A Meal With A View
When Cindy Capps points to the waterfront view at Rusty Hooks Dockside Grill, she smiles and shares her philosophy. “We are a destination restaurant,” she says. “People come here for that water view; our job is to not mess that up! We want to provide great food, great service, and a relaxing experience.”
Cindy and husband James purchased the restaurant, then called the Dead End Saloon, in March 2019. Because James has his own construction business – Pelican Enterprises – Cindy knew the restaurant would be her “baby.” She set about making some changes to enhance its appeal as a family restaurant, with a separate entrance, some minor renovations and new HVAC system. “My focus was on the restaurant from the beginning,” she explains. “I purchased a bar that happened to have a restaurant, now I have a restaurant that happens to have a bar!”
Capps also benefited from some inside scoop on the menu. Her two sons – Robert, 26 and Brian, 24 – had worked as busboys at the Dead End for years and knew what worked from a prep standpoint. The resulting menu is a combination of casual choices made with attention to freshness, flavor and quality.
Having worked for the Hammocks on Bald Head, Capps has a background in hospitality and is focused on great service. “If we are fortunate enough to have a family who comes here to vacation in the summer after having saved all year long for that, and they choose to eat here, I want to make sure we provide great food, great service, and help build those memories for that vacation,” she says. “We can also accommodate large parties, even 25 people, something not many other area restaurants can handle.”
Local sources for produce and seafood are important to Capps. Son Robert is a commercial fisherman (ReelinPelican), who, along with other locals, sometimes provides the fresh catch for what Capps calls a charter special. “We can provide your catch prepared however you like,” says Capps. “If you take a fishing charter with a commercial fisherman who has all the proper certifications to sell fish, and you want to go to a restaurant, we’ll prepare it for you. We are a fish dealer, so it has to be from a commercial operation, and that way we know the fish was protected through the whole process.”
The menu offers a lot of seafood choices as well as burgers and sandwiches. Burgers are hand-pattied and pico and sauces are all homemade. A popular appetizer is the fritters, which include a variety of fresh seafood, shrimp and scallops. Spinach salad and the Fish Factory salad are also favorites. There are lots of gluten-free options, and a true vegan burger. The number one soup is crab, with big lumps of crabmeat. Fish and chips and fish tacos are also extremely popular.
But the number one winner is the crab cake. It is a true Maryland recipe, a 6-ounce jumbo size, all crab with no filling. And those from that part of the country give kudos to the dish. “My son’s former high school wrestling coach at Laney is from Maryland,” says Capps. “One day he came down and had lunch with his mother. He bit into the crab cake and jumped up with tears in his eyes and gave me this huge hug. He said ‘thank you so much, I haven’t had this since I moved, it reminds me of home!’ Now every time he’s down here, he stops by for it.”
The restaurant features seating on two levels indoors and lots of outside seating as well, plenty of room to enjoy the view and a delicious meal all while staying socially distanced. Rusty Hooks is participating in the state of North Carolina’s Count on Me NC program and the Southport-Oak Island Restaurant Promise in conjunction with the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce, doing all they can to ensure health and safety.
As a “dock and dine” restaurant, the Rusty Hook also has four boat slips. They work closely with the South Harbour Marina staff to promote the restaurant to transient boaters.
Building relationships with locals is Capps’ emphasis. To keep people coming back, she has a “mug club” – you get a mug with a number that’s yours personally, and you pay the same for that as a pint. A customer heard about it and asked for a wine club, so that’s available now too. It may not stop there. “Our latest request is a margarita club,” she laughs. “We shall see!”
When asked about where the name “Rusty Hooks” comes from, Capps lights up with a personal story. “Rusty is my nephew, the same age as my younger son,” she relates. “They were out fishing when they were maybe 10 years old. They weren’t catching anything. They pulled up to the marina and went to a sandwich shop. They’re eating lunch and my nephew says, ‘I’m going to have a restaurant and we’re going to have $2 beers, and they’ll come for that, but they’ll stay because I’m going to serve Aunt Cindy’s crab dip.’ He put together this whole plan on that napkin and the name was going to be Rusty Hooks because they were going to serve all this seafood. When we bought the restaurant and decided to change the name, we called him and asked to use the name. He came home on spring break and said thank you so much for making my dream come true!”
Capps is modest but proud of where the restaurant is today. “We’re not fine dining — we’re just a nice relaxing place to come — that was my goal,” she says. “I want to treat all my customers the same way I would want to be treated.” And she does it with flair, and with an awesome water view.