Savor: Appetite for Alfresco

BY Emily Russell & Hannah Bunn

As we all agree though the beauty of Wrightsville Beach is immense it sure can put a stop to productivity. With a view as grand as ours who wants to be indoors working? Or eating? While there are many essential tasks that can’t be performed beside the beach or on the dock food can go wherever you go and Wrightsville Beach has some fantastic local restaurants where you can enjoy both a delicious meal and a cool sea breeze at the same time.

Dockside Restaurant and Marina home of frequently local and delicious seafood offers an outdoor-dining experience you won’t soon forget. In addition to a gorgeous view of the waterway — particularly stunning at sunset — there is a dock below the restaurant to which patrons can tie up their watercraft. “Our view is really unique ” says executive chef James Bain of Dockside’s fabulous waterfront vista. “You can’t find it just anywhere. People love it.” Dockside’s diners arrive by boat car bike and foot because nothing complements the clear sky and glassy stretches of water that typify Wrightsville Beach quite like Dockside’s easygoing outdoor atmosphere — except perhaps one of its fried shrimp plates featuring succulent local shrimp lightly breaded and spiced with a choice of delicious sides. It also offers live music on its south deck and its special combination of food ocean air and cool tunes will enchant every member of the family. It’s no wonder Dockside has been a local favorite for more than 20 years.

Tastefully understated with a friendly staff private dock and food fit for lovers of both surf and turf it’s easy to see why The Bridge Tender has been around since 1976. Located nearly next door to Dockside one evening on The Bridge Tender’s refreshingly natural deck under a cloudless blue sky with a gentle Wrightsville Beach breeze in your hair will leave you both relaxed and in a culinary sense satisfied. And while it’s tempting to compare this restaurant to its nearby neighbor The Bridge Tender has some surprises hiding under its weathered wing that make it completely unique.

One of those surprises is the restaurant’s cuisine. Unlike the Dockside’s delicious down-home fare The Bridge Tender frequently goes beyond the local into a sophisticated style that provides a welcome contrast to the fresh simplicity of the outdoors. While the menu remains the same both inside and outside the restaurant executive chef John Howell particularly recommends a horseradish-crusted tuna with Asian greens and ginger sauce for some delectable outdoor dining. While elements of the recipe may sound foreign the fish itself is fresh and decidedly local — Chef Howell often sees his catch of the day unloaded from boats on the waterway near the restaurant. You too can watch the big boats motor in from The Bridge Tender’s deck — if you can take your eyes off the beautiful sunset.

Nestled in one of the many scenic curves of Airlie Road and situated front and center on the Intracoastal Waterway just a stone’s throw from Dockside and The Bridge Tender the Airlie Seafood Company is a unique eatery with a fresh new take on outdoor dining on Wrightsville Beach. Last November’s change of name concept and menu transformed the former Fish House Grill into the fine combination of upscale seafood and casual atmosphere that Airlie Seafood is today. According to assistant manager Chad McCorkle “Our menu really sets us apart from other restaurants. We have different menu items like banana leaf snapper and conch that others usually don’t offer.” Along with its menu Airlie’s outdoor-dining areas offer something for everyone. Two levels of decks featuring live music every weekend serve as a popular hangout for locals a meeting spot for businessmen and a treasured dining experience for families.

Across the waterway from Airlie Seafood Dockside and The Bridge Tender is the stately Bluewater – An American Grill. It may seem like a short trip but don’t be fooled — when dining at Bluewater you’ll travel to a place where the worries of the world are left behind. If the building’s classic blue and white walls aren’t cheery enough for you it’s always upbeat on the restaurant’s many decks. And in addition to live music on Sundays (from 4 to 8 p.m.) Bluewater offers a variety of dining options on both the upstairs and downstairs decks. “The downstairs is a little more casual with the bar and the dock ” says assistant manager Nancy Smith. “The upstairs is very romantic and quiet.” In addition the enclosed south deck offers the feel of outdoor dining without the muggy heat of a Wrightsville Beach summer day — fans and a tarp protect up to 40 diners. Whatever your mood Bluewater has a seat to match it. And the food is fantastic — the popcorn shrimp is juicy and sweet and for the dieters among us there’s a mahi salad to satisfy all seafood connoisseurs.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year the South Beach Grill offers a picturesque outdoor setting and an innovative health-conscious menu — the only restaurant in town to use oil with no trans fat for frying. Customers … and their pets! … can drive boat or stroll from the beach onto the friendly front patio of the restaurant located right at the base of the bridge. “Casual dining serious food” has been (and still is) the South Beach Grill’s motto as it continues to serve local seafood and regional cuisine in a wonderful laid-back atmosphere. “You can see an attorney in a suit dining right beside a surfer who just walked off the beach ” says John Andrews who owns and operates the restaurant with his wife Elaine. With popular dishes like the Southwestern Wrap and the Grouper Linda we’re sure the South Beach Grill will be around for another 10 years.

Another local legend The Oceanic Restaurant has been serving up its fresh seafood steaks pastas and its ever-popular fried seafood baskets for more than 15 years. Almost more appealing than the tantalizing cuisine is the spectacular outdoor pier seating. “There’s no other place to sit outside and be right on the Atlantic ocean like The Oceanic ” says general manager Peter Donhe. “There’s always an ocean breeze it’s awesome. It’s something different every day.” Diners can enjoy live music every Saturday night during the summer but don’t worry the good times don’t leave with the tourists and warm weather; The Oceanic is open year-round and offers outdoor seating whenever the weather permits (which means pretty much all the time).

When we add up all these fabulous outdoor dining options with terrific food and dynamite views we come right back to where we started: You just can’t beat Wrightsville Beach for fine and casual outdoor dining.