 2007. This is their hobby turned side hustle. You can tell they love entertaining and sharing their forever home town with all of their new friends and guests.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention dessert – a choice of again a choice of chocolate brownie and ice cream or strawberry cheesecake served on the top deck as we cruised back in to dock.
Farmers Market and Fresh Seafood in Jacksonville NC
Day two started with one the waffled bagel I mentioned earlier. Then we were off to explore the Onslow County Farmers Market. Its a great little market with lots of local and I stopped and talked to each and every vendor. It is what you do at a farmers market. Even if you are not buying, say hello and find out what they grow, raise, make or produce. Know that tables that don’t have big displays out front usually are selling locally raised beef, chicken or eggs.
You never know what you will find. Simply saying “Hi”, is the very best way to get to know your local farmers. We bought tea and herbs, local honey, elderberry coffee and tea and make-your-own elderberry syrup kits; and then we saw the food truck.
Not to Be Missed Jacksonville NC Food Truck
The 2 Baked Crumbs of NY food truck is not always at the Onlsow County Farmers Market, but when they are there or when you see them in the area, it’s definitely worth a stop.
These bakers were born and raised in a Italian bakery family business and are 5th generation bakers from New York, moved south. Honestly The Best soft pretzel I think I have ever had and a HUGE container of lemonade to wash it all down – the perfect snack until we were to eat again!
Must Stop for NC Seafood
At the market, someone mentioned a new little seafood place “down the street.” This dear readers is why you bring a cooler along when you travel. I was delighted to meet long time Jacksonville area fisherman, John Mallette and Randy Millis at Southern Breeze Seafood, 5138 Richlands Hwy in Jacksonville NC . These guys are doing it right. Selling sustainable seafood & local catch.
Chefs you know from across North Carolina have been buying from these two Jacksonville-based fisherman for years. Now, when you are next in Jacksonville, NC, you can buy from them, too! In addition to the fresh seafood, they also carry a good bit of local beef from Master Blend Family Farms also in Jacksonville and lots of frozen seafood as well as locally made products and meats such as sausages and crab dip. You will also find the Tidewater Grain Co Carolina Gold Rice I have often mentioned in prior posts on the retail shelves at Southern Breeze.
Next Up Fabulous Filipino Cuisine, A Southern Soul Food breakfast and a Taste of Columbian Cuisine
I love the array of truly authentic ethnic and international cuisine in Jacksonville. Men and women in the Marines deploy to Camp Lejeune and family typically follows. They settle here, retire here and start businesses. Happy for Jacksonville NC visitors, many of those businesses are restaurants. The food is the real deal and you are going love it all as much as I did.
You’ll Flip for this Filipino Cuisine
I had read about this little restaurant prior to my visit. Not knowing much about Filipino food, I arrived intrigued and anxious to learn. Enter Maria Reed at the front desk of the Hampton Inn and Suites. As we checked in with marian, we got in a conversation about hometowns. When Maria told us she was originally from the Phillipines, I asked her about the restaurant Filipino Cuisine, 331 Western Blvd. 910-333-9294. Maria was delighted to teach me about her culture and the cuisine. And the icing on the cake here is that Maria and Regina both were able to meet us for lunch to teach us all about it.
Filipino Cuisine is a Turo Turo Filipino restaurant which means the food is all on a buffet out front and you simply point to what you want to eat. I was glad to have Maria there to explain dishes to us and we tried a variety of beef, pork and chicken soups and stews, curries and adobos – each one of them a delicious combination of flavor.
Crispy grilled fish, sweet fried plantain wrapped in rice paper and the classic lumpia, crispy savory Filipino spring roll are also made-to-order and served at your table. Don’t miss this little gem, its a real treat
A Classic Columbian Restaurant and Bakery
Cooking is a passion at Lilliana’s Columbian Restaurant and Bakery, at 4075 Gum Branch Rd. in Jacksonville NC. Lilliana and her mother, Aura Marie are the talent behind each of the homemade dishes on the menu. Start as we did with refreshing juices and arapas, a traditional bread made with corn and cheese.
From there I had Sancocho de Gallina a chicken stew and a delicious potato wrapped meatloaf of sorts called Papa Rellena de Res; while Tom very much enjoyed a whole grilled fish with a side of Arroz amarillo, or rice with peas and carrots.
Mediterranean Favorites at Marrakesh
Marrakesh Mediterranean Cuisine, 409 Western Blvd., 910-219-0229. Another fabulous family owned Jacksonville NC restaurant, the menu at Marrakesh has a focus on classic Mediterranean dishes.
On the menu, favorites of this food writer were the grape leaves, the hummus and of course the lamb. It’s easy here to order a lot of smaller plates and share. Wonderful when you don’t want a whole coursed out dinner but just want to spend time with friends and an assortment of good eats and a cocktail or glass of wine.
Coffee to start the day or recharge the afternoon
Two delicious coffee options to share with you today, The first The Milk Road, 4240 Gembranch Road. This tiny little coffee roastery and bakery not only offers delicious pour overs and coffee drinks, but fresh baked pastries as well.
The Milk Road is well-known for fresh baked classic Liege Waffles. These thin and crispy brioche dough are finished with pearl sugar. Order one for sure, but don’t miss the other sweets on the menu. Want to try some of The Milk Road’s great beans or teas before you travel – or after – or send them as gifts? Check out their new subscription coffee club – details here.
Then, have fun with your coffee at Blend Nutrition Bar, 109 Marine Blvd. 910 -939-5003. They can put your logo or any other design you would like in the foam on your coffee.
I am easily entertained and love the idea of my logo on my coffee. So here it is right on the top of my delicious lavender latte – who’d of thunk it? The acai bowl was just a gorgeous and a great late afternoon treat. And, of course I love that the Blend patio with waterside views is done in pink!
Southern Soul Food
One more stop before we go – this one for A taste of tried and true Southern hospitality and great food at from Southern Harvest Soul Food, 2355 Western Blvd. 910-939-5379.
This veteran-owned, family owned restaurant serves breakfast and lunch. Like all of these hidden gems in this post the background on how the restaurant came to be is a fun one. Owners Terrance and Tameka Tallie are pictured below. While hubby Terrance was deployed, his wife Tameka decided to quit her day job and open a restaurant. She told him all about it when he got back and the rest is culinary history.
Not to be missed options here, are, the shrimp and grits, the pork chop sandwich and the biscuits and gravy. Before you leave, be sure to get a fresh baked sweet potato bread to go. You’ll love having it once you get back home, sliced and toasted with ice cream as a sweet reminder of your great Jacksonville NC getaway.