To enjoy the soft crab sandwich at White Point Take-Out, you’ve got to follow U.S. 70 so far that it dead-ends in the Core Sound marsh – a spot so remote that egrets fish along the highway’s shoulder and boats outnumber cars.
The pilgrimage from Raleigh will consume an entire day, but the chance to eat a locally caught crustacean slathered in slaw, its deep-fried legs protruding from the bun, costing less than a fast-food sub, is worth a tank of gas.
Ten years ago, Cindy Styron opened White Point with her husband Charles, a third-generation fisherman who catches what peeler crabs and shrimp they serve. The fishing tradition runs historic-book deep on this thumb-shaped sliver of land, and while this generation of crabbers struggles against impostors from Indonesia, the Styrons deliver only the local swimmers.
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“You’ll never get a farm-raised shrimp at White Point Take-Out,” she said.
Crabs from White Point get sent to New York by the dozen, but the majority of visitors from the Triangle know this area only from the ferries that carry them to lower sections of the Outer Banks: Harkers Island to Cape Lookout; Cedar Island to Ocracoke. Half the fun comes from driving the 30 miles beyond Beaufort, which can feel like traveling into the sea-monster territory of the map. At Siri’s suggestion, I ended up turning left on Hammocks Lane, which felt like crossing through somebody’s backyard.
The skinny purple building has no indoor seating. Order through a screened window and eat on a picnic bench in the shade, where a sign warns “Beware of Attack Mosquito” and plastic crabs and gourd birdhouses decorate the yard. The diners I joined there wore rubber fishing boots.
If you’re lucky, Styron will invite you to view the peeler shed out back. Caught in peeler pots in April, the crabs wade in shallow trays of water until they lose their hard shells and start growing bigger models. In this vulnerable stage, the crabs are so delicious that they often eat each other.
In May, culinary arts teacher Joanne Duncan took a bus full of high school students from Greenville on their first-ever trip to the sound, hoping to show them wild-caught seafood at the source. Once at White Point, they saw water pumped from the sound via PVC pipe, filtered and recycled as the swimmers skittered sideways in their trays.
“They’ve never been to the coast,” she said, “to the crab shacks. They learned how to filet a fish, how to head shrimp. My 6-foot-5 basketball player was like, ‘Please don’t kill my friend.’ We were able view the whole process and talk about entrepreneurship.”
White Point deep-fat-fries these morsels without all the heavy breading that so often hides the taste of coastal seafood but still keeps it crispy as bacon. The crab cakes, made from meat picked in Washington, N.C., come soft and flavorful. The shrimp burgers arrive with just the right amount of chewiness. I sampled three of these sandwiches – soft crab, crab cake and shrimp – for $17. Had I been hungrier, meaning, had I skipped meals for two days, I might have found room for okra and clam strips.
“We do make our own chili,” Styron said. “We make our own slaw. We make our own tartar sauce. We make our own Thousand Island dressing.”
Eating a shrimp burger at White Point, it’s possible to see the boat that catches them, docked where U.S. 70 stretches farthest to the east. When the weather turns cold and crab enthusiasm fades, the take-out from Atlantic continues to beckon.
They serve flounder in the fall.
Good Eatin’, the News & Observer’s weekly visit to local eateries in North Carolina, will continue through Labor Day. To see other installments, go to nando.com/goodeatin.
If you go
White Point Take-Out can be found at 101 Core Sound Loop extension in Atlantic, not far from Cedar Island in eastern Carteret County. To reach the town from Raleigh, follow U.S. 70 as far east as it goes. Open weekdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Highlights from the menu include:
▪ Soft-shell crab sandwich, caught locally and kept in the peeler shed behind the restaurant until the crabs lose their hard shells. Served on a bun with slaw and other extras. $5.95.
▪ Crab cake sandwich, made in-house from crab picked in Washington, N.C. $4.95
▪ Shrimp burger, caught locally by a boat visible from the picnic table dining area. $4.75.
▪ Sides include okra, hush puppies and clam strips.