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

downtown Wilmington

Oyster ice cream: A surprising scoop of American food history

America's early history included lots of oysters -- lots of them turned into ice cream.

America’s early history included lots of oysters — lots of them turned into ice cream.

Liz Biro’s note: This is a piece I wrote recently for Coastal Review Online, the news blog published by the N.C. Coastal Federation, a non-profit group working to protect North Carolina’s coastal environment.

Warm weather marks the end of oyster season on the North Carolina coast, which might cause ice cream-maker Karel Blaas to scratch his head and wonder why.

Blaas’ from-scratch ice cream, made with local ingredients, is known far beyond his downtown Wilmington-based Velvet Freeze shop. He’s played with lots of interesting flavors: herb concoctions made with leaves grown at Leland’s Shelton Herb Farm, bourbon bacon chocolate pecan and olive oil with toasted pine nuts.

Sometimes, restaurant owners ask for custom flavors, like the beer chocolate toffee ice cream Blaas recently churned for a commercial brewery.

One of the oddest ideas Blaas encountered was oyster ice cream.

The oyster ice cream flavor stemmed from a conversation between Blaas and Chef Mark Scharaga. Scharaga was planning a multi-course wine dinner at the Asian restaurant Tamashii, which Scharaga once operated in Wilmington.

Scharaga used local seafood at the restaurant, where Blaas had been supplying Asian-inspired ice cream flavors such as ginger apple and sesame honey banana. The two men were joking about off-beat flavors they could serve for the dinner’s dessert when oyster ice cream came up, Scharaga said.

Karel Blaas' gave his oyster ice cream, right, a swirl of Texas Pete hot sauce. For the Tamashii chefs dinner, the ice cream was accompanied by fennel panna cotta, center, and chocolate ganache cake, left.

Karel Blaas’ gave his oyster ice cream, right, a swirl of Texas Pete hot sauce. For the Tamashii chefs dinner, the ice cream was accompanied by fennel panna cotta, center, and chocolate ganache cake, left.

“As crazy as I thought it was, it wasn’t really so far-fetched,” Scharaga said.

Oyster ice cream is popular in Japan, but when Blaas researched the idea, he was surprised by the American food history connection.

“People actually ate this,” Blaas said. “It was once a big deal in America.”

Ice cream, which probably originated in China, started appearing in American colonies in the first half of the 1700s, according to the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. The treat took off after Thomas Jefferson in the late 1700s sampled ice cream in Paris. Jefferson brought a recipe home, built an ice house at Monticello and then one at the White House when he became president, the Journal reported. On Independence Day 1806, Jefferson tasked a servant with making ice cream, starting a summertime tradition that probably earned Jefferson credit for bringing ice cream to America.

Vanilla, strawberry, raspberry and apricot were popular flavors. Coffee, tea, pistachio, spicy chocolate and parmesan cheese were other flavors. “Perhaps the strangest flavor is found in Mary Randolph’s cookbook—oyster ice cream,” the Journal reported.

Karel Blaas, owner and chief ice cream maker at Velvet Freeze in Wilmington.

Karel Blaas, owner and chief ice cream maker at Velvet Freeze in Wilmington.

Mary Randolph wrote The Virginia Housewife in 1824, one of that century’s most influential cookbooks and the first American cookbook with an ice cream section (by the way, Randolph’s son married Jefferson’s daughter). Her oyster ice cream recipe was really strained, frozen oyster chowder.

Historians claim First Lady Dolley Madison served oyster ice cream at the White House. Oyster ice cream is also mentioned in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

One story historians agree is a myth claims that oyster ice cream was George Washington’s favorite flavor.

Those early oyster ice creams were probably more savory than sweet, as Randolph’s recipe suggests. Blaas made his version sweet. He poached N.C. oysters in cream, added sugar and a couple other ingredients before freezing the blend.

The resulting ice cream provided enough oyster flavor to let diners know this was not Blaas’ usual rich, silky, oh-so-creamy vanilla. The ice cream, with a swirl of Texas Pete, was served with fennel panna cotta and chocolate ganache cake.

Blaas didn’t get another request for oyster ice cream, and Scharaga didn’t move much of it after the wine dinner. However, the men’s collaboration continues. Blaas scoops flavors these days at a new Velvet Freeze location in a space Blaas shares with the sushi take-out shop, Mega Maki. Scharaga runs Mega Maki with business partner Josh Thaxton. The shops are at 10B N. Front St. in Wilmington.

MAKE IT AT HOME

Attempting oyster ice cream at home is not difficult. Simply do as Blaas did by poaching fresh shucked oysters in a vanilla ice cream base. The amount of oysters will dictate the intensity of oyster flavor. A chef at 54twenty Guestaurant in Hollywood, Calif., demonstrates a slow cooking process called “sous-vide” in an online video

Mary Randolph’s efforts were simpler, as evidence by these recipes, shown as written, from The Virginia Housewife.

OYSTER CREAM

Make a rich soup, (see directions for oyster soup,) strain it from the oysters, and freeze it.

OYSTER SOUP

Wash and drain two quarts of oysters, put them on with three quarts of water, three onions chopped up, two or three slices of lean ham, pepper and salt; boil it till reduced one-half, strain it through a sieve, return the liquid into the pot, put in one quart of fresh oysters, boil it till they are sufficiently done, and thicken the soup with four spoonsful of flour, two gills of rich cream, and the yelks of six new laid eggs beaten well; boil it a few minutes after the thickening is put in. Take care that it does not curdle, and that the flour is not in lumps; serve it up with the last oysters that were put in. If the flavour of thyme be agreeable, you may put in a little, but take care that it does not boil in it long enough to discolour the soup.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, food history, Ice cream, Restaurants Leave a comment

Impromptu Wilmington Wine Trail Part 2

Caviar blini at The Fortunate Glass.

Caviar blini at The Fortunate Glass.

I’ll never forget the look of rapture on General Lorens Lowenhielm’s face when he tasted that first forkful of caviar-topped blini and first sip of accompanying champagne in the movie “Babette’s Feast.” I wonder if mine looked the same during the Super Star Pairing this week at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

That on a cold weeknight after work I was eating something long on my culinary bucket list and sipping NV Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut was as unexpected as Lowenhielm’s discovery that the humble, village meal he was expecting would turn out to be a much more.

Nuevo Nicoise.

Nuevo Nicoise.

The Fortunate Glass event on Wednesday featured four top-shelf wines matched with thoughtful dishes, starting with chef Fenix Nelson’s colorful take on classic caviar and blini. Streaks of pomegranate glaze played with the champagne’s fizz.

One of my favorite wines of the evening was the second-course Chateau Montelana Chardonny 2011. Crisp but full and just enough fruit to balance Nelson’s Nuevo Niscoise salad with chicken confit, diced potatoes, sweet yellow cherry tomatoes, fluffs of boiled egg yolk and the savory crunch of pistachio-laced goat cheese.

Shatter Grenache 2011 was another stand-out for me and diners I overheard complimenting the vintage. Concentrated but easy to drink, full with summer berries, this is one to have in home racks for comforting winter meals, perhaps a riff on the duck confit stroganoff with caramelized onions and portobello mushrooms in blackberry sauce The Fortunate Glass paired with the wine.

One of the things I love about The Fortunate Glass is its approachability. This is a serious wine bar with a light touch, as evidenced by the playful cola-braised pork butt Nelson served with the final wine, Hollywood and Vine Short Ends Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. It’s a big wine that needs a big love. All that plum, mocha, earth and spice found it in the fork-tender pork Nelson married to cremini mushrooms and super-buttery potato puree. Cherry cola demi-glace further sweetened the relationship.

Cola-braised pork butt.

Cola-braised pork butt.

The Fortunate Glass offers a lot of interesting wine, and sometimes beer, events. Each Tuesday, the wine bar hosts a free 6 to 8 p.m. tasting. Check for updates at The Fortunate Glass Facebook page.

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

Impromptu Wilmington Wine Trail Part 1

Rx chef/owner James Doss paired housesmoked lardo and beets with my favorite wine of the night, bonarda.

Rx chef/owner James Doss paired housesmoked lardo and beets with my favorite wine of the night, bonarda.

I had plans to eat at home last night — lentil and barley stew — until someone said malbec, smoked lardo, Bollinger and caviar.

A couple hours later I was on a Wilmington wine-tasting trail, hitting a free food and wine pairing featuring Altos Las Hormigas malbecs at Rx Restaurant and Bar and sophisticated sips and nibbles at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

On my Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro food and cocktail tours, I often tell guests that they’ll find a free wine tasting in and around Wilmington just about every night of the week. Rx took the idea further, serving one- and two-bite noshes with Altos Las Hormigas wines.

Altos Las Hormigas is known for malbecs, and the winemakers’ obsession with scientifically decoding the soil secrets of terroir has produced tasty vintages at prices in the $10 range, a couple up to $20ish.

The evening’s star was Altos Las Hormigas’ Malbec Reserve 2011 — classic malbec berry notes yet silky and refined — but I leaned toward Altos Las Hormigas’ Malbec Terroir 2010. Displaying a bold nose and light, juicy berries, the wine feels both fireside and fancy. It’s sweetness was balanced by Rx chef/owner James Doss’ “duck confit grilled cheese” highlighting slightly salty duck with Chapel Hill Creamery’s Calvander cheese on fresh wheat bread made at the Rx sister restaurant Pembroke’s.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir.

Much as I loved the malbecs, my favorite wine of the evening was the lesser-known Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Argentina 2012.

Bonarda grapes are usually purposed for wine blends or low-grade bulk wines, as the grapes produce big yields that provide color and fruitiness. Given interest and care by Altos Las Hormigas, the grapes resulted in Colonia Las Liebres’ soft, just sweet, fresh and light personality. The wine was so easy that I could imagine taking it to the beach in summer for a late-afternoon or evening picnic.

The bonarda works for people who think they won’t like red wine and for those who love reds. Consider it for upcoming Valentine’s Day and Easter dinners. I think it would be especially lovely with a glazed ham. In my favorite pairing of the night, Rx’s Doss put the bonarda with a ultra-thin slice of house smoked lardo atop a crescent of blood orange-marinated beet. Locally grown, organic Garden Cress was the garnish.

With thoughts of travel to Argentina in mind, I headed out to The Fortunate Glass Super Star pairing showcasing top wines and refined food. Check the menu below, which I’ll be posting about later today. For now, I’m off on another path — hunting down Brunswick stew for an upcoming story in Wrightsville Beach Magazine.

Super Star menu

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

Just a few of Liz’s favorite 2013 food pictures!

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Meet your food and the people who care about it!

A small selection of the 350 cheeses, many made in North Carolina, that Southern Foods sources for restaurants.

A small selection of the 350 cheeses, many made in North Carolina, that Southern Foods sources for restaurants.

A visit to the Southern Foods show in Greensboro this week reminded me of the huge amount of delectable food that is grown and produced in North Carolina, much of it on display in downtown Wilmington this weekend for the second Food For Thought festival.

No surprise that at the Southern Foods show I saw some of the chefs participating in Food For Thought, a farm-to-table-themed fundraiser that benefits New Hanover County libraries. Before North Carolina was a nationally known foodie mecca,  Southern Foods, founded in the mid-1950s, was delivering top-quality food to professional chefs, and that hasn’t changed.

Cape Fear-area chefs and restaurant owners I saw clustered around tables featuring fine N.C. cheeses and charcuterie.

One chef, Bobby Zimmerman, was behind a table showing off homegrown produce in two dishes he prepared: green curry shiitake mushroom soup and caramelized Brussels sprouts with a creamy tofu sauce. Zimmerman was Landfall Country Club’s executive chef before he became a corporate executive chef for Goldsboro-based Pate-Dawson Company/Southern Foods. Today, Zimmerman helps restaurants develop menus, recipes and systems, but he’ll  be back in Wilmington Sunday for Food For Thought.

Homegrown ingredients and the Wilmington chefs who use them are the highlights of the grand Nov. 3 Food For Thought tasting event at Cape Fear Community College’s new Union Station, downtown at the corner of Front and Red Cross streets.

Food For Thought will be a “gala brunch” where guests sample small-plate dishes, meet local farmers and food purveyors and browse informational displays about how North Carolina food is grown and where to find it.

“The whole event is to celebrate farm-to-market,” said Pat Bell, New Hanover County Library Foundation president and a Food For Thought organizer.

Scheduled 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the $50-per-person Food For Thought is a fundraiser for the Cape Fear Community College culinary program and the New Hanover County Library.

Participating restaurants and chefs include Keith Rhodes of Catch, Charles Rousey of Hilton Wilmington Riverside, Tyson Amick of Aubriana’s, Brent Poteat of 22 North, Lee Grossman of Bento Box and Certified Master Chef Olivier Andreini of Landfall Country Club. Andreini took over the Landfall stoves when Zimmerman left.

Soon-to-open restaurants will be represented, as well, Bell said. On the list are downtown wine bistro Perkeo and uptown’s Pembroke’s, by the owners of downtown’s Rx, due to open possibly this weekend at The Forum.

Cape Fear Community College culinary school students will prepare and serve bites, as well.

The gathering will feature raffles for various prizes and food and cookbooks on the shelves at area libraries.

Tickets for kids age 12 and younger cost $25. Corporate sponsorships at the $250, $500 and $1,000 levels are available, too. Find tickets and information about sponsorships at New Hanover County Library branches.

This is the second Food for Thought, a biennial event first staged in 2011 at the county library near Landfall. “We wanted to involve the downtown as much as the uptown,” Bell said of the event’s venue this year.

 

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, Food festivals, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Food truck news: rally, new wheels and a restaurant!

TruckARooEventLogoAnother food truck rally is rolling into downtown Wilmington. Meantime, chef Keith Rhodes of well-known Catch restaurant is working on another food truck, and yummy Mex food truck La Bella Airosa is so successful it’s adding a restaurant to its food truck business!

Five food trucks are scheduled to compete in the third Truck-A-Roo, an event that lets diners vote for their favorite food truck.

Truck-A-Roo organizer Pipeline Event Management of Wilmington announced the latest date, scheduled 4 to 8 p.m. Nov. 2, 2013, at 101 N. Front St. in downtown Wilmington.

As with the previous two Truck-A-Roo rallies, the first in November 2012 and the second in June 2013, diners purchase a “sample ticket,” which costs $12 in advance or $15 at the gate. Ticket holders may try fare at each truck and then vote for their favorite taste.

The public needn’t purchase a ticket to attend Truck-A-Roo. Admission to the event, which includes beer sales and live bands, is free. Attendees who do not have tickets may purchase food from each truck.

Flaming Amy's Sacred Burrito Bus owner Jay Muxworthy taking first prize at the first Truck-a-Roo.

Flaming Amy’s Sacred Burrito Bus owner Jay Muxworthy taking first prize at the first Truck-a-Roo.

Participating trucks are Catch The Food Truck, The Patty Wagon burgers, Truck-a-Roo champ Flaming Amy’s Sacred Burrito Bus, Tacos El Nene and multi-award-winning Poor Piggy’s BBQ.

Look for a new food truck on the horizon!

Catch owner/chef Keith Rhodes is promising “hot chicken” and “sexy wings” on his approaching Wing Star food truck. The bright orange truck’s slogan is “Party Like a Wing Star!” Rhodes reported that he is still upfitting the truck, which he said is “coming together.” He has not announced a debut date.

Some restaurants have jumped on the food truck trend for catering. P.T.’s Olde Fashioned Grille is among them. The local burger chain’s truck is “used exclusively for parties, corporate events, private events, and lunch at the office. This food trailer is fully functional to cook our famous burgers, chicken sandwiches and fries on site!” according to the P.T.’s website.

Other trucks have inspired new restaurants. Recently, the owners of two trucks named La Bella Airosa purchased the 3500 N. Kerr Ave. building that once housed Pearl’s Seafood and Catering.

With around 7,000 square feet, the brick-and-mortar restaurant is large enough for 150 people, said Erik Romero, who operates the La Bella Airosa trucks with his parents and two brothers.The restaurant, of the same name as the trucks, will allow the family to expand the menu and offer more of La Bella Airosa’s current menu favorites such as tamales, which are served on Friday. Get there early, as service starts at 11 a.m. and the tamales are usually gone by 2 p.m., Romero said.

Chef Keith Rhodes is getting his Wing Star wheels rolling (Photo by Wing Star).

Chef Keith Rhodes is getting his Wing Star wheels rolling (Photo by Wing Star).

“Our speciaty is making everything from scratch: handmade tortillas, sauces homemade, everything pretty much fresh,” Romero said.

The mobile units will continue to operate when La Bella Airosa the restaurant opens in a few months, perhaps before the year’s end, Romero said.

One La Bella Airosa truck serves lunch and dinner in a parking lot on north Market Street, between Lullwater Drive and New Bern Street. The truck stays there late into the night on weekends.

The other truck parks near Wilco Hess and Intrepid Hardward on U.S. 117, near the N.C. 210 intersection at Rocky Point., Romero said.

The Romeros hail from the town of Pachuca, in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo. The windy town’s nickname is La Bella Airosa, or The Windy Beauty, Romero said.

Posted on by lizbiro in barbecue, Chefs, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Food trucks, Midtown Wilmington, Uptown Wilmington Leave a comment

Make cream puffs like a professional pastry chef

Who you calling a cream puff?

Delicate, airy and light as they are, those little round pastries that encapsulate cream are in no way weaklings. They’re among the most capable and dependable — and easy — elements of great cocktail and dinner parties, whether served as a savory or as a dessert.

Pate a choux filled with pastry cream for a classic cream puff.

Pate a choux filled with pastry cream for a classic cream puff.

I was reminded of this recently while helping out in the Hot Pink Cake Stand kitchen. Owner and chief pastry chef Jody Carmichael was preparing gougeres, pronounced “goo-ZHAIR” for a recent wine tasting at the downtown Wilmington bakery. The nibbles require the same dough used for cream puffs. It’s called “pate a choux,” pronounced “pat-a-shoo.” For gougeres, finely shredded Gruyere cheese is blended into the dough and sprinkled on top before baking.

Years ago, I read a book that described how a kitchen intern working in France was required to stir the pate a choux. In his memory, the task was difficult. No doubt, he faced a huge bowl. Home cooks needn’t panic at his experience. Stirring small batches takes little time and strength while still producing professional pastry chef results.

The process is simple.

Put butter and water, sometimes milk, into a saucepan. Heat until the butter melts. Stir in a near equal portion of all-purpose flour. Take the mixture off the heat and then add eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. The resulting dough is soft and silky. Drop or pipe spoonfuls onto a sheet pan and bake or freeze to bake off later.

Pate a choux recipes may call for small amounts of sugar. Mostly, the flavor is mild, allowing cooks to imagine all sorts of fillings, perhaps seafood salad, chocolate mousse or ice cream.

A 1970s-era Betty Crocker recipe box just like the one from my childhood. (Photo from http://wholeykale.blogspot.com/)

A 1970s-era Betty Crocker recipe box just like the one from my childhood. (Photo from http://wholeykale.blogspot.com/)

I feel in love with pate a choux as a child pulling recipes from a Betty Crocker recipe card box. One of my favorite recipes (because my mother liked it so much) was named Danish Pastry Puffs. Almond-flavored pate a choux gets spread atop a shortbread-like cookie crust and baked. Thin almond icing glazes the pastry and sprinkle of sliced almonds goes on top.

The pate a choux for this recipe became my go-to formula for cream puffs, which my mother loved filled with simple, sweet whipped cream and then completely covered with chocolate cream.

 

Danish Pastry Puffs

Pastry:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cold butter

2 tablespoons ice water

Topping:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup water

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs

Glaze:

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 to 2 tablespoons warm water or milk

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 cup flour in medium bowl. Cut in 1/2 cup butter, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until particles are size of coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons water over mixture; toss with fork.

Gather pastry into a ball; divide in half. Pat each half into 12-by-3-inch rectangle, about 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
In 2-quart saucepan, heat 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup water to rolling boil; remove from heat. Quickly stir in almond extract and 1 cup flour. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball; remove from heat. Add eggs; beat until smooth.

Spread half of the topping over each rectangle.

Bake about 1 hour or until topping is crisp and brown; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely.

In medium bowl, mix all glaze ingredients except nuts until smooth and spreadable. Spread over top of pastry; sprinkle with nuts.

Makes 10 servings.

Source: Adapted from a recipe by Betty Crocker.

Posted on by lizbiro in Bakery, Brunch, Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Ice cream, Recipes, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Warm up with some of Wilmington’s best soups!

Winter is just nippy enough on the North Carolina coast to think about soup after a fall or winter walk on the beach. Lots of places in the city make wonderful soups, many of which are on special during Encore Restaurant Week. Here are a few of my favorites.

Downtown and Monkey Junction’s Chop’s Deli locations offer hot soup every day, no matter the temperature. Selections may be as traditional as clam chowder or tomato soup or fresh takes on old ideas. For instance, one of today’s choices is Curried Surf & Turf Chowder. Chop’s is well-loved for its super cheesy, super rich Broccoli Cheese Soup. One of my past favorites was Meatloaf Mac & Cheese Soup.

In far north Wilmington, I’m crazy about Kornerstone Bistro for the kitchen’s wood-fired oven (pizza with soup! yum!). Lately, the spot has been offering Tomato Basil Soup and Roasted Red Pepper Soup, either perfect with Pizza Bianca (no tomato sauce).

Phun Seafood Bar's Duck Noodle Bowl. So yummy!

Phun Seafood Bar’s Duck Noodle Bowl. So yummy!

I love Asian soups, and downtown chef Josh Woo of YoSake really knows how to make broth sing with flavor. For this week’s Encore Restaurant Week menu, Oct. 23-30, 2013, Woo crafts Tomato Ginger Bisque and Lemongrass Vegetable Soup.

Uptown, chef Lee Grossman of Bento Box has an experienced hand with soups, too. His Hot & Sour Soup is lovely, but keep an eye out for specials such as crispy lobster dumplings in clear broth.

I recently sampled the most delicate but soothing simple egg drop soup with goji berries at Szechuan 132 in College Road’s University Landing Mall. If you like a white tablecloth Asian restaurant, don’t miss this little gem.

My absolute favorite soup of late is the Kai-Soi curry beef noodle soup at Asian Fusion Noodle House on New Centre Drive near Target.

Szechuan 132's Egg Drop Soup with gogi berries. Light but so warming.

Szechuan 132′s Egg Drop Soup with gogi berries. Light but so warming.

Other great soups and stews around town include the creamy seafood stew named Waterzooi at downtown’s Caprice Bistro. This week, Caprice is offering its stellar Boeuf Bourguignon as part of its $29.95 Encore Restaurant Week lineup. Nearby French cafe and wine bar Le Catalan serves delish Lentil and Sausage Stew this time of year.

I also adore, adore, adore the Duck Noodle Bowl I’ve had at downtown Wilmington’s Phun Seafood Bar.

These are just a tiny selection of the many wonderful soups available around Wilmington. Please share places where you have found others.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, French, Midtown Wilmington, Monkey Junction, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wilmington Restaurant Week Leave a comment

Rx beefs up the menu

The sign outside Rx last night read “pork belly” — in all caps — which was not unusual. That’s one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, trumped only perhaps by the kitchen’s crispy, Buffalo-sauced pig ears — or the bacon jam or the bacon vinaigrette or the pork chop or the pork ribs garnished with fried pork skins.

Pork rules Rx but last night was all about beef — namely marrow.

Marrow found in shank bones is so rich that it has been called “meat butter.” Rx owner/chef James Doss got his hands on several of the bones thanks to the arrival of nearly 500 pounds of lovely beef from a pasture-raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free Hereford/Angus cross from sustainable farming loyalist Bev Eggleston of EcoFriendly Foods.

Doss has various plans for the 21-day aged meat delivered this week. He and his cooks may pound some for chicken-fried steak. Four-ounce sirloins might accompany eggs at Sunday brunch. Of course, burgers are planned. Doss is further aging rib-eyes, and he’s considering extra-special preparations for tenderloin.

That all sounds delicious, but when Doss mentioned marrow bones my metabolism fired. I figured the faster I moved through Tuesday, the faster dinnertime would arrive. I grew up eating marrow bones at my parents’ table. I was long due for a fix.

Local oysters and boiled N.C. peanuts before beef marrow at Rx on downtown Wilmington's Castle Street.

Local oysters and boiled N.C. peanuts before beef marrow at Rx on downtown Wilmington’s Castle Street.

I landed at Rx around 8 p.m. After tucking into raw, local oysters from Hampstead’s Nature’s Way Farm & Seafood and a bowl of N.C. boiled peanuts garnished with cured ham, Doss presented roasted marrow set in rich brown broth and served alongside two meaty shiitake mushroom caps from Healing Earth Farm near Wilmington. Barely tart purslane balanced the dish’s savory riot.

Pulled from the bone and spooned up with a bit of the broth, the marrow was all creamy beef, melting butter and a bunch of umami at once. Each spoonful lasted but a moment on the tongue, yet I can still taste its deep flavor today.

Doss said he’ll get about 12 to 15 marrow bones from the beef load. The chef is still tweaking the presentation I sampled last night, but check for a marrow special on the Rx menu starting today. If you miss it, the dry-aged sirloin with roasted potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, green beans and blue cheese Mornay sauce is a fine substitute.

Find Rx Restaurant at Castle Street and 5th Avenue in south downtown Wilmington. Call 910-399-3080.

Roasted beef marrow bone with purslane and local shiitake mushrooms at Rx Restaurant.

Roasted beef marrow bone with purslane and local shiitake mushrooms at Rx Restaurant.

 

Posted on by lizbiro in Brunch, Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Local food, Restaurants, ribs, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Fall delights on Wilmington menus

Sometimes it feels as if autumn is nothing but a leadup to Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie. As soon as summer temperatures drop down to fall, pumpkins become cool.

Port City Java stores in Wilmington are serving pumpkin muffins. The shop’s pumpkin pie shake contains chai tea, ice cream cinnamon and Irish cream syrups and pumpkin pie spice. Pumpkin pie latte blends espresso, steamed milk, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla and cinnamon syrups.

Coastal Cupcakes downtown and at Wrightsville Beach is asking customers to suggest fall flavor ideas for the October and November cupcake list. Pumpkin was the No. 1 vote recently at the company’s Facebook fan page.

Pumpkin is not the only flavor on fall menus.

Salad turnips from Black River Organic Farm, one of the vendors you'll find at the downtown Wilmington Riverfront Farmers Market that happens 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays April-December.

Salad turnips from Black River Organic Farm, one of the vendors you’ll find at the downtown Wilmington Riverfront Farmers Market that happens 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays April-December.

The annual Oktoberfest celebration has begun at downtown’s The German Café, at The Cotton Exchange. Oktoberfest specials available until Oct. 31 include a $10 lunch and dinner special of grilled bratwurst on a bun with sauerkraut, a side of warm German potato salad, a 10-ounce German draft beer and a slice of strudel.

Collard greens have made appearances on Kornerstone Bistro’s menu, which regularly taps local growers for ingredients. At area farmers markets, look for more greens and lettuces, muscadine grapes, late-season peaches and tomatoes and, my favorite ingredient this year, tender, little salad turnips.

The turnips have a mild bite that is delicious raw or cooked. My Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class have been playing with the turnips. Recent dishes prepared during class include roasted pumpkin and salad turnip risotto and a salad blending salad turnip roots and greens with poached pears and a firm, Havarti-like goat cheese from Nature’s Way.

Fall also brings Encore Magazine Restaurant Week, happening Oct. 23-30. Forty-three Cape Fear-area restaurants will offer nightly specials throughout the period. One of my favorite restaurant week stops is Caprice Bistro, which usually offers three fantastic courses for just $25! Menus will be posted soon.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Cooking classes, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, French, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wilmington Restaurant Week Leave a comment
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