$100 CRAB CAKE
When you’ve never been in a cockpit before and you only have a month to get a Private Pilot Certificate, there are only so many opportunities to get a $100 crab cake, what with having to learn stall recovery, steep turns, ground reference maneuvers, etc. But you can always practice a soft-field landing next to an airport restaurant (unless it’s class C, with airline jets coming in behind you, but more on that later). So I figured last summer, when learning to fly in northeastern North Carolina (especially when you live overseas), why waste a fly-in lunch on a hamburger?
Having lost weight the first two weeks of flying due to loss of appetite induced by the seemingly constant near-death experience of trying to learn to land a Cessna 172, I felt I was ready to have some crab cakes. In addition, while attempting the afore-mentioned ground reference maneuvers, I almost lost my breakfast the first day (I managed to hold on by hyperventilating, which I later learned in my studies is something pilots are to avoid).
I was not so lucky on the second day, when my instructor, Dave, demonstrated unusual attitudes. After that, a quarter of a bagel and minimal coffee was all I allowed myself before flying, and I made sure I carried a plastic bag with me to stuff behind Dave’s seat. Luckily, I never came close to needing it again, but I was pretty hungry by lunch time most days.
Based on my informal survey of locals, a great crab cake is one which is made with fresh crab meat, minimal filler, goes easy on the seasoning (any of a number of seasonings can be used) and isn’t cooked to death. A good flight for me is one where I learn to be a better pilot, but is even better if there is a purpose for the trip. Why not a crab cake?
So where are the best crab cakes within $100 of Elizabeth City, NC? If you could fly straight there, Howard’s Pub, about 1 mile walk into town from the Ocracoke Airport (W95), would be a good bet. Unfortunately, unless you want to fly 200 ft over the Alligator River below Restricted Area R-5314 (Dave said he did that once and two F15s decided to fly upside down at 250 ft to have a look at him), you have to travel significantly more than the requisite hour round trip to get there, flying the long way down the Outer Banks. But is it ever worth it.
Not just for the crab cake (which is delightful, as is the fried bluefish sandwich), but for the swim in the pristine ocean on a deserted stretch of beach just on the other side of the dunes from the runway. Not to mention circling the Bodie Island lighthouse, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and if you wish, the Ocracoke lighthouse on the way. So you could say you get a $100 swim and a $100 crab cake, plus practice in crosswind landings and monitoring thunderstorm activity on that journey. I liked it so much Dave and I went there twice in one week.
I already thought that Phillip’s Seafood Restaurant at Norfolk International (ORF) has pretty good crab cakes, but we had to make sure. Anyway, I needed to learn how to contact approach, use the transponder, get briefings and communicate with clearance delivery, ground and tower at a Class C airport, didn’t I? I also got my first taste (!) of landing fees, which were waived when buying avgas – so putting 19.2 gallons of 100LL in Dave’s Cessna 182 makes 1.1 hours of dual instruction received for me and a $119 crab cake (extremely good).
We were hoping for crab cakes at the restaurant at Suffolk Executive Airport, VA (SFQ) after taking my knowledge test at Chesapeake Regional (CPK). No such luck - $100 club sandwich instead, but friendly service and getting to watch the Golden Knights drop from the sky was a big bonus. Unfortunately, the Suffolk Airport restaurant is undergoing renovations this summer- we look forward to the reopening!
Flew to First Flight Airport (FFA) and checked out the monument to the Wright Brothers and museum. A shorter runway then I’d been used to - I used up a lot of it, and so learned the importance of double checking there’s no power left on during landing. Also learned the achievements of Wilbur and Orville as I hadn’t before – I was impressed by their innovation of 3-axis control in flight and their bravery, but especially their tenacity. I know from previous experience that the Colington Café (1 mile walk west) has mouth-watering crab cakes (served over greens with a horseradish caper sauce), but we ran out of time and had to head home before sampling them on this trip (a great alternative is a fried oyster sandwich from Awful Arthur’s on the beach road, also within walking distance).
One of the last days flying last summer we headed to Newport News / Williamsburg International (PHF) to see how comfortable I’d be picking up family from there, and ended up getting some good experience in adjoining airspace and pilotage (I know I’ve been earth-bound for 40 years, but why is it so difficult for me to follow landmarks from the air?). On the way back we stopped at Williamsburg Jamestown Airport (JGG) and Charly’s Restaurant, rated #1 airport restaurant for 2007 by 100dollarhamburger.com. We were in luck - got to see a medical evacuation helicopter in action, and crab cakes were the special of the day! They were darn good. The desserts also looked amazing, but dessert after a crab cake would seriously compromise Dave’s and my diets. Charly’s wins our crab cake contest.
Meanwhile, on my first night out back in London, I had trouble explaining to my husband the thrill of adding a third dimension to my life. Much to my surprise, crab cakes were on the menu. Not knowing where one catches a crab in Great Britain, I decided to pass. Besides, although I would have never thought it was possible, I think I was actually crab caked-out. I’m back in North Carolina flying this summer, and I hear there’s some fantastic southern barbecue a short courtesy car ride from Halifax County Airport (Roanoke Rapids) (RZZ).
By Mary Frances Owens