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Traveler's Taste

Small-town delights grow from big-city roots

MANTEO, N.C. -- Paul Charron runs around the Full Moon Cafe as if he owns the place, which he does. He chats up almost everyone who walks in the door, not because he's playing host but because he knows them all.

On a Saturday evening, we spotted him in the kitchen, at the cash register, and in the dining room. Earlier in the day he had played plumber after a leak forced him to shut off the water and close the kitchen for a few hours. If you somehow manage to miss him, you'll know he's there by the Irish music wafting from the speakers.

''I'm as Irish as they come," said Charron, 42, a New York City native. His wife and business partner, Sharon Enoch, 44, a Baltimore native, isn't quite so fond of all things Irish, so the music is less green when she's in charge.

You won't detect anything Irish on the menu of this very popular restaurant on Manteo's waterfront. What you will find are some of the tastiest dishes on Roanoke Island. House specialties include Low Country shrimp ($18) served over creamy Parmesan polenta instead of grits, and Carolina crab cakes ($20), also served with polenta. The crab cakes are the best kind -- just enough bread to hold the lump-meat crab together. And though they may be called Carolina cakes, they're really inspired by Enoch's Baltimore heritage.

Enoch is the main chef and the force behind opening the restaurant a decade ago. She's also a potter. Just this summer she and artist Scott Stockdale opened Gallery 101 a block away, which features their work and some from other regional artists and artisans.

Enoch and Charron's artistic sensibilities can be seen in the restaurant, built on the remains of a former gas station. Exposed brick stands out under a deep blue ceiling, and the 10 tables are topped with black glass. More tables are in the attractive patio area.

''We came here when I was chief pilot for a small airline here, and then we never left," said Charron, whose flying career was sidelined after he developed vertigo.

''We couldn't believe the 'small-townness' of it," he said.

Although the couple brought their big-city roots to their small-town restaurant, their menu includes affordable options. Quesadilla choices, $10, include portobello mushrooms, Cajun chicken, and roasted vegetables; wraps run $7 to $9; and burgers cost $6 to $9. And if you order dessert (not made locally) or coffee, it will probably be served on a dish or in a mug hand-thrown by Enoch, an appropriately personal ending to this personable restaurant.

The Full Moon Cafe, 208 Queen Elizabeth St., Manteo, N.C. www.thefullmooncafe.com. 252-473-6666. Lunch and dinner; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Dinner starters $5-$10; entrees $18-$21.

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