When a coastal town gets rated number one “Happiest Seaside Town in America” by Coastal Living Magazine and “America’s Coolest Small Town” by the readers of Budget Travel Magazine, you go. And when your friend calls you up to attend a wine and food festival in that same town, without hesitation, you go now! I quickly packed an overnight bag and headed east for approximately three and half hours to the Southern Outer Banks, also referred to as the Crystal Coast.
I arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but it didn’t halt the charm of this coastal town. It sits on an inlet with oak tree-lined streets and quaint, yet stately homes with huge porches occupied by friends and families gathered for a weekend getaway. I was there for a total of 24 hours and while I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, a friend of mine described it to me as, “A college town for older, wealthy people.” Although, there is not a college there and the people aren’t retirement-age old, but more like baby boomers and their children – most of them counting Beaufort as a second home.
The waterfront boasts breathtaking views that go on for miles. Sailboats dot it like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. If you aren’t one of the lucky few to own a home there – or have friends that do – there are options for accommodations like endearing bed and breakfasts and an Inn along the waterfront, which is where I chose to stay, the Inlet Inn. My room was adequate for the short time I was there.
Once freshened up, I drove a short, two miles to the Boathouse where the festivities of the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival were taking place under a huge white tent. My dear friend, an advanced sommelier and director of training and development with Empire Distributors, pointed me in the right direction to start off with some bubbles and then over to his brands for a taste of some divine reds. I was pleased to find a sparkling I had not had before the Etoile Brut from Domaine Chandon, yes please! It is toasty and delicious! The best in show went to a line in the Kendall-Jackson family not found in your typical grocery chains like other Kendall-Jackson wines. It was the 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County and one word can describe this beauty, quenchy! It was juicy, soft, and elegant.
As I perused the tasting tables for some bites, I spotted Cary’s own Le Farm Bakery and discovered the most delicious, artisan chocolates from Raleigh. The name is Escazu and I fell in love with the Single Origin Guapiles variety from Costa Rica. The Goat’s Milk Single Origin Carenero from Venezuela came in as a close second. The goat’s milk offered this subtle tang while lending a creamy mouth feel.
I asked the locals at the festival which dining spots are not to be missed and twice Aqua came up. I spotted their tasting table and while the samples were not gluten-free, they looked exquisite as did their menu. I loved what chef had printed on the top of the menu that was on display, “Dining out should be both memorable, but fun.” Chef Jayson Foster puts his twist on classics and knowing they source their wine from the region’s top distributors, I knew a visit here would not disappoint.
The gracious and lovely manager, Kim, welcomed me in with open arms even though I came at an hour when they were getting ready to close. I promised not to linger and ordered cold menu items to try to be respectful to the kitchen team. I decided on chef’s version of a caprese salad and the seared tuna. The caprese salad was modernized with bits of fresh cantaloupe and microbasil, instead of traditional basil leaves, and the flavor it lent danced on the tongue. Equally as delicious was the seared tuna to which chef added thinly sliced bits of green apple. I was in heaven. To add to this delight, and from the recommendation of the knowledgeable and friendly bartender, I paired these two courses with a cherry bomb in a glass, otherwise known as the 2012 Cherry Pie Stanley Ranch Pinot Noir from Ranch Carneros, Ca. At $25 a glass it was worth every exquisite sip.
My time in Beaufort, NC concluded with a rainy, yet enjoyable walk around the charming town and along the waterfront to take in the sea air and observe the locals and tourists out for a their Sunday morning exercise and pre-brunch gatherings. I can’t wait to get back to this cool Crystal Coast gem and get another dose of happiness.