On Saturday September 4, 2010, Labor Day Weekend, I had already decided to travel down to “Little Washington” to eat at a restaurant that I had seen on North Carolina Weekend just the night before. Actually, since the TV show ran on Thursday and Friday nights, I watched it both times.
One segment of the show was Bob Garner eating at Marabella Italian Restaurant in Washington, NC. The owners, two brothers, were the latest of several generations of the family (which I do not recall) who had been in the business both as artisan baker and restraunteurs.
The food looked great from the start. You could tell that everything had the attention of the chefs. Garner tried the spinach ravioli, ossobuco (veal shanks), several other dishes and Mama’s Pizza which I believe he said had both smoked and regular provolone.
I knew quickly that I wanted to visit the restaurant sometime, so I googled and found the Marabella Restaurant web site, and another rating site with reviews. Worrisome was the fact that the building was small, the food was good, taking a long time to prepare, and long lines were the usual. There were a few negative reviews of one waitress named Summer.
By Friday, I had decided that I would try and visit the restaurant on Saturday. If I left by 8am, I should be there by 11 am when the business opened, hopefully beating any crowds that might form on a holiday weekend.
Another segment on the North Carolina Weekend show had been about Pettigrew State Park. The second largest natural freshwater lake in the State, Phelps Lake, is the focal point of the Park. Although I haven’t checked yet, I would imagine that Lake Waccamaw is the largest freshwater lake.
I used Google Maps to find Phelps Lake and get an idea of where it was located. My generalization was that it was North East of Washington, NC and North West of Lake Mattamuskeet . What wasn’t obvious by zooming in on the map and touring around the shoreline was the “rustic” nature of the region. Sure, I recall a gentleman who visited the park regularly and made a comment regarding birdwatching being very good. There were the old forest by the shore and the comment regarding some of the vegetation being like those in the Tropics, and a scene of a small Black Bear slowly walking down a dirt road in anticipation of going for a swim.
Having described the park, as above, and viewing it from Google Maps, and now recalling that I saw no residences around the lake, it still did not sink in that this lake is “far from the beaten path.”
I awoke sometime before 7 am on Saturday. By checking Google Maps I knew that the trip between Fayetteville and Washington, NC should take about two and a half hours. The street level view of Marabella Restaurant was great. What did not sink in, was that the building was located on Old Hwy. 17, now Carolina Ave., which ran through town.
Just a block away from the restaurant was the old Trailways Bus Station building. It is now a law office. Many times, growing up, I came through “Little Washington” on the Trailways bus, stopping briefly at the bus station and then travelling up to Williamston, Windsor, Ahoskie, Elizabeth City (not sure of the exact order without looking at a map) on the way to visit my mother in Portsmouth, VA. I still remember the Southern drawl of the bus driver as he called out the stops over the address system.
After I showered, I headed out the door and down to Hardees to get a Country Ham biscuit and drink. The ham is very good and I’ve found that this simple breakfast is perfect if I plan to have a good meal at lunch time. Currently, you can get a large drink (iced, sweet tea) for $1.00.
By about 8 am, I was leaving Hardees and heading out to, and up, I95. Near Wilson, NC you take NC264 east to Greenville and then continue on it to Washington, NC. If you were planning to visit Phelps Lake, you could even take NC264 to Pantego, a small community, and then turn onto NC99, before making some other twists and turns to the lake.
The morning was sunny and clear. Was it just two days prior that Hurricane Earl had brushed the NC Coast?
I do not recall what started me thinking about golf ball dimples and how that might be applied to the surface of vehicles to reduce wind resistance. It vaguely comes to me that it might have been a truck passing me with a Tonneau type cover over the truck bed. That often triggers a memory of an episode on Mythbusters in which the boys show that putting up the tailgate of a pickup truck will actually increase gas mileage because an “air dam” is created above the bed of the truck and air forms less resistance than the bed of the truck. *That physics probably does not apply in “in town” driving, but on the open highway, I would guess it does.
I arrived in Washington, passing under the Hwy. 17 bypass overpass and on into town before 11 am. Since I had a little time, I drove down to the waterfront where there was already much activity with a Farmer’s Market and those walking along the shore.
Eventually, I killed enough time and drove into Marabella’s parking lot right at 11 am. There was one customer, a man, already inside, to the left of the entrance. He had ordered a pizza which he ate partially and then took the rest away in a box. [Flickr Slideshow]
I ordered the Spinach Ravioli with sausage and asked that they also fix a small Meat Lover’s Pizza to go. The sweet tea was okay. It could have been a little more flavorful, but it was sweet. The bread that came with the meal had sauce and spices on top. It was good. The ravioli was good. The sausage wasn’t memorable. The overall experience was good, as was the food, and although several customers came in before 11:30 am, there was no crowd.
I walked out with a boxed pizza and tried one slice once I got in the truck, just to know how it tasted hot. It was pretty good.
I tried to find free WIFI in Washington, looking near several library locations and driving through old downtown. I couldn’t find a connection for the iPad, which would have given me a good map to look at. So, I pulled out the HTC Hero and started the Sprint Navigation app. I entered Phelps Lake (I think.) and after a few moments the GPS was talking to me. I continued on NC264 heading in a NE direction and eventually came to Pantego. It is a small community where NC264 and NC99 branch off. I pulled off near the intersection and tried to check the GPS, but the connection had been lost. I had never been through Pantego and as I continued on NC264 toward Belhaven, I thought that I might never come through this community again.
About this time, I realized that my stomach was upset and that I definitely needed to find a clean bathroom… or in this case, maybe even a bush. I saw a Hardees billboard and knew that this would be where I would try to use the bathroom. As I arrived at the crossroads of NC264 and NC99 (a bridge crosses the river coming from Bath, NC), I noticed what appeared to be an old brown Hardees sign, without the actual signage, but there was no building and my thought was that the business might have burned down. I headed on into Belhaven, stopping to turn on my iPad to look for WIFI. I headed along the riverfront street, and past the Hospital… no WIFI.
I finally opened the GPS on my cellphone again and found where the Hardees was located (the new/current one). It was a short distance up NC264 and on the right. I pulled into the busy parking lot and on into the restaurant. First stop was the Men’s bathroom and “Thank God,” the empty stall to the commode. I tried to get a GPS signal, but it was spotty, as it continued to be the rest of my time in the area.
After my bathroom break, I attempted to get in line to order a drink… “tit for tat.” However, there was only one young man and after a while it was obvious that service would be excruciatingly slow, so I left.
I got enough of a GPS signal to find that I should have gotten on NC99 back at Pantego, so I backtracked my route. Hmmm… twice in one day. I never thought I would come through Pantego, NC again. I turned right onto NC99 and continued on country roads, passing open fields and forests. The GPS continued to talk to me, telling me to turn at certain points, or continue at certain points. But, the service was spotty and I could never get a good map showing where I was and the route to Phelps Lake.
Turning on to Pat’s Road I continued. The GPS said to continue on Canal D Road which was a dirt road. At this point, I began to believe that the GPS was taking me through a direct route. Canal D Road was long, straight, and although it showed some signs of having been travelled, was only travelled by me for quite a while. The GPS was counting down to the next turn, and I hoped that at some point it would become paved once again. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve found myself leaving paved civilization for a gravel or dirt road, only after a while to return to paving before reaching the other end.
Canal D Road was a long straight dirt road. Sometimes there was grass mixed with the dirt. But, as I arrived at the next turn, onto Repress Road, my dismay bubbled over. Repress Road was another long, straight, dirt road, but with a little more grass. I started a short distance down it and then stopped. I tried to check my GPS, but lost service. I looked down the road and far down it could imagine a small black bear walking down it… perhaps one like that shown on NC Weekend. Eventually, I couldn’t see the real or imagined bear, and I had made my decision. I backed up to turn around and head back down Canal D Road. But, as I backed, I began to cuss. I was cussing the damned (and that would have been tame) GPS for not having enough sense to not be sending me down dirt roads “to nowhere.”
Or, perhaps, I had typed in Phelps Lake when that might have been the wrong name. Bumping down the road, I was asking myself where I had come up with the name Phelps. Perhaps it had been Phillips. Damn, where would the GPS have sent me? Was Phelps Lake actually a small lake at the end of an ever decreasing spiral of dirt roads? The GPS talking to me again about turning left onto Lake Road. No damn way I was going to turn onto another dirt road, taking me to some dead end. Plenty of gas still. Glancing to the right, signs of humanity… a large farm tractor (no one around) and further on a silvery barn.
No expletives deleted. Damned GPS, with not enough sense to get me to the right lake. A long dirt road, Canal D, but this time I knew there was Pat’s Road, paved at the end. A house on the right and then a mobile home with truck… and up ahead and then passing me, a young woman in an automobile going to one of these residences.
As I came to the crossroads where I had originally turned onto Pat’s Road, I pulled off to the right to check the GPS. I saw that Pungo Lake was only about 7 miles away, but that it would take over 20 minutes to get there… a sign that it might be more dirt roads.
Now, I was on Hwy. 45 (I think.). Off to the left in the far distance was a very large farm complex. It almost seemed to be like Cape Canaveral and I imagined it had to be gigantic, up close, for it to be so visible in the distance. I continued on Hwy. 45 as it began to wind and I began to wind around the distant complex and even get nearer at some point. A sign warning of “low flying planes.”
Now I saw that Hwy. 45 would intersect with Hwy. 264. I could then make a right and head back to Belhaven, Washington, Greenville and onto I95 at Wilson, NC. There was a church on the left, when I came to the intersection, so I turned into the parking area, and paused to get the pizza out. Now I was on Hwy. 264 and heading to Belhaven. I checked my gas and calculated that it would be “pushing it” to try and wait until Washington to fill up.
I turned off onto Business 264 into Belhaven. I knew I had passed a HESS (?) station my first time through. *Now that I think about it, if I had kept on 264, I would have come past Hardees and to the intersection much quicker. I got about 5 gallons of gas at $2.59. I knew I had seen gas for $2.4x just before coming into Washington on Hwy. 264, at a couple of stations so one of those would be my goal.
The trip back to Fayetteville was relatively quick.
At home, I got on the Internet and found that Phelps Lake was at Pettigrew State Park. I went to Google Maps and quickly found that where I had turned around was just a few miles from the lake, and that I had passed very near Pungo Lake as I travelled down Canal D Road. It was only now that I realized how “rustic” Pettigrew State Park actually was. The roads around Phelps Lake aren’t paved, or at least, that is how it looks to me now, having experienced Canal D Road.
The GPS was working as best it could, getting me ever nearer my destination, using the best routes it knew. I had put in the correct name for my destination, and just a short distance from that destination, I had given up, frustrated because I wasn’t seeing what I had been expecting and not knowing that I was travelling to the “heart of darkness”.-)
I hope to visit Phelps Lake at some point and will cherish the visit… I hope.
Location of Marabella Restaurant in Washington, NC