Ella's: Calabash Cookery with a Squirt of Citrus

By Patricia B. Mitchell, 2002.

The dock at Calabash, North Carolina

David, Sarah, and Patricia Mitchell stroll on the Calabash dock, a block from Ella's.


Hush Puppies

Ella's “endless” basket of worthy-of-an-award hush puppies.


Key Lime Pie

Ella's Key Lime Pie.


French Silk Pie

Ella's French Silk Pie.

The fried shrimp at Ella's Restaurant in Calabash, North Carolina, live up to the ideal of Calabash-style cooking. The tender shrimp, though not large, taste fresh; the batter is light and delicate, never greasy-to-the-mouth. In my opinion, the faintly sweet, crisp, golden morsels need only a little drizzle of fresh lemon at the table to achieve perfection, though the teenage boys in my family douse them with ketchup. Husband Henry and daughter Sarah usually try out both the seafood sauce and the cocktail sauce offered in squeeze bottles on the table.

Ella's serves many other seafood choices — flounder, oysters, scallops, deviled crab — you name it. However, we feel that their signature entree is the shrimp.

While you await your seafood dinner, the waitress brings an “endless” basket of worthy-of-an-award hush puppies. Now these are yummy, and hard not to fill up on! Some seafood eateries fry their fish, their fries, and their hush puppies all in the same vat of (aging?) fat. Everything therefore tastes sort of fishy-greasy-heavy. Not so here — these light, but admittedly oily, puppies actually taste of cornmeal. They are prepared in rather free-form shapes, and are a bit strange-looking piled in a basket, if you didn't know what they were.

Assuming you still have stomach space after the hush puppie temptations, and the main course and sides (!), Ella's has some noteworthy pies. The refreshing taste of Key Lime Pie makes a grand finale. The history of this pie can be traced back to soon after the Civil War, when condensed milk became generally available. In the Florida Keys, the sweetened, canned milk was combined with egg yolks, and the locally grown limes (citrus aurantifolia), and then baked in a graham cracker crust. The popularity of the dessert spread and now is considered a “classic.”

Many Key Lime Pies are made with Tahitian (or Bearss or Persian) fruit with green food coloring added. Ella's doesn't add fake color. Some more recent recipes add gelatin and meringue on top. Ella's is crowned with whipped topping. But any way you slice it, it's mighty good.

Oh, one more thing, for the chocoholic, there is a superb French Silk Pie. Or perhaps a sample of both pies?



Notes

Books on Related Topics

By Patricia B. Mitchell

Available directly from the publisher, and at museums throughout the United States.

The following book contains the recipe for Ella's legendary hush puppies:

Good Food, Good Folks, Good Times: Just Being Southern

Good Food, Good Folks, Good Times: Just Being Southern


And for more Southern nostalgia:

Delightful Dreams of Dixie Dinners

Delightful Dreams of Dixie Dinners

Real South Cooking

Real South Cooking

Waking Up Down South: Southern Breakfast Traditions

Waking Up Down South: Southern Breakfast Traditions


Simply Scrumptious Southern Sweets

Simply Scrumptious Southern Sweets

Specialties from the Southern Garden

Specialties from the Southern Garden

Southern Born and BREAD

Southern Born and BREAD