Navigating the never-ending array of options that come with dining on the North Carolina coast can be nothing short of daunting. Whether you’re visiting the coast for the first time or you’re a long-time resident, the myriad options available can make it more challenging than ever to answer that age-old question, “What are we having for dinner?”
Enter John Batchelor.
We’re betting there isn’t a long-term restaurant employee in the state of North Carolina that hasn’t heard the name at least once or twice. Since 1981, Batchelor has been known for his no holds barred analysis of North Carolina’s restaurants and cuisine for the Greensboro News and Record, not only singing the praises of those restaurants that meet his discerning palate’s expectations, but also offering sage criticism when things aren’t quite up to par. He has been a revered member of North Carolina’s culinary landscape for more than three decades and has penned over 1,000 articles along the way.
His love affair with coastal cuisine culminated this year with the release of “Chefs of the Coast: Restaurants & Recipes of the North Carolina Coast.” In the 338-page book, Batchelor takes diners on a near-shore tour of some of the region’s not-to-be-missed eateries. From Corolla to Southport, he takes readers into restaurants in 16 cities, ranging from quick-grab lunch hubs to fine dining establishments.
His years of journalistic experience and food criticism make him the ideal candidate to provide the narrative for this virtual culinary tour of the coast. Not only has it trained him to obtain the most in-depth information possible about each restaurant he spotlights, but his longevity in the field gives him a level of validity that is hard to come by. When John Batchelor talks about food – people listen.
More than 50 restaurants are highlighted in all, with information about the eatery’s history and menu as well as detailed information about each chef and their professional philosophies. In addition, each restaurant offers recipes for the budding chef in all of us, giving it an added benefit. The book is great for travelers looking for the perfect spot for dinner, but with the added recipes, it’s also great for the coastal resident who is looking for a fresh recipe to try for dinner.
Those familiar with their hometown restaurants will find lots of favorites mentioned in its pages. Get to know Chef Clarke Merrell of Circa 81 and the Dank Burrito in Morehead City, try your hand at whipping up Chef Shawn Hoveland’s Shrimp and Crab al Fresco made popular at The Chelsea in New Bern, or read the history of the Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant in Swansboro. Special sections throughout the book highlight additional food related information, including features on area fish markets and information about the Beaufort Wine & Food Weekend, the Outer Banks Taste of the Beach and the NC Seafood Festival, held each October in Morehead City.
According to Batchelor, when it came time to choose which restaurants to include in the book, he initially reached out to a few of his favorites.
“I started with places I know and like. My wife and I have had a cottage at Emerald Isle for over 20 years, so I have plenty of personal favorites in the Crystal Coast area. I have also written about restaurants in the Wilmington area for Focus on the Coast magazine, so adding those was the next step,” he said.
In recent years, Batchelor has judged chef competitions for Competition Dining, formerly Fire on the Dock, so he selected restaurants from among those that participated in some of the contests he has been a part of. In addition, he has been a judge for Best Dish North Carolina, sponsored by the NC Dept. of Agriculture and the OBX Taste of the Beach, which gave him the opportunity to sample dishes in the northern part of the state.
“I admire what chefs do; I envy their knowledge and skills,” said Batchelor. “This book is a tribute to their endeavors.”
The critic began writing restaurant reviews in July 1981. In addition to writing, John Batchelor had a lengthy career as a teacher and school administrator in Guilford County and serving as superintendent for two school districts. He retired in 2009 and looks forward to putting more focus on his writing. His latest venture can be found in bookstores throughout eastern North Carolina.