Former state Senate leader Marc Basnight’s restaurant near Manteo evokes two of my favorite things: politics and people coming together for good food.
Working on a follow-up to my book, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries,” I am gathering material about local, family owned restaurants along U.S. Highway 64. The highway connects Murphy, near the Tennessee line, all the way to Manteo and the waters of the Atlantic. It passes through 22 counties and extends more than 600 miles.
Not far from where U.S. 64 ends at the Atlantic Ocean is Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café, an important gathering place. The owner, former state Sen. Marc Basnight, was one of the most powerful legislators North Carolina has ever known. The good things he did, especially for this remote coastal area, continue to be appreciated.
Today, he and his crew are serving the public in a different way, with offerings of fresh-caught yellowfin tuna, broiled and fried seafood platters, shrimp and grits, and soft-shell crabs. Among other highlights are fresh vegetables and salad greens, many grown on-site in gardens visitors can inspect. The cornbread is so sweet, warm and moist it would make a meal for me on most days. And desserts feature a classic Key lime pie.
Basnight’s is a high-end establishment, more expensive than most other places I will suggest along U.S. 64. But even with the higher prices, a stop here is worth even more than you pay. Like the other restaurants I feature, it is an important gathering place for locals and visitors.
When Basnight was leading the state Senate, he was an environmental champion working especially to protect and enhance the quality of the state’s waters. For a short time, I served as interim director of the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund, created and generously funded thanks to Basnight. The payoff has been incredible. Grants from the fund have helped clean up blighted waters and conserve nearby lands.
It was not a good idea to get in Basnight’s way when he was on a mission. Once, a fish house on Ocracoke Island was struggling to survive and it needed funds to make critical improvements. Basnight called a group of state agencies together to secure funding. The Clean Water Fund should provide a grant, he said. Looking me squarely in the eye, he asserted the fish house could demonstrate how its activities could be conducted without disturbing the adjoining waters — a valuable demonstration project.
I responded that I could not make an immediate grant. Under the fund’s rules, an application would have to be prepared and considered by the board. Then, unwisely, I gave my opinion that it was not the kind of project the board would approve. After a huff, Basnight pressed other agencies to consider the need. One director had more flexibility and quickly secured the funding. The fish house was saved, but no thanks to me.
Soon afterwards, a friend told Basnight that I was doing a good job at Clean Water. “Well, maybe,” Basnight replied, “but he might be a little too clean for Clean Water.”
All that aside, every North Carolinian owes Marc Basnight a generous thank you for his ambitious and successful efforts to make North Carolina’s environment cleaner and better.
In 2012, Basnight announced that he is suffering from a debilitating condition, Lou Gehrig’s disease or something similar. Today, he cannot come out to greet customers as he once did. Still, every time I am close by, I will drop by his restaurant, sit by the window, look out on the sound’s clean water and toast Basnight’s achievements.
If you have favorite family-owned, country-cooking, local restaurants along U.S. 64 or other North Carolina highways, share details with me at [email protected]
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.