Uncle Ike’s: A beacon of hearty eats in Corolla

By on January 30, 2017

Owner Tony Northrup with Chelsea Miller and Alicia Arranz.

Story and photos by Jim Trotman

We were cruising the northern beaches of the OBX, up to Corolla proper. Getting a little hungry, but so many places were closed. Granted, it was a weeknight, in the lowest point of the off-season, the third week of January. It was cloudy, chilly and damp and the sun leaves town by 5:15.

Currituck Light was carrying on with her job, her beacon bright. Getting nearer, lights! Somebody’s home. There, over in the Corolla Light Town Center. Uncle Ike’s is open for business.

Back in 2009, Pennsylvania native Tony Northrup was in transition. He was closing out a partnership, and when a friend asked to come down to Corolla to help open a restaurant, Uncle Ike’s Rock ‘n Roll Bar ‘n Diner, he thought it might be a fun, short-term gig. He didn’t plan to be an Outer Banks restaurateur.

Tuna taco, assembled at the taco bar.

But two months after helping to open the place, he and Jen Banzhoff bought the business. It is now officially named Uncle Ike’s Sandbar & Grill and is going strong.

We found Northrup easy to talk with. We could not help but come to like him right away. He is clearly in his element and well-liked by his patrons.

“Who is Uncle Ike?” we asked.

“Oh, he was a bulldog,” Northrup says as he calls up a phone video of the now departed pup, strolling a yard in Duck in that bull dog fashion.

A family-friendly place, Uncle Ike’s is casual. An unforced surfer vibe permeates the two dining spaces. The barroom has a scattering of tables and is commanded by a sizable bar sporting 11 taps that fronts a red wall supporting three big screens.

Uncle Ike’s Award Winning Crabby Wings.

This is in stark contrast to the surrounding blue-aquamarine walls festooned with surf bric-a-brac.

Uncle Ike’s stays open year-round, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. But in the off-season, it is always smart to check ahead by calling or checking their daily updated Facebook page. Bands, DJs, karaoke, contest prizes, including high-end barbecue grills and surfboards, fill the calendar throughout the year.

Good solid pub fare is the deal here, reflecting the sandbar locale with many seafood offerings along with the burgers, beer, wine and cocktails. Big portions are the norm.

The night we stopped in, it turned at the tuna taco bar could be had with the purchase of a wine, beer or cocktail. Other nights it may be a pasta bar. Such specials pull in the year-round locals and help stretch their winter dollars.

Fried Shrimp Basket.

We arrived before 6 p.m., were seated quickly and before long the place began to fill. Friends hugged friends while foursomes of apparent visitors landed on four tops.

We are Nags Headers and yet here we were visitors ourselves. The kind attentions of our server, Clayton, and smiles from the regulars made us feel welcome in this homey, warm place and we soon felt among friends.

Our drinks arrived, we completed our order and both made a tuna taco because, well, everyone was. It was tasty. The bar refreshed often enough to keep the tuna and additions fresh. House remoulade made for a creamy topper to the veggies.

Scouting the web before heading this way, I had already heard of the Crabby Fries and Crabby Wings. This may be their signature dish. We opted for the wings, and a hefty set arrived, the wings deftly bathed in a roasted red pepper aioli, and topped with a healthy smattering of lush lump crabmeat dusted with Old Bay. What dish cannot be made even better with a bit of crab on top?

Our entrees came, with Laura taking on the Fried Shrimp with the Firecracker sauce on the side. I had the Crab Cakes. The shrimp were plump, fresh and fried with a crispy coating.

Crab Cake Dinner.

The two crab cakes, served with broccoli and mashed new potatoes, were delicate as any we’ve had, with a buttery emulsion and very little breading. They seemed to be held together only by the lightly crisped outer shell. Very different and very good. The house-made Remoulade lent a creamy and tart counterpoint to the mellow crab.

The menu leans to the fried side with Haddock pulling duty for the Fish–n-Chips. Shrimp and Grits, of course, make an appearance, as do Chicken and Waffles and Seafood Mac-n-Cheese. A variety of sandwiches can be had, even a Quinoa Burger that is gluten free when ordered without the bun.

We’ll have to find ourselves in Corolla early some morning soon to try them for breakfast. The reports on social media look promising.

“Uncle Ike’s has given me the chance to see other parts of the world,” Northrup said, as we talked after dinner.

Dollars on the ceiling for Helping Haitian Angels.

We were discussing the many, many dollar bills of varying denominations suspended form the drop ceiling above the bar.
When a family from Northern Virginia made Uncle Ike’s a regular stop over a two-week stay, they struck up a friendship with Northrup. He learned of the remarkable story of their friends and neighbors, Debbie and Bill Harvey.

In 2008, The Harveys were in Haiti working on a building-based mission project. They came across an abandoned building and inside were 35 Haitian children, malnourished and with no clean water and no adults nearby. They vowed to work for their well-being and set about getting them help.

Within a month of their return to Haymarket, Va., they launched a non-profit, Helping Haitian Angels, and raised funds to begin to provide medical care, clothing and food for the kids they found that day.

The story stuck with Northrup and he too got involved. He instituted the dollar ceiling three years ago. Each year he collects the money from the ceiling and matches it, and sends the total to Helping Haitian Angels. Last year the total was over $10,000, which goes a long way in Delke, Haiti, where the orphanage, Kay Anj House, is located.

Locally, Northrup hosts many benefits aiding civic organizations and individuals alike. A donation with a chance to win a surfboard will help the local fire department, a free crab leg dinner to help an ailing citizen show Uncle Ike’s not only serves the drink and eats, it served the heart of the community as well.

What’s not to like? I like Uncle Ike’s.

Uncle Ike’s Sandbar & Grill
1159 Austin Street 111 at Corolla Light Town Center
11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. (breakfast some days, call or check their Facebook.)
Noon to 2 a.m.

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