Bringing back a simpler style
When you come to a beach town, you might expect plenty of oceanfront dining, dancing and nightlife.
But it’s been a long time since locals and visitors could enjoy the ocean while dining or dancing. The old Carolinian with a touch of class and the hard rocking Atlantis come to mind.
Thanks in part to some competition from the state-run Jennette’s Pier, visitors and locals can once again capture the sense of being entertained with the ocean as a backdrop.
The Outer Banks Fishing Pier in South Nags Head quietly unveiled Fish Heads last summer. It soon became a well-kept secret gathering place for permanent residents and renters in the South Nags Head community.
Ryan Oliver, son of pier owner Garry Oliver, is the personality that drives Fish Heads. After their soft launch in 2011, Ryan expanded the operation for 2012.
Outside, at the entrance to the pier, is a tiki-style bar with 26 varieties of beer, draft and bottle. The selection includes a number of Mexican and Caribbean imports, perfect for that coastal experience. Wine is also available.
Some of the craft beers include Sky Blue, Black Radish, Red Hook and Wood Chuck.
As a bonus, South Nags Head is also the last vestige of the “old” Outer Banks — small mom and pop hotels and simple beach box cottages. It’s like stepping back to the 1960s.
As I was munching on a scrumptious grilled mahi sandwich and sipping a Stella Artois beer for lunch, the sound system was playing the Beach Boys and The Penguins “Earth Angel.” It was a mild afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-70’s and gentle waves brushing the shore behind me. A perfect time to be at Fish Heads.
There is seating at the bar and a number of tables under a real roof along the north side of the pier. Roll-down windows provide shelter on rainy, chilly or windy days. Along the south side, another expansive seating area is open to the elements (and on this side, you can enjoy a smoke!).The menu is not gourmet-style, so don’t come here looking for Food Network fare. But the offerings are very affordable. The most expensive menu item is the steamed shrimp at $16.99 a pound. Fish tacos are $9.99.
If your wallet is thin, fear not. Hot dogs are priced at $1.79, a grilled cheese goes for $2.99 and a delicious Angus burger is only $5.59.
Entertainment? There’s plenty. Karaoke on Mondays and Fridays, bands on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with the music starting at 6 p.m. and winding up at 10 p.m. Oliver says he is working on more weekend acts.
The Walker Brothers were scheduled the week I wrote this review.
Technically, Fish Heads opens at 6:30 a.m., when breakfast sandwiches are served, mainly for those early-rising anglers. The actual restaurant is open from noon to 2 a.m.
Most of the waitstaff and bartenders are primarily locals and the lady behind the kitchen used to serve up the food at the old Green Dolphin in Manteo.
They usually open for the season around Easter and wind down sometime in November.
Daily specials include 10-cent steamed shrimp from 4 to 6 p.m. and $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons all day.
The seafood is local. Shrimp is all North Carolina caught and they purchase enough in season to last the entire year. Garry Oliver heads down to Wanchese daily to bring back the mahi and other fish on the menu.
It’s a perfect venue for those looking for a true Oceanside entertainment experience, simple coastal fare and music suited for a more mature crowd. Kids will love the atmosphere and parents will appreciate the prices.
While the locals probably want this place kept a secret, Ryan Oliver is anxious for more visitors to discover this little hideaway.
And something tells me that as Fish Heads grows in popularity, Ryan Oliver will keep pace with more change and more surprises.
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