Elizabeth City is a small city in the Northeastern part of North Carolina. It is part of the coastal plains region of North Carolina and is part of the Inner Banks. The Albemarle Sound and Pasquotank River are important parts of this place and there is so much history related to these waterways. It is also known for having a Coast Guard Base. A fun fact I learned from doing my research is that the Coast Guard is technically part of the military, but is still different from the branches you may be more familiar with. But let’s be honest you probably already knew that.
This place is one that feels like you could live here forever, and build a life if you are interested in becoming a river person. P.S. I am definitely a lake person over a river, or ocean person. Although there are some attractions, this is not a very touristy area. With all that said, I still believe I am lucky to have spent some time here.
Now you’re probably wondering why I was here in the first place. During my time at UNC I am working on completing both my masters degree as well as my internship to become a registered dietitian. How the UNC program does that is by sending the students to do their supervised internship hours during the summers. We got randomly placed throughout the state wherever dietitians were willing to host students. I was placed in Elizabeth City for my community nutrition/public health rotation. During my six weeks in Elizabeth City I tried to learn about the area, partake in some of the local attractions and support some of the local businesses of this historic place. Here I will detail some of the things I did while visiting Elizabeth City.
Visitor Center and Museum of the Albemarle
Although I was able to do a lot during my time in Elizabeth City, I was still a visitor. There is so much history here that I cannot even begin to scratch the surface in this post. No matter how long you are here I suggest you visit the visitor center located on Water Street. I went over there the first week I was in town and was impressed by the recommendations I was given. I did find it a bit funny though, one of the recommendations I heard was to leave and go to the Outer Banks.
Within the visitor center is the Museum of the Albemarle. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the hours of the museum were shortened. One day I was able to run over and do a quick walk through of the museum during a lunch break. The two story museum housed both rotating exhibits as well as a long-term exhibit detailing the history of the Albemarle region. Although I did not have much time to fully take in all that the museum had to offer, I was impressed with how nice this museum was. I truly wish I had a bit more time to really learn and appreciate some of the exhibits they had on display that day. One of the most fun facts I learned while visiting the museum related to the Wright Brothers. For a bit of context, I grew up around Dayton, Ohio where the Wright Brothers lived and built the first plane, so I learned a lot of Wright Brothers history growing up. I did know that they brought their plane down to Kitty Hawk to fly it, but learned while at the museum that they transported the plane parts by train to Elizabeth City and then transported them by boat the rest of the way to Kitty Hawk. I thought this was really cool to learn seeing as even if I had learned that before, I never remembered it.
The museum is open multiple days a week and there is no charge to visit. I would imagine as COVID restrictions start lifting and more people are wanting to visit the hours will increase again. I would suggest checking the hours online before heading over there just to make sure. The museum is a great option for kids and adults alike to learn the history of the Albemarle Region of North Carolina. Due to the rotating exhibits this is still a great option for families that live within the area because you won’t always see the same things. Whether you are trying to beat the heat, or stay dry from the rain this is a fun family friendly Elizabeth City attraction.
I talk a lot about Pailin’s Alley later in this post, but wanted to give a bit of information on it so as not to confuse you. Pailin’s Alley is the name of an alley in downtown Elizabeth City that many of the places I visited and discuss have direct access to. The alley is named after William Pailin who was a businessman in Elizabeth City in the 1800s. Recently the city along with the businesses surrounding the alley have turned the alley into a gathering space. In the alley the restaurants and bars have outdoor seating, fun hanging lights and floral arrangements. When the weather is good, many live events happen in the alley. Twice I was able to experience live music in the alley and oh was it fun. In the alley there was room to dance along to the music or just enjoy the band if dancing isn’t your thing. Going out and hanging in the alley is one of the fun things to do in Elizabeth City and it is a fun space that the community has to interact with others and enjoy a night out on the town. It’s also a fun place to take pictures… You never know what you’ll find.
Waterfront Park was one of my absolute favorite places in all of Elizabeth City. It was one of the first places I visited when I got into town, and I visited multiple times a week during my lunch hour. As you can imagine, Waterfront Park is on the water. It is one of the places you can sit and enjoy the water. One unfortunate thing about Elizabeth City, in my opinion, is that they don’t utilize the waterfront like they could. They have the park and one waterfront restaurant, but it could be so much more than that. I could imagine multiple restaurants overlooking the water for a wonderful dining experience.
The park itself is not too large. It does have a boat launch, but unfortunately I do not have a boat, yet. But I did make some friends who took me out on a boat. So find yourself some way to get on the water if at all possible.
The park also has multiple picnic tables, and benches so you can enjoy your lunch, or just sit and enjoy being by the water. There is also a gazebo in the park. I imagine this may be used for community events, but I am not quite sure. I never saw any events happening, but again I was mostly there during my workday lunches. The day I was leaving the park was being used for a bocce and beer event, so it is a gather place for the community for sure.
One of my favorite memories from the park was my first week in town. It was during my lunch hour and I was sitting at the only picnic table that was shaded by the trees. A nice gentleman introduced himself and asked if I minded sharing my table. I did not, and so he sat down. We had a nice conversation about the water, about his perception that the community does not appreciate the water like they should, and some encouragement to enjoy being on the coast as much as I could while I was in town. He also gave me some suggestions for restaurants in town and even a church to visit while I was there. The only suggestion I actually took him up on was enjoying the coastal life, but I will always remember him as the first community member I met. I will say this over and over again in this post, the community is really what makes this place as wonderful as it is.
Food and Drink
2 Souls Wine Bar
2 Souls Wine Bar is a local wine bar owned and operated by two friends. I visited 2 Souls on one of my first nights out in Elizabeth City. I was invited to a girls night which consisted of an Elizabeth City bar crawl. Originally 2 Souls was on the list for the second stop of our crawl, but ended up being about the fourth. This meant I had already had a few different types of alcohol before having the glass of wine I ordered. I would not suggest choosing wine in the middle of a night out drinking, but we were at the wine bar and it’s fun to be young and make unwise decisions from time to time (as long as you are safe of course).
Although I am no wine connoisseur, I do know a bit about what I like. At this point I forget exactly what I ordered, but I know it was a sweeter white wine. Being a wine bar, they have an extensive selection of wines along with some other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink options. This is one of the places I did visit, but was enjoying my time with the people too much to pay attention to the details of the atmosphere. I do remember that they have a big space with multiple different types of seating. We had a large table, but they also have some couches, and stools at the bar. The night we were in there they had some live music that was nice, and I believe they have that pretty regularly. I definitely would have liked to have gone back and really asked questions about the wines, maybe done a flight as opposed to a single glass. But that will just have to wait until the next time I visit.
I definitely would suggest 2 Souls if you enjoy wine, or if you want to go out but avoid the crowds that come along with visiting the bars in the alley. I think it is a great option for more intimate evenings like a date night, as well as bigger gatherings such as ours. In the future if we had a bigger group maybe a bottle of wine would have made more sense than us all getting single glasses, but you live and you learn right? 2 Souls is a very classy spot in Elizabeth City and I do suggest you give them a visit.
Coasters Downtown Draught House
Coasters Downtown Draught House is the liquor bar in Pailin’s Alley. I visited a few times while I was out with my friends. To be fair, at the point in the night we were going to Coasters I was not taking elaborate notes for this post. Coasters is definitely a dive bar. Although it is a dive bar, they do require an annual membership which costs $1 at the door. After your ID is scanned, they give you a colored wristband signifying you have been admitted. In my experience, most people don’t just hang out in Coasters. They go and get themselves a shot of their favorite liquor and then go back and hang out with their friends in the alley. In the bar they do have some high top tables, seats at the bar and a few dart boards. If you’re hanging in the alley and want to get sloshed, this is definitely the place to do it. But beware, you may not remember what happened in the morning. And please make sure to have a safe way to wherever you are staying if you decide to enjoy a night out at Coasters, or anywhere for that matter.
Ghost Harbor Brewing Company
Ghost Harbor Brewing Company is a brewery located in downtown Elizabeth City and is part of Pailin’s Alley.
Ghost Harbor, or Ghost for short is a popular hangout place for locals of all ages. They brew their own beer and seltzers in their original location in the alley, across from Coasters. Their new location is across from Hoppin’ Johnz. The new location has two entrances one within the alley and one right off Colonial Ave. I spent a few nights out with my new friends at Ghost and in the Alley. For me, the gluten-free friend, the seltzers were the best option in my opinion. They do serve wine, but that was never the vibe I was going for if you know what I mean… The seltzers they serve are their own and they rotate from time to time. I was lucky enough to chat with an employee who suggested I do a combination of the Pink Guava and Berry. I also was able to try the pineapple on my last few visits. I enjoyed the seltzers and maybe drank a few too many while I was out, but I was with people I felt safe with and that is what matters.
For anyone who is not gluten-free, there seems to be a nice variety of craft beers that are made right in Elizabeth City. My friends seemed to enjoy them and it seemed like they had options that made everyone happy. Ghost Harbor is a great hangout spot and was where many started the night. Depending on the group and the vibe, it may not have been where the night ended. Some evenings my friends and I would find a place to sit at Ghost and then someone would save it while a few went for a shot at Coasters. It is nice being within walking distance of all the other bars. That makes me sound maybe a bit cooler than I really am. Most of my time spent in the alley I was sipping seltzers at Ghost. Part of this was due to the weather. I went out when they had some live music, but due to rain the bands often played in Ghost rather than in the alley. Ghost also hosts trivia nights, and other events throughout the week. This is definitely a place I think is a must if you ever find yourself in Elizabeth City. And if you do, have a seltzer for me, will ya?
Hoppin’ Johnz was the only restaurant I made it to twice during my time in Elizabeth City. And it was good enough to enjoy even more often than I did. Hoppin’ Johnz is located within Pailin’s Alley and serves southern cuisine with a flare. This is another one of the places where I did enjoy, but more than anything I enjoyed my company. The first night I visited here was on a girls night I was so graciously invited to attend. I was a bit nervous to go out with a group of girls that were already friends, but I’m glad I worked through that fear and did it anyway.
My first visit to Hoppin’ Johnz I kept it simple. It was First Friday, a downtown event featuring artists and craftspeople of the town. Because of this, downtown and the restaurants were super busy. The menu itself does not have any gluten-free labels, but our waitress was wonderful and told me what I could order on the menu as well as some modifications to menu items to make them gluten-free. As I was overwhelmed by the amount of people in the restaurant, and the menu itself I went with a safe order of a hamburger without a bun and a side salad. With the amount of people dining in the restaurant that evening and a bit of anxiety having never dined here, I think this was the best choice that night. I wanted to continue hanging out with the group I was with and that was enough not to risk getting something that would make me sick. I did have a bit of FOMO when I saw everyone else’s meals, but I was fed and that is what mattered. That night I also had a seasonal drink. I cannot remember the full name, but it was blueberry and lavender with vodka. Both myself and another girl got it and it was so sweet we compared it to a popsicle. It was delicious, but definitely a drink that you could only truly have one of.
The second time I went to Hoppin’ Johnz it was much quieter and a more relaxing experience. This time I had looked over the menu online a bit more and again asked what the best options were for me. I visited the last week of my internship with my friend as she was leaving to visit family before my last night in town. We went on a weekday after work and I’m glad we went back. We both started with drinks. I ordered the Hoppin’ Punch and she had the basil martini. My drink was again very sweet to the point I would only ever want one, but it tasted good. I had a sip of her basil martini and honestly it was my favorite drink of the ones I had here. It almost reminds me of a mojito, but instead of rum and mint it is vodka and basil. If I go back to Hoppin’ Johnz in the future this will definitely be the drink I order. During this visit I was contemplating between the chicken and the duck. I have only had duck once or twice and although I was treating myself, it was a bit more than I wanted to spend. On top of that, I was a bit nervous as to if I would like it or not. I went with the safe option this time and ordered the bronze baked chicken dinner. This meal required no modifications to make it gluten-free, which is always optimal. It came with asparagus and mashed potatoes. The meal was delicious. It was done so well and all the flavors worked perfectly together. After eating this meal on my second visit I was a bit sad I did not order it the first time. But now I know if it is on the menu it should be a good option.
Hoppin’ Johnz is beloved by many of the locals and for good reason. The location in the alley is great and it has the best bathroom in the alley too. The atmosphere is quirky and fun, and the food is finger-licking good. I would have loved to have seen gluten-free designations on the menu, but the wait staff was so knowledgeable making that not a big issue. Both of the times I dined here I enjoyed my dinner and drinks and would suggest this to anyone visiting Elizabeth City. The dinner menu is a bit on the pricier side, but I do think it is worth it and comparable to the other restaurants I visited while in town. So if you’re looking for a fun night start at Hoppin’, then just hang out in the alley and go to Ghost and if you’re feeling like getting super crazy end the night at Coasters.
Mills Downtown Bistro
If you didn’t already guess, Mills Downtown Bistro is located in downtown Elizabeth City. Although it does not open up to Pailin’ Alley (as far as I know), it is super close to all the other restaurants and bars. I visited the Mills Downtown Bistro before the live music at Ghost on a Wednesday night. This was the first restaurant I tried in Elizabeth City. After my friend had sent me the Facebook invite for the music, I knew I had to find somewhere in town to have dinner beforehand. My research of Elizabeth City restaurants was limited because I thought there would not be many options. The first time I looked up gluten-free Elizabeth City I saw like five restaurants come up. Thankfully, after I accepted the event invite I got recommendations for other businesses and saw the weekly special menu for Mills Downtown Bistro.
I had decided based off the weekly special menu that I wanted to try the Mills Downtown Bistro. They did not have a menu that had labels for gluten-free, but I was really excited about the summer salad they were offering. I had plans to go to Mills before heading over to Ghost and I was so happy when my new friend, and mentor asked if I minded if she joined me. Obviously I did not. Enjoying a meal by yourself can be nice, and I think it is something people should do every once in awhile, but sharing a delicious meal with friends is so much more wonderful. I also think it is fun because we had been working together at my internship site, but still hadn’t really gotten to know each other. That quickly changed and I am so glad for that.
The Mills Downtown Bistro is a beautiful and intimate restaurant. There were a handful of tables as well as some seats at the bar. The decor in the restaurant highlighted some of the history of Elizabeth City and was a nice touch. It was also nice to have a meal on china after over a year of take out containers. Both myself and my friend ordered the weekly special summer salad. I am not one to normally order a salad at a restaurant, because let’s be honest I can make that at home. But it had caught my eye on the menu originally and some of the entrees cost a bit more than I wanted to pay. Unpaid intern right here… It was definitely the right decision. It was unique and the best summer salad I’ve ever had. The vinaigrette was not just any normal vinaigrette, it was a blackberry vinaigrette. And OMG the goat cheese. I have never had such creamy goat cheese. I don’t know if I will ever be able to eat store bought again. The sad realities of having such wonderful food experiences. They also added candied walnuts, which were delicious. My friend and I did agree that the walnuts maybe had a bit too much sugar and sweetness, the candy shell was relatively thick. Other than wishing the walnuts had a bit less sugar, I would not have changed anything about this dish. And for me it was so nice because it was naturally all gluten-free. I had to make no modifications which is always helpful. I would also like to add that the staff was so receptive when I asked my questions and willing to ask when they did not know an answer to my question. I really appreciate restaurant staff that care like that. Whether you eat gluten-free or not, I would suggest the Mills Downtown Bistro when visiting Elizabeth City.
Mills Downtown Bistro also does weekend brunch. I did not get a chance to experience their brunch, but I heard from many that it was one of their favorite brunch spots. To be honest, that may be because of the mimosas, but you should check it out if you get the chance!
Montero’s was the last restaurant I visited while in town, and the only one I ended up visiting alone. During my last week in town, I decided that I was going to go out to the alley on that Wednesday to finally see the live music in the alley. Up to this point the music was always in Ghost. I also wanted to go because I did not know when I would get to have another chance to get out and hang out with people around my age. That meant I did need to go and find food before heading over to the alley. After a google search and some conversation with a friend I decided Montero’s was a place I’d like to try before I left. So that is what I did.
Montero’s is a family owned and operated restaurant that offers a variety of meal options. I would say this is a nicer restaurant in town. Based on the menu prices, at least for me, this is a once in a while kind of restaurant. And this ended up being one of the most expensive meals I had during my time in Elizabeth City. That was also partially due to some miscommunication and misunderstanding on my part. I had been told by my friend that the menu was labeled with symbols for menu items that are gluten-free. I got there and the only menu items with a label were appetizers. I contemplated leaving and going somewhere else, but to be honest the appetizers that were labeled gluten-free were too intriguing. And I was already sipping on a pomegranate margarita and I needed food. Usually I don’t get an appetizer unless it is to share because with a meal I often can’t finish that much food. And again, it adds to the total price of the meal. I ordered the crab dip with vegetables instead of the pita chips it normally comes with and then the waiter came back asking what I wanted for my meal. I then learned that there are options that are gluten-free on the rest of the menu, they had just reprinted the menus and forgot to add the labels. I could have said that all I wanted was the appetizer, and after finishing it I would have been ok not eating an entree. But I felt a bit obligated, although I should not have, to order an entree. Of course, the entree I would have liked could have been modified, but all the fun things about the dish would have been taken out. So I went ahead and ordered a caesar salad with no croutons.
Although there was some confusion with the menu, I did have a nice time at Montero’s. The staff was knowledgeable and helpful. They were willing to make modifications so that I could eat safely. The margarita of mine felt fancy as it was not a traditional lime flavor and I enjoyed it. But to be honest the crab dip was the best part of this experience. I had never had crab dip before so I was curious when I saw it labeled gluten-free on the menu. So I ordered it because why not. It was a great choice. Personally, I’ve really only had crab in the form of crab legs or imitation crab, so it was cool to see how else crab could be used. The crab dip itself had cream cheese, and some herbs along with the crab. And it tasted nothing like crab legs, but was still so delicious. It was kind of interesting eating the crab dip with the vegetables, but I would rather do that than not order this crab dip. The salad was good, but did not compare to the crab dip in my opinion. In the future if I have the opportunity to visit Montero’s again I hope they have the labels on the remainder of the menu. This way I can find a more interesting and fun entree to go along with the crab dip. But to be honest, I would also just go back for a fun flavored margarita and the crab dip. So if you see me shoveling crab dip in my face the next time I’m in Elizabeth City, mind your own business, and don’t touch my crab dip.
Muddy Waters Coffeehouse
Muddy Waters Coffeehouse is a one of the few local coffee shop in Elizabeth City. But the only one I went ahead and tried. It is located on Main Street in Elizabeth City. The shop does have parking spots, but it can be difficult to get in and out of the lot at times. Despite that, I would say I did frequent Muddy Waters while I was in Elizabeth City. I probably went over there at least once a week to get a coffee or tea. They had a funky vibe that I thought was fun and good coffee drinks. Along with the normal beverages you expect to order at a coffee shop, they also serve an assortment of alcoholic beverages. For me, I stuck to coffee as most of the time I went over my lunch break and had to return to work. Although I saw no gluten-free items, there was also a bakery case filled with delicious looking gluten filled pastries.
When it comes to coffee, I believe I am a bit pickier than others. Having spent three years as a barista, I find that I am a bit more particular about coffee than others at times. I think Muddys has good coffee, but I wouldn’t say it is great coffee. For what Elizabeth City has to offer, I think it is a good option. I would much rather spend my money and support this local business as opposed to going to the Starbucks in town. With that being said, I mostly stuck to iced mochas so I could still get the caffeine from the espresso, but cut some of the coffee flavor with the milk. The only thing I tried and really did not enjoy was the chai latte. It was made with a syrup instead of a concentrate and to me tasted almost like bubble gum. It was too sweet and not spicy like I expect a chai latte to be. So, I personally would not suggest that drink, but I would still suggest trying out Muddys if you are in town. Of the people I met, it was the coffee shop all of them recommended.
The environment in Muddys was great. They had an assortment of seating both indoor and outdoor. They had some high tops as well as couches, and a lot of room to sit and enjoy your beverage of choice. The patio was also partially covered and has a foosball table, something I was not expecting to see when visiting a coffee shop.
Overall I had a wonderful time in Elizabeth City. I will say though, the best part of this place was the people. I was fortunate enough to spend a few weeks here and during that time I met some wonderful people. The experience truly would not have been the same had I not had the chance to meet the new friends that I did. Without the invites from some of my new friends, and the courage to go out on my own to enjoy some of the town events my experience would have been much less fun. Although it is not the theme of this post, I would like to remind you to have some courage, say yes when opportunity presents itself and just see what happens.