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

Hampstead gets a Mexican restaurant

Restaurateur Jesus Rodriguez has opened the Mexican place Camino Real at the late Sully’s Grill, 16408 U.S. Highway 17 in Hampstead.

Expect typical Mexican fare like tacos and burritos but also specialties such as red-chili-sauced lamb shanks. Prices range from $5 to $12. Call (910) 270-1367.

Camino Real's lamb shanks.

Rodriguez said he owns five other Camino Real restaurants in North Carolina, including the one at Murrayville Post Shopping Center, 2307 N. College Road, Wilmington.

At the Murrayville Post spot, the kitchen sends out huge portions of tender, red chili sauce-coated lamb shanks, rich and mildly spicy.

Shrimp cocktail served in a margarita glass is akin to a chilled soup full of sweet shrimp and diced avocado and tomatoes and lime-spiked tomato juice.

Posted on by lizbiro in Hampstead, New restaurants, Restaurants Leave a comment

Marlin and Ray’s seafood open

Find Marlin and Ray's on Market Street near the College Road overpass.

Ruby Tuesday replacement Marlin and Ray’s, 11 Van Campen Blvd., opened on Wednesday.

Funky seafood dives on the Florida and Southern California coasts inspire Marlin and Ray’s design, , said Carrie Whitt, account executive for Bullfrog & Baum, which handles Marlin and Ray’s public relations.

“There will be colorful tile floors throughout, twinkle lights accented with pendent lights that are similar in appearance to the ones used for night fishing, as well as fun beach-inspired art and a full dark wood bar with dark wood stools.”

A huge seafood menu – lunch and dinner — offers appetizers, sandwiches, salads, pasta, steamed seafood and specialties like sesame ginger sea bass and basil pesto mahi. Meal prices range from $8 to $21. 

Ruby Tuesday has been turning its underperforming locations into Marlin and Ray’s. The 11 Van Campen Blvd. Ruby Tuesday closed in mid-April.

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

Hello pizza, goodbye Italian

Keep an eye out for Brooklyn Sal's pizzeria on College Road between Kerr Avenue and Oleander Drive.

Brooklyn Sal’s Famous Pizzeria is coming to the former Gumby’s Pizza franchise store, 1414-E S. College Road, between Wrightsville Avenue and Oleander Drive.

Calls to Brooklyn Sal’s advertised phone number got no response, but a phone message states, “We are undergoing renovations, and we will be opening soon.” 

Meantime, Nikki’s Sushi is moving into Carolina Beach’s Mama Mia’s, 6 S. Lake Park Blvd, which closed this spring.

Russ Offredo opened Mama Mia’s in 1983. He, his wife and three children made customers and staff feel like family, as evidenced by Mama Mia’s Facebook page, still up and running.

It was on Facebook where the Offredo family announced that “recent years have proven very difficult to secure financing to make improvements to our business and this has contributed to our decision” to close.

Previously identifiable by its exterior red, white and green Italian flag colors and lace curtains, Mama Mia’s now sports a banner that reads “Nikki’s Gourmet Restaurant and Sushi Bar opening soon.”

No word yet on an opening date for Nikki’s, which has five locations in and around the Cape Fear region, four in Wilmington and one in Surf City.

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

Remembering Roy Clifton

Roy Clifton in the Caffe Phoenix kitchen.

I was writing about Caffe Phoenix‘s new late-night menu today when my phone lit up with a sad text from the restaurant’s chef, Carson Jewell: “Roy passed away yesterday morning.”

Jewell was referring to Caffe Phoenix owner Roy Clifton, a man whose restaurants and giving personality helped shape downtown Wilmington into the cool scene it is today.

Clifton created Roy’s Riverboat Landing, now named Riverboat Landing, that big, blue restaurant at Market and Water streets. Decorated with private balconies overlooking Cape Fear River, the restaurant helped revitalize downtown and has become a Port City lankmark.

Prior to that, Clifton operated The Sandwich Factory, a popular quick-service spot in what is now the fine-dining restaurant Manna.

Roy and his wife, Ann Marie. "When I talk about me, Ann Marie is the biggest part of it," Clifton said.

When Clifton invested in Caffe Phoenix a few years ago, it was more to help a young owner expand. Clifton had sold his restaurants and was happily running the less-stressful St. Mary’s Catholic school cafeteria after nearly four decades in the restaurant business.

But Clifton’s life was one of service, whether it was helping others in business or volunteering his time. He was a force behind downtown’s civic center and rules allowing downtown outdoor dining.

He served on various civic boards, business associations and charitable causes, especially at his parish, St. Mary’s Catholic Church and its non-profit Cape Fear Clinic for the needy.

Clifton had so much restaurant business knowledge to share, and he spoke his mind in the most polite manner, whether it was insisting his staff toe the budgetary line or suggesting someone rethink their dream foodservice plan.

He cornered me in 2010 after I reported about Caffe Phoenix’s move from the building where it lived for 21 years to a more visible spot two blocks away. It was a big story; I adored the scoop, but Clifton gave me a lesson in what that story meant behind the scenes.

When readers saw the headline, many stopped dining at Caffe Phoenix. They thought the restaurant had closed. Business suffered. Clifton didn’t reprimand me. Rather, he was explaining how press affected a real person’s investment. That conversation continues to guide my restaurant reporting.

Caffe Phoenix remains open in Clifton’s absence.

Clifton’s bigger impact on my life came earlier this year when I profiled him for the StarNews in Wilmington. His humility was striking. At the restaurant for our interview, I found him in the kitchen, elbow-deep in dishwater. He shot me the same big smile I always saw him flash upon seeing folks. He was a man who found joy even in the toughest adversity, no matter if he was toiling in the kitchen, working to save Caffe Phoenix during the recession or battling the cancer that took his life.

For that profile, Clifton gave me three of what we journalists call “money quotes,” but more than that, they are pieces of wisdom that I promise, Roy, I will remember and apply each day:

“You got to live your life not in fear.”

“Failure is always part of being a winner.”

“We go out of this world with no money, and what the heck’s the difference?…What it is that the Almighty is planning for us, to me, is the most important thing.”


Posted on by lizbiro in Downtown, Restaurants Leave a comment

Burgers, frozen custard coming to north Market Street

Frank's is moving into the old Market Street Casual Dining.

Frank’s Classic American Grill, 5621 Carolina Beach Road at Monkey Junction, opens a second location this spring or early summer.

The new shop will fill 6309 Market St. address, most previously home to Sister Cats and longtime host to Market Street Casual Dining. Read my full report on the new Frank’s in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

The north Wilmington location will be similar to the original Frank’s, with burgers, wings, custom hot dogs, comfort-food entrees and housemade frozen custard in so many flavors, Frank’s chef Vincent DiNapoli said.

Fresh to the Market Street shop will be a full bar and new windows lighting the dining room.


Posted on by lizbiro in Monkey Junction, Restaurants, Uptown Wilmington 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

Sweet & Savory expansion plans change

Fresh croissants from the Sweet 'n' Savory bakery.

Sweet ‘n’ Savory owners have nixed plans for fine dining at their newly acquired ex-Kefi location next door. What was going to be a bar and fine dining space will become The Pub at Sweet ‘n’ Savory. Read my full report in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

Robert Shapiro and his wife, Dayna Coon-Shapiro,have leased the former Kefi location, 2012 Eastwood Road, next door to Sweet ’n’ Savory, 1611 Pavilion Place.

“We would like to play around in the fine dining area at some point but have to have the right location,” Robert Shapiro said.

Popular Sweet ‘n’ Savory serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, all prepared in an open kitchen. The restaurant also houses a retail bakery featuring desserts and breads prepared on site.

Sweet 'n' Savory's original location. A sister pub is coming next door.

Posted on by lizbiro in Restaurants, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Wilmington chefs, humble celery get their day at Fire on the Dock

Kirsten Mitchell's mincemeat pie from Fire on the Dock's Battle Certified Angus Beef.

Wilmington chefs are out of the running in the Fire on the Dock cooking tournament, which crowns a winner next week, but they showed off so many talents that verify why the Port City has earned its chops on North Carolina’s burgeoning food scene.

Cameo 19 Hundred‘s Kirsten Mitchell — the last “woman” standing in the Wilmington chef mix — lost Wednesday night to chef Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern.

Mitchell had a good run in her three tournament battles. She wowed diners with her sauce-making skills and went so far as to produce a mincemeat pie for Wednesday night’s Battle Certified Angus Beef.

Like other Wilmington chefs who participated in Fire on the Dock, Mitchell didn’t just boil water. She pushed herself to provide diners an experience, whether it was their first taste of sauce choron or the host of garnishes she placed atop a cheese soup made with beer.

Those two dishes were standouts (Kirsten will supply that soup recipe soon). Others I’ll never forget: Cape Fear Country Club Antoine Murray’s sweet potato polenta and former Yo Sake sous chef Erin Wiley’s Cheerwine-braised collards.

Rx James Doss' grilled bison flank steak from Fire on the Dock's Battle Bison (photo by Competition Dining Series)

My favorite dishes by Wilmington cooks were Rx chef James Doss’ grilled bison flank steak with a poached egg, green lentil snap pea salad and champagne vinaigrette; Kyle Lee McKnight‘s juusto cheese sponge cake with blueberry mascarpone mousse and red wine blueberry gel; and Marc’s on Market chef Marc Copenhaver‘s bacon-braised quail ravioli carbonara alongside a poached quail egg crowning arugula salad dressed with white truffle oil.

McKnight and Marc’s on Market sous chef Tyson Amick will always hold title to what I consider perhaps the contest’s greatest moments: They each took the most humble, overlooked ingredient — CELERY! — and turned it into something special.

Normally, cooks relegate celery to crudites or as the basis for seasoning a dish, as in the holy trinity of celery, onions and carrots that form the basis for soups. These two cooks, however, each turned out pickled celery and gave the component a key role in their dishes.

Lucky us!! They share their recipes below.

Amick prepared a quick, fresh, crisp pickled celery seasoned with dill that gave the perfect acid balance to rich butter-poached shrimp with silky celery root puree during Battle N.C. Shrimp.

Marc's on Market's Tyson Amick's pickled celery with butter-poached shrimp at Fire ont he Dock's Battle N.C. Shrimp (photo by Competition Dining Series).

The celery would be just as pleasing on a burger, pork  taco or fried flounder sandwich.

Amick was also responsible for one of Fire on the Dock’s most popular dishes: coffe-cumin-rubbed bison flank steak, which he provided a recipe for after Battle Bison.

During Battle Ashe County Cheese, McKnight used his pickled celery with what may have been the most complex of Fire on the Dock dishes to date: sharp cheddarwurst with pickled celery, sauce vert, marinated beets and three-cheese crackers. The pickle was just the contrast the dish needed, and its seasonings complimented the wurst. With just himself and one helper rather than the usual two in Fire on the Dock kitchens, McKnight made each of the dish’s components from scratch for nearly 100 individual plates. He was baking crackers minutes before the dish was to be served.

Kyle Lee McKnight's pickled celery on cheddarwurst during Fire on the Dock's Battle Ashe County Cheese.

Congrats to all the Wilmington cooks in the contest. You guys and gals rock!

And diners, support these passionate chefs and their independent restaurants: Bento Box, YoSake, Rx, Manna, Elijah’s, Pilot House, Pine Valley Market/Cafe Johnnie, Cameo 19 Hundred, Big Thai and Marc’s on Market.

Fire on the Dock finishes next week when Fong meets Chefs 105 restaurant’s Andy Hopper of Morehead City. The face-off happens at Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach. 

Alas, the show is sold out, but Fire on the Dock is part of the statewide Competition Dining Series contests, and you may attend events in the Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro areas.

The Competition Dining Series is a bracket-style tournament featuring regional contests that culminate in a final four battle to pick an overall N.C. winner. A secret ingredient, from North Carolina, must be used in each of the three courses chefs prepare during each contest. The competition started earlier this year with Fire on the Rock in Blowing Rock.

Pickled Celery Amick

1/2 bunch celery

1 Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, peeled and halved

1/2 cup champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon dry dill

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

Take celery stalks from the outside of the bunch. Trim leaves and discolored areas.

Cut stalks into 3- to 4-inch lengths using mandolin. Amick likes the Benriner mandolin from Japan. Find it, Amick said, for about $25 at Saigon Market, Kerr Avenue near Market Street. “Sharp and inexpensive! Obey the box and WATCH YOUR FINGERS!” Amick warned.

Set the mandolin blade to a very thin slice. Celery should be tissue-paper thin, so you can see through it. The inside of the stalk should face the blade, so after slicing about 80 percent of the stalk, the outside can be discarded. This is to ensure that only the most tender part of the celery is utilized, and the stringy outer skin is thrown away, or saved for stock, etc.

Shave the onion on mandolin to the same thickness as the celery.

Toss together the celery and onion so that the ratio is about 75 percent celery, or more onion if you like a little bite or just love onions.

About 30 minutes to an hour before serving, combine celery and onion with champagne vinegar, dry dill, kosher salt and sugar, if desired for a sweeter pickle.

Note: This pickle does not keep particularly well, as it is a quick pickled item. It gets soggy and turns an unpleasant green after sitting overnight. To avoid this, only add vinegar and seasoning to the amount of celery you think you will use. The raw celery and onion cut on the mandolin together will keep very well in the fridge. Just wait until just before serving to add seasonings and acid.

Makes about 2 cups.

Source: Tyson Amick

Pickled Celery McKnight

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon black mustard seeds

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon pink peppercorns

1 tablespoon juniper berries

2 cups white balsamic vinegar

2 cups champagne vinegar

10 cups water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 celery bunches, ribbed and cut into 1 1/2 by 1/8 julienne (reserve trimmings)

8 garlic cloves

4 bay leaves

1/2 bunch fresh thyme

Toast and crack fennel seeds, black mustard seeds, black peppercorns, pink peppercorns and juniper berries.

Prepare brine: Place white balsamic vinegar, champagne vinegar and water in a large stockpot set over high heat. Bring liquid to a boil. Add salt, sugar, celery trimmings, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Bring mixture back up to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer liquid until seeds fall to the bottom of the pot. Taste and correct seasonings.

Place julienned celery in a large, deep, heavy bowl or pot. Pour brine through a fine strainer over celery to completely cover vegetable. Cover container tightly and let celery sit in brine for at least 2 hours.

Makes about 2 quarts.

Source: Kyle Lee McKnight

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

Pizzetta’s pizzeria to open 2nd spot

The family-run pizzeria Pizzetta’s is opening a second location at Brunswick Forest in Leland. Read the details in my report for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

Pizzetta’s existing store, 4107-F Oleander Dr., is inside Anderson Square Plaza. Besides pizza, the menu features sandwiches, salads, soup and Italian entrees.

Pizzetta's Amber Lane puts the finishing touch on fresh berry tiramisu.

New to that location is pastry chef Amber Lane, who fashions $3 to $7 housemade desserts such as cheesecake, cannoli and fresh berry tiramisu made with lady fingers soaked in passion fruit tea.

Lane, originally from Tennessee, attended culinary school at Cape Fear Community College in downtown Wilmington.

Pizzetta’s also carries Italian ice from nearby Velvet Freeze, 104 Pine Grove Dr.


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

Towne opens, Circa 1922 adds outdoor tables

Towne's pub atmopshere.

The scene is buzzing at Mayfaire’s new Towne Tap & Grill. Read about this week’s opening in my Restaurant Roundup report today for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

Owner Ash Aziz replaced the former Happy Days Diner with Towne, next to the Regal Mayfaire Stadium 16 movie theater.

Towne is the latest among six Wilmington restauarnts in Aziz’s Circa Restaurant Group.

Others are the Italian-themed Osteria Cicchetti, farm-to-table The Kitchen, seafood-centric Boca Bay, French-leaning Brasserie du Soleil and downtown’s popular tapas spot Circa 1922.

New to Circa 1922 are outdoor tables and window/doors that bring in sunlight both upstairs and downstairs. 

New outdoor tables at Circa 1922.


Posted on by lizbiro in Downtown, downtown Wilmington, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uptown Wilmington Leave a comment