This past weekend I visited my dad for his 60th birthday, and found myself in what the locals of North Carolina call the Inner Banks, or what I call “somewhere between the research triangle and the ocean.” In what is quickly becoming a tradition among IF parents – I’m talking about you, Marsha – I was told we’d be visiting Backwater Jack’s Tiki Bar & Grill so I could write about it for the blog.
It happened that I’d arrived in North Carolina on the first warm, sunny and dry weekend in ages, and the idea of visiting this tiki bar- and Jimmy Buffet-themed restaurant in the little town of Washington on a Friday night was a popular one. Somehow, after living in the area for seven months, my dad and step-mom knew most of the people in the crowded joint. Walking into Backwater Jack’s was like walking into a wonderfully gaudy, fishnet-filled set of Cheers.
I don’t remember when it happened, or what caused it to happen, but sometime during my college years, my family turned from a buffet-and-soda habit to an appetizer-and-alcoholic beverage trend of ordering. This is not a complaint, just an observation. (Though I can say that the latter style might be part of the cause of the Moorhead Multiple Chin preexisting condition that I’ve been struggling with these days.) Our starter for this meal was a crab and cheese dip. Think real crab meat meets Velveeta. I loved each bite. (I was in Real America, folks. In Real America, you eat – and love – Velveeta.)
Next up was my drink. Having been exposed to few tiki drinks in my lifetime, I was sort of lost as to what to order, and went with the first one on the menu: Fishbone Flash, a combination of Bacardi, fruit juices and – I’m guessing – sugar. Basically, it was a Capri Sun with booze. I sucked that baby down in seconds.
Note, by the way, the green marketing on the cup. I came across several establishments using biodegradable containers in my stay, something that caused me to question it out loud; one does not typically consider North Carolina to be a land of environmental activists. Either there’s a fantastic sales rep toting corn-based containers, or I was wrong in my assumptions. My dad answered my queries by pointing out that several of the restaurants in the area are owned by transplants, and that Backwater Jack’s is run by a couple from Florida.
Not all is green at Backwater Jack’s. That, dear friends, is a styrofoam plate. But this is not an environmental blog; it is a food blog, and so I move from the plate to its contents. I searched through a menu of fried foods to find the restaurant’s specialties. This is something they call Chop Chop Shrimp, grilled shrimp served over house-made black beans and rice. Though the rice and beans were a bit bland (I longed for cilantro and maybe a tiny bit of spice), I loved the shrimp.
Ignore the bun and look at those sweet potato fries on this plate, belonging to my step-mom. Those fries are sprinkled with sugar, a delightful and horrifying discovery. (Delightful for my mouth, horrifying for my chins.)
My dad ordered a classic cheeseburger and fries. I assume with such a mismatched clientele consisting of transplants from around the country, you can’t go wrong with putting a burger or two on your menu. If it doesn’t satisfy the tiki-loving side of the crowd, it certainly works with the Jimmy Buffet portion.
As we finished up our meals, someone started a fire in the pit adjacent to the restaurant. Servers delivered beers and cocktails to folks around the fire and at picnic tables, waiting to get a seat. It was time for us to vacate our seats for some serious party animals.
Because the difference between my dad and the characters of Cheers is one of timing. He finishes his drinks before sunset, while the others are just getting started. It’s a side-effect, I believe, of being 60.
Backwater Jack’s Tiki Bar & Grill
1052 East Main Street
Washington, North Carolina