While you’re making your winter holiday plans, keep Eastern North Carolina businesses in mind. Specifically, check out bakeries and restaurants in the area for your sweet treat fix — and maybe find some do-it-at-home fun while you’re at it.

Offering sugar cookie decorating kits and take-and-bake side dishes, the road for local sweets shops celebrating the holidays is paved with some delicious treats you’ll likely want to include at your table. The shops listed here are well worth the drive if you find one outside of your area sounds tempting.

Here are some of the ENC bakeries and restaurants cooking up holiday fun.

 

Darel’s Bakery and Sweets

509 Marine Blvd. in Jacksonville, 910-333-9086

facebook.com/darelsbakery

Darel’s offers several different baked goods, coffee and ice cream — but they are probably best known for their iced dessert croissants. The pastries change on a seasonal basis, but some specialty flavors, like maple bacon and pumpkin, are certainly worth the wait.

As far as Christmas croissants, owner Ashley Murphy said she and staff have not released their holiday menu yet — but they have thrown a few ideas around.

Murphy said she will probably create something with well-known flavors of the season, like a vanilla croissant topped with crushed peppermint.

“Those are just some ideas,” Murphy said.

The bakery usually has a croissant of the month, or a seasonal flavor based on the holidays and time of year. For example, October included a pink-iced vanilla croissant for breast cancer awareness.

With the Jacksonville location opening in June of this year the bakery is still relatively new, but business is doing well, according to Murphy, and she hopes to include Darel’s Bakery in some local holiday events, or even host its own.

Murphy said they are planning to host a Croissants with Santa day in December.

The best place for folks to stay up-to-date on plans for Darel’s Bakery is Facebook, Murphy said.

“Our Facebook gets a lot of attention,” she said.

And the best time to go? Weekdays are typically a little lighter than the weekends, with Saturday being the busiest day, Murphy said.

For those interested in other baked goods, Darel’s Bakery offers other items like gourmet breads, cupcakes, cheesecake and cake pops. Call ahead to ask about availability or visit their Facebook page for menu information.

 

The Peach House

412 W. Vernon Ave. in Kinston, 252-522-2526

peachhousenc.com

The Peach House was started by Sally McRae and her husband with the renovations of the house on Vernon Avenue in 1987. According to her sister-in-law and development manager, Joni McRae, the restaurant has been growing ever since.

With people’s busy lives in mind, cookie trays are a big seller for the Peach House during the holidays, where folks can buy a full tray of no-bake cookies and other treats to take home.

“We have a base of 15-20 desserts we’ve been baking since 1987,” McRae said. “Our foundation (in food) is tried and true.”

Other things to try for the sweet tooth include popular cake flavors from the Peach House, like their red velvet cake, hummingbird (pineapple and banana) and double chocolate espresso cake.

Catering service, McRae said, is also pretty popular during the winter when people are hosting larger parties and having family and friends visit for the holidays. The eatery, which is decorated for the season with a festive tree and holiday decor adorning the fireplace mantels, has two private rooms available upstairs for those parties,

Over the years, McRae said the business started by her brother and sister-in-law has really grown with the community’s support.

“I found that everybody comes to Kinston for something,” she said.

 

Sweet Pea’s Cafe

3515 Trent Road #6 in New Bern, 252-637-6695

facebook.com/sweetpeascafenewbern

Karen Miller, owner of Sweet Pea’s Cafe in New Bern, is a caterer by trade. Alongside her father, Frank Minutello, they brought 30 years of catering experience from Long Island, New York, to Eastern North Carolina and started a new business.

For Miller, her experience has taught her what works best for catering — and she loves making small plates with big taste.

Miller said some of the items to get excited about at Sweet Pea’s Cafe include the Thanksgiving egg roll — turkey and stuffing in an egg roll shell with a cranberry compote dipping sauce.

“I love Thanksgiving and don’t see why we can’t eat that kind of food all the time,” she said.

They also offer make-and-take side dishes, such as several kinds of stuffing.

The Thanksgiving dinner menu includes some elevated versions of the traditional holiday table, like butternut apple bisque and a stuffed fruited turkey breast with apple cider dressing.

For families wanting to shake things up, Miller brings her catering skills to offer convenience with take-and-make hors d'oeuvres for those who love entertaining with small bites.

Her catering background, she said, has helped form her love for hors d'oeuvres and the menu shows it — they offer 70 different kinds.

Folks are welcome anytime of the year to try small bites or one of their famous stuffed meatballs, and the Miller-Minutello family has no problem getting into the Christmas spirit.

“We’ll decorate and I always try to have one family dinner — usually the day after Thanksgiving because we all work during the holiday — but we call it the dysfunctional family dinner and everyone can come eat,” Miller said.

 

Swanky Sweets

807-3 West Corbett Ave. in Swansboro, 910-325-7981

swankysweetsbakeshop.com

The Swansboro-based Swanky Sweets bakery churns out plenty of traditional items during Thanksgiving and Christmas — while recreating some family traditions too. The bakery even decorates with cookie cutter holiday lights.

Vicki Mann, owner of Swanky Sweets, said the Thanksgiving season is heavy with pie orders, but the bakery also does fun twists like pie-decorated cookies as an alternative.

Clients also order their specialty breads and rolls for the holiday as the season gets closer, she said.

For Christmas, the bakery offers pre-made cookie decorating kits, with cookies and icing for folks to take home and decorate without having to turn on the oven or plug in the mixer.

“We do all the baking and you take it home and get the rest of the mess,” Mann joked.

Cookie boxes and holiday-flavored cakes, such as pumpkin with chai icing, hot chocolate-based cakes and peppermint are also part of some of the bakery’s holiday items.

Near and dear to Mann are her own family traditions and heritage, which she brings into the bakery with St. Lucia Day rolls, a spiced bun with raisins, cardamom and saffron.

“We love to create stuff for clients — we try to replicate things that are important to your family and your heritage … so that’s something I take very seriously,” she added.

Other fun Christmas items include Elf on the Shelf treats, which are tiny cookies appropriate for “feeding” an Elf on the Shelf doll, or sampling cookies if you’d like a very, very small taste.

For those interested in catering or special-order items, Mann suggested ordering early as the bakery will book up quickly during the holiday season.

 

Queen Street Deli

115 S. Queen St. in Kinston, 252-527-1900

queenstreetdeli.com

With a large space on Queen Street in Kinston, owner Leraine Tolston started Queen Street Deli in 2011.

Although the downtown is sometimes quiet, Tolston said folks still come by every year for their holiday goodies. According to Tolston, Queen Street Deli is known for its carrot cake but the restaurant offers plenty of options for hungry customers during the holidays.

For Thanksgiving, people can pick up their sides and even turkeys beforehand. Desserts include things like their famous carrot cake and red velvet cake — which is a popular color and flavor during the holidays.

And during Christmas, unique and savory sides show up like sweet potato ham biscuits and savory cheesecake with sun-dried tomatoes and bacon.

The cakes at Queen Street Deli, Tolston said, can be picked up whenever someone is in the mood for cake, or folks can pre-order to make sure they get their favorite flavor.

“When Christmas comes, we’re excited because everyone is shopping and everybody is ordering cakes,” Tolston said.

Even on Christmas, however, some people want to keep their diets in check — so the deli does have a selection of keto-friendly items and freezer meals. But the selection does change so call ahead and ask about availability.

 

Sugar Island

206 N. Topsail Drive in Surf City, 910-254-1110

sugarislandnc.com

Sugar Island’s menu is seasonal and sourced locally so it changes quite often, said owner Sam Smith.

“It always changes day to day,” Smith said.

Some of the popular menu items people enjoy are their lemon chews, brownies and double chocolate cookies, Smith said. The shop also packages its own coffee blends with locally sourced coffee and unique spices and flavors.

Pre-made cookie dough is also a fan favorite, since it lets customers taste a hot cookie with Sugar Island flavors right in their own home.

For those wanting something traditional, Sugar Island also bakes Christmas goodies like almond horns and poppyseed rolls, gingerbread and fruitcakes.

In fact, the fruitcake is such a special item the prep-work starts in July, with fresh fruit getting soaked and ready to go into the cake, Smith said.

On the savory side, the shop makes its own pimento cheese and holiday side dishes like macaroni and cheese.

“That works out good for people who don’t feel like cooking or like, last year some people couldn’t get into their kitchens (after Hurricane Florence),” Smith added.

The bakery’s seasonal-style cakes are also a fun option during the holidays, and during Thanksgiving there are pies. With varieties like sour cherry with fresh cherries, heirloom apple made with three apples and of course, pumpkin, it’s certainly worth a try.

Smith said the cherry pie is a best seller, especially during Christmas, but pumpkin pie is also very popular — staff usually have to make a few more to stock their Thanksgiving pies.

For Christmas, Smith said the bakery typically bakes layered cakes for people to order.

And she really did stress the need to order — all the cakes are made to order for those interested to ensure it’s the freshest cake available.

“You do have to order early,” Smith said.