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

The Pub at Sweet and Savory chef Josh Petty was the last Wilmington chef standing in the second round of the Fire on the Dock portion of the Competition Dining Series, a statewide, bracket-style cooking tournament. He was defeated by 2012 runner-up Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern.

Tonight, Fong faces Clarke Merrell of Morehead City’s Circa 81 in the championship Fire on the Dock battle at Bluewater Grill. The winner goes on to the final five, including chefs who have won in other North Carolina regions, Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro among them.

Petty lost Fire on the Dock, but he hasn’t stuck a fork in his own efforts. The surprising twists he showed off at Fire on the Dock continue on The Pub at Sweet and Savory’s new Latin-themed menu.

The list includes chipotle-seasoned short ribs rolled in a burrito, pork belly carnitas, and sticky rum ribs served with cheddar/bacon/fried onion macaroni and cheese.

Appetizers include Caribbean Fried Shrimp tossed in housemade carrot and mango hot sauce, all topped with queso fresco and cilantro. A salsa sampler allows diners to pick three of the following: black bean and corn salsa, salsa fresco, salsa verde, peach habanero salsa and orange-coriander, roasted tomato and poblano pepper salsa.

Chef shuffle

Toque Shane Tyner, who represented Wrightsville Beach’s King Neptune at Fire on the Dock and was previously at Phun Seafood Bar, has joined the Towne Tap & Grill kitchen.

Check Mixto soon for a revamped menu from chef Fenix Nelson, formerly of Manna and Catch. He also owns the late-night burrito delivery service, Incognito Bar-Rito, which I recently wrote about in a Greater Wilmington Business Journal story about chefs who moonlight. Nelson favors from-scratch moles and sauces and is talking about making his own cheese.

Chris’ Cosmic Kitchen (now closed) chef/owner Chris Lubben preceded Nelson at Mixto. Lubben has taken over as executive chef of the Shoals Club on Bald Head Island.

Former Crow Hill owner Derrick Cook, who did a brief stint at Cameron Art Museum’s Café Johnnie after Crow Hill closed, has been shaking pans at The Kitchen, where I recently had a nice carpaccio with hearts of palm, avocado and frisee. Cook works with his New York City pal Andrew Karasz, who recently switched over to The Kitchen from Circa 1922. The pair met in New York and ran into each other unexpectedly when Karasz arrived as Circa executive chef in February 2012.

Wilmington chefs and diners have not forgotten former Circa 1922 executive chef and Manna executive sous chef Kyle Lee McKnight. Many are reporting plans to attend April 8-11 opening nights at his latest stop: farm-to-table, contemporary American Highland Avenue in Hickory.

Speaking of Manna, Paula Pacini, most previously in The Fortunate Glass wine bar kitchen, has moved to Manna, joining executive chef Jameson Chavez and noted pastry chef Rebecca Alvarado Parades. The team’s spring menu is out, and this month they honor local farmers and produce at Manna’s popular 7-9 p.m. Thursday tapas at the bar.

Posted on by lizbiro in Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Fire on the Dock, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Oceanic pier reopens for dining!

A stunning view. More seats coming to Oceanic restaurant's pier.

Easter Sunday brunch gets a stunning seaside setting this weekend at Oceanic. The Wrightsville Beach restaurant today reopened much of its pier for outdoor dining.

Tables accommodating around 70 guests fill the pier and more are coming along with awnings by mid-May, said Mindy Stroupe, spokeswoman for LM Restaurants, which owns Oceanic.

“The final piece of the pier reconstruction project, the public fishing pier, should be finished by June,” Stroupe said.

The Crystal Pier area hosted Luna Pier in the 1950s. Crystal Pier suffered damage during storms in the 1990s.

Diners taking advantage of the pier this Easter Sunday, weather permitting, will have brunch options 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The menu includes omelets, French toast, quiche and the “O” Champagne Cocktail with peach and mango purees.

Other LM Restaurants stage brunch this Easter Sunday, too. Read more…

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

2013 Easter brunches in Wilmington

Easter Sunday kicks off the spring Sunday brunch season, and restaurants in and around Wilmington are serving the meal this weekend and beyond.

Bonefish Grill, 4719 New Centre Drive, starts Sunday brunch hours this weekend, when it will offer its full menu beginning at 11 a.m. on Sundays.

Keep an eye open at Bonefish Grill locations for expanding brunch offerings such as creme brulee French toast and specialty champagne-based cocktails, Bonefish Grill president Stephen Judge said…

Brunch also happens at Boca Bay, 2025 Eastwood Road; Sweet & Savory and The Pub at Sweet and Savory, both on Pavillion Place off Eastwood Road near Wrightsville Beach; and Carolina Beach’s Surf House Cafe, 604 N. Lake Park Blvd. Read more…

Posted on by lizbiro in Brunch, Carolina Beach, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Last Wilmington chef standing

The Fire on the Dock professional cooking contest happens in Wilmington, and it’s mostly Wilmington-area chefs who compete, but this year, as in 2012, the event is shaping up to be the battle of the out-of-towners.

Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern recently took out popular and respected downtown Wilmington Josh Woo of Yo Sake. Just a week before, Clarke Merrell of Morehead City’s Circa 81 beat Wrightsville Beach’s well-known chef Mark Lawson of Blockade Runner resort’s East restaurant. Last night, Merrell defeated Cape Fear Country Club chef Antoine Murray.

Murray’s loss raised memories of last year’s Fire on the Dock, when the final battle boiled down to Fong and Andy Hopper, then in the kitchen at Morehead City’s Chefs 105, now with Southern Season gourmet food emporium in Chapel Hill and coming soon to Charleston, S.C. The pair climbed over lots of big local names, with Hopper taking the Fire on the Dock title.

Changing the outcome this year depends on one unsung Wilmington cook.

Compared to Wilmington celebrity toques Keith Rhodes of Catch or Shawn Wellersdick of Port Land Grille, Josh Petty, the last Wilmington chef in Fire on the Dock 2013, is an unknown. He works at The Pub at Sweet & Savory, which, at just 7 months old, might be considered still unproven.

Josh Petty’s Poulet Rouge yolk wonton with veal cheek confit, butter-poached lobster, black rice, asparagus and mushroom soup.

Petty, it seems, has a lot on his plate, but I’ve been thinking about putting my money on him since his first Fire on the Dock match, Battle Ashley Farms Eggs on March 5, against Kirsten Mitchell of Cameo 19 Hundred. His dishes were not perfect — cooking competition offerings seldom are — but Petty attempted a soup that roused my culinary sensibility. When my spoon broke into a deep-fried wonton, a soft egg yolk inside the package enriched the veal, lobster, black rice and vegetable soup. I’m hoping Petty will revisit the soup at a chefs dinner.

He impressed me again March 21 at Battle Pepsi and Peanuts against 22 North‘s Brent Poteat, one the Cape Fear’s best chefs. My table went nuts for Petty’s Five Spice Peanut Tempura Shrimp, a crispy, sweet, spicy creation drizzled with Pepsi chili glaze. It earned the night’s highest score. The Pepsi-spiked caramel on his Pepsi chocolate cake for dessert was another winner.

So, my money is on the home team tonight. Best of luck Josh. Fong’s a tough competitor. No matter what happens, I look forward to winning meals by Petty at The Pub at Sweet and Savory.

Posted on by lizbiro in Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Fire on the Dock, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Many toasts to the Irish

Call it “the luck of the Irish.” Restaurants of all kinds, all over Wilmington, have special events and foods planned to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Downtown’s Hot Pink Cake Stand has a nice list of beers to pair with St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes through Sunday. Think Young’s double chocolate stout accompanying, say, an Irish coffee cupcake (spiked coffee-flavored cupcake with whipped cream frosting). For more info, call 343-4727.

Each St. Patrick’s Day, The Harp, a true Irish pub, hosts a grand indoor and outdoor celebration that happens March 16 and 17 this year at the restaurant’s 1423 S. 3rd St. location.

Live music both days includes bagpipers. A 10-piece band performs Sunday. The menu starts with a full Irish breakfast, which The Harp starts serving at 5 a.m. Shepherd’s pie and corned beef and cabbage are, of course, planned.

Midtown, Halligan’s Public House, 3317 Masonboro Loop Road, on March 17 features performances by a six- to 12-mmeber team from the Irish School of Dance and local guitarist Daniel Parish. Expect bagpipers throughout the day, too. The day’s limited menu includes corned beef, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and fish and chips.

Corned beef and cabbage shows up at all the usual locations this weekend, including Paddy’s Hollow in downtown’s The Cotton Exchange and The Dubliner at 1756 Carolina Beach Road, as well as a couple unexpected spots. Read more…

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

Chefs in the shadows

Mention the word chef these days and what usually comes to mind is the super-charismatic Bobby Flay type, the highly respected Daniel Boulud type or the say-anything Gordon Ramsay type.

Television chefs give the perception that all chefs work in fine-dining or cutting-edge restaurants on their way to celebrity fame of one sort or another.

But all kinds of cooks exist out there, and as far as most of them are concerned, one works just as hard as the other, whether he or she puts out fancy plates at the most urbane restaurant or stamps out hot meals for hundreds of kids at the local elementary school.

March 11 winner Antoine Murray's kohlrabi dessert.

Diners don’t often think about these “other chefs.” Cooks at hospitals, schools, clubs and other non-restaurant spots aren’t in the spotlight, even at the cooking tournament Fire on the Dock, which has been going on since mid-February at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach.

Fire on the Dock competitors are mostly restaurant chefs. So when one of the familiar lost to a country club chef March 11, it was quite an upset.

Local favorite Rx Restaurant and Bar chef James Doss bowed to Cape Fear Country Club chef Antoine Murray in the first of second-round battles at Fire on the Dock.

The contests always involve at least one secret ingredient. Garlic leeks, purple kohlrabi and broccoli rabe were thrown at Doss and Murray.

Both chefs put out stellar plates, but two Murray dishes wowed attendees. Earning especially high marks was Murray’s second-course “Duo”: braised applewood-smoked pork belly and parmesan grits with tomato and bacon relish alongside pepper-seared shoulder tender steak with truffle-pureed broccoli rabe, veal jus and fried Texas Pete shallots.

Even bigger scores went to Murray’s dessert: candied garlic leek and financier cake with kohlrabi-chocolate rosette, kohlrabi leaf and caramel ice cream.

Alas, you can’t sample Murray’s food unless you’re a Cape Fear Country Club member or guest, but he competes in Fire on the Dock again March 27, when he’ll face the winner of tonight’s match between Wrightsville Beach’s Blockade Runner chef Mark Lawson and Morehead City Circa 81 chef Clarke Merrell.

For tickets, check http://www.competitiondining.com.

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

Blue Surf Cafe coming to Racine

Blue Surf Café will soon mark the sign on Surf House Café in Wilmington, but Surf House fans will see the same sort of food, albeit with an expanded dinner menu, general manager Jeremy Lozito said.

“The concept not going to change very much at all,” Lozito said.

Expanded dinner hours, a broader evening menu and more wine and craft beer are ahead, Lozito said. He did not know exactly when changes would take effect, as alterations are being planned.

The restaurant, 250 Racine Drive, started as a second location of Surf House Café, 604 N. Lake Park Blvd., in Carolina Beach. Original business partners Craig Love and Brad Jones recently divided the company. Jones sold his shares, and Love took over the Carolina Beach shop, which is closed for kitchen expansion but set to reopen soon. Read more…

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

Wine, craft beer bar debuts in Ogden

A new wine and craft beer bar is open in Ogden.

Fermental offers more than 200 craft beers and about 100 wines in a 1940s-era home at 7250-B Market St. at Wendover Lane, owner Steve Gibbs said.

A bar and sofa lounge inside seats about 25 people, but Gibbs said he was developing a beer garden outside, too.

A large assortment of Belgian beers are among top-rated suds on Fermental’s list, which includes beer on tap and in kegs that Gibbs will deliver and set up.

Wines range from upmarket labels to $4.99 bottles of Vista Point reds and whites, Gibbs said. Read more…

Posted on by lizbiro in wine bar Leave a comment

Cooking contest inspirations

Chef Josh Petty's yolk-filled wonton among the many ingredients in his egg-drop soup (photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

Cooks discover lots of ideas at the professional chef tournament Fire on the Dock, going on through April 3 at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach.

Granted, the dishes contestants attempt under competition pressure don’t always work, but they get culinary minds thinking.

My “hmm” moment came last night during Battle Eggs, when winner Josh Petty of The Pub at Sweet and Savory served a deep-fried wonton filled with a soft egg yolk.

Petty went way over the top, serving the wonton over egg drop soup containing tender veal cheek, butter-poached lobster, black rice, mushrooms and asparagus over egg-drop soup.

I loved the way the soft yolk in the wonton in my bowl enriched the soup when my spoon broke the crisp package. I’m planning to try just such a wonton in a simple broth containing a few vegetables, maybe fresh peas this spring.

On Monday, Battle Pork contestant Pat Greene of downtown Wilmington’s Elijah’s restaurant served collard soup that got me thinking about mounding the thinest collard chiffonade in a bowl and ladling hot pork broth over it, maybe drizzle of hot pepper oil to garnish.

Chef Pat Greene's collard soup (photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

Chef Brent Poteat of Wrightsville Beach 22 North won Battle Pork. He and Petty move on to the 2013 Fire on the Dock second round starting March 11, when Rx Restaurant and Bar chef James Doss meets Cape Fear Country Club chef Antoine Murray.

Fire on the Dock is part of the Competition Dining Series, which this year stages similar events in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and the Asheville/Blowing Rock area. The series culminates in final face-offs to pick the best chefs among the regions.

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

Jerry Allens gets a new look

Renovations happening at Jerry Allens Sports Bar in Wrightsville Beach will not only make the spot more comfortable but add family-friendly elements, too.

Owners Jerry Allen and Kelly Baucom are adding new windows, bathrooms, floors and furniture, as well as 11 60-inch flat-screen televisions. Another three 46-inch screens will host gaming options such as Xbox and Nintendo Wii.

“We 100 percent gutted the place, from the studs to the walls,” Baucom said.

Windows will bring in more natural light, booth seating has mostly replaced tables and chairs and owners are considering a few menu additions, namely lettuce wraps and a weekly Kids Night during which profits will benefit the local PTA, Baucom said. Read more…


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