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


Pizza, Italian favorites in Carolina Beach

Casa Matta is new at Carolina Beach.

Casa Matta is new at Carolina Beach.

Buon appetito! Casa Matta, serving pizza, pasta and southern Italian-style entrees in the former Madfish Grill, 1140 N. Lake Park Blvd., is open.

Owner Salvatore Doria first landed on the Cape Fear dining scene in July 2012, when he launched Brooklyn Sal’s pizzeria in the former Gumby’s Pizza, 1414-E S. College Road, between Wrightsville Avenue and Oleander Drive.

But Doria preferred Carolina Beach, where his brother, Vinny Doria, runs Uncle Vinny’s Pizzeria and Ristorante. When a place at the beach become available, Salvatore Doria grabbed it.

The 215-seat restaurant has a new patio furnished with a freshly painted concrete floor and umbrellas over tables. Lasagna, chicken piccata, Philly cheesesteaks, “real veal,” from-scratch meatballs and housemade, thick-crust Sicilian-style pizza are on the menu, Doria said. Traditional breakfast and brunch “with an Italian flair” are coming, general manager Celeste Bondy said.

Expect live music at Casa Matta, too.

Neapolitan Doria came to America as a child. At age 12, he began spinning pizza in Brooklyn, N.Y., he said. Doria also owns Fratello’s, an upscale Italian restaurant he has operated for three years in Pinehurst. That 100-seat spot is undergoing a 1,500-square-foot expansion, bringing a pizzeria to the business.

Posted on by lizbiro in Carolina Beach, New restaurants, Restaurants 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

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

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

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

Bakery coming to Carolina Beach

The wife of late Carolina Beach chef and restaurateur Michael McGowan is continuing her husband’s practice of striving to serve a market hungry for good food.

Shelly McGowan maintains the Michael’s Seafood Restaurant she and husband opened in 1998 at a 1206 N. Lake Park Blvd. shopping strip in Carolina Beach. In mid-March, she said she plans to open Big Apple Bakery just a few doors down from Michael’s.

The all-takeout bakery that will serve bagels, breads, muffins, cookies, specialty cakes, coffee, among other treats, is based on full-service, from-scratch bakeries the McGowans grew up with in New England, Shelly McGowan said. Read more…

Posted on by lizbiro in Bakery, Carolina Beach, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Biscuit story at Fire on the Dock

The Rx biscuit atop root vegetable soup with duck, crispy cracklin, fresh ricotta and cashew gremolata. Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series.

Fire on the Dock master of ceremonies Jimmy Crippen advises the cooking competition’s attendees not to try to guess which chef is putting out which dish at the contests. “Mothers have been wrong,” he’ll often say.

Sometimes, there’s a giveaway. Last night, it was a biscuit.

I recognized the biscuit from one Wilmington’s most popular spots, Rx Restaurant and Bar, which won the second 2013 Fire on the Dock battle Feb. 19 at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach.

Rx chef/co-owner James Doss and his team make hundreds of those buttermilk biscuits each week.

The homemade treats were placed atop creamy root vegetable soup that helped Doss and his cooks beat The Oceanic chef Thomas Mobley, who, by the way, made my favorite dish of the night: 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. Yum!

The biscuits signify what has made Rx so well-loved in Wilmington. When Doss competed in the 2012 Fire on the Dock, the restaurant he and James Novicki own was just under development in a tough neighborhood where crime has been an issue.

Still, Doss and Novicki remain steadfast in their efforts to serve homey yet stylish dishes using local ingredients, some of which are grown on Rx’s rooftop garden.

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

Biscuit-making has become a lost art diners seem happy to leave to processed food companies that supply frozen biscuits or huge bags of pre-blended biscuit mix to large chain food operations. Conduct a side-by-side tasting of a from-scratch biscuit and a prefabricated one and you’ll likely discover that your favorite fast food sausage biscuit is lacking.

Biscuits were once a staple of home kitchens in the South. They have never been difficult to prepare, unless you’re stamping out hundreds, as Rx cooks do. I talk about biscuits and their history on my downtown Wilmington food walking tour and then oftentimes sample biscuits at the breakfast hotspot Dixie Grill.

Along the way, I tell tour-goes an easy recipe for biscuits: 2 cups of self-rising, unbleached, all-purpose flour, about ¼ cup of lard or butter. Cut the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles cornmeal and then gently stir in about a cup of buttermilk.

Flour a board and gently roll out the dough, being careful to not incorporate more flour; simply keep a coating of flour on the dough to prevent it from sticking. Alternately, flour your hands, and pick up pieces of the dough and form into disks about ¾-inch thick.

Either way, handle gently. Overworking the dough leads to hard biscuits. If the dough seems too sticky and you don’t want to risk rolling or handling, drop tablespoonfuls of dough onto a pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

As I always tell tour-goers, if your biscuits come out ugly, no worries. Put them on a plate, smother them with sausage gravy and call them a “Southern specialty.”

Doss and I have been talking about a Castle Street food tour that would involve a biscuit making class. Stay tuned for details.

See Doss compete again at Fire on the Dock March 11, when he meets the Feb. 18 battle winner, Antoine Murray of Cape Fear Country Club.

The bracket-style cooking tournament resumes tonight when Blockade Runner chef Mark Lawson goes up against chef Joanie Babcock of Southern Exposure in Faison. For tickets and information, visit http://www.competitiondining.com/

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

Chapter 11 for Sweet & Savory company

The company that owns popular Sweet and Savory restaurant and its new sister unit, The Pub at Sweet and Savory, both near Wrightsville Beach, has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the owner emphasized that the businesses are not closing.

“We’re planning on being here for a long, long time,” Robert Shapiro said Thursday. “The future looks very bright.”

“This is what we’re doing to ensure our survival,” Shapiro said, emphasizing that the filing is a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows firms to reorganize debt and emerge financially healthy and able to pay creditors, as opposed to a Chapter 7 filing, which requires firms to sell off assets in order to pay creditors.

Read my full report about the bankruptcy in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

Shapiro was upbeat about both restaurants, but especially The Pub at Sweet and Savory (2012 Eastwood Road), which he said has nailed a stellar menu comparable to Wilmington’s fine-dining restaurants. The original Sweet and Savory is next door at 1611 Pavilion Place.

His favorite dish puts seared diver scallops and crispy pork belly atop pureed parsnips with bacon Mission fig jam, asparagus tips and house potato chips crisped in duck fat. Available on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the dish cost $18, but on special for just $15 on Thursday nights.

The pub also offers a 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. brunch every Saturday and Sunday.

See the full menu at http://www.thepubatsweetnsavory.com. Call 910-679-8101.

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

3 new sandwich spots in Wilmington

Sweet ’n’ Savory’s expansion into former Kefi digs leads north Wilmington restaurant news, all of it involving sandwiches. The Pub at Sweet ’n’ Savory has opened, as has two other sandwich shops. Read more…


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