I‘ve said this once and I’ll say it again: If you’re not playing tourist in your own hometown, you aren’t taking advantage of what our amazing area has to offer.
My husband and I like to spend our Saturdays at Carolina Beach. We’ll have a beer and snag a couple to go at Island Beverage. Then we go get some sun for a couple hours before ending the day with a Surfer Rosa and some peel-n-eat shrimp at Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar (fondly regarded as The Tiki Bar by locals).
But last weekend we switched it up. We’d heard great things about SeaWitch Cafe & Tiki Bar, which has become highly regarded for food, booze and live entertainment. We figured we’d give it a shot.
When the hostess asked us if we wanted to sit inside or out, we were amused. “Inside” is just under what is effectively a gazebo that’s still completely open-air and “outside” is in the sunshine. We’re bar sitters so we opted for the bar.
We were greeted by two very friendly bartenders and a local draft list. We both ordered the mother’s milk of Wilmington, Tropical Lightning (made by Wilmington Brewing Company), which came in a frosty glass. We tend to skip the frost during most occasions, but after a day on the beach, it was very welcome.
The menu is diverse but not too long. It offers everything from seafood snacks and sammies to a tempting plate of shrimp scampi and burgers. We were hungry, and we really like to take a tour of the menu during our first visit to a new place. Creatures of habit, we put in an order for peel-n-eat shrimp and doubled, no tripled down with crab dip, ahi tuna nachos, and mahi tacos, and a side of hushpuppies for good measure.
The peel-n-eat was coated in Old Bay and served with a spicy, tangy cocktail sauce and sinful drawn butter. There was enough Old Bay at the bottom of the basket so we could sop some of it up before (and after!) we dunked our crustaceans. Peel-n-eat isn’t hard to do, but it is hard to do well; we were very happy. The cocktail sauce had the perfect amount of horseradishy zip—but not too spicy. I tend to be a little bit of a spice wuss.
The crab dip with homemade chips came next. I’m never one to turn down a sweet and savory snack that gets hit with cheese and slid under a broiler for ooey-gooeyness. This did not disappoint. It was creamy and salty, with morsels of crab all over it!
It’s worth mentioning the homemade chips were fried flour tortillas that could have used another minute in the fryer. They tasted a little chewy. One more minute would have presented a crispy balance to the decadent dip. Don’t get me wrong: The chips didn’t prevent us from scooping up every last little schmear of crab. We gobbled up the whole thing.
I don’t know if I’ve ever described a dish this way, but here goes nothing: SeaWitch’s nachos were fun! A mountain of extra crispy but somehow pillowy wontons were topped with bites of extra-savory, sesame-crusted tuna, zesty mango salsa, bright green avocado slices, shredded cabbage for extra crunch, and a spicy wasabi aioli. Have you ever seen people get a little too excited about a plate of food? My husband and I were those people.
More so, we were surprised when the bartender asked us how we wanted our tuna cooked for the ahi tuna nachos. Most folks don’t bother when they’re smeared with everything under the sun. We went with medium—a compromise between my husband’s affinity for raw fish and my skepticism of it. The fish came out a little more on the medium-well side, but we cared none. It was still delicious.
By the time the tacos arrived, we were feeling more than satisfied, and opted to wrap them up to go. They were simple and great after vegging out from sun stroke during a long day at the beach. Blackened mahi mahi topped the flour shells, with heaps of cilantro, shredded cabbage, a cheddar cheese blend, and jalapeño ranch. Diners who don’t absolutely adore cheese on fish tacos might want to ask for it on the side because whoever cheesed these bad boys went heavy-handed. One taco was enough for a big snack for each of us.
The hushpuppies were everything I wanted them to be: golden, extra crispy, slightly sweet tubes of Southern fried goodness dipped in—of course—ketchup mixed with Texas Pete. Some people might think it’s weird to get hushpuppies as a side with tacos, but I think those people should lay off the hater-ade.
As soon as we got in the car to head back home to nap off the crab dip and beers, my husband and I already were planning our next trip to SeaWitch. There was so much more of the menu we wanted to try. The bartenders were so friendly, we couldn’t wait to go back and catch up. In other words, I highly recommend any and all check out this vacation—err, staycation—gem.
SeaWitch Cafe and Tiki Bar
227 Carolina Beach Ave N,
Carolina Beach, NC
Hours: Sun., 11a.m. – 11 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 4 p.m. – 11 pm.;Fri. – Sat., noon – 1 a.m.; Mon., closed
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