The North Carolina Visitor Center




Mrs. Calabash...

Mrs. Calabash, Where Are You?
By Ted Tyson, Scarborough, Ontario

For years, Jimmy Durante ended his radio and television shows with that unusual sign-off. Most people thought the mysterious Mrs. Calabash must have been some fictional character that Durante dreamed up just to tease his audiences. But longtime residents of Calabash, North Carolina believe otherwise. The folks in this town will tell you she was a real person with a real name--and a fascinating story to boot. They claim that Mrs. Calabash was really a local woman named Lucille "Lucy" Coleman.

In 1940, Lucy was 28 years old and running a restaurant in Calabash, then a tiny seaside community bordering South Carolina. Durante and his touring entertainment troupe are said to have stopped in for supper one night. It may have been the genuine homespun friendliness of the young restaurant owner that prompted the gregarious Jimmy Durante to beckon Lucy over to his table for some short chitchat. "I'm going to make you famous," vowed Durante, thinking she recognized his well-known face. (In fact, at that moment, she didn't even know who he was!) Lucy's daughter, Clarice Holden, says she will never forget what happened next.


"As Mr. Durante and his group were walking out the door after their meal," Clarice recalls,"he turned to my mom and said, “Good night Mrs. Calabash.”

It wasn't long afterward that this popular entertainer began signing off his radio shows with a similar message. For years, audiences enjoyed this rather lighthearted farewell mystery. By the time of Durante's death in 1980, it had become one of his trademarks, almost as recognizable as his big "schnozzola". But while that sign-off may have remained a mystery to most folks, Calabash residents believe it was Durante's way of saying to Mrs. Coleman, "Hi, Lucy--I remember you, if you're still out there now."

Lucy Coleman passed away in 1989, nearly 50 years after her meeting with Jimmy Durante. Calabash residents note that Lucy recognized the significance of Durante's little secret message but preferred to stay out of the limelight. She had no desire to claim credit as the real "Mrs. Calabash." "Mom was a very private person," recalls Clarice, "She didn't speak much about her 'Mrs. Calabash' entity, and declined all interviews and all invitations to appear on television."

Apparently, Durante's popularity was so great that he could immortalize a prim Southern restaurant keeper. But neither he nor anyone else could get her to talk.

~ this article provided by Crystal Coleman Nixon, of Coleman's Original Calabash Seafood Restaurant.


Coleman's Original Calabash Restaurant Calabash, NC


 Most restaurants last for less than a year - after just a few months in business, the doors close for the last time.  When a restaurant has been in business for more than 70 years, that says something important.  This restaurant must be unique and the food must be incredibly good.  When the restaurant has been owned and operated by the same family for that period of time, it says something more - it speaks of tradition, values and dedication.  Coleman's Original Calabash Restaurant, in Calabash, NC is is one of the few restaurants in the entire United States that can boast such a legacy.

Recently, we spoke with Crystal Coleman Nixon.  Crystal is the latest generation to take the helm of this legendary establishment.   

"We are family owned and operated and have been in Calabash since 1940. It all started with Lucy Coleman, also known as " Miss. Calabash". Since she opened this restaurant, it has been operated by four generations of Colemans. "Miss Calabash" passed the restaurant to her son Virgil "Tinky" Coleman, then to his son Ray Coleman."

Coleman's is currently run by Ray's daughter, Crystal Coleman Nixon, along with her husband Adam.  Crystal and Adam have done some updating to the restaurant, while still keeping the Calabash tradition alive.

"We love all our customers and appreciate all the families who have made it a tradition to bring there generations here year after year." 

"Calabash style" seafood is one of those uniquely North Carolina terms that are used in advertisements for restaurants in many regions of the country... but few are truly "Calabash".  True Calabash seafood comes from Calabash, NC.  It comes straight from the docks to the restaurant.... truly fresh!  It is fried, golden brown and delicious, in a light batter, with fresh oil (NOT GREASY).  It is lightly seasoned, so that the true flavor of the seafood is the main feature - it isn't covered up with lots of spices and sauces.  Big fillets of flounder are the featured fish - and if you have never had truly fresh flounder, cooked within feet of the waters in which they were caught, you have never tasted flounder!  Beyond flounder (which is, understandably,  as far as many get) are the shrimp.  The shrimp are perfectly fresh, rich and sweet. Then, the deviled crab... at Coleman's, the deviled crabs are crab cakes of the highest calibre - fresh crab meat, bread crumbs, chopped peppers, onions, etc, stuffed back into the crab shell and deep fried!  The flavor of the deviled crab is rich, complex and immensely satisfying! Next, must be mentioned the clam strips.  Okay, so you are wondering why clam strips would be ranked above scallops?  The scallops are, indeed, amazing at Coleman's, but the clam strips are so unique as to warrant earlier mention.  At Coleman's, the clam strips are thick, meaty, as tender as a clam can be and possessed of such a rich flavor that they can stand by themselves as an entree'!  Back to the scallops... wow!  The scallop flavor is bold, the flesh is firm, the breading subtle... what else can one say except, "yum!".  Then, to this reviewer, the ultimate seafood delicacy: OYSTERS!  When fresh oysters are in season, they are as fresh as one can get at Calabash.  You would literally have to raid the oyster beads yourself and suck them down raw to get a fresher oyster!   The oysters at Coleman's are sweet, briny, rich, meaty.... impossible to describe to anyone who is not an oyster fanatic... cooked (or not - and every stage in between) as one could wish.  All of this is served with fresh coleslaw, hushpuppies, fries or baked potatoes.  That is true Calabash style, and Coleman's excels!  

This reviewer's family has been eating at Coleman's for about 50 years, and the only regret is not finding it sooner.  
Crystal invites the readers of the NC Visitor Center newsletter:

"Come on over to Coleman's Original Calabash restaurant.  We currently have lunch specials daily starting at 11 AM. We offer your choice of one or two seafood options: clam strips, deviled crab, shrimp or flounder, for only $6.50. We strive to make our customers happy and enjoy their experience at Colemans. We hope to be in business for many more generations to come, and are excited to see our customers spend quality family time here at Colemans. So come enjoy our friendly staff, beautiful water front view and delicious fresh seafood with the Colemans' family!"

- NC Visitor Center