Even Fagin Would Like This Place
Oliver’s on the Cape Fear in Southport is universally pleasing.
The reprehensible villain of Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist seemed to smile only when his evil was being unleashed on his prey. But I’m betting Oliver’s in Southport would generate a smile or two, especially after enjoying some of the exceptional food and drink offered there.
The first thing he’d see upon entering is the beautiful bar, and, if he could refrain from pilfering anything from it, he’d likely enjoy one of the brews from a modest but respectable beer tap list. Mine was an old favorite from Wicked Weed called Pernicious, whose name might appeal to him.
That beer happened to go perfectly with a Shrimp and Grits dish that both my sister-in-law, Lisa, and I thought was simply outstanding. With bacon, chorizo and cheese topping some good hominy, where succulent, perfectly done shrimp awaited their fate, the lunch portion was a mere $13.
But prior to that, we noticed an unusual — and unusually good — Beet Gazpacho, which was flavored with star anise. If gazpacho is your thing, don’t miss it. It comes in a cup or a bowl, depending upon your appetite.
The Southport Fall Salad the missus ordered was as pretty and tasty as it was huge, and brother-in-law Ray’s Calabash Cape Fear Platter — complete with large hush puppies — could have fed two people easily.
The place is unique in that it combines a waterside airiness with a special coziness inside (perhaps aided by the rich, warm tones of the wood and the attentive service of our server, Liz). It’s easy to see why many of the regulars opt to sit at that bar and enjoy dinner. There’s outside seating available, too, and you’ll only get closer to the Cape Fear River by actually setting foot in it (which you can do, if you’re not careful).
Begun by Ed and Toni Oliver, the place has been a favorite for decades, but that fact could make your visit problematic. Parking near the restaurant and the adjacent Waterfront Park can come at a premium, so don’t be surprised if you have to walk a bit after finding an empty space. Fortunately, I was on two wheels and found a, um, “non-traditional” space, and a passing member of the local constabulary gave me a wink and a smile when he saw what I did.
He was clearly part of the typical Southport welcoming committee, as I’ve never met any Southport native who wasn’t friendly there. And why wouldn’t they be? The little port city is ideally situated and bustling with activity, even in the off-season. That’s good to see, too, as the city took a pasting from Hurricane Isaias.
Manager Michael couldn’t have been more accommodating, and he allowed that business was back up to about 80 percent since the COVID business began. Of course, the business strictly follows all the rules, among which are dedicating good food, good drink and great service to those who enter. Oliver’s would even bring a smile to the villain Fagin’s face.
But it might be better to insist that he keep his on all the time. Even after COVID’s over.
Want to go?
Oliver’s on the Cape Fear
101 W. Bay Street, Southport