Many restaurants have a defining, celebrated dish that represents their raison d’être. Here’s what the chefs and owners of three popular Elizabeth City eateries—Island Breeze Grill, Montero’s Restaurant, Bar & Catering, and Hoppin’ Johnz New South Cuisine—share about their signature dishes and favorite ingredient:
Jimmy Strickland, chef de cuisine at Hoppin’ Johnz New South Cuisine (606 E. Colonial St.; 252-679-7716), which opened downtown in October 2016, prepares Shrimp and Grits with an unexpected twist by tucking black-eyed peas, Tasso ham, and shiitake mushrooms between the shrimp and naturally creamy rice grits. With his commitment to using locally grown produce, such as shiitakes from a Weeksville farm, and heirloom variety grains from South Carolina, Strickland, who is classically trained, believes food should taste like food. “There is nothing better than simple ingredients at the peak of their natural goodness,” he notes. In addition to his ‘harbor dust,’ a spicy trinity of cayenne, black pepper and Old Bay seasoning, Strickland says he would use heirloom grains in every recipe if he could. “Once you taste Carolina gold rice,” he says, “you’ll understand why.”
Chicken Ashley holds a special place in the heart of Andy Montero, owner of Montero’s Restaurant, Bar & Catering (414 McArthur Dr.; 252-331-1067). With a nod to French culinary tradition, the breaded pan fried breast stuffed with herbed cheese and topped with white wine sauce has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2005 and is also the dish Montero prepared for his wife, Karin “when [he] was courting her.” A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Montero never met an onion he didn’t like. “Neither Karin nor our kids like them but I love them,” he says. “Whether they’re sweet or savory, crunchy or sautéed, they add so much depth to a dish when used correctly.”
Doris Johnson, executive chef and owner of Island Breeze Grill (220 N. Poindexter St.; 252-338-0048), says its Jerk Chicken “represents who we are—sweet and spicy” and patrons know the succulent, piquant poultry is as authentic as any you’d find in the Caribbean. Johnson, who relocated to downtown Elizabeth City in 2013, believes food should not only nourish the body but should fill and renew the spirit as well. A lover of cumin, which she notes lends a smoky, distinctive flavor to both meats and vegetables, Johnson, who was born in England and has Trinidadian and Montserratian ancestry, is always looking for creative ways to incorporate her favorite spice.
Visit one of these fabulous eateries and or try one of our other great restaurants.
Simone Cooper is a publicist and branding specialist who is also a mid-century modern fanatic. When she’s not assisting clients with messaging, you can find her hunting for furniture and housewares from the 1960s.