For more than 30 years now, Outer Banks restaurants have joined forces in the spring to showcase the area’s diverse culinary talent as part of the Dare County Restaurant Association’s annual Taste of the Beach celebration. Held this year from March 28–31, this four-day weekend festival features everything from wine tastings to tapas crawls and cook-offs—and it’s not to be missed.
Of course there are staple individual events at various restaurants and other businesses over the course of the long weekend, with plenty of innovative brunches and prix-fixe chefs’ dinners that highlight everything from local seafood to decadent deserts—and every year the participating association members mix things up with a plethora of fresh takes on food culture.
Some of the novel things on tap for this year’s festival lineup include a special taped Thomas Jefferson Hour dinner with acclaimed guest host Clay Jenkinson, beer yoga classes, oceanfront pop-up dinners with talented resident caterers and a hybrid eco-tour in conjunction with the North Carolina Coastal Federation that allows visitors to tour both a research and a working oyster farm and then sample some of the tasty, locally sourced bivalves at several area restaurants—not to mention crowd favorites such as the newly expanded tapas crawls in Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.
Photo by Audra Krieg
But perhaps some of the most exciting changes for the 2019 season revolve around the festival’s larger cornerstone events—and their new venue.
This year for the first time, a total of three major Taste of the Beach events will be held at The Soundside, a sprawling event site centrally located along the picturesque Roanoke Sound in Nags Head. Co-owned by the Town of Nags Head and the Dare County Tourism Board and managed by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau—who is also a principal sponsor of Taste of the Beach—The Soundside is the largest event site on the Outer Banks, allowing the festivities to be bigger and better than ever.
While individual restaurant events start on Thursday, the first large group event kicks off with a brand-new Locals’ Night on Friday evening from 5–9 p.m.
“We’re calling it a Locals’ Night, but it’s open to all zip codes,” explains Daniel Lewis, president of the Outer Banks Restaurant Association. “We want everyone to come out and have a good time.”
This premiere event is free to the public with the donation of a canned good to the Beach Food Pantry, and it will feature live entertainment and a family-friendly movie showing under the stars. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets, and food and drinks will be available for purchase onsite—including pizza, barbecue, popcorn, frozen yogurt and select beers from several local breweries, plus wine and soft drinks.
Friday night visitors may even get the opportunity to see some local pit masters stoking the coals for the following day’s annual BBQ & Wings Showdown! Sponsored by Sysco Foods, the Saturday showdown will be held from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and will feature 15 area restaurants cooking up their very best pulled pork barbecue, ribs and zesty chicken wings, along with other smoked specialties. Limited local craft beer, wine and soft drinks will be included in the set ticket price (additional drinks will be available for purchase), and attendees can enjoy all-you-can-eat samples of the diverse fare while they spread out picnic style—and also cast their vote at the end of the afternoon for the tastiest dishes.
To wrap up the Taste of the Beach weekend, the festival’s culminating Grand Tasting will also be held under the big tent at The Soundside on Sunday from noon– 2:30 p.m. With 15 participating restaurants vying for awards (and bragging rights), visitors can sample some of the most delectable dishes offered on the Outer Banks in the comfort of the largest venue space the normally sold-out event has ever had.
“The increased capacity is really exciting,” says Lewis. “It’s allowing us to spread out, while also still offering some longtime favorites such as the Bartenders’ Bubbly Bash, where local mixologists compete for the best sparkling wine cocktail by collecting tips from the guests—the one with the most tips takes the crown, and all the money raised from it goes directly to support the Beach Food Pantry.”
No matter what your tastes and budgets are, there’s a little bit of everything on offer over the course of the 2019 Taste of the Beach weekend. Events start at under $30 and are all individually priced with full event descriptions available online, so it’s well worth setting aside some time to do your research and map out your weekend plans as far in advance as possible. But whatever you do, just be prepared to arrive hungry—and let your Outer Banks culinary adventure begin!
For more information about individual events and to purchase tickets, please visit the Outer Banks Restaurant Association’s event website at OBXTasteOfTheBeach.com—although a few events will be ongoing or may have tickets available at the door, many do sell out early, so be prepared to plan ahead if you want to get first pick!