I’ll come right out and say it: I miss Buddy’s. Don’t worry, Shark Bar—this isn’t a knock on you. Longtime locals like myself had a serious infatuation with the humble beach bar.
Photos by Tom Dorgan
Buddy’s Crab House & Oyster Bar was an open air, dollar-bills-on-the-ceiling, ice-cold-Pacifico-in-your-swimsuit joint. Many of us raised our eyebrows at the thought of a sophisticated dining establishment taking its place. Face it: Anything looks posh next to Buddy’s. But, hey, someone had to jump on the killer property next to Johnnie Mercer’s. And one bite of Shark Bar’s ahi-tuna wrap suddenly has me not minding the change so much.
For those familiar with the former, glorious hole-in-wall dive, well, Shark Bar’s (SB) ambience is a night-and-day-difference to Buddy’s. While I wouldn’t call it formal, it is brighter and fully refurbished, with a 50-seat dining room boasting a wood bar, wood floors and elegant light fixtures. White accents give it a modern coastal feel. Though they’re still only doling out brews in bottles and cans (no draft system yet), SB is upping their game with different types of craft brews.
During my visit, most tables had chilled white wine (the small vino selection is impressive) and frothy cocktails and ‘ritas.
I’d be doing an injustice as a restaurant critic if I didn’t share one piece of my story I found to be an ongoing theme on SB’s menu. The prices (particularly compared to the portion sizes) are quite high. Now, I understand they are located in the parking lot next to one of the most popular stretches of beach in Wrightsville—and only a few feet away from the famous pier. Therefore, bustling tourists may not bat an eye. But, for us locals just looking to grab a bite after a few hours on the shore, well, my pockets aren’t that deep on the regular.
However, compared to the handful of other restaurants in the Wrighstville area, SB’s food is light years ahead. Quite a few beachy spots don’t sell more-than-average food because they know they’ll be packed regardless. Mad props to SB for still putting out some solid food.
We started with the lemon-pepper calamari and absolutely cleaned the plate. The dish was the perfect size for two people, but at most restaurants we would have gotten a handful more food for maybe a dollar less. The red onion and red peppers gave the crispy rings a hint of roasted flavor. A few big squeezes of lemon cut the sharp saltiness of the Parmesan shreds. One dunk into the zippy red sauce left me super satisfied. The squid itself was lightly breaded, well-seasoned, tender, and expertly cooked. It was addictive, to say the least.
Another crazy popular dish found in our coastal town: spicy fried shrimp. SB may have delivered one of the best versions of the appetizer I’ve ever had. Don’t expect a bowl of miniature fried morsels, doused in a mayonnaise-y sauce. Their “Bangin NC Shrimp” lives up to its name beautifully, with five jumbo shrimp (tails intact) coated in a citrus Sriracha-lime aioli, served on a bed of sesame-ginger slaw. I may be a bit biased since I pay attention to every detail on my plate, but resting the shrimp over a fresh, crunchy, flavorful slaw—as opposed to just throwing them on a kale leaf and calling it a day—was a really nice touch. The slaw’s slight spiciness from the ginger balanced the rest of the Asian flavors like a boss.
The main courses aren’t served until after 4 p.m., so my date and I decided to split the seared yellowfin tuna wrap. Again, had the prices been more reasonable, we may have done splitsies with two items off “Burgers & Sandwiches.” But $21 for three tacos? Or $15 for a cheesesteak or grilled chicken-avocado wrap? Sorry, can’t do it.
On a positive note, the fresh tuna wrap was undeniably delicious. If there’s one thing SB seems to nail in all of their dishes, it’s big, bold, refreshing flavor combinations. The tuna came medium rare, and as it’s noted on the menu, was sushi grade. So we opted for it to be served rare. Inside the plentiful wrap was peppery watercress, Napa cabbage, red onion, carrots, and wasabi aioli. The crunch from the veggies made an excellent textural contrast to the silky tuna. Yet, it was the dressing that sent the handheld over the top. I tasted less spicy wasabi and more of a refreshing burst of creamy ginger entangling the tuna. Everything worked.
We had hand-cut fries paired with our wrap. I wasn’t sure whether to expect completely standard French fries, but I was crazy pleased. Without a doubt, they came authentically hand-cut, with crispy bits of crunch. The natural, no-sugar-added ketchup was not my jam, but the creamy homemade ranch certainly was.
Overall, the meal was fresh, filling and located in an ideal spot for a just-off-the-beach lunch. Diners will be blown away by the food. While I believe in shedding a few extra dollars for high-quality fare (as SB absolutely serves), $14 for the teeny two-person crab-artichoke dip I spotted on the next table was too much. If they did revise pricing, this local yokel would become a regular time and time again.