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


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

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

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

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

More beer, burgers, seafood at Fish House Grill

New “gourmet” burgers and an expanded tap beer list are among changes at Wrightsville Beach’s Fish House Grill.

The 1410 Airlie Road restaurant’s Certified Angus Beef burgers include a new Reuben version on rye with kraut, Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese and a Hawaiian with prosciutto, smoked gouda and grilled pineapple, Fish House general manager Chris McCray said.

A black bean burger made in-house replaces the previous veggie burger, McCray said.

Eight beer taps have been added…Read more

Posted on by lizbiro in Restaurants, Wrightsville Beach 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

Islands Fresh Mex Grill grows

The tough economy has battered many restaurants’ bottom lines, but Wilmington’s Islands Fresh Mex Grill is experiencing growth, which come as a bonus to football fans this NFL season.

Islands owner Lucas Jones has added the space next door to Islands Fresh Mex Grill, 260 Racine Drive,  as another dining room for daily customers and private parties. The restaurant’s bar serves both rooms simultaneously.

Especially popular is Islands daily 5-10 p.m. $1 taco special, Jones said. On Sunday, $1 draft beers sweeten the taco deal. Plus, Jones noted, Islands just added Direct TV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, allowing the restaurant to broadcast every Sunday NFL football game.

Read more about Islands success in my report for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

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

Pizza, fresh bread from new Italian deli’s ovens

Hungry Heroes is new to Porters Neck.

Long tables full of fresh bread in the kitchen of north Wilmington’s new Hungry Heroes gives the impression that Willy’s Bakery still lingers at the 8024 Market St. spot, but Hungry Heroes is all sub sandwiches, salads and pizza.

Owner Pat Funigiello’s family spent 30 years in the deli business in Albany, N.Y., before bringing Hungry Heroes here, Funigiello said. The shop opened Monday where Willy’s used to be in the shopping strip that hosts La Costa Mexican restaurant near Porters Neck.

Find out what’s on the menu and where this deli is located in my full report for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

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

Rx Restaurant opens on Castle Street

Chef James Doss, BBQ, slaw and hushpuppies at Rx.

When Rx Restaurant and Bar opened for a trial run Sunday night, chef James Doss stacked the dining room with the toughest critics in Wilmington. He invited the city’s best cooks, names like Catch’s Keith Rhodes, Cameo 19 Hundred’s Kirsten Mitchell, Yo Sake’s Josh Woo and Manna’s Kyle Lee McKnight.

“Maybe I’m crazy,” Doss said with his signature maniacal laugh just hours before the doors opened.

Fearless is more like it. Before Well before Rx opened to the public Tuesday, Doss and his business partner/longtime friend Josh Novicki busted into the Port City food scene. Read all about it in my report for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.




Posted on by lizbiro in barbecue, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Local food, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Downtown Italian deli opens

Find Cousins downtown on 3rd Street, across from the New Hanover County Courthouse.

Joseph DeLiberto and family were stuck inside like everyone else when the current heat wave struck Wilmington, but unlike most of us, the DeLibertoes were happy to be cooking at hot stoves.

The family was busy prepping for the opening of Cousins Italian Deli, 7 N. 3rd St., across the street from the New Hanover County Courthouse. The deli opened July 2.

Meantime, Falcone’s Italian restaurant has opened in Waterford Center, near Harris Teeter on Old Regent Way in Leland.

Read more in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, and check out some pictures from Cousins below.

Bacon destined for sandwiches.


Must-haves at anyu Italian deli.Cousins is a family-run deli, and this wall holds the family photos.


La familia! A real photo of the DeLiberto family on the Cousins family wall.

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