24 Hours in New Bern, North Carolina
Thank you to City Girl for coming to experience all New Bern has to offer! We hope you enjoy her reflections below and be sure to check out her blog,
This past March, I continued my 24 hours series with a visit to New Bern, North Carolina. Until this visit to New Bern, I didn’t realize the rich 300 years of history behind the second oldest city and the first state capital of North Carolina. The charming riverfront town is set alongside the Neuse and Trent Rivers. It was founded in 1710 by a Swiss nobleman who named it after his native city of Berne, Switzerland. Bern means “bear” in German and after finding out this fun fact, I started referring to New Bern as the “Bear City”. You can’t help but notice the “Bern Bear” symbol on the flag as well as the life-size fiberglass bears situated throughout the city. One of my favorite fun facts about picturesque New Bern is that it’s one of the main characters of author Nicholas Sparks books including A Bend in the Road, The Wedding and The Notebook. Aside from its history, one of the things that stood out the most during my stay is the friendliness of New Bernians. I have not visited every city in NC, yet, but wow – the citizens of New Bern are the sweetest and friendliest North Carolinians that I have met to date.
One of my favorite things to do while visiting a new town or city on the weekend is checking out the local farmers market. The New Bern Farmer’s Market is open Saturdays 8 AM to 2 PM year-round. In April through December, the farmers market is open Tuesdays from 10 AM to 2 PM. The market has a diverse group of vendors that sell baked goods, seasonal produce, jams, wine, and handmade crafts including children’s smocked dresses, sport-themed baby bibs, soaps, and jewelry. Several food vendors will have bite-size products available for sampling as well.
As you walk through the first state capital of NC, you will be struck by the architecture, numerous amount of churches in a downtown area, the gorgeous historic homes and the charming life-size bears that are situated throughout the town and outlying areas. The decorated fiberglass bears are adorned with unique clothing, hats, flags, flowers and other creative features. Of the several bears, I encountered through downtown, “Harvest Bear”, which sits outside the Farmer’s Market, is one of my favorites.
After my tour of the farmer’s market, I made my way to Baker’s Kitchen Restaurant & Bakery. Although it was a couple minutes past noon, I was craving breakfast, which is why this spot was a perfect pick. The restaurant serves breakfast all day and has a wonderful assortment of fresh bread, bakery items, pies, and more. I ordered the Bun & Sum, one of the house favorites, which is two grilled baker’s cinnamon rolls, three turkey sausage links and two sunny side up eggs. This was the perfect combination of savory and sweet to kick off my day. Before leaving the restaurant & bakery, I grabbed a couple of raspberry cheesecake cookies to snack on later. Cookies are not my typical go-to item at a bakery because I make a mean batch of cookies at home, however, I found these lavender-hued cookies very intriguing. I didn’t dig into these cookies until much later, but I can tell you that I really enjoyed them. They had pieces of real fruit and they were very moist and not too sweet. They are unlike any other cookies I have tried before, so the flavors were a welcome surprise. I would love to visit Bakers Kitchen again to sample some of their other pastries and try their famous Butter Syrup. After talking to the manager, Brian Johnson, he mentioned that the Chicken and Waffles are a customer favorite. And the Butter Syrup – everyone in town raves about it.
After my Saturday brunch, I walked through downtown and headed to the intersection of George and Pollock Street for a 90-minute trolley tour with New Bern Tours. The tour includes a visit to the New Bern Academy Museum, Cedar Grove Cemetery, Christ Episcopal Church and more. The professional guides are extremely well versed in the history and architecture of New Bern and you will walk away both well informed and fascinated by the first capital’s unique charm. If it is your first time in New Bern, I highly recommend this tour as a comprehensive introduction to the second oldest city in NC.
After my trolley tour, it was time for me to check into the DoubleTree by Hilton New Bern – Riverfront. The hotel rooms at the Doubletree are pretty standard, however, New Bern Doubletree’s unique perk is the spectacular riverfront view. I will not deny that one of the reasons I enjoy the DoubleTree hotel chain is the fresh and warm chocolate chip cookies that are given to guests at check-in. Other perks include free parking, it’s close proximity to the New Bern Convention and Visitors Bureau and historic downtown restaurants and shops.
Once I settled into my room, I snacked on my cookies and enjoyed the beautiful riverfront view. After a little break, I freshened up and switched out my heels to some comfortable walking shoes to explore downtown.
One of my other favorite New Bern fun facts is that the town is the birthplace of Pepsi, so of course, I had to visit the Pepsi Store. Before Pepsi Cola was marketed with its name, it was initially called Brad’s drink, named after pharmacist Caleb Bradham. The pharmacist created the drink at his drugstore where the drink was sold and is now the site of the Pepsi Store. One of the fascinating facts about Bradham’s drink was that it was created to help aid in digestion and boost energy. The ladies working that day at the Pepsi Store were very friendly and well-versed in the history of Pepsi. They encouraged me to drink a fountain Pepsi as the recipe is unique to all other fountain & canned Pepsi drinks found elsewhere in the world. Whether you’re an adult or child, you will love visiting the Pepsi Store. The store has a lot of historic memorabilia on display and souvenirs for purchase. I bought several postcards to send to friends and family and many were tickled to know that New Bern was the birthplace of Pepsi. Whether you are single, coupled or have a family, this a fun landmark to visit while exploring New Bern. When you visit the Pepsi store, don’t forget to try a fountain Pepsi and some of their freshly popped popcorn.
Did you know that New Bern is a popular wedding destination? The town’s architecture, picturesque Trent and Neuse Rivers and unique charm make this Eastern Carolina town a perfect backdrop for weddings. It was no surprise to run into several wedding parties throughout my visit. Some of the coveted New Bern wedding venues include Abilena Plantation, Stanley Hall Ballroom, Tryon Palace, The Aerie, Copper Ridge on the Neuse, The Carolina Wedding Barn, Isaac Taylor Garden and more!
Downtown New Bern is filled with quaint boutiques, jewelers, bookstores, art galleries and more. During my stroll down Craven Street, I met the owner of Blush bridal boutique. Owner Jean Lloyd sells designer couture wedding gowns, hand-designed veils and headpieces, and custom accessories. Jean not only owns but manages the shop and provides personalized customer service to ensure her brides have an intimate and wonderful shopping experience. If you are in New Bern and are in need of a designer couture wedding dress or are not having luck finding a wedding gown in your city, know that Blush may be another option for you.
After exploring the boutiques and shops, I walked back to the DoubleTree to freshen up for dinner. Not having to drive anywhere during my 24 hours stay in New Bern, is awesome for this City Girl. I do indulge during my trips, so the walking is a great way for me to walk off some of those calories.
Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant overlooks the Neuse River and is a fifteen-minute walk from the DoubleTree hotel. You can choose to dine in their casual elegant indoor space, but I highly recommend dining in their outdoor waterfront deck. There’s nothing more perfect than riverside dining while enjoying a cocktail, which is why I started the evening with one of Persimmons handcrafted signature libations named Lovely Rita. It is made with Tequila, Freshly Squeezed Ruby Red Grapefruit, Salted Cinnamon Rim & an Orange Peel. It’s no secret that Tequila and Mezcal are a couple of my favorite spirits, so this Lovely Rita was the perfect cocktail for me.
If you are visiting Persimmons simply to enjoy a libation or two on their waterfront deck, let me suggest ordering the Cracked Pepper Biscuits served with Country Ham, Pimento Cheese, Deviled Egg Spread and Pickled Vegetables. This is a perfect appetizer to share and complements a sweeter cocktail like the Lovely Rita.
One of my favorite appetizer’s at Persimmons that also makes for a delicious meal (if you want a light meal), is the Cornmeal Fried Local Oysters. There’s so much to love about this dish including the Crispy Pork Belly, Local Greens, Pickled Peppers and Cracked Pepper Buttermilk Dressing that make up this appetizer.
If you are a thinking eater, Persimmons Restaurant is a great place to dine. Whether it’s their local, sustainable farm to table ingredients, fresh seafood or their beef or pork from Nooherooka Natural, the restaurant prides itself in supporting local suppliers and farmers.
One of the heartier meals prepared by Chef Antonio Campolio is the Bone-In Pork Chop. I don’t eat pork often so when I do, it’s a special treat. The Nooherooka pork chop was so tender, it melted in my mouth. The broccoli salad is a nice accompaniment and added a fresh summery component to the dish. The Apple Rosemary Jus was delicious with the pork chop, but personally, I loved dousing the crispy smashed new potatoes into the sweet-savory sauce.
If you are in the mood for steak, Persimmons has Prime and Local cuts of beef which include Filet of Beef, Hanger Steak, Ribeye and a Nooherooka Natural Butcher’s Cut.
The Diver Scallops are phenomenal. The dish is also one of the lighter ones amongst the main entrees. The giant scallops are accompanied by a Carolina Gold Rice and Red Pea Hoppin’ John, Arugula, and Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette.
The three entrees I sampled are quite generous, however, I highly recommend ordering Persimmons Brussel Sprouts. I’ve eaten many versions of what now seems a popular veggie, including my own recipe. However, I was completely wowed by Chef Antonio’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts, which are flash fried, tossed with Nooherooka Pork Belly, Bourbon Honey, Providence Goat Cheese and Smoked Sea Salt and finished in the oven. I heard from several members of the Persimmon Staff that there was quite a customer uproar when the recipe for this vegetable dish was modified years ago. I can understand why – the dish is exceptional as it currently stands. If you are an adult that doesn’t care for vegetables, this might be the dish to convert you into a veggie fan.
Every beautiful meal deserves a perfect finale and mine was the Dark Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding dessert. It was accompanied by a Port Wine Reduction and a side of Vanilla Ice Cream and Graham Cracker Dust. Although the dessert is not on the standard Persimmons menu, other desserts include the Key Lime Curd, Chocolate Salted Caramel Tart and Coconut Cream Cake with Local Berries, just to name a few.
After a long day, I was ready for a nightcap and for some R&R. If you are ready to paint the town red or need a nightcap in New Bern, some late night options include Prohibition: Drinks & Desserts, The Brown Pelican, and Circa 1810 Bar at the Harvey Mansion. I admit I was a bit exhausted, so I opted to visit the Double Tree’s Christoph’s Lounge. The intimate bar is dimly lit, has seating at the bar and also has a couple of indoor and outdoor tables for customers. A bar is a good option if you are looking for a standard cocktail or beer. If you are a DoubleTree hotel guest, Christoph’s Lounge is especially enticing as you will be a couple steps away from your hotel room.
The following morning, I planned on brunching at Lawsons Landing Riverwalk Café at 10:30 am, so I asked for 1:00 pm late check out. This was another big plus for me during my stay at the DoubleTree. I took my time to prepare for brunch and had enough time afterward to pack and check out.
Lawsons Landing Riverwalk Café is inside the North Carolina History Center and overlooks the beautiful Trent River. The café has a daily breakfast and lunch and at night the restaurant turns into Aperitivo Restaurant, where diners can enjoy a fine taste of Italian cuisine.
The café has a featured mimosa during brunch. This particular Sunday’s feature was a lovely cranberry-orange mimosa garnished with a fresh strawberry. The mimosa was quite popular and practically every guest at the café had one of these pretty cocktails at their table.
My brunch struggle is always a debate between ordering sweet or savory. Once in a while, you just have to have both. I am a huge bananas foster fan, so I knew well in advance that I would be ordering the Banana Fosters French Toast. The bananas & the banana’s foster sauce are the stars in this brunch item. If you are a fan of French toast or banana’s foster like me, you will love this dish. The sauce is very cinnamon forward, which I love, and the bananas vary in texture. After chatting with Lawsons Landing Chef Bruce, he mentioned that both ripened and unripened bananas are used to achieve this texture. I cannot stop raving about this dish! It’s definitely one of my brunch favorites and fortunately is on Lawson’s Landing Café standard brunch menu.
Lawson’s Landing Brunch is well known for their quiche. The day I visited the café, they had three quiches on the featured menu. I ordered the Caprese Quiche topped with a reduced balsamic and side of pasta salad. The quiche was uniquely delicious and the Greek-inspired pasta salad was a refreshing accompaniment.
When you visit Lawson’s Landing Café, you will not help but notice the beautiful desserts on display. After a two course brunch, I did not order dessert, however, I highly regret not taking a slice to go. Doesn’t this three-tiered strawberry cake look divine?
During my dinner at Persimmons the night before, Chef Antonio Campolio recommended I drive over to Famous Restaurant & Bakery. I don’t know about you, but when a Chef recommends a spot… I make sure to take the suggestion. I stopped by the bakery once I was en route to Morrisville. It was only a five-minute drive from downtown New Bern. The bakery has an assortment of fresh loaves of bread, cupcakes, cookies and other pastries. My initial plan was to purchase one item, but I got carried away and ordered a handful of items. I ordered an assortment of croissants but the prosciutto and Gouda croissant was exceptional and among my favorites. I also ordered a birthday cake cookie and a gooey bar, two very unique pastries that are absolutely awesome. I was five minutes into my drive when I opened up the gooey bar. The bar is made with a vanilla brownie crust and filled with a sugary butter custard that is soooo divine. If you are ever in the New Bern area, you have to include this bakery in your agenda.
It’s hard to get over the charm of lovely New Bern. The people, food, architecture and gorgeous riverfront views will make you swoon. It’s the perfect weekend getaway whether you are single, coupled or have a family. If you are planning a trip to New Bern, I highly recommend that you visit the New Bern-Craven County Convention & Visitors Center. They have a wealth of information including a visitors guide that highlight the boutiques, eateries, attractions and many other places that you can visit while in New Bern. One of my favorite items at the Visitors Center include the self-guided heritage walking tour flyers. Some of these include the Revolutionary War Walking Tour, The Historic Homes Tour, Architectural Walking Tour, African-American Heritage Tour, The Civil War Heritage Tour, The Churches & Cemeteries Tour and my favorite, the Walk to Remember Tour. As you can see, whether you are a foodie, love to travel or you are a history buff, New Bern has a lot to offer everyone. Have you ever visited New Bern? Let me know what are your favorite things about the second oldest city in NC as well as your favorite dining spots.