Along the Way…… Wilmington’s Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood
Traveling around coastal North and South Carolina over the past several years, I spotted a number of remarkable places. These are places that play a role in making the Carolina coast a fascinating to work, play and most of all fish. The article below is the first step in our “Along the Way” series. It begins with Wilmington’s Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood.
Growing up in the foothills of North Carolina I have special memories of those old country stores. The place that was welcoming to all ages. It was the place where the owner knew your name and the names of your entire family. It had penny candy, cold drinks in a bottle, and sweet ice cream in the cooler. Many times they had shelves packed with those locally made jellies and sauces as well as homemade cakes and cookies made by ladies just up the road. They even had a fruit stand with local fruits and vegetables. You know, the kind of place where you could pick through and squeeze that just right tomato or peach. It was a place I can remember my granddaddy going to the store’s old roll-up coke cooler and pulling out a couple of iced cold cokes. We would then each get a pack of Lance salted peanuts and take them to big long bench out front. There, we would pour the salty peanuts into the sweet coke. The sweet and savory mix was a taste I can still remember today. We enjoyed that special treat on the bench while we watched the people pass. He would give me many of life’s lessons that I still adhere to today as well as teach me silly limericks that only a child can appreciate.
If you miss those days and those roadside places that brought a smile to your face in your younger years, you’re still in luck. Just head over to Wilmington and head down Highway 421. Located just a few hundred yards off the Cape Fear River is the Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood store.
At most any time of the day its massive parking lot is crowded with vehicles that range from 16 wheel tractor-trailers to luxury SUV’s and everything in between. Their loyal patrols are there to purchase anything from a hot cup of coffee while on the way to work, to the farm fresh vegetables displayed out front. Or they may be there to pick up a couple of pounds of shrimp or flounder for supper.
You see, Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood is a special place. It’s a place that just walking inside brings back those special memories. It’s where the shelves are filled with those jellies and jams. Big hunks of cheese are waiting by the cash register for those customers looking for a snack. The coolers hold big bags of shelled beans just waiting on a hot pot of water before making their way to the supper table. week. That’s right, I said supper. We still have breakfast, lunch and supper in the Carolina’s. They also have homemade pimento cheese that 3rd generation owner, Sammy, picks up himself each week. The basket of candy is boundless and the homemade cakes will make your mouth water. Just as you walk in on the right, the roll-top drink cooler still purrs and holds a wide array of iced cold drinks (they don’t have sodas here), just drinks. Outside, the produce is piled high and waiting to be picked, squeezed and weighed. That includes those juicy summer tomatoes that will make that perfect “mater sandwich” with mayo for lunch, along with a big slice of watermelon (from their large selection) or maybe some South Carolina peaches.
When you walk in on a warm summer’s day you’re met with the smell of the peanuts roasting and the purr of the real deal roll-top drink cooler waiting on its next customer. If it’s really hot that day, slide on back to the ice cream counter and the girls will get you a cone of ice cream that makes for a refreshing break from the heat.
Owners Sammy and Shannon, have managed to preserve the fond memories that many of us have from our childhood. They have also carried on the legacy of Sammy’s grandparents and parents that began in 1965. It’s a wonderful place to gain a glimpse of the past and the way it really was. There’s no self checkout and the coffee is fresh brewed. No iced coffees or lattes. Keep it simple. Most of the items they carry are made by the hands of local folks that are masters of their art. This is true from the 14 layer chocolate cakes to the locally made jerky. Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood makes an effort to bring us goodness from days gone by and bring back wonderful memories at the same time.
So, if you stop by Saturday morning, look for me. I’ll be the big guy sitting on one of their benches outside with my coke in a bottle loaded with peanuts and a PENN fishing hat on. I’ll be there with my grandson Skyler watching the people go by while he learns his life’s lessons just like I did. He already knows to tip his hat to the ladies, salute the American flag, and how to break string beans. What more could a Paw Paw ask for? Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood is the best classroom setting to learn those important lessons. Make sure to get yourself some of them juicy maters and some white bread. Pepper them up, lather some mayo on it and you’ll have yourself a real Carolina mater sandwich.