Maryland Grub Done Right
At the dead end of a peninsula between the small-town charm of Southport and the length of beach along Oak Island rests a waterfront eatery with a fitting name: the Dead End Saloon and Fish Factory Grille. Where a fish factory once thrived in seaside commerce, Dead End Saloon is now joined by a neighboring marina and a handful of other businesses in South Harbour Village. While it’s not on the beaten path of “Main Street,” 4907 Fish Factory Rd. affords diners and party-goers one of the most spectacular views in the area.
The restaurant was opened in 2008 by Barbara Grela. A transplant from Baltimore, Maryland, Barbara once owned and operated another restaurant under the Dead End moniker in iconic Fells Point. It’s no wonder that if there’s one thing Barbara’s eateries does right, it’s crab. From cakes to dips, Dead End Saloon serves up plump, real chunks of the savory, salty meat.
“Our crab cakes are Maryland-style—you’re not going to find them anywhere else around here,” manager Elaine Donato assures. “They’re baked; they are not fried. They are 99-percent without filler. That’s a biggie; people come in specifically for our crab cakes.”
The crab cakes, served either on a sandwich bun or on a platter with sweet potato fries and broccoli, satisfy even the toughest Maryland-native critics. Folks flock to Dead End Saloon for a heaping helping of the authentic stuff.
Among their seafood offerings, folks will always find a fresh catch. “We belong to the North Carolina 10-percent campaign, in which we pledge at least 10 percent of what we purchase has to be local,” Elaine notes. “We do local seafood, produce—there are all kinds of items that we buy fresh and local. We get some of our seafood from Haag and Son’s.”
In the same vein, guests can expect all of the dishes to be held to high standards. “Everything is prepared to order,” Elaine adds. “We do not pre-prep, not even our salads.”
Elaine touts the menu’s varied offerings. “We have our bar food, chicken sandwiches, quesadillas. We have entrées of fresh fish and ahi tuna. We have a variety of appetizers. We also have a special bar menu for bar patrons. We have a variety; we have burgers and we go all the way on up.”
The casual-dining atmosphere pays homage to breweries far and wide. Signs from a multitude of beer purveyors pepper the walls while draft handles dangle upside-down from the bar ceiling. Lest one forget the “saloon” portion of Dead End, this place can host a celebration.
Live music can be found many weekends throughout the year—about twice a month in the summer and maybe once a month in the winter. Past shows include the locally coveted rock ‘n’ roll group Machine Gun, TD MacDonald’s bluesy vocals, and the raucous cover-band fun of Sgt. Rock.
Still, the grill remains family-friendly. A children’s menu recently rolled out to much success. And the Dead End Saloon is always looking for ways to salute the community.
“We do a chili cook-off once a year to raise money for Dosher Memorial Hospital’s foundation for terminally and critically ill children in the area,” Elaine shares. “We set up our deck for that, and our customers all come in to taste and vote on their favorite chili. It’s a lot of fun. The last event brought in over $1,000 for the organization. We try our best to give back to our local community.”
Dead End also has participated in a program with local churches to donate meals for folks who are home bound. For those who aren’t, some make a point to visit at least annually, like a beloved regular, Marge. Every year she celebrates her birthday over crab cakes with friends at Dead End; this year she turned 103 and spent the afternoon on the restaurant’s deck overlooking the water.
Dead End Saloon and Fish Factory Grille is a must-see restaurant, if only for its views. You’ll find no better representation of the area’s pristine waterways and dense marsh grasses. The sunsets are pretty sweet, too.
For more information, call the restaurant at (910) 454-4002 or visit the website at www.thedeadendsaloon.com. The eatery is open daily from 11 a.m. all year long.