Dining Options Along the Eastern Seaboard

Discovering some of the best boat-accessible eateries along the East Coast

Aerial view of an east coast seashore.
The East Coast is home to some of the finest restarants in the country, and many are accessible by boat. John Wollwerth / Alamy

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I don’t know about you, but I never was a ­long-­boat-ride kinda gal. Whenever tasked with a north-south delivery in the fall, or a south-north delivery in the springtime, planning the stops around our favorite places to eat was a must. Even the most out-of-the-way places along the Intracoastal Waterway can ­sometimes have you surreptitiously hoping for bad weather, just for an excuse to visit that tiny hideaway that you enjoyed so much once before. So, sit back and relax as we fill you in on some of the best places to dine on the Atlantic Seaboard.

Blackfly The Restaurant, St. Augustine, Florida

With an extensive wine room that’s 1,000 bottles strong, Blackfly puts it front and center. And while it might be the focal point of the dining room, Blackfly’s original concept was to take the best recipes from all the various fishing lodges in the Caribbean and Bahamas, and use them as a baseline. All foodstuffs are fresh and locally sourced to present the best that Florida’s Historical Coast has to offer. Starters such as shrimp tossed in a spicy chili-lime sauce sits on an opaque miso-butter emulsion; a pan-seared lemon-pepper-­dusted triggerfish entree is served alongside black beans and jasmine rice; and a vegetarian option—where assorted mushroom varieties, truffle, spinach and Asiago cheese enveloped in a ­delicate puff pastry—leaves no taste bud behind.

The delivery captains we spoke to have never had a bad meal here, and to help stretch out your compressed body after a day of traveling on the water, Blackfly is a half-mile walk from the Conch House Marina—and worth every step.

Coastal Kitchen, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Untouched marshlands and ­golden-hued beaches are just two of the breathtaking views you’ll find on Georgia’s barrier islands, but the food? Well, if you like coastal Georgian cuisine, you’re in for a treat, because the food found in St. Simons is far more than just Brunswick stew. Oysters plucked from the Georgia coast are some of the best, snapper and ­grouper are a staple, and wild Georgia shrimp make a yearly appearance at Jekyll Island’s Shrimp & Grits Festival, obviously.

Although we’d much rather prefer a long weekend to explore the Golden Isles, we can still get in a good meal right at Morningstar Marina. Because sometimes convenience is key when it comes to dinner after a long day at the helm, Coastal Kitchen sits at head of the docks, it’s casual, and it lends a great twist on traditional Southern ­seafood dishes. Dirty oysters—introducing caviar and ­shallots—caught our eye for a starter, followed by entrees of wild Georgia shrimp and grits with a smoked tomato-bacon gravy and andouille sausage with white cheddar grits, and north Georgia mountain trout topped with white Zinfandel-butter sauce, could make our bellies pretty happy. But if you’re straight craving protein, or prefer a ­little turf with your surf, the Angus patty with applewood-smoked bacon and white cheddar pretty much hits the spot, as does the grilled bone-in pork chop with creamed-corn grits, collard greens, and bacon-Vidalia onion jam.

CQ’s, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

A nighttime image of an outdoors seating area at a restaurant. The patio is full of diners and is lit by overhead string lights.
When the weather is just right, don’t miss dining alfresco at CQ’s. Courtesy CQ’s Restaurant / Maggie Washo

The first time I walked into the hidden gem called CQ’s at Harbour Town, I was in love. Maybe it was the century-old heart pine floors, the old-timey bar, or the blue-cheese-stuffed martini olives, but whatever it was, it spoke to me. “Lowcountry remembrance,” it reads on CQ’s website, and as a self-proclaimed old soul who loves all things history, I’m running with that too. “There’s so much history in this place, [and] there are not many places around here where you can have that,” says executive chef Ferenc Bukta, who is known as “the people’s chef,” according to CH2 magazine.

A plate of cooked seafood from CQ's.
Hilton Head’s CQ’s Restaurant is famous for its fresh local seafood. Courtesy CQ’s Restaurant / Maggie Washo

The food is tasty and classic at CQ’s, without being pretentious, and Bukta brings this perspective to the restaurant—where corners are never cut. He pretty much came in with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset, implementing only minor adjustments to keep the food, well, 21st-­century fine dining. Whether it’s time-honored braised short ribs with parsnip and potato puree (the chef’s favorite) or ­succulent lump crab cakes that levitate over an edamame, butternut squash and sweet corn succotash, CQ’s is Hilton Head’s go-to for farm-fresh locally sourced ingredients prepared with a Lowcountry—and inappreciably Hungarian—flair.

The Ordinary, Charleston, South Carolina

A plate of baked oysters.
Baked oysters. Courtesy The Ordinary

The one place you shouldn’t mind being weathered-in is Charleston, where the restaurant competition is anything but ­gentle. The King Street and Battery sections of the ­downtown historic district offer some of the finest in ­antebellum home envy, as well as the ­finest in Holy City dining.

Top-down view of a plate of raw oysters and other seafood.
A sampling from the raw-bar menu. Courtesy The Ordinary

Halls Chophouse undoubtedly brings you the best Allen Brothers exquisitely aged and hand-cut USDA prime steaks; Husk defines Southern cuisine by insisting that “if it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door”; and at Hank’s Seafood, the staff serves fresh local ­ingredients transformed into pure Lowcountry dishes at their pleasure, all while donning white dinner jackets.

A plate of four crispy oyster sliders.
Crispy oyster sliders. Courtesy The Ordinary

It is all amazing; however, The Ordinary is anything but ordinary. Located in an old bank building on King Street, the eatery is described as a “high-energy, bustling American brasserie,” and the element is ­seafood—all local, raw-bar style.

A top down view of a plate of beef tartare.
Beef tartare. Courtesy The Ordinary

The oyster varieties are off the charts, especially when they are served with the ají dulce mignonette, and the raw-bar menu offers clams, shrimp, crudo, larb, and caviar service. From the kitchen, crispy oyster sliders, wagyu tartare, and (get your Googler out) tête de poisson are just a few of the unique but familiar flavors you’ll find here. In the words of my dear friend, the late Eric Charles Landis, “It’s good, if you like food.”

Mr. P’s Bistro, Southport, North Carolina

For more than 60 years, the Phipps’ family tradition of Lowcountry cuisine has been passed on through the generations, and this lower Cape Fear bistro has striven—and ­succeeded—to set the table for fine dining in the Southport area. Nearly every member of the family has made some contribution to this special legacy. Whether it’s by washing dishes, working the kitchen line or bussing tables, you can be reassured that your experience here will leave you feeling like a part of the story.

Only certified Angus beef, the freshest seafood and local produce grace the plates of Mr. P’s, and a walk along the live-oak-lined streets of the city’s historic home district that shows off early-1880s Victorian-era ­architecture from the Southport Marina makes the effort worth it. One of my old captains swears by the crab-stuffed fish du jour, especially when flounder is in season, and fresh oysters are prepared three different ways, including Rockefeller, on the appetizer menu. Southport is pegged as “America’s Happiest Seaside Town,” and if the food has anything to do with it, I can see why.

Read Next: Take a look at The Catch, our hub for the finest food and drink recipes.

Floyd’s 1921, Morehead City, North Carolina

Founded in 2005, Floyd’s hits the top of our list for dining in Morehead City. Just steps from the Morehead City Yacht Basin, this Southern-inspired eatery never ceases to surprise or impress diners with chef Floyd Olmstead’s spin on some of the South’s favorites. With a background in all culinary styles—from Asian to Latin—Olmstead, a Carteret County native, wears his 22-year ­experience on his sleeve. Smoked pork belly burnt ends glazed in a cherry barbecue sauce or Buffalo oysters make a perfect starter; old Southern fixings such as fried chicken breasts on cheddar biscuits and served with sawmill gravy or sauteed calves’ liver smothered in onions and applewood-smoked bacon will tame those meridional cravings; and if you’re in the mood for seafood, shrimp étouffée and Cajun-fried flounder with ­collard greens and rice hits the spot. Five versions of the ­classic burger also stand out, as well as the restaurant’s commitment to supporting local farmers and fishermen whenever possible.

Coinjock Marina & Restaurant, Coinjock, North Carolina

If you’ve never had to stop for fuel in Coinjock, then you might need some more hours on your ticket. Boaters faced with the unrelenting beating that the Atlantic Ocean seems more than willing to give often find ­themselves navigating the sounds, bays and riverways of the backcountry, between Beaufort and Norfolk, Virginia, just to avoid a trip to the chiropractor.

A plate of egg rolls.
Coinjock’s redneck egg rolls hit the spot after a long day on the water. Courtesy Coinjock Marina & Restaurant

Where in the hell is Coinjock, you ask? Situated at mile marker 50 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Coinjock Marina is a transient staple, and the homey restaurant here has been nourishing weary ICW travelers since 1978. The biggest food draws here are the redneck egg roll appetizer—stuffed with barbecued pulled pork and collards—and the famous 32-ounce prime rib, aptly named “the captain’s cut.” But be advised, however, that during the heavy boat-delivery season, it would behoove you to call Coinjock the minute you have a good idea of your ETA, because the fuel dock closes at dark and the prime rib could be eighty-sixed, and that, my friend, would be a real bummer.

Sunset Grille, Ocean City, Maryland

Aerial view of a boat marina and Ocean City's Sunset Grille
Ocean City’s Sunset Grille is located literally steps from your slip at the marina. Chris Rabil

I think I’ve had just about ­everything there is to have at Sunset Grille, except for maybe the cocktails. Because really, the only cocktail worth drinking in the OC is an Orange Crush, no ­matter how many of them have resulted in the very worst of my hangovers.

If you’re the salad-for-lunch type, then rest assured because Sunset Grille won’t disappoint. One of my favorites is the jumbo lump crab with whole-grain mustard remoulade and shrimp salad. It’s a sad state of affairs if you don’t sample Maryland’s blue crab while visiting the Old Line State, and lump crab frees you from the messy activity of consuming them on the hoof. The shrimp is spiced up with Old Bay, and the greens, avocado, tomato, and cucumber keep this high-protein and tasty salad on the level. If this salad sounds great to you but maybe you prefer a handheld lunch, try the Baltimore Club. This sandwich mixes it up with a house-specialty lump crab cake, shrimp salad, bacon, and a chipotle-inspired remoulade, all wedged between a toasted everything roll.

Of course, no restaurant can be genuinely judged without a keen purview of its wine list. The most drinkable and delicious cabernets can be found in Sunset’s ­cellars, notwithstanding the casual atmosphere. Worthy favorites such as Faust, Stag’s Leap, Silver Oak and Caymus will have you ordering dinner only after you’ve picked out a beautiful wine. Steak au poivre is a classic French preparation that includes a ­peppercorn-crusted filet mignon on a sauce of cognac cream, the wagyu Bolognese, and a 14-ounce New York strip certainly wouldn’t disappoint any meat-and-cab lover. And the best part of this dining experience is the location, which is just steps away from your slip. C’mon summer!

Baxter’s Boathouse Club, Hyannis Port, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

A black and white grainy image of Baxter's Fish and Chips marina restaurant.
A Cape Cod institution: Baxter’s has been serving Hyannis Port ­fishermen and tourists alike since 1967. Wangkun Jia / Alamy

Just a short jaunt from the ferry landings at Hyannis Harbor, Baxter’s is, in its own words, a “Cape Cod institution.” And truer words may have never been spoken because Baxter’s has been feeding fishermen and tourists since 1967, and it’s the only restaurant in Hyannis where you can tie up and dine in, or tie up and dine out—on the restaurant’s deck or on your boat—while looking over the harbor. The sight was originally purchased in 1919 by a sea captain’s son named Benjamin D. Baxter Jr., who set it up for fish packing, but in the 1930s, another one of Baxter Sr.’s sons, Warren, turned it into a fish market in the same building the restaurant occupies now. After World War II, the brothers split up the property—one to offload the fishing vessels and sell fuel, the other to maintain the fish market—and in 1957, Warren’s wife began selling fish and chips. The rest, you can say, is history, and there’s lots of it.

Baxter’s legendary version of a bloody mary—the Binnacle—is award-winning in its own right, and is said to have been originally fashioned by Capt. Ben Baxter Sr. himself while concocting versions with whatever ingredients he had on board. So, naturally, an Upper Cape harbor lunch starts with one.

We might be catching bluefins out of Hyannis Port, but we are eating bivalves, in all the preparations: stuffed quahogs, creamy clam chowder, bacon-wrapped scallops, and fried and steamed clams. And of course, we would never leave Cape Cod without having at least one lobster roll. The Hyannis Marina (and those dang ferries!) memories come flooding back whenever I think of Baxter’s, and even though a lot has changed in 20 years, I still look forward to going back.

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