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

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

Master Chef arrives in Wilmington

One of America’s most highly rated chefs, Certified Master Chef Olivier Andreini, took over Landfall Country Club‘s stoves on Sept. 12, club general manager Steve Salzman said.

The American Culinary Federation, a professional organization founded in 1929, awards the Certified Master Chef title to already accomplished cooks who pass rigorous examinations. Chefs qualify to take the tests only if they are ACF Certified Executive Chefs or Certified Culinary Educators; can provide two recommendation letters from other Certified Master Chefs; and meet education and experience requirements.

Just 66 cooks in America hold the title of Certified Master Chef, the ACF reported at its website.

Andreini worked as a culinary professor at the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., according to his resume. Prior to his Landfall post, he was executive chef at the Merion Cricket Club in Havenford, Pa.

When previous Landfall chef Bobby Zimmerman left the club this summer to begin work as corporate executive chef for Goldsboro-based Pate-Dawson Company/Southern Foods, the club set out to find its first Certified Master Chef, Salzman said. At the same time, Andreini was considering a warmer climate that would take him into retirement, Salzman said.

Landfall plans various special events to welcome and introduce Andreini, perhaps including a month-long celebration, Salzman said.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Top winemakers show off vintages at special dinner

The Second Annual Wilmington Wine and Food Festival is months away, but the event’s first fund-raising wine dinner happens 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at Rx Restaurant and Bar.

A portion of the $75-ticket price benefits the May 2-4 festival at Bellamy Mansion Museum of History and Design Arts, 503 Market St., festival organizers reported.

“This next festival is going to have even more food and wine, along with a few other events, to really showcase what makes this such a great foodie community,” key festival planner and Wilmington Wine owner Chrissy Absi Bonney said.

Rx chef/co-owner James Doss and team plan a multi-course menu to pair with four vintages from three top California winemakers: Arietta On The White Keys and Arietta Quartet, both by Screaming Eagle winemaker Andy Erickson; DeSante Old Vine sauvignon blanc by David DeSante, who also makes wines for Napa Valley’s Jaffe Estate; and Vineyard 7 & 8’s “7” cabernet sauvignon by Luc Morlet.

Each year, some proceeds from the Wilmington Wine and Food Festival benefit area non-profit organizations. The 2012 inaugural festival raised more than $3000 for Cape Fear River Watch and 1,000 People Who Care. Benefactors for 2014 will be Bellamy Mansion and Open Gate Domestic Violence Shelter.

Reservations are required to attend the wine dinner. Call Rx at 910-399-3080 or Wilmington Wine at 910-202-4749.

Posted on by lizbiro in dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Food festivals, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Cooking Classes: Vegetarian chili, holiday treats & more

I’ve got 2 hot cooking classes among a great fall lineup of classes at The Seasoned Gourmet.

I’m giving up my vegetarian chili recipe Sept. 26, and on Oct. 2 I share my recipe and ideas for my cranberry chutney, which was the most-requested recipe from the years that I operated the full-service Liz Biro Catering company.

Forget those vegetarian chili recipes that call for eggplant, mushrooms and all manner of vegetables to produce stews that are nowhere near chili. This version is one that has received many thumbs-ups from meat eaters. Rich and dark, full of texture, it’s great on its own or combined with other ingredients to create different meals. During the class, I’ll show you how to make  Chili Nachos with Salted Margarita Crema and Smoked Chili Mac & Cheese. For dessert, we’ll sample dark Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Corn Cake with Habanero-Sugar-Glazed Pineapple. No chili in that last one, of course, but leave the chocolate chips out of the cornbread and it pairs well with the chili.

Cranberry chutney is such a simple holiday favorite, but doll it up with special ingredients and incorporate it into yummy dishes and the chutney becomes extra special. The surprising twists on this cranberry chutney recipe put seasonal cooking on the creative fast track. I’ll demonstrate three recipes:  Cranberry Nut & Cinnamon Honey Cream Cheese Torta; Cocoa-rubbed Pork Tenderloin w/Cranberry Zin Sauce; and Spiced Cranberry Orange Bar Cookies.

I’m not the only instructor on the fall schedule.

Also check out 1900 Restaurant chef Kirsten Mitchell’s homage to her French cooking roots, Catch Restaurant chef Keith Rhodes’ seafood class and GRUB‘s Ryanna Battiste for a grass-fed beef session including gluten-free French onion soup and a gluten-free Thanksgiving class. Most classes happen weekdays and run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. but some morning and afternoon weekend classes are offered, too. Register for the classes at The Seasoned Gourmet at Lumina Commons/Lumina Station, 1930 Eastwood Road, near Harris Teeter.

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, Uncategorized 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

Thai chef back in Wilmington!

Thai-food lovers who miss Wilmington’s late Jessamine Thai will soon get a taste of their old favorite.

In August, Ragab Brazilian & International Cuisine closed its 7110 Wrightsville Ave. doors. Not long after, restaurateur Tom Trinh started moving his Shukai Thai & Sushi bar into the Wrightsville Beach-area location, bringing chef Patrick Tepnupa with him.

Tepnupa over the past few years has been cooking at Asian restaurants in Atlanta, but before that, he shook woks alongside Ann Veber, a well-known Wilmington area chef who was a partner in downtown’s late Rim Wang and who owned College Road’s former Jessamine Thai.

These days, Veber runs Asian Fusion Noodle House, a favorite spot of chefs (they especially love Veber’s kai soi with beef or chicken) at 4724 New Centre Dr.

When Shukai Thai & Sushi Bar opens, possibly as early as mid-September, Veber will be Tepnupa’s competition along with nearby Big Thai, the Landfall Center restaurant whose kitchen is run by Rim Wang alum, chef Charin “Big” Choti.

Describing Shukai curry dishes such duck, soft-shelled crab and lobster, deep-fried “naked,” in panang curry, Tepnupa expressed no worry over rivals. In fact, he said, Veber may join him in the Shukai kitchen for the restaurant’s grand opening.

Hailing from an area of Thailand near Bangkok, Tepnupa said he has been cooking professionally for 20 years.

Shukai’s 3,500 square feet will seat 85 diners, with patio tables available, Tepnupa said. Expect beer and wine, including sake, he added. Tepnupa said the restaurant is scheduled to be open daily.

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

Happy Birthday Katy’s

A big burger welcomes diners to Katy's.

A big burger welcomes diners to Katy’s.

In the commerce mishmash lining Wilmington’s busy College Road, one restaurant stands out not just for its bright, mustard-colored awning and the giant double-cheeseburger sculpture holding court by the door.

The burger signals the fun, food and friendliness Katy’s Grill & Bar has been serving for 30 years. That this little restaurant always feels like home is thanks to its owner Katy Monaghan.

The Wilmington restaurant veteran has been a force behind some of the city’s most beloved dining spots, including The Original Salt Works on Oleander Drive near Bradley Creek.

Today, Monaghan stages a huge birthday party for Katy’s. She’ll serve a buffet from 5 to 7 p.m.  Sliders, seafood and Katy’s popular wings are on the menu. Live music starts 4 p.m. The first act, Cosmic Groove Lizards, is a band whose members attend Monaghan’s church. Foosball, corn hole and ping pong are planned, too.

The celebration will no doubt be as down to earth as every other day at Katy’s. Folks will eat and drink — specials include Jell-O shots — hoot and howl, engage in back slapping and just hang out. Such a huge crowd is expected that Monaghan has arranged for parking attendants and added spaces at parking lots neighboring Katy’s.

Katy Monaghan

Katy Monaghan

An owner who truly cares about her customers, Monaghan’s kind and genuine spirit is evident each time she meets someone.

“I love the fellowship,” Monaghan said of the restaurant business.

Monaghan was 16 years old when her father moved her family from Illinois to Wilmington for work.

“I sold my saddle to buy a surf board,” Monaghan said while sipping a beer at the Katy’s bar.

The beach lover’s first job was at Wrightsville Beach’s late Marina Restaurant, which in the 1970s and 1980s was on Causeway Drive. A friend from Monaghan’s mother’s garden club got her the job. Monaghan started as a waitress. Six years later, she was the manager, a climb she made while working on her college biology degree.

Monaghan’s love of restaurant work trumped her interest in biology. By her early 20s she was married and persuading her husband, a teacher, to get into the restaurant business.

They opened a burgers and hot dogs place named Salt Works because of a historic salt production site nearby.

The marriage didn’t last, but Salt Works did as did Monaghan’s love of the food business. Salt Works inspired a different owner to develop Salt Works II, still on Wrightsville Avenue, in a building where Monaghan operated a restaurant named Pony Express. She also was involved in the creation of Wrightsville Beach favorite Causeway Cafe. Today, Katy’s is her sole restaurant.

She describes the restaurant business as a round-the-clock stressor that “sucks you dry.” With so many chain restaurants added to the College Road mix since Katy’s opened, profits have dropped. No matter. Monaghan considers the bigger payoff the people she meets at Katy’s, whether they’re regulars or unexpected celebrities including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver and Julia Roberts.

A joyful heart, an easy manner and an eye toward the future are what it takes to survive in the restaurant business, Monaghan said. After all this time, Katy’s remains a work in progress, no matter the odds. When a car drove through Katy’s, Monaghan made the restaurant’s slogan “not just another hole in the wall.” When diners’ tastes shifted to healthy foods, Monaghan added a salad bar and veggie burgers, although fried soft shells crabs (available now), fried pickles and fried green tomatoes remain her favorite menu items.

“It’s evolving,” Monaghan said of her restaurant.

“I hope it stays Katy’s.”

Posted on by lizbiro in dinner specials, Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Wilmington food fest scene is cooking!

Wilmington food festivals are quickly gaining fans, convincing event organizers to start planning the next party as soon as the current one ends.

The inaugural Taste of Wrightsville Beach food and drink festival happened in a downpour on Oct. 27, 2012. Still, a few hundred people attended. Founders began talking about the following festival even before last year’s had ended. Key to discussions was finding an indoor/outdoor venue.

MarineMax boat dealer and service supplier hosts this year’s Taste of Wrightsville Beach on Oct. 12, according to the festival website.

Sixteen restaurants provided tastings at the 2012 event. As many are expected this year along with an equal number of beer or wines. Participants compete for a People’s Choice award as well as a Best in Show winner selected by a panel including culinary professionals.

Food and drink purveyors may still sign up to serve at Taste of Wrightsville Beach 2013. Tickets to attend are for sale online, too. The advance price, available until Oct. 5, is $50 and includes admission and one tasting from each food, beer and wine vendor. Additional full-pour drinks may be purchased at the event.

Tickets cost $75 after Oct. 5.

The first annual Wilmington Wine and Food Festival downtown last May also drew crowds.

The second annual festival is scheduled May 3 and 4 at Bellamy Mansion. Expect a grand wine event; champagne and beer brunch; cocktail contest; and VIP pig-pickin’ with a local restaurant barbecue sauce competition. Wine dinners featuring guest chefs working with area talent, wine tastings and other food and wine-related celebrations are planned in the days before the festival.

Watch for a Sept. 18 wine event that will kick off wine and food-related fundraisers scheduled to benefit festival development.

Posted on by lizbiro in barbecue, dinner specials, downtown Wilmington, Food festivals, Restaurants, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Cooking Classes!

North Carolina summers for me have always been defined by fresh seafood, abundant local produce and hot grills. When I was growing up, my parents fished for a living part-time. Back in the 1970s, when formal farmers markets hardly existed in southeastern North Carolina, Mom and Dad roved  rural roads to find farmers and gardeners who might be willing to sell their harvest.

When our catch of seafood was sold in the little backyard market Mom and Dad set up on the patio, Dad heated the grill and invited the whole neighborhood. Sometimes, he fried fish in a giant cast iron skillet. Other times, he put the catch directly on the grill. Meantime, inside the house, Mom and neighborhood ladies gathered in the kitchen to prepare vegetables: potato salad with nothing but eggs and mayonnaise, salt and pepper; tender butter beans; corn, okra and tomato stew; summer squash fried with onions.

Sweet corn risotto made during the Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

Sweet corn risotto made during the Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

I’ll tap those times this month when I teach two cooking classes at The Seasoned Gourmet in Wilmington, near Wrightsville Beach.

My July 17 class features shrimp on the grill. We’ll learn why it’s a good idea to grill jumbo shrimp in their shells. We’ll stuff shrimp with fontina cheese, wrap them in bacon and put them on the grill. Shrimp will land in the best marinade I’ve ever found — think fresh basil — and end up with pasta.

Vegetarians and those looking to add vegetarian options to their meal plans plan on July 24 when I lead a class that goes in search of vegetarian flavor. I eat vegetarian most of the time, have cooked for many vegetarian friends and have taught vegetarian cooking classes before. The biggest challenge at the start of my vegetarian cooking experience was getting the full flavor that meat adds to dishes. Too often, cooks turn to salt, sugar and spices to jazz up vegetarian dishes, ending up with unsatisfying, overseasoned results. I’ve learned a few tricks that I’ll share, like how to use balsamic vinegar to add depth of flavor to dishes. One of the recipes will be my go-to mushroom crostini with roasted red peppers. Soooooo good!

The classes cost $45 each, include three recipes, hands-on cooking opportunities and, best of all, we get to eat what we prepare! Sometimes, guest chefs pop in. During my recent Italian cooking class, Hot Pink Cake Stand owner/baker Jody Carmichael stopped by to show us how to prepare strawberry Italian Swiss meringue. We layered the silky cream with fresh strawberries macerated in sweet wine and served in parfait glasses.

Cooking classes also happen nearly every Saturday morning from April to December in downtown Wilmington during my Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

Strawberry Italian Swiss meringue parfaits from my Italian cooking class at The Seasoned Gourmet.

Strawberry Italian Swiss meringue parfaits from my Italian cooking class at The Seasoned Gourmet.

After coffee and cupcakes at Hot Pink Cake Stand, I lead a tour of the Riverfront Farmers Market, where we sample tastes and learn about local farmers. We buy a few things, and then it’s off to Aubriana’s, one of Wilmington’s best restaurants, for a full-on, hands-on cooking class with top chef Tyson Amick.

Lately, we’ve been making sweet corn risotto, seared halibut with local vegetables and fried squash blossoms stuffed with local goat cheese. Lunch consists of what we prepare.  The 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. tour and class costs $65.

Pre-registration is required for The Seasoned Gourmet classes. Buy tickets in advance for the farmers market tour and cooking class, too.

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Standing ovations for Southern home cooking

North Carolina’s Our State magazine’s July issue features Casey’s Buffet, a southern food restaurant at 5559 Oleander Dr.

The piece and accompanying photographs appear in the Good Food section. It highlights Casey’s all-you-can-eat, 30-plus buffet offerings, the restaurant’s deviled eggs and husband-and-wife owners Larry and Gena Casey.

Home cooking is on the menu for TheatreNOW’s new production “Country Cookin’ with The Good Ol’ Boys!” 7 p.m. each Saturday this summer at the 19 S. 10th St. theater.

The dinner theater performance serves comfort food with live, classic country tunes and comedy sketches performed in a manner similar to “Hee Haw,” a longtime television variety show that aired mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. The “Country Cookin’ with The Good Ol’ Boys!” cast includes Wilmington musicians and actors.

Three courses accompany the performance. On the menu: cornbread, biscuits and honey butter; country-fried steak with white gravy, fried catfish or roasted chicken with gravy; and pie for dessert. Tickets cost $30 or $42.

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