Food & Drink

Summer bucket list an escape from reality

Amber Nimocks enjoyed fancy potato chips with Dibbon Cava Brut while on vacation.
Amber Nimocks enjoyed fancy potato chips with Dibbon Cava Brut while on vacation. Amber Nimocks

In the end, the challenge of eating a pickled pigs foot proved too much. But the lure of the bet led me to Tarboro Brewing Co., the last great find of vacation. And it wouldn’t be summer if we didn’t let the hope of discovering treasure blow us off course.

This year, I set a vacation intention: to not just be on vacation, but to do everything I could think of that meant summer to me and to try anything new that could make vacation feel even more like an escape from reality. Also, I wanted to remind my 9-year-old – and myself – that I am still fun.

The grandparents’ home near Bethany Beach, Del., is close to the ocean, but for a North Carolina girl, the chilliness of the waves that crash there usually keep me sitting on the hot sand. But, it’s not summer until you swim out past the breakers and body surf a wild wave or two. So, into the drink I went. Over and over, until I emerged, sand in my suit and the taste of the ocean in my mouth. On the screen porch that night, the children asleep and the parents exhausted, we passed around a bag of Grandma Utz’s handcooked potato chips. Thick and firmly curled kettle chips, redolent with oil and salt, they are the perfect accompaniment to the sturdy bubbles of a $10 bottle of Dibon Cava Brut. And so, I decided, it’s not summer until you wash away the salt of the Atlantic and a bag of high-end chips with glasses of low-rent bubbly.

The next day, Jungle Jim’s Waterpark, a labyrinth of lazy rivers, tunneled water slides and wave pools beckoned us to Rehobeth Beach. My husband would have been perfectly happy to accompany our son on the Anaconda, 35 seconds of slippery slope so steep that your heart flies to the top of your throat and stays there until the slide ejects you via the mouth of a giant fang-bearing snake. But I decided it’s not summer until you show your 9-year-old that you’re not scared by gripping the sides of the slide raft with white knuckles and screaming “This is fun! This is fun!” all the way down.

Also on this summer’s bucket list: a tropical concoction of house-made rum and orange curacao at Rehobeth’s Dogfish Head Brewery, called the Chee Hoo! and named after a Hawaiian fighting chant; a cannonball contest for children and adults alike, complete with video evidence of 40-somethings in bathing suits running fast, jumping high and splashing hard; and braving the summer mosquitoes to gaze at the starry night sky.

Tired, we headed home through eastern North Carolina, where I remembered an acquaintance telling me about Tarboro Brewing Co. A check of its Facebook page revealed an interesting challenge, one more dare from summer: Eat a whole pickled pig’s foot and get a half-price beer.

The thought of Mom eating a pig’s foot was enough to pry my grumpy child from the back of the car, but when faced with the jar of hooves floating in their unnaturally pink brine, I balked. Summer doesn’t have to include eating pigs feet, I decided. I paid full price for the drinks.

Housed in an old Pontiac dealership on Main Street, Tarboro Brewing Co. opened in June with a menu of four beers. Nana’s Roof, a Belgian-style Pale Ale, pays homage to the owner’s grandmother, who agreed to fund part of the restoration of the old building in exchange for a beer named in her honor. My favorite was the Town Common Ale, a smooth, easy brew whose name honors Tarboro’s most distinctive historical feature – the pre-colonial common. Also on tap are three wines – a prosecco, a pinot grigio and A to Z pinot noir from Oregon, which has proved to be a local favorite.

The space, with it’s two-story ceiling and vast windows gazing out at the post office across the street, is great for ping-pong, foosball and gathering with friends for a cold one on a Sunday afternoon. And it’s not summer until you’ve done a little of that, too.

Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at