“How come you’ve never been here?” my friend Ashley asked as we walked in the door of Goody Goody Omlette House.
“My parent’s didn’t eat out much and when they did it wasn’t breakfast.”
“I mean I’ve had food from here; I just haven’t been here.”
We grabbed a booth in the back and looked around at the decor.
“I love the orange.” Ashley ran her hand over the tabletop.
Earlier this year I announced my intention to do 40 things I haven’t done before in our area. At the time I confessed that, in spite of growing up here, I had not ever been to the locals’ food institutions of Goody Goody, Merritt’s Burger House and Winnie’s Tavern. What can I say? I admit the error of my ways and am prepared to live a better life.
Last week became the week that I committed to finally finding out what my fellow locals have known for years: These are great places to eat.
The week kicked off with a trip to the ever curious drive-in located in front of the Starway Flea Market on Carolina Beach Road: Merritt’s Burger House. I honestly had been putting this off, hoping my ’67 VW bus would be finished and I could do some great pics there. But that project goes more slowly than expected, so we will just have to go back when the wheels have been re-attached.
Jock and I love drive-ins. Love them.
“Just a little higher—right there,” Merritt’s server directed.
The lovely waitress guided Jock to the right height for the driver’s side window, hooked the tray and disappeared in search of milkshakes. The suggestive selling from all the airbrushed vintage food ads on the side of the building had been working on me.
“Would you pass some ketchup?” Jock handed me a tiny cup and commented on how happy he was to have salt.
“Why is it restaurants don’t give you salt any more?” he lamented.
“Hip eating blurs the lines about what a restaurant can be: a place to meet your neighbors, share a meal that nourishes the body, soul and palate.”
The idea of monitoring blood pressure has never occurred to him. I’ve watched him salt individual French fries till they looked like refugees from Everest. While we munched, numerous cars pulled up—some to pick up take-out, others to join in ambiance. Everyone was greeted with big smiles—and many by name.
“The inside is perfect vintage 1950s!” Jock gushed.
He insisted on trying the service door so he could look inside. “It is breathtaking!”
He started the truck, then added, “And everyone looks happy.”
That seemed to be the theme of the three eating establishments of the week: the contended happiness of both patrons and employees. Witness the post-mortem of the trip to Winnie’s:
“You would love it! We have got to go back some time,” I recounted my Winnie’s trip to Jock.
Jock was unavailable for the trips to Winnie’s and Goody Goody. Both were going to be lunch dates, and he usually does lunch with the Full Belly crew at Folks Café. My friend, Anthony, started singing the praises of Winnie’s back in January when I first announced my intentions. So, when I asked if he wanted to do lunch at Winnie’s—my treat—he almost leapt out of his chair.
“They do have a full bar, right?” I clarified. Yes, they do—all ABC permits.
We wandered in around 2:45 p.m. and about five tables were in the midst of a mid-day repast. I took in the surroundings and decided that jalapeño poppers and a margarita were a must. Actually, we had about a three-course meal each when all was said and done and it came in at right around $30—booze included.
“Where is it again?” Jock asked.
“White building with blue trim, where Front St. heads into the back side of Sunset Park. Before you get to the uprights for the entrance,” I responded. “You drive by it all the time.”
He stared at me a little blankly till I pointed out it was The Slow Club in Blue Velvet, a film he worked on.
“Oh, yes! I know it now.”
“Well, we have to make a point of going back,” I iterated. “You are going to love it. It has all your favorite things: beer, good food—I mean the menu is burgers, grilled cheese, fish sandwiches, fries and such. Just a nice quiet neighborhood place with people going through life. Some picnic tables outside … did I mention beer?”
Jock laughed and agreed to a dinner date in the not-too distant future.
After a pause, he asked if there was a real Winnie. “She’s a local legend!” I answered. “Yeah, her granddaughter still runs the place. Did I mention it’s another thing you love: a family business?”
“OK, OK, I’m sold.” Jock held his hands up in surrender.
“Good. It’s another place I would like to take pictures of The Argus.”
The Argus is the name of my aforementioned mobile renovation in progress. “Oh, and they have salt shakers on the table.”
So Ashley and I arrived at Goody Goody and pored over the menu. “Everyone talks about the omelets—oh, and the pecan waffles! Oh, and the grilled biscuits…”
Let’s just say another table full of food arrived—and, hands down, without question, it was the best omelet I have ever tasted. I didn’t know that was possible with eggs. It was so fluffy I could use it as a crash blanket for a low-flying air craft.
While Ashley divvied up the pecan waffle, our waitress dropped by to chat and refill drinks. The place was packed and everyone was smiling. It was almost surreal. If someone was attempting to write the most perfect diner scene for a movie, this would be it. Nothing could be this great in real life, right?
“Is this your first time here?” the gentleman behind the counter asked when we went up to pay our check.
“Yes, it’s the first time for both of us,” I nodded and pointed at Ashley.
He gave us a huge smile then thanked us for coming in and asked what brought us in? I decided to tell the truth about my quest for new things to do in Wilmington this year—which reminds me, time is running out. I have to get busy to make a lot of this happen.
Whether or not I finish the whole list, I will say, clearly, without question, I have discovered some of the more wonderful parts of our community—and met people who renew my basic faith in day-to-day life. Not to mention, on the food front, it changed my perception of what great food we have in this fair city. Though right now the emphasis may be on high-end, hip eating blurs the lines about what a restaurant can be: a place to meet your neighbors and share a meal that nourishes the body, soul and palate.