Avenue Waterfront Grille: A great variety for every taste

By on October 23, 2016

Owners Thomas and Maria Wiliamson. Thomas is the chef and Maria is the general manager.

Blue crab and smoked tomato bisque.

Story and photos by Jim Trotman

Perched a story above the Manteo Marina, the view through arched windows from Avenue Waterfront Grille rolls out in spectacular fashion. The waters of Doughs Creek slide under the Festival Park bridge, passing the recreated Elizabeth II, moored across the way, and the much more modern vessels secured in their slips just below.

Continuing on, the water opens up to the fullness of Shallowbag Bay, the octagonal gazebo and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.

In the dining room, servers are running drinks to the outdoor lounge, the bartender is preparing cocktails behind the 30-foot-long bar.

Some guests lounge on couches across the way while others are being seated.

Co-owner and General Manager Maria Williamson is affably running the front of the house, while in the kitchen, her husband, co-owner, and Executive Chef Thomas Williamson is crafting plates for the waiting diners.

We were quickly seated. Our server, Adam, took our drink order, and his crisp Czech accent added an international feel to the evening. Soon the libations came. A full ABC permit permitted us a spectrum of choices.

Fingerling Fries, of both the yellow and sweet variety.

The menu changes with the seasons but is extensive, and it includes a wide variety of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free cuisine, the options helpfully denoted with a V, VV and GF.

We started things off with a spread of appetizers. Shala Shala, Hindi for house salad we learned, was a delight with shredded cabbage and kale, baby greens, red pepper, red onions, cashews and a zippy ginger and peanut dressing.

The Shrimp and Avocado Salad featured steamed local shrimp and avocado, accented with Pico de Gallo and lime, with the major components diced nicely so that all the elements were present in each spoonful.

The Fingerling Fries, made of the yellow and sweet potatoes, were given a toss with spiced salt and herbs. For dippin — a house-made chive crème fraiche.

Shrimp and Avacado Salad.

The Blue Crab and Smoked Tomato Bisque was a revelation. The kitchen is equipped with a smoker and they put it to good use. Smoking the tomatoes gives the bisque a haunting warmth and flavor. This is enhanced with a tad of bourbon and a finishing kiss of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry.  I only accessed a couple of spoonfuls as we were all sharing, but on a return trip I will make this a first choice.

One standout entrée was the Maple Pecan Fried Chicken Breast. This is specified as a Coleman Farms chicken, meaning it is organic and local to North Carolina. The breast is coated with a pecan and cornmeal crust and a glaze with Vermont maple syrup and accompanied with smashed red potatoes. The vegetable of the day was blistered green beans. The skin was crisp, and the meat juicy and flavorful, the maple accent playing off the savory.

Another was the Bone-In Pork Chop, which was pan-seared and napped in a chorizo cream sauce, like a light, south-of-the-border sausage gravy. It was served the blistered beans as well as a quinoa and jasmine rice dome.

Shala shala.

We aren’t vegetarians. We like our meats. But remarks on a local vegetarian Facebook page piqued our interest in Avenue Grille. Posters on the page refer to Avenue Grille with terms like, “Gluten Literate” to describe the menu.

The Williamson family has planted their flag on the shores of Shallowbag Bay, having crafted a menu embracing a greater balance between the meat/no meat camps. In doing so, they have generated a large, enthusiastic following.

Thomas has been a chef his whole adult life. Maria is his biggest fan. Next are their regular customers. “It sounds silly but we had customers come to tears, saying, ‘he hit it with this and with that and then this,” said Maria.

Fried chicken.

Thomas is a meat eater, Maria is not, and so the cooking, even at a family level had to be diversified. Maria says they had always eaten healthy, and when she went vegan and found she was sensitive to gluten, it broadened the scope of the cuisine they would offer.

Married for 16 years, Maria and Thomas bring solid experience to the enterprise, serving in restaurants first in Charlotte and later in Boone. In 2011, Thomas answered the call to join the staff at what was then Adrianna’s, leaving the mountains for the coast. After a year here, they bought the business equipment, made changes and became restaurant owners, opening Avenue Waterfront Grille on April 12, 2012.

With business going well, the couple purchased the commercial property space the restaurant occupies last Dec. 13. Maria said, “It really gives us roots. We can make long-range plans. It was a good business investment.”

Pork chop.

The couple are parents of three children, who are learning the restaurant business from the inside. Thomas’ grandmother lives nearby, and the couple’s parents pitch in on visits, helping around the restaurant and even running to Wanchese for the fresh catch. She adds that home schooling the children is a good mesh with the restaurant life.

Another dish that looks tempting even if our interest in tofu has been tepid at best is their Deep Fried Tofu Tacos laced with a red pepper coulis and served with “cool beans” salad. Maria was encouraging. “Nobody touches my husband’s tofu tacos!”

The restaurant is now fully shifted to their more limited hours, usually being open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Some days are closed for private events. Call for days open. Nov. 12, they will close for the winter, and will reopen in Mid-March with Taste of the Beach.

Fortunately for Outer Banks diners, the tide is changing as more chefs are embracing the challenge to provide tasty, fulfilling vegetarian and vegan plates that anyone can enjoy all the while keeping carnivores happy. Avenue Grill is such a place.

Avenue Waterfront Grille
207 Queen Elizabeth Ave Suite 5
Manteo NC 27954
252-473-4800
http://www.avenueeventsobx.com
NOTE: Winter hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. with some days closed for special events.



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