North Carolina Dispatch: Fried Baloney on White, with Mayo

Even though it sits soundside on the coast of North Carolina, The Crab Spot's most wonderful dish may not come from the sea, but from the skillet.

TOPSAIL ISLAND, N.C. — It was in a windy waterfront fish shack called the Crab Spot that I was recently reunited with a North Carolina childhood favorite.

That would be the fried baloney sandwich, served with ample mayo on soft, soft white bread. Salt and sweet and carbs and umami, in every bite, and possibly one of the rare Southern comforts that hasn’t yet made it up to the ever-growing number of comfort food menus in New York City. Though to be honest I did once eat a Meat Hook-made sandwich stuffed with blow-torched flamed mortadella, an Italian cured sausage made of finely ground pork and often whole pistachios. That dish was essentially the city slicker version of my surf shack sandwich, and just as incredible.

The Crab Spot is supposed to be where you go for Bud Lights and peanuts in the shell at the bar and trays of fried flounder and scallops, which they get from the seafood shack on the docks just behind their “building.” We’d bought our own for dinner from the business essentially a row of white coolers just off the docks, just the night before. (Staffers stand around in socks — no shoes to avoid slipping — and gut fish and clean soft shells at little wooden stands right off the water.) The Crab Spot’s baloney sandwich is on the kids’ menu, and it’s really meant for those picky eaters, shunners of scallops and clam strips. But it’s delicious, if a tad disturbing, even for adults…. this one, at least.

Though maybe it’s just the memories talking: When I was a kid we’d fry the circles of very pink sandwich meat right on the cast iron skillet, their ample fat content all you need, naturally. Most folks, like the Crab Spot, cut the edges of the slice so that it stays flat for your sandwich, but I preferred to leave it whole, so it puffed up like one half of of a red rubber ball. If you see Meat Hook mortadella or some kind of sustainably made baloney (we think we may once have seen a test run from Flying Pigs, but that might have been a pipe dream) it likely won’t be red due to the lack of nitrites and food coloring, but we recommend you buy it, fry it, and eat it with nothing but mayo and very, very white bread.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.