by Donna Byrd
I was walking around a popular local grocery store in the Surf City area the other day, trying to think of a seafood dish I could fix for dinner. While in the produce department, I saw the display of oranges and remembered a fantastic grilled grouper recipe I had prepared the month before. It was filleted grouper, bathed in a spicy marinade, grilled to perfection and served over a bed of arugula, spinach and orange segments with a tangy, orangey dressing, drizzled all over it. All of a sudden, I had to have that meal again! That night!
Immediately, I began to grab the ingredients I needed to create this restaurant quality masterpiece. I was hungry and couldn’t wait to get home to get my meal underway, so I hurried over to the checkout line. In all of my hurrying, I realized I had forgotten the star of the meal: the grouper. Excusing myself from the line, I thought I’d try my luck in finding some beautiful grouper in the meat department. I’d seen some behind the seafood counter before.
I scanned behind the glass counter and to my disappointment, didn’t see any grouper. I asked the attendant if they happened to have any in the back and he shook his head and said, “No.” I started to turn away but he leaned over the counter a bit, lowered his voice and said, “Have you tried Thomas Tackle and Seafood? I just got some grouper there yesterday. It had just come off the boat.”
“I bet it was wonderful, wasn’t it,” I asked. “‘Sure was,” he said smiling. “That’s the only place I get my seafood,” my new friend told me. “Go by there if you’re headed back toward the island.”
Thanking him for the tip, I decided to take his advice. If he worked in a meat department at a big grocery store but bought his seafood from another merchant, it had to be good and fresh. The man had to know what he was talking about. I pointed my car in the direction of the island.
I had driven by Thomas Tackle and Seafood many times but had never gone in. Since Bill and I don’t fish, we never paid attention to bait and tackle shops and I never really noticed the “seafood” part of the sign. Who knew the grocery store man could give me such a valuable tip?
I pulled into the parking lot. There were several cars out front and the place looked pretty busy. I walked up to the front porch and noticed that there were baskets of red tomatoes sitting by the door. A rocking chair and some colorful crab pots were nestled up to the other side of the door. I looked back at the roadside sign and noticed that it had the word “Produce” on it too. I had no idea that this business was so versatile! I couldn’t wait to go inside!
I walked in and passed by some shelving loaded with seafood batters and spices plus seasoning packets for gumbos and Low Country dishes.
There were also bags of locally milled seasoned grits. On the floor, sat more baskets of beautiful, homegrown ‘maters and on some shelving against the front windows, there were shelves of locally grown potatoes, squash, okra, onions, cucumbers, and peppers. Who knew this treasure trove of earthly goodies existed?
I walked toward the back of the store and saw a long row of iced down, shrimp (three sizes,) scallops, flounder, grouper, clams, and the largest striped bass I’d ever seen. (The manager brought him out for me to take a picture!)
I chatted with the guys behind the counter. They told me that Mr. George Thomas opened his store up in 1949 in the exact location that Sears Landing Restaurant is today. His old buildings by the dock were torn down about fifteen years ago to make way for the restaurant and Thomas Tackle and Seafood got the home it’s in now.
Today, Mr. Thomas’ son, Doug manages the business. Keeping the seafood and produce as local and as fresh as possible is the key to the business’ longevity and success. Plus, he has anything a fisherman would need in the bait and tackle category.
Thomas Tackle and Seafood is on Hwy 50 before you get to the swing bridge that crosses over to the Topsail Island. I’m sure it’s the first store that many vacationers stop at on their way to “beach heaven.” I was talking to a long time employee, Sammy, and he told me that a customer had just left that had been shopping there for forty-five years. This neat produce, seafood, bait and tackle shop has become a beach tradition for Surf City vacationers and locals!
Mr. Thomas’ grandson Josh, was working right by his grandfather’s side. It seems as if this iconic Surf City business will be around for another generation of “the best seafood around!”
Oh, and P.S… I did take home a lovely grouper fillet and some “purty” tomatoes! Here’s a link to my grilled grouper recipe! Try it! You’ll like it! http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/pauls-grilled-grouper-recipe.html
Thomas Tackle and Seafood is located at:
1520 NC-50, Surf City,