The Restaurant Today
Through the years, the Sanitary became known for its hushpuppies, excellent seafood, friendly management that always remembered your name, great view — and for the unique sign that hung near the front door. It read “If you are drunk or acting drunk, please do not come in, for we will ask you to leave. We would rather have the business of one sober person that half a thousand drunken ones.” In World War II, the words changed a bit: “We appreciate your business, but if you’re drunk or acting drunk, please stay out. It will save you the embarrassment because we will ask you to leave if you are in that condition. We do not wish to lose one sober customer to gain one hundred drunk ones.” For many years, the Sanitary maintained that policy and even did surveys of its customers to see how they felt about the “no alcohol” policy. For many years, there were more against alcohol being served than there were for it.
But things change, and while the Sanitary tried to maintain as many traditions as possible, the second and third generation also try to stay abreast of the times. In 1995, Ted Garner, Jr., after receiving a growing number of requests for drinks with dinner, made the decision to start serving wine and beer in the restaurant – and the customers approved. In 2001, he built a bar in the front of the restaurant. Then, in 2011, Jeff Garner enlarged and improved the bar, and he moved it to the port deck area, where customers could sit near the water and enjoy the view.
The current bar, called Tall Tales, is the brainchild of Jeff Carner. Its clever design is a “must see”. Tall Tales is actually the stern of a boat – a real boat stern, not a design made to look like a boat. Building it and getting it into the restaurant after it was already built was quite a feat. Stephen Buck, descendant of Morehead City boat builder Ase Buck, built it. He started it on his back deck, then moved it to David Quillen’s shop, where it was glassed. Once it was finished there, it was placed on a low-boy trailer with the help of Jeff McCann. The trailer had to be moved – and through – Port Side Marina (with the permission of owner Deward Harris). There it was loaded onto a barge owned by a dock builder Derik Smith, who was rebuilding the Sanitary’s dock at the time. Once the “boat” reached the Sanitary, it was carried through the south wall (water side) where a triple window had been removed. The door to the outside eating area (the deck) is now in that spot. Once inside, the boat stern was set in place, glassed, and painted by Lee and Howard Day. The boat was trimmed by Stephen’s father, Jeff Buck, Phil Woodard, Jason and Jeremy Asdente, Doug Faircloth, Collin Prosser, and Fulcher Electric also helped with the project.
At the same time the bar was added, Jeff, Ted, and Lisa also added outdoor dining. While there had always been a dock circling the restaurant, there was never outdoor seating until 2011. Now, there is seating for 75 people on the deck, and in the summer there is sometimes live music inside or outside. The deck provided one of the best views in town for sunsets. Today, with the addition of the Tall Tales Bar, the ice cream bar, expanded cash register area and a door to the outside eating area on the deck, the seating capacity is down a bit to 500/550.
The business was built on fresh broiled and fried shrimp and flounder combinations, which remain two of the most popular dishes. Shrimp is probably the most popular seafood, and flounder is the most-liked fish. Shrimp panned in butter is still one of the most popular dishes, and broiled or fried mullet, bluefish, spot, and trout are also in demand. The cold plate, featuring shrimp salad, shrimp and tuna salad is an old favorite, too. The “Down East” clam chowder is a consistent favorite, and the most famous item served at the Sanitary is the hushpuppies. Many of the dishes are made by the original recipes developed long ago by an employee, Bud Mayo, grandfather of Jeff and Lisa Garner, who was also known for his desserts.
Although the restaurant will always continue to serve the old favorites, both Ted Jr. and Jeff like to be inventive with the menu these days. They hired a chef in recent years, who has created several new dishes; the most popular are a much-talked-about Seafood Chili and a Seafood Quesadilla. He also creates weekly specials, such as the popular Blackened Tuna with a bruschetta and fresh mozzarella. Shirley Garner also has her share of recipes on the menu, including squash casserole, the stuffed potato, crab and corn chowder, and coconut cake.