Oyster ice cream: A surprising scoop of American food history

“People actually ate this...It was once a big deal in Read more

Chocolate, ice cream and N.C. root beer!

In my favorite round, Battle Uncle Scott's Root Beer, Merrell, who runs the tapas restaurant and "cocktaileria" Circa 81 restaurant in Morehead City, prepared one heck of a riff on a Black Cow, that famous chocolate, ice cream and Read more

Cooking lessons learned at 2014 Fire on the Dock

As the contest moves into its final battle tonight, I'm thinking back to the ideas I got during the 2014 tournament, part of the statewide Competition Dining Series that ultimately crowns an overall North Carolina winner from four regional Read more

Southern Collards should be the new kale

Will collards be the new kale, darling of diners seeking farm-to-table fare? If the 2014 Fire on the Dock chef competition is any indication, maybe. Read more

Food touring in Carrboro with Taste Carolina

As I often say, "I'm eat up with it," and Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours fed my obsession quite well this past weekend. Read more


Warm up with some of Wilmington’s best soups!

Winter is just nippy enough on the North Carolina coast to think about soup after a fall or winter walk on the beach. Lots of places in the city make wonderful soups, many of which are on special during Encore Restaurant Week. Here are a few of my favorites.

Downtown and Monkey Junction’s Chop’s Deli locations offer hot soup every day, no matter the temperature. Selections may be as traditional as clam chowder or tomato soup or fresh takes on old ideas. For instance, one of today’s choices is Curried Surf & Turf Chowder. Chop’s is well-loved for its super cheesy, super rich Broccoli Cheese Soup. One of my past favorites was Meatloaf Mac & Cheese Soup.

In far north Wilmington, I’m crazy about Kornerstone Bistro for the kitchen’s wood-fired oven (pizza with soup! yum!). Lately, the spot has been offering Tomato Basil Soup and Roasted Red Pepper Soup, either perfect with Pizza Bianca (no tomato sauce).

Phun Seafood Bar's Duck Noodle Bowl. So yummy!

Phun Seafood Bar’s Duck Noodle Bowl. So yummy!

I love Asian soups, and downtown chef Josh Woo of YoSake really knows how to make broth sing with flavor. For this week’s Encore Restaurant Week menu, Oct. 23-30, 2013, Woo crafts Tomato Ginger Bisque and Lemongrass Vegetable Soup.

Uptown, chef Lee Grossman of Bento Box has an experienced hand with soups, too. His Hot & Sour Soup is lovely, but keep an eye out for specials such as crispy lobster dumplings in clear broth.

I recently sampled the most delicate but soothing simple egg drop soup with goji berries at Szechuan 132 in College Road’s University Landing Mall. If you like a white tablecloth Asian restaurant, don’t miss this little gem.

My absolute favorite soup of late is the Kai-Soi curry beef noodle soup at Asian Fusion Noodle House on New Centre Drive near Target.

Szechuan 132's Egg Drop Soup with gogi berries. Light but so warming.

Szechuan 132′s Egg Drop Soup with gogi berries. Light but so warming.

Other great soups and stews around town include the creamy seafood stew named Waterzooi at downtown’s Caprice Bistro. This week, Caprice is offering its stellar Boeuf Bourguignon as part of its $29.95 Encore Restaurant Week lineup. Nearby French cafe and wine bar Le Catalan serves delish Lentil and Sausage Stew this time of year.

I also adore, adore, adore the Duck Noodle Bowl I’ve had at downtown Wilmington’s Phun Seafood Bar.

These are just a tiny selection of the many wonderful soups available around Wilmington. Please share places where you have found others.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, French, Midtown Wilmington, Monkey Junction, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wilmington Restaurant Week Leave a comment

Fall delights on Wilmington menus

Sometimes it feels as if autumn is nothing but a leadup to Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie. As soon as summer temperatures drop down to fall, pumpkins become cool.

Port City Java stores in Wilmington are serving pumpkin muffins. The shop’s pumpkin pie shake contains chai tea, ice cream cinnamon and Irish cream syrups and pumpkin pie spice. Pumpkin pie latte blends espresso, steamed milk, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla and cinnamon syrups.

Coastal Cupcakes downtown and at Wrightsville Beach is asking customers to suggest fall flavor ideas for the October and November cupcake list. Pumpkin was the No. 1 vote recently at the company’s Facebook fan page.

Pumpkin is not the only flavor on fall menus.

Salad turnips from Black River Organic Farm, one of the vendors you'll find at the downtown Wilmington Riverfront Farmers Market that happens 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays April-December.

Salad turnips from Black River Organic Farm, one of the vendors you’ll find at the downtown Wilmington Riverfront Farmers Market that happens 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays April-December.

The annual Oktoberfest celebration has begun at downtown’s The German Café, at The Cotton Exchange. Oktoberfest specials available until Oct. 31 include a $10 lunch and dinner special of grilled bratwurst on a bun with sauerkraut, a side of warm German potato salad, a 10-ounce German draft beer and a slice of strudel.

Collard greens have made appearances on Kornerstone Bistro’s menu, which regularly taps local growers for ingredients. At area farmers markets, look for more greens and lettuces, muscadine grapes, late-season peaches and tomatoes and, my favorite ingredient this year, tender, little salad turnips.

The turnips have a mild bite that is delicious raw or cooked. My Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class have been playing with the turnips. Recent dishes prepared during class include roasted pumpkin and salad turnip risotto and a salad blending salad turnip roots and greens with poached pears and a firm, Havarti-like goat cheese from Nature’s Way.

Fall also brings Encore Magazine Restaurant Week, happening Oct. 23-30. Forty-three Cape Fear-area restaurants will offer nightly specials throughout the period. One of my favorite restaurant week stops is Caprice Bistro, which usually offers three fantastic courses for just $25! Menus will be posted soon.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Cooking classes, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, French, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wilmington Restaurant Week Leave a comment

Bastille Day specials

Francophiles grab your French flags! Saturday, July 14, is Bastille Day and Wilmington is celebrating.

Le Catalan’s Bleu, Blanc, Rouge Menu includes Salad Nicoise, zucchini and sausage gratin made with sausage from Hallboro’s Pierce & Co. meat market (the store was founded in 1897!); fresh fruit sorbet and, of course, the famous Kir Royale cocktail. Pernot, escargot and lots of other French classics are available, too. Find Le Catalan on the downtown waterfront, 224 S. Water St.

South ‘n’ France bon bon shop, 822 Orange St.,  stages its biggest sale of the year each Bastille Day. Bon bons cost $1 each, half the regular price, but you must bring cash and correct change. The sale happens 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until bon bons are sold out.

Downtown’s Caprice Bistro, 10 Market St., also celebrates Bastille Day with a special menu, and keep the restaurant’s Belgian leanings in mind for a second celebration. Caprice rolls out its Belgian Independence Day menu July 21. The bar has a great Belgian beer list.

Posted on by lizbiro in dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, French, Restaurants Leave a comment

Winning classic French sauces

Pitted against the clock in an unfamiliar kitchen and forced to use ingredients of someone else’s choosing, chefs in the heat of competition might be tempted to trade fine sauces for doctored-up bottled salsa. That’s not been the case during the Fire on the Dock cooking tournament at Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach.

More than one time during the contests, diners have had to ”Google” the names of sauces that classically trained chefs know by heart. The béchamel-based crayfish sauce Nantua  showed up during Battle Asparagus and Strawberries on April 17. Rich, brown demi-glace, albeit flavored with cherry soda, was featured at Battle Cheerwine on March 27.

Last night, winner Kirsten Mitchell, executive chef at Cameo 19 Hundred featured the tomato-tinted béarnaise sauce named Choron.

Sauce Choron with pork helped Cameo 19 Hundred chef Kirsten Mitchell win the April 25 round of Fire on the Dock.

Chefs, like Mitchell, who have been trained in classic French cooking techniques build their saucier skills around what legendary chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) termed “the five mother sauces.” The list includes milk-based, roux-thickened Sauce Béchamel; white-stock-based, roux-thickened Sauce Velouté; the emulsified egg yolk, butter and lemon Sauce Hollandaise; fortified veal stock known as Sauce Espagnole; and tomato sauce.

The saucier’s world opens wide from those recipes. Béarnaise spins off Hollandaise. Béchamel is the basis for Nantua and the cheese sauce Mornay.

How important is it for good cooks to know their sauces? Ask Mitchell. Her breaded pork dish with Sauce Choron was the second-highest scoring dish among professional judges working the April 25 battle.

Hollandaise and Béarnaise can be intimidating to home cooks. The recipes require heating while whisking egg yolks, water and lemon to create a fluffy emulsion. Next, melted butter is whisked in to create another emulsion. The combination of heat, delicate eggs and just-right whisking add up to one big challenge.

The savior? Internationally acclaimed chef Jacques Pépin. The French master, of course, knows his mother sauces, but he doesn’t mind a few shortcuts, like making Hollandaise in a blender. The Chicago Tribune turned to that technique to create this easy Sauce Choron.

Blender Sauce Choron

Combine 2 tablespoons each tarragon vinegar and white wine and 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots in a saucepan over medium heat; cook until all but 1 tablespoon of the liquid has evaporated. Let cool.

Melt 2 to 3 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 peeled, seeded, chopped tomato; cook, 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon tomato paste; heat to a boil. Mash well; let cool. Stir in 1 tablespoon each finely chopped tarragon and parsley.

Heat 3 sticks butter in a small saucepan over low heat until bubbling but not brown. Put 4 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons water, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and white pepper, and 11/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice in a blender. Cover; blend on high. Immediately, with blender running, add hot butter in a steady stream. Stir in shallot mixture and tomato mixture. Serve warm.

Source:  Chicago Tribune. The recipe was adapted from Jacques Pepin’s “Essential Pepin” (Houghton Mifflin, 2011).


Posted on by lizbiro in Fire on the Dock, French, Recipes, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Think pink: Azalea Festival cocktails Part 1

Crow Hill’s The Most Delicious Drink in the World. Photo by Teo Ninkovic

With giant, grilled turkey leg in hand, you’ve wielded your way through the N.C. Azalea Festival‘s funnel cake crowds, claimed your place in the potato twisters line and packed your pipe with grilled sausages and peppers. Finally, it’s time to step away from the throngs and kick back with a cocktail.

So what’s it going to be during this weekend’s festival? Downtown Wilmington has many pink pops. Later today, I’ll share recipes for Azalea Festival cocktails.

During my Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro Drinks Downtown cocktail walking tour, I run into lots of cool bartenders anxious to reveal their latest elixirs.

Ask Crow Hill‘s Teo Ninkovic to shake what he boldly calls “The Most Delicious Cocktail in the World.”

The blend of gin, berries, lemon juice and pomegranate liquor is the lipstick magenta red of certain azalea flowers but offers soft, sippable flavors that defy the drink’s potency.

On the Waterfront from Manna barman Ian Murray is an Azalea Festival delight. Murray created the drink while working at Caffe Phoenix earlier this year. A spin on the French 75, the well-balanced, pale pink pistol packs gin, dry vermouth, lemon juice, cranberry juice, simple syrup and a splash of champagne to finish.

While at Manna, ask mixologist Joel Finsel about his Elixir of Life, an antioxidant-rich blend sure to lessen the effects of too much Azalea Festival street food. Finsel puts acai, pomegranate and organic vodka in the cocktail.

One of the best festival breaks is Caprice Bistro‘s Pink Panther enjoyed in the French spot’s cushy, upstairs sofa lounge. The drink contains pressed grapefruit, Courvoisier Rose, orange-flavored vodka and the French aperitif Lillet in a martini glass rimmed with pinkish Himalayan salt.

Deluxe bartender Aaron Hale does a stunning grapefruit martini, too. And don’t forget the sparkling wine-by-the-glass list (12 to 14 selections) at The Fortunate Glass wine bar as well as the housemade sangria at Mixto, Kir Royale at Le Catalan and the Pomegranate Ginger Mojito at Yo Sake.


Posted on by lizbiro in downtown Wilmington, French, Restaurants Leave a comment

Best of Wilmington Restaurant Week

“This, this, this and this. That and that, plus some of this, and maybe this and most certainly that and that,” is probably how the collective Wilmington foodie mind is thinking this Restaurant Week.

Running through March 28, Encore magazine’s Restaurant Week is the time to sample some of the Port City’s best dishes at unbelievably low prices.

So what are the must-haves among the many?

For sure, Mixto chef Trinity’s Hunt’s crispy barbecue pork spare ribs, bone-clinging but tender and just spicy enough.

Hunt also impresses with his knack for layering textures and flavors, which is bound to shine in his “crisp fried” Banks Channel flounder with roasted red pepper stone-ground polenta, organic spinach and spicy roasted poblano vinaigrette, all dusted with queso fresco.

Mixto offers three courses for $25, as does The Eat Spot, where some of Wilmington‘s best refried black beans land with house-smoked pulled pork, pico de gallo, jalapenos and sour cream on white corn tortilla chips for nachos.

The Eat Spot chef Jason Godwin also features his signature SBLT & Grits: grilled shrimp on a toasted Kaiser bun along with applewood bacon, lettuce and roasted tomato dressing. The sandwich is served with cheddar cheese “grits.” The cooked grits are cooled, cut into sticks and deep-fried to resemble French fries.

On his $35, three-course Restaurant Week special, Godwin offers pan-seared duck breast over a ragout of mushrooms, caramelized onions & spinach with mustard-herb sauce.

End with Godwin’s sweet potato bread pudding, light and fluffy thanks to it’s biscuity base.

Spinaci con prosciutto at Caffe Phoenix.

Caffe Phoenix’s bread pudding is featured on its $15, three-course lunch menu, as is the restaurant’s famous spinaci con prosciutto pasta dish.

Chef Carson Jewell is back in the Phoenix kitchen, good news especially for flounder lovers. He pairs the buttermilk-battered, fried fish with hoppin’ john to which Jewell adds braised collards.

I always think of Caprice Bistro as the Restaurant Week big dog. Its $25, three-course menu is mind-boggling in its authentic bistro array and abundance. What’s more surprising is that French chef Thierry Moity and his wife, Patricia, offer a $25, three-course, prix fixe menu every night at Caprice Bistro, so no worries if you miss Restaurant Week.

Chef’s food is among Wilmington’s most reliable, but especially noteworthy are pork cheeks; Waterzooi, a seafood stew in herb cream sauce, and housemade macarons.

Crab and lobster cakes have been on Aubriana’s menu since the restaurant opened in fall 2008. The enduring dish is among offerings on the shop’s $30, three-course list. The pan-seared cake made with jumbo lump crab meat and cold water lobster comes with sweet chili aioli and pineapple curry cream sauce.

Get chef Alex Succop’s double-chocolate peanut butter pie, and you’ll have enough to enjoy and enough to take home. The tall, fluffy peanut butter and cream cheese filling is set between an Oreo cookie crust and bittersweet chocolate ganache. This is not the dense, knock-your-worst-enemy-over-the-head-with-it peanut butter pie found at too many restaurants.

Another super Restaurant Week deal is The Fortunate Glass’ $28, three-course, small plates spread, each course paired with wine.

Chef Karel Blaas knows soup, and one of the courses is butternut squash soup matched with Talbott Kali Hart chardonnay from Monterey, California. The wine bar’s popular truffled mushroom pizza, heady with the aroma of truffle oil, joins Caldora montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Abruzzi, Italy

Speaking of butternut squash, it shows up for Restaurant Week in Thai Spice’s butternut squash Panang curry, the squash mingled with fresh basil, broccoli, carrots, zucchini and the diner’s choice of meat.

And sit down for this Restaurant Week special: Thai Spice’s four-course lunch costs just $15 per person.

Posted on by lizbiro in bacon, barbecue, dinner specials, downtown Wilmington, French, lunch specials, ribs, Wilmington Restaurant Week, wine bar Leave a comment