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

Changes at Cameron Art Museum cafe

Cameron Art Museum is taking over full operation of its in-house café.

In March 2012, Wilmington’s Pine Valley Market, began managing the eatery as Café Johnnie. On May 1, Café Johnnie will become the new CAM Café, Cameron Art Museum officials announced this week.

Pine Valley Market ran the restaurant in an effort to help CAM eventually solely manage the shop, Pine Valley Market co-owner Christi Ferretti said.

“The museum appreciates Pine Valley Market’s hard work in establishing the café, and both parties are excited that the museum will now have the opportunity to operate and continue to grow the café and continue to work with Pine Valley Market catering,” according to a CAM statement.

Past “Hell’s Kitchen” television program contestant chef Jessica Cabo heads the CAM kitchen, the museum reported. Read more…

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

Salute! New Wilmington Wine & Food Fest

A Wilmington wine and food festival in the works since 2012 officially takes off in May.

The inaugural Wilmington Wine & Food Festival scheduled for 2-5 p.m. May 19 at Saint Thomas Preservation Hall, 208 Dock St. in downtown Wilmington, according to the event’s organizers.

Restaurants will serve food samples paired with wine provided by various vendors. Attendees may vote for their favorite selections in a people’s choice contest. A professional judging panel will pick best-of winners, too. Vendors will sell wine at a discount. Live music is planned.

You may buy tickets now. Read more…

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

New pub near UNC-Wilmington

A hidden nook between South College Road and Kerr Avenue has strong profit potential, according to the owner of a new restaurant moving into the area.

When Eleanor Deschamps opens Low Tide Pub in mid-May, she said she plans to target guests at 40 hotels and residents of 20 apartment complexes within three miles of the 4540 Fountain Drive location.

“I used to travel all the time as a regional vice president for Olan Mills, and when I did, I always wanted to eat at that little, local place,” Deschamps said.

Low Tide fits the bill Deschamps sought. The approximately 50-seat restaurant, including outdoor deck tables, will focus on wings and sandwiches, including a beer-battered fish stack and a meaty crab cake sandwich, Read more…

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

Pub opens at Waterford

Tony’s N.Y. Pizza and Trattoria in the Waterford area of Leland has been closed for only a month, but, already, a pub is moving into the Cross Creek Commons shopping center location.

Halftime Sports Bar and Grill opened May 3 in the spot on U.S. 17 in front of Walmart, Halftime owner Charlie Almond said.

Almond previously operated Halftime Sports Café, 50 River Road SE in Belville. He closed that shop April 28 to move into Cross Creek Commons, where Halftime will have 4,500 square feet, more than twice the space of Almond’s former digs. Read more…

Posted on by lizbiro in Brunswick County, Leland, Restaurants Leave a comment

Soul food goes Hollywood

Don’t get the wrong idea about brown paper covering the windows at Two Fat Ladies Over a Simmering Pot. The Wilmington restaurant is closed just long enough for Hollywood.

Crews for the upcoming movie “Tammy,” to film in and around Wilmington, are building a set inside Two Fat Ladies Over A Simmering Pot, said Gaylean White, one of the restaurant’s owners.

The 1601 Dawson St. at South 16th Street restaurant, is locked until about May 10 while the “Tammy” teams turn the building into a fast food restaurant, White said.

“Tammy,” starring Melissa McCarthy, is a comedy about…Read more…

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

The O.C. coming to Monkey Junction

The former O’Charley’s building at Monkey Junction is getting Italian food from one of Wilmington’s most productive restaurateurs.

“We’re opening another Osteria Cicchetti here,” Ash Aziz said.

The original Osteria Cicchetti, at The Forum shopping center on Military Cutoff Road, is one of six restaurants under Aziz’s Circa Restaurant Group.

Osteria Cicchetti’s second location will be at 5104 South College Road, where O’Charley’s closed on May 20, following the December 2010 closing of O’Charley’s at 6 Van Campen Blvd. Read more…

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

Soon-to-open cafe = cheese central

My dream job is cheese sommelier — or rather maitre fromager, the person at restaurants who recommends cheeses to diners. I could spend my days studying cheese, buying cheese, traveling to find more cheese, sampling cheese and wheeling around a cool cart packed with the best cheeses.

I can smell it now.

Max McCalman was America’s first and for a time only maitre fromager. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, he was the cheese keeper at New York City-based restaurant Picholine. I wanted to marry him. I’ve since settled for a good humboldt fog.

Alas, my love affair with cheese on the North Carolina coast is mostly limited to the little, sanitary, plastic-wrapped packages that fill food market bins. State and federal food safety rules on cheese are more restrictive than my bikini when it comes to fulfilling my culinary aspirations.

Still, cheese heads like me find a way to get what they want. As sick as I am for cheese, Taste the Olive owner Kymberlei DiNapoli is even sicker.

DiNapoli is looking to open her Taste the Olive cafe and wine bar, on Military Cutoff Road in The Forum shopping center,  sometime this week, and when she does, expect an impressive range of cheeses served by a trained staff. A main reason DiNapoli developed the cafe is so that she would have more room to devote to her beloved cheese. Just days ago, she had her crew schooled by Southern Foods cheese specialist Sasha Shreders.

Shreders took the team through a full range of cheeses styles, from fresh to blue-veined to dry-aged. Along the way, he shared lots of interesting tidbits and pairing ideas. For instance, the quality of gruyere may be judged by “tears of joy,” not the ones you cry upon tasting the cheese but the drops of water that develop in gruyere’s holes as the cheese matures.

Another note: triple cream cheeses go well with sparkling wine. Expect both at DiNapoli’s new cafe, a stunning space in gold, black, white tile and hammered tin.

The location will feature an airy cafe in one section and wine bar in the other. A doorway links the spot to Taste the Olive, allowing customers to move from one business to the next without stepping outside.

DiNapoli plans to serve light breakfasts and lunches, , including the Swiss melted cheese dish named raclette. Noshes and small plates will fill the evening menu. Expect wine, olive oil and cooking classes, too.

When I stopped by Monday, workers were putting finishing touches on the cafe and refrigerated glass display cases were still empty — except for one. It was full of cheese!

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, wine bar, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Best Bloody Mary? You decide

Cold pizza with extra tomato sauce is the closest I’ve ever come to a Bloody Mary hangover cure. Sunday April 7 could change my mind. Ten downtown Wilmington bars and restaurants will shake up spirits and tomato juice for The Downtown Wilmington Bloody Mary Competition.

From 2 to 5 p.m., voters must sample at least five Bloody Marys from among the competitors: Mixto, The Husk, Barbary Coast, Mugsy’s Pub, Hell’s Kitchen, The Soapbox, Shuckin’  Shack, Five Star Tavern, The River Rat, and Duck and Dive.

The 9-ounce cocktails containing a half-ounce of liquor will cost $3 each. Voters may begin at any of the participating spots. Each place will have ballots and wrist bands available.

“Judging is overall taste, spiciness, garnish,” contest organizer Jacob Kreider said.

A cheerleader for downtown Wilmington, Kreider helps some of the area’s restaurants with public relations and runs a downtown Wilmington Facebook fan page as well as a Facebook page for the Bloody Mary competition.

Bloody Mary contestants must serve the normal Bloody Marys on their cocktail lists, but Kreider noted that they’ve had a month to tweak their recipes.

That was happening Friday in the Mixto kitchen, where chefs were pickling fresh zucchini and green tomatoes for the waterfront restaurants version of the cocktail.

If the contest is a hit, Kreider said he will try to stage it each year the weekend before Azalea Festival and again the weekend before Riverfest.

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

Pilot House back in business

Closed for renovations since Jan. 1, part of downtown Wilmington’s Pilot House restaurant reopens this week with a few tastes of its new menu.

The main dining room won’t be back in business until mid-May, but a bar sporting new furniture, fresh white paint and unobstructed Cape Fear River views is scheduled to start serving customers April 4 – “if all goes well,” Pilot House assistant general manager Sunni Holley said.

Wicker stools replace metal seating with dated fabric, and televisions behind the bar have been mounted higher on the wall so that they are easier to see, bar manager Rick Searcy added. Read more…

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

The best of Fire on the Dock

Thirteen Wilmington-area chefs entered the Fire on the Dock cooking contest, but it was a cook from New Bern who took the crown in the final match Wednesday night.

Gerry Fong of Persimmons beat Clarke Merrell of Morehead City’s Circa 81 in the championship Fire on the Dock bout, Battle Bacon and Country Ham, at Bluewater Grill.

Fire on the Dock is part of Competition Dining Series‘ a statewide, bracket-style cooking tournament. Fong, the 2012 Fire on the Dock runner-up, will meet four other 2013 regional winners during the November Final Fire round in Raleigh.

Meantime, Fong will be a guest chef in the Circa 81 kitchen during the April 24-28 Beaufort Wine & Food Weekend.

As competitive as chefs are during Fire on the Dock, they come out friends and along the way make plans like the upcoming Fong-Merrell collaborative. Fire on the Dock 2012 winner Andy Hopper, then at Chefs 105 in Morehead City, faced chef Ryan Payne of Chapel Hill’s Weathervane, part of the gourmet emporium A Southern Season, in the 2012 statewide final four. Afterward, Hopper sold Chefs 105 went to work for A Southern Season. Hopper said he will be the market’s executive chef at a new location in Charleston, S.C.

Hearing about chef partnerships, new directions and menu ideas are among my favorite parts of the Competition Dining Series.

Here are some of my other favorites from the 2013 Fire on the Dock:

Chef Rebeca Alvarado Parades' Texas Pete chocolate cheesecake (photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

Best Dish: Pastry chef Rebeca Alvarado Parades’ super silky, intensely chocolate Texas Pete and cocoa cheesecake with Texas Pete gastrique, Texas Pete chocolate glaze, whipped mascarpone cream and a spicy almond lace cookie. Many diners mentioned the Battle Texas Pete dessert to me during the course of the series. Some were still talking about it at the final battle last night. Parades was on the Yo Sake team. She is the pastry chef at downtown Wilmington’s Manna.

Dish I most want to eat again: The Oceanic chef Thomas Mobley at Battle N.C. Dairy prepared my personal favorite dish of the competition: porcini-crusted rare filet sliced oh so thinly and topped with mixed salad greens in truffle-buttermilk dressing. Balsamic onions and fried capers garnished the dish. The filet was more like carpaccio, the salad its vero amore. Simple, well-edited. Bravo Chef! I hope to sample it again one day on Oceanic’s stunning new pier.

Best idea: During Battle N.C. Wine, Shane Tyner, who represented King Neptune in Wrightsville Beach and has since moved on to Towne Tap & Grill, served a dessert consisting of a striking black sticky rice mound atop blueberry port sauce and a lovely coconut crème anglaise. Crisp, slightly tart Asian pear chutney made with muscadine wine crowned the dish. Despite the rice being a bit too dry, chefs at the battle, including Hopper, agreed it was the night’s most impressive effort.

The Oceanic's porcini-crusted filet with mixed greens, truffle-buttermilk dressing, balsamic onions and fried capers.

Chef most on my radar as a result of Fire on the Dock: When chef Josh Petty of The Pub at Sweet and Savory served a deep-fried wonton filled with a soft egg yolk during Battle Eggs, I was hooked. Petty served the wonton over egg drop soup containing tender veal cheek, butter-poached lobster, black rice, mushrooms and asparagus. I loved the way the soft yolk inside the wonton enriched the soup when my spoon broke the crisp package. I’m looking forward to trying Petty’s new menu at The Pub at Sweet and Savory.

Simplicity rules: Battle Pintade (guinea hen) was among matches that produced surprising desserts and over-the-top combinations like Cape Fear Country Club chef Antoine Murray’s pintade tuille and pintade creme anglaise, but Dockside chef Scott Grimm earned the top-scoring dish of  the night with simple braised guinea hen served with grits and a side of collard greens that he stewed in beer.

Best bits: Lots of times, little things provide WOW! moments at Fire on the Dock. Elements of dishes may stand out more than the overall preparations. Fong’s tempura fresh ginger slices last night was one example. Petty’s egg yolk wonton was another. My favorite was South Beach Grill chef James Rivenbark’s bacon caramel served during Battle Carrots, Strawberries and Sweet Potatoes.

Best service: Bluewater Waterfront Grill’s wait staff impressed week after week with politeness, attentiveness, food delivered evenly and at proper temperatures and silverware cleared and replaced as needed.

Favorite moment: Chefs work hard. They may get a great review from a critic, a thank you note may arrive from a diner, TripAdvisor may be full of accolades. Mostly, cooks work long hours, some up to 70 or 80 hours a week, separated from their admirers. Kitchens are hot, dangerous, stressful places, quite different from easy dining rooms. Still, chefs thrive, constantly creating, discussing their craft, imagining what they can do next or what they can pull from the past — all to please people. Most don’t understand the celebrity chef trend. They just want to cook good food that makes diners smile.

And so my absolute favorite moment of Fire on the Dock 2012 was at the end of Battle Catfish and Mint when chef Joanie Babcock emerged from the kitchen.

Babcock’s restaurant, Southern Exposure, is in Faison, meaning she and her crew — and Southern Exposure customers — had to spend more than an hour on the road to get to the showdown. Despite the drive, Babcock fans filled most of the dining room. When Babcock came out to hear the night’s scores, all those many fans cheered and gave her a standing ovation. That they traveled so far to support her was a true expression of love.

Posted on by lizbiro in bacon, Downtown, Fire on the Dock, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment