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

Bakery

Food touring in Carrboro with Taste Carolina

When I’m not eating out, writing about restaurants and leading food tours in Wilmington, I’m dreaming about eating out, writing about restaurDashboardants and taking food tours in other cities. As I often say, “I’m eat up with it,” and Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours fed my obsession quite well this past weekend.

The company is based in North Carolina’s Triangle area, and it offers tours in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough as well as Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

I chose the Carrboro brunch tour, which visited the community’s farmers market and some interesting restaurants. I found a lot of delish stuff along they way, as you’ll see here. A list of links is below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here are links to the places I mention in the slide show:

Neal’s Deli

Carrboro Farmers Market

Chapel Hill Creamery

The Pig

Chickenbridge Bakery

Sweetwater Pecan Farm

Al’s Burger Shack

Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe

Open Eye Cafe

Posted on by lizbiro in Bakery, Brunch, Farmers markets, Local food, Restaurants Leave a comment

Root beer & N.C. “Italian” wine at Fire on the Dock

I learn something at nearly every annual Fire on the Dock chef competition I attend. Last night, at the 2014 kick-off event, the lessons were how well root beer works with sweet potatoes and that North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley produces a sangiovese wine.

Although Wilmington home team Hops Supply Co. didn’t win the first Fire on the Dock round at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach, the restaurant’s chef, Tiffany Eslien, produced my favorite dish of the night: a pan-seared scallop atop sweet potato hash and root beer demi-glace, the whole crowned with nut-enriched gremolata,

Scallop and sweet potatoes with root beer demi-glace by chef Tiffany Eslien of Hops Supply Co. in Wilmington. (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series)

Scallop and sweet potatoes with root beer demi-glace by chef Tiffany Eslien of Hops Supply Co. in Wilmington. (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series)

The sweet potato and root beer was a just-right match, balanced by the scallop’s caramelization and the gremolata’s garlic and lemon zest. A tablemate suggested root beer in pumpkin pie or pecan pie as my mind went to root beer candied yams this Thanksgiving.

Eslien didn’t ask for root beer; it was the secret ingredient she and the night’s winner, chef Clarke Merrell of Circa 81 in Morehead City, had to use.

Fire on the Dock is one of four regional contests Competition Dining Series stages across North Carolina each year.

The bracket-style tournaments culminate in a final battle to select the best restaurant chefs from among regional winners. A secret N.C. ingredient is presented to chefs just before cooking begins. Last night, it was Uncle Scott’s All-Natural Root Beer made in Mooresville, N.C.

Cellar 4201 sangiovese. (Photo courtesy of Cellar 4021)

Cellar 4201 sangiovese. (Photo courtesy of Cellar 4021)

As I pondered root beer for my 2014 Thanksgiving dinner plans, contest organizer Jimmy Crippen placed a surprise bottle of Cellar 4201 sangiovese on the table for guests to sample and discuss.

Cellar 4201 is in East Bend, N.C.

I’m used to rustic, dark sangioveses, but the Cellar 4201 version was light and fruity, an easy drinking wine for the “I don’t like red wine” group that made up most of my table.

It’s quaffability reminded me of a little of beaujolais nouveau. That got me thinking about Thanksgiving again, and a local Thanksgiving at that: N.C. sweet potatoes, N.C. root beer, N.C. wine and perhaps a duck from Maple Leaf Farms, also on last night’s menu.

Weather has postponed tonight’s Fire on the Dock round until next week. Visit the Competition Dining website for schedule and reservation details.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Fire on the Dock, Local food, Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Just a few of Liz’s favorite 2013 food pictures!

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

When chefs collide, what deliciousness!

Poke at Tamashii.

Poke at Tamashii. (Photo courtesy of Tamashii)

Wilmington restaurants come and go, but some cooks can’t stay away. Chef Eric Gephart is one of them. He used to run a much-loved seafood restaurant named Buoy 32 at Wrightsville Beach. After Buoy 32 closed, Gephart helped open and run downtown’s Mixto (closed til spring 2014). Next, he headed to Morrisville, where Gephart remains lead instructor at the The Chefs Academy. Tonight, he’s back in Wilmington cooking with friends at great Wilmington restaurant that flies under the radar.

Tamashii is a Masonboro Loop Road spot whose chef/owner Mark Scharaga sources local ingredients and sustainable seafood for traditional and unusual sushi on a mostly Asian menu that steps elsewhere with ceviche, poke and tartare, as well as eclectic entrees that speak to the way Scharage defines the restaurant.

“Tamashii, is a word that originates in Japan. In the simplest form it means “Soul,” Scharaga says at Tamashii’s website. ”This is essential to our chefs’ vision for the restaurant. We make food that comes from the soul of our being and the soul of the ingredients we use.”

Evidence of that arrives tonight (Nov. 9, 2013) when Scharaga and Gephart join forces for an Evening of Culinary Exploration, a five-course meal based on their shared imaginings. Each selection will be paired with wine or sake.

Tamashii is on Masonboro Loop Road, near Navaho Trail.

Tamashii is on Masonboro Loop Road, near Navaho Trail.

Gephart promises to bring back some Buoy 32-style delights; Scharaga will be behind the sushi bar crafting special noshes. On the menu are Hawaiian albacore with wasabi tempura and sweet red tobiko and a pork belly dish with ginger, Thai peppers and sweet potato mash. Oyster ice cream has been mentioned, too!

Josh Burris, a close friend of Gephart’s and a longtime Mixto cook who is now part of the team at Aubriana’s, one of Wilmington’s top restaurants, joins Scharaga and Gephart for the event.

The five-course meal costs $75. To make reservations, purchase tickets online or call Tamashii at 910-228-5576. Find the restaurant at 4039 Masonboro Loop Road.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Local food, Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants Leave a comment

Meet your food and the people who care about it!

A small selection of the 350 cheeses, many made in North Carolina, that Southern Foods sources for restaurants.

A small selection of the 350 cheeses, many made in North Carolina, that Southern Foods sources for restaurants.

A visit to the Southern Foods show in Greensboro this week reminded me of the huge amount of delectable food that is grown and produced in North Carolina, much of it on display in downtown Wilmington this weekend for the second Food For Thought festival.

No surprise that at the Southern Foods show I saw some of the chefs participating in Food For Thought, a farm-to-table-themed fundraiser that benefits New Hanover County libraries. Before North Carolina was a nationally known foodie mecca,  Southern Foods, founded in the mid-1950s, was delivering top-quality food to professional chefs, and that hasn’t changed.

Cape Fear-area chefs and restaurant owners I saw clustered around tables featuring fine N.C. cheeses and charcuterie.

One chef, Bobby Zimmerman, was behind a table showing off homegrown produce in two dishes he prepared: green curry shiitake mushroom soup and caramelized Brussels sprouts with a creamy tofu sauce. Zimmerman was Landfall Country Club’s executive chef before he became a corporate executive chef for Goldsboro-based Pate-Dawson Company/Southern Foods. Today, Zimmerman helps restaurants develop menus, recipes and systems, but he’ll  be back in Wilmington Sunday for Food For Thought.

Homegrown ingredients and the Wilmington chefs who use them are the highlights of the grand Nov. 3 Food For Thought tasting event at Cape Fear Community College’s new Union Station, downtown at the corner of Front and Red Cross streets.

Food For Thought will be a “gala brunch” where guests sample small-plate dishes, meet local farmers and food purveyors and browse informational displays about how North Carolina food is grown and where to find it.

“The whole event is to celebrate farm-to-market,” said Pat Bell, New Hanover County Library Foundation president and a Food For Thought organizer.

Scheduled 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the $50-per-person Food For Thought is a fundraiser for the Cape Fear Community College culinary program and the New Hanover County Library.

Participating restaurants and chefs include Keith Rhodes of Catch, Charles Rousey of Hilton Wilmington Riverside, Tyson Amick of Aubriana’s, Brent Poteat of 22 North, Lee Grossman of Bento Box and Certified Master Chef Olivier Andreini of Landfall Country Club. Andreini took over the Landfall stoves when Zimmerman left.

Soon-to-open restaurants will be represented, as well, Bell said. On the list are downtown wine bistro Perkeo and uptown’s Pembroke’s, by the owners of downtown’s Rx, due to open possibly this weekend at The Forum.

Cape Fear Community College culinary school students will prepare and serve bites, as well.

The gathering will feature raffles for various prizes and food and cookbooks on the shelves at area libraries.

Tickets for kids age 12 and younger cost $25. Corporate sponsorships at the $250, $500 and $1,000 levels are available, too. Find tickets and information about sponsorships at New Hanover County Library branches.

This is the second Food for Thought, a biennial event first staged in 2011 at the county library near Landfall. “We wanted to involve the downtown as much as the uptown,” Bell said of the event’s venue this year.

 

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, Food festivals, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Rx beefs up the menu

The sign outside Rx last night read “pork belly” — in all caps — which was not unusual. That’s one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, trumped only perhaps by the kitchen’s crispy, Buffalo-sauced pig ears — or the bacon jam or the bacon vinaigrette or the pork chop or the pork ribs garnished with fried pork skins.

Pork rules Rx but last night was all about beef — namely marrow.

Marrow found in shank bones is so rich that it has been called “meat butter.” Rx owner/chef James Doss got his hands on several of the bones thanks to the arrival of nearly 500 pounds of lovely beef from a pasture-raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free Hereford/Angus cross from sustainable farming loyalist Bev Eggleston of EcoFriendly Foods.

Doss has various plans for the 21-day aged meat delivered this week. He and his cooks may pound some for chicken-fried steak. Four-ounce sirloins might accompany eggs at Sunday brunch. Of course, burgers are planned. Doss is further aging rib-eyes, and he’s considering extra-special preparations for tenderloin.

That all sounds delicious, but when Doss mentioned marrow bones my metabolism fired. I figured the faster I moved through Tuesday, the faster dinnertime would arrive. I grew up eating marrow bones at my parents’ table. I was long due for a fix.

Local oysters and boiled N.C. peanuts before beef marrow at Rx on downtown Wilmington's Castle Street.

Local oysters and boiled N.C. peanuts before beef marrow at Rx on downtown Wilmington’s Castle Street.

I landed at Rx around 8 p.m. After tucking into raw, local oysters from Hampstead’s Nature’s Way Farm & Seafood and a bowl of N.C. boiled peanuts garnished with cured ham, Doss presented roasted marrow set in rich brown broth and served alongside two meaty shiitake mushroom caps from Healing Earth Farm near Wilmington. Barely tart purslane balanced the dish’s savory riot.

Pulled from the bone and spooned up with a bit of the broth, the marrow was all creamy beef, melting butter and a bunch of umami at once. Each spoonful lasted but a moment on the tongue, yet I can still taste its deep flavor today.

Doss said he’ll get about 12 to 15 marrow bones from the beef load. The chef is still tweaking the presentation I sampled last night, but check for a marrow special on the Rx menu starting today. If you miss it, the dry-aged sirloin with roasted potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, green beans and blue cheese Mornay sauce is a fine substitute.

Find Rx Restaurant at Castle Street and 5th Avenue in south downtown Wilmington. Call 910-399-3080.

Roasted beef marrow bone with purslane and local shiitake mushrooms at Rx Restaurant.

Roasted beef marrow bone with purslane and local shiitake mushrooms at Rx Restaurant.

 

Posted on by lizbiro in Brunch, Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Local food, Restaurants, ribs, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Fresh seafood, steamed or fried, to go

Fish eyes are bright and glassy, a sign of freshness, at Mike’s Seafood and convenience store on Market Street, which recently became Mike’s Seafood & Kitchen, meaning you can pop in for a plate to go.

Area fishermen this fall are stocking the market with local finfish favorites such as spots and croakers and, in coming weeks, mullets as well as clams, crabs, oysters and shrimp, but lobster, salmon, crayfish and snow crab legs are also sold. The raw seafood selection is broad.

Fried seafood sandwiches and plates, including combination platters, feature various fish and shellfish accompanied by two or more homey sides such as slaw, green beans, fried okra and corn on the cob. Patrons may also select seafood from the raw market for the “You Buy, We Fry” special priced by the pound.

Feras “Mike” Abdelhamid leased the 3114 Market St. store, at Covil Avenue, in January and by March had installed a fresh seafood market, store manager Tammi Anders said.

“When we started upfitting for raw seafood everybody thought were were going to cook, and then they were disappointed when we didn’t,” Anders said.

As a result, Abdelhamid added equipment and cooks, renamed the store Mike’s Fresh Seafood and Kitchen and launched a menu in August.

Steamed seafood is available, too, including grab-and-go steamed shrimp that have been chilled and boxed.

Mike’s offers a take-out menu only, but Anders said Abdelhamid may consider adding table seating if the menu is a big enough hit.

 

Posted on by lizbiro in Local food, lunch specials, Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants 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

Wilmington chefs on the move

Cape Fear area top chefs have been shuffling around, affording diners fresh opportunities for fine meals.

After seven years heading Blockade Runner’s kitchens, chef Mark Lawson departed Sept. 1 for Wilmington’s Circa Restaurant Group, Lawson said. Today, he begins work at Circa’s Osteria Cicchetti at The Forum shopping center. Blockade Runner has not released information about a Lawson replacement.

Also at The Forum, Scott Grimm will man stoves at a new restaurant moving into what was The Kitchen, which was another Circa Restaurant Group property.

Downtown’s Rx Restaurant owners James Doss and Josh Novicki purchased The Kitchen this summer and plan to open a yet-to-be-named Rx-style restaurant there in October, Doss said. Grimm and Doss have worked together at Rx and in Charleston, S.C. Grimm was last at Dockside. His creamy crab and corn chowder won the best in show award at the 2012 Taste of Wrightsville Beach food and wine festival.

Grimm has been in the new restaurant’s kitchen lately shucking locally grown sweet corn that was frozen for later use. Downtown, chef

Fenix Nelson has left Mixto. In his absence, downtown favorite Josh Woo of YoSake is running the Mixto kitchen with help from Mixto long-timer Josh Burris, Woo and Burris said. YoSake and Mixto share owners. Woo, a local foods disciple who wowed diners with Texas Pete-seasoned delights at the 2013 Fire on the Dock pro cooking competition, and Burris, who also clocks time at downtown’s Aubriana’s, are tweaking the Mixto list. They’re blending brunch specials into the regular menu on Sundays and frying mini, bacon-wrapped burritos.

Also downtown, Hilton Wilmington Riverside has named Charles Rousey as its executive chef. Rousey shook pans at Wallace’s Mad Boar before coming to the hotel. Rousey and Hilton Wilmington Riverside in August won the best entrée award at Wilmington’s Epicurean Evening to benefit the Methodist Home for Children. Rousey and team prepared grilled scallops with arame pesto and also grilled tenderloin on a bed of blue cheese.

Posted on by lizbiro in Brunch, Chefs, Downtown, Local food, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Rx second location due in October

Popular downtown Rx Restaurant in October takes over what was The Kitchen in north Wilmington’s The Forum shopping center.

Expect an Rx-like concept at the nearly 7,000-square-foot, 1125 Military Cutoff Road unit at The Forum’s south end. This second Rx family member, however, will have its own name and identity, Rx owner/chef James Doss said.

“It will be the same sort of (Rx) idea but we’ll definitely do some different things,” Doss said.

“You’ll have to go to Rx to get certain things, and you’ll have to come to the new place to get certain things.”

The thread holding the two places together will be the Rx motto: “seasonally inspired, ingredient-driven, Southern cuisine,” Doss said. Opening day is scheduled for October.

The restaurant will serve dinner six days a week and be closed on Monday. Lunch and/or brunch may begin in 2014, Doss said.

The Kitchen’s interior design scheme won’t change much, Doss noted. A back area will be curtained off as a private dining space, the bar will be altered and an effort will be made to lighten the dark dining room, which seats around 200 people. Doss said he plans to keep the open kitchen, which diners see behind a glass partition.

Doss’ last gig before he and business partner Josh Novicki, friends since childhood, developed Rx was at well-respected Husk in Charleston, S.C. Novicki has worked area restaurants, too, and spends part of his time as a professional disc jockey.

Rx has won positive reviews and its fan base has mushroomed since the restaurant’s July 2012 debut at Castle Street and 5th Avenue.

The menu is focused on local foods and changes daily. Popular signature dishes are Buffalo-sauced, crispy fried pig ears to dip in blue cheese dressing; shrimp and grits with andouille sausage and seasonal vegetables; and roasty pork belly resting on creamy cheddar grits under a poached egg.

Posted on by lizbiro in downtown Wilmington, Local food, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment