We somehow landed in historic downtown Southern Pines, North Carolina, on a Sunday afternoon. Not the fun-filled First Friday we were urged to attend, but the quiet, mostly closed Sunday afternoon after.
Nonetheless the streetscape of lights-out shops was still charming on this beautiful sunny day, and the city park, just a block down from the main business area was lovely. Bustling with a pick-up basketball game, kids on play equipment amid the soft sand playground, and moms and dads pushing swings, tossing footballs or keeping watch from benches, it was just the right spot to enjoy our visit with my U.S. Army Captain son, daughter-in-law and 1 ½ year old grandson.
But where to eat, especially with a toddler? We found an unexpectedly welcome venue and tasty menu at the Bell Tree Tavern. Located at 155 N.E. Broad Street in historic Southern Pines, the Bell Tree Tavern has an extensive food and drink menu, is reasonably priced and family friendly.
Like most taverns, the Bell Tree is low-lit, but its big street-view windows,
polished hardwood floors, exposed brick and stylish light fixtures, tell you it’s not just a bar. We would have been comfortable with the flat-screen, football-watching crowd, but instead opted for the open-air, wood-fenced patio in the back. With its own bar, it has an atmosphere of its own, and for our group of six, the big round table near the back, which included a couple of spring-loaded ‘rocking’ patio chairs, was perfect.
The menu choices were extensive, combining gourmet choices with a lot of Southern. Although I’m a fried pickle fan, the fam convinced me to instead start our dinner with the Calabash Seafood Dip, a baked combination of shrimp, bay scallops, crabmeat and bay seasoning, served with warm pita chips. It was a wonderful appetizer, and the chips alone were yummy. Tasting very much like a sweet dough elephant ear, I’m sure they were also not low-calorie!
I debated about whether to order Olivia’s Southern Charm shrimp and grits in a Cajun bacon cream sauce, just because it sounded so unique and delightful, but opted for the Brie burger. Complete with sautéed mushrooms, wilted arugula, lots of grilled brie and white wine Dijon, it was hearty and delicious, but the star was my side of whole, lightly breaded, fried okra. Amazing.
My vegan daughter was thrilled to find Betty’s black bean burger on the menu, and my daughter-in-law enjoyed the teriyaki salmon with Asian veggies and wasabi mashed potatoes. My husband loved his fish and chips and my son thoroughly enjoyed his burger. A bonus was our great server. He was fun, funny, personable and attentive.
The Bell Tree Tavern also has a kid’s menu with the standard chicken tenders and burger, plus penne pasta mac ‘n cheese and grilled or fried shrimp.
Add other choices like a fried green tomato sandwich, Randy’s Ribeye with grilled white corn with sweet cream, and pecan-wood smoked BBQ ribs, with a signature rub and sauce, and you get the idea – a great menu of Southern and modern cuisine choices.
In addition, the bar offers weekly drink specials, and stocks more than 40 kinds of whiskey, 13 draft beers and local brews from Aberdeen, N.C.
Desserts include Guinness cheesecake, Carmen’s Rum Cake – ‘ID required,’ molten chocolate cake, and Eamonn’s Pecan Pie, which with its touch of Woodford Reserve, claims to be the ‘Best Bourbon Pecan Pie in town.’
Bell Tree has a limited late night menu, and also serves breakfast from 9 to noon on weekends.
For more information, visit www.thebelltreetavern.com