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


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

Real Mexican on Gordon Road

Chili rellenos are filled with either chicken or cheese at La Guera. Watch out! The peppers may be hotter than you expect.

Chili rellenos are filled with either chicken or cheese at La Guera. Watch out! The peppers may be hotter than you expect.

The Mexican state of Oaxaca is known for seven distinctive mole sauces. New La Guera Mexican restaurant on Gordon Road may become famous for just one of them.

Mole Oaxaqueño is the famous Black Mole of Oaxaca, a deep, dark, rich, slow-cooked blend of mulatto chili peppers, nuts and chocolate.

At La Guera, the sauce comes on chicken or pork ribs. Don’t arrive here expecting perfect, skinless chicken breasts. The fare is homey and real. Chicken drumsticks and thighs one day were small and oh-so-tender and smothered in the mole, which was equally satisfying on La Guera’s thin, housemade tortillas.

La Guera has been open just a few weeks on Gordon Road, near the Market Street intersection, but buzz about the “authentic Mexican” fare its menu promises is spreading.

What caught my ear was a stylish American couple’s conversation last weekend about La Guera’s chapulines.

The pair sipped wine at a downtown Wilmington’s waterfront café as they talked about the garlic-spiced and toasted grasshoppers that are another Oaxacan specialty.

The husband was served chapulines at La Guera, which told me this place was the real deal. Consumption of insects in Mexico dates back before Spanish conquistadors invaded the area, bringing hogs and cattle with them. Native populations ate insects as protein sources and as a means to control insect damage to crops, according to food historians. Oaxacan legend claims that visitors who eat chapulines in Oaxaca will return to the Mexican state some day. Oaxaca is where I sampled grasshoppers in tacos and saw them sold in different sizes in tall, pyramid-shaped piles at open markets. I can’t wait to go back.

At La Guera, cahpulines are served only to customers in-the-know. More familiar Oaxacan mole is on the public specials board daily.

Tongue-stinging chili rellenos coated in delicate egg batter make the regular specials board, too. The rest of the list changes more frequently. Grilled steak in salsa verde, seafood soup and tortitas de pollo en jitomate (chicken patties in tomato sauce) were recent offerings.

Whatever owner Delfina Urena serves comes with those housemade tortillas. The  Mexico native said she hails from Guerro. She has  fond memories of her uncle’s restaurant in Mexico.

Guera is a word used in Mexico to denote a woman with a fair complexion and light hair, both traits of Urena. At La Guera, she said, she cooks with a Oaxacan native, hence the mole and chapulines.

Specials enhance a full, printed menu of tacos, quesadillas, sopes, tostadas, soups, sandwiches and house specialities, including posole, menudo and chicken enchiladas in red, green or mole sauces. Meat fillings range from steak, chicken and pork to beef neck, tongue or tripe.

Dine-in or take-out is available at the 6620-F Gordon Road restaurant in Gordon Road Station. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Some menu items, such as menudo, are available only on weekends. Call 910-392-6682.

Posted on by lizbiro in New restaurants, Restaurants, ribs, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington Leave a comment

Wilmington rib fest this summer!

Three-year-old Good Vibes Brewing has just finished what co-owner Paige Snow deemed the beer maker’s best year ever, and 2013 is shaping up to be another winner with the company sponsoring a grand rib festival in Wilmington this summer.

Snow and partner Slade McPhearson’s barbecue backgrounds convinced the pair to work with Greensboro’s AKA Entertainment and Media to produce Port City Rib Fest Aug. 9-11, Snow said.

Good Vibes and AKA are nailing down a location for the event, which will include nationally recognized rib chefs in a rib cooking competition. Read more…

Posted on by lizbiro in barbecue, downtown Wilmington, Food festivals, ribs Leave a comment

College Diner adds sports bar

CD's Sports Bar at College Diner.

Look for new CD’s Sports Bar at the round-the-clock restaurant College Diner, 911 S. College Road.

Seven flat-screen televisions, a chill patio, a dozen beers on tap and a bar menu make the spot a small neighborhood pub alternative to large sports bars on College Road.

“We want this to be a more intimate experience” College Diner owner Yianni Ioannou said.

Ribs, classic Buffalo-style wings; baked, dry-rubbed wings; calamari; fried pickles; burgers; sandwiches; and a few hot entrees on the bar menu.

Tonight, as every Thursday night, pints cost just $2.75 and margaritas are on special for $4. Each night brings drink specials. CD’s also has a martini menu that includes Ultimate Chocolate: Stoli Vanilla, Kahlua, chocolate syrup and cream ($8).

Posted on by lizbiro in Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants, ribs Leave a comment

Hog roasting with ‘Top Chef’

Left to right, Eggleston, Mendelsohn and McKnight, have been up all night cooking an Ossabaw hog for Mendelsohn's Class is in Session D.C. fundraiser.

When Bravo TV’s new, upcoming show “Life After Top Chef” airs, look for a Cape Fear cook in the mix.

Wilmington’s Kyle Lee McKnight today helps nationally known ethical farming advocate Bev Eggleston roast an Ossabaw hog during Washington, D.C.’s Class is in Session, a fundraiser benefitting  the Good Stuff Gardens Culinary Scholarship.

Season 4 “Top Chef” competitor Spike Mendelsohn is a Class is in Session organizer and a “Life After Top Chef” star.  The show, air date to be announced, follows some of the most popular “Top Chef” contestants to document their careers and culinary adventures since appearing on the cooking competition program.  

“Life After Top Chef” cameras roll as Eggleston and McKnight fire the Ossabaw.

McKnight also cooks today with Eggleston at D.C.’s Sweetlife Festival, which celebrates local, organic food. Eggleston is supplying 500 pounds of pork and 200 chickens. Pork comes from hogs raised by Duplin County farmer Willie Starling. Starling rears pigs for Eggleston’s EcoFriendly Foods , which supplies humanely raised, pastured meats from small, family farms.

Roasted root vegetables and coleslaw McKnight made with vegetables from Cottle Organics in Rose Hill will accompany the meat. 

A longtime supporter of local, organic, sustainable farms, McKnight has worked with Eggleston before, tapping EcoFriendly Foods for pork McKnight used in dishes he served while working as Circa 1922‘s executive chef.

Lately, McKnight has been competing locally in Fire on Dock, part of a statewide cooking competition, and hinting that soon he’ll be manning stoves at a new Wilmington restaurant, the address and owner of which have yet to be revealed. The project’s working name is Swim with the Fish.

Eggleston’s work with sustainable family farms has been featured in Gourmet, the Wall Street Journal, Village Voice and in writer Michael Pollan’s book “The Omivore’s Dilemma.”




Posted on by lizbiro in barbecue, Local food, New restaurants, Restaurants, ribs, Uncategorized 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