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


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

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

Texas Pete and hot chefs!

Chef Josh Woo's duck dumpling (photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

The one thing people say to me more than anything else — even more often than “What’s your favorite restaurant in Wilmington? — is “Wow! You have a really cool job.” It’s a comment I hear especially when I’m judging cooking contests, but honestly, I always go into judging contests a little timid.

Who knows what the food will taste like. Take a pro cook under out of his or her element, add a time limit and secret ingredients, and anything can happen — even to the best of the best.

Fire on the Dock, going on through April 3 at Wrightsville Beach’s Bluewater Waterfront Grill, is just that kind of contest, but the competition put my fears to rest on Tuesday. Chefs produced what I think were some of the cooking tournament’s best dishes to date.

Teams YoSake and Bald Head Island Club served multi-star experiences at Battle Texas Pete Feb. 26. YoSake chef Joss Woo is a talented toque who flies a little under the public radar, but as far as the city’s cooks are concerned, he’s one of the area’s standouts, as his Fire on the Dock efforts proved.

Right out of the gate, Woo captured diners with Texas Pete-spiked sweet potato bisque. Texas Pete and honey-glazed pork shoulder, so tender but with a crispy, roasty edge, and pistachio apple fennel chutney crowned the soup. Some were still talking about it after the fourth of the night’s six courses was served.

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

Next up was what former Gourmet magazine travel editor and Fire on the Dock judge deemed by far the night’s best taste: a Texas Pete-marinated duck dumpling Woo placed atop simple root vegetable puree, lightly sautéed kale and Texas Pete crawfish beurre blanc. Bell called the dumpling “perfect.”

Pastry chef Rebeca Alvarado Parades hit the home run with the night’s highest-scoring dish. Her 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 was the best dish I’ve had at either the 2012 or 2013 Fire on the Dock contests. If you make almond tuile cookies, add a bit of Texas Pete.

YoSake didn’t have an easy competitor.

Bald Head chef Mark Andrews and crew plated beautifully each course. They got especially high marks for southwestern dry-rubbed Certified Angus Beef with a duo of potato pavé, asparagus, mushrooms, lobster and a lovely Texas Pete hollandaise.

An added twist was that Parades’ boyfriend, a fantastic Bald Head chef named Chris Enos, was on the Bald Head team. Knowing Parades’ talent (check out her desserts at Manna), what did Enos think when she told him days before the contest that they would be going head-to-head?

Chef Robert Andrews wonderful plating (photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

“Oh crap!” Enos said.

Did Parades cut her true love any mercy?


As Fire on the Dock organizer Jimmy Crippen says at the top of each battle, “This is Competition Dining.”



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

Hops Supply Co. pub opens

LM Restaurants’ new Hops Supply Co. is open and focused on craft beer, but the pub takes Wilmington into a new wine direction.

Along with suds, Hops, 5400 Oleander Drive, features wine served from kegs, LM spokeswoman Mindy Stroupe said.

Wine kegs are nothing new in California, but they’ve reached major U.S. cities only over the past two or three years, said Chris Thompson, a Cape Fear region wine consultant for wine wholesaler The Country Vintner.

Serving wine from anything but a bottle may be off-putting to oenophiles, but Thompson, also a certified sommelier, said wine tapped from kegs is as good as that poured from bottles. Learn more about these kegs and Hops Supply Co. in my full report for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. You can also find out more about the Hops Supply Co. menu in an article about how the company develops its menus.

Posted on by lizbiro in Midtown Wilmington, New restaurants, Restaurants, wine bar 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

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

New oceanside eats in Carolina Beach

Hurricane Alley's is on the Carolina Beach boardwalk.

Carolina Beach’s new super-casual beach bar and restaurant, Hurricane Alley’s, 5 Boardwalk Way, specializes in steamed seafood and serves it on a tall deck overlooking the ocean on the town’s famed boardwalk.

Steamer pots for one, two or four people feature shrimp, crab legs, red potatoes and corn on the cob seasoned with Old Bay ($14 to $35). Sandwiches, salads, appetizers, a late-night list and a kids menu round out the menu.

The Monsoon Mahi Delight stacks blackened mahi, bacon, fresh spinach and mango salsa on ciabatta bread ($9).

Beer taps and a full bar calls for flip-flops and bathing suits.

Hurricane Alley’s owner David Cole also runs The Dive, a pub at 6 North Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach. He came from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to New Hanover County in 1997.

Cole worked for the City of Wilmington’s engineer department and ran a successful construction business. When the housing market fell, Cole went into the restaurant business.

Find Hurricane Alley’s behind the boardwalk’s summertime amusement park rides and Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. Prices range from $5 to $9, minus steamer pots. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday. Call 910-707-0766.

Maddfish Grill just installed a new menu.

Farther from shore, Snow’s Cut Café, 1140 A N. Lake Park Blvd., has a new owner, menu and name, Maddfish Grill.

Former Carolina Beach town councilman Dan Wilcox acquired the restaurant earlier this year.

Chef Chris Newton, previously of Cape Fear Seafood Company restaurant, 5226 South College Road in Wilmington, is crafting a new menu. Among recent selections: grilled blue crab cakes with ancho chili aioli and grilled asparagus ($18); Ritz Cracker-crusted flounder with lemon caper cream sauce and roasted potatoes ($14); and Irish egg rolls stuffed with Reuben sandwich fixings and served with Russian dressing ($8).

Like Snow’s Cut Café, which opened in early 2011, Maddfish serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hours for now are 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily, but times may change. Call 910-707-0550.


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

Cafe Johnnie dinner service starts this week

Chocolate-dipped bacon leans on sweet potato cake at Cafe Johnnie tonight.

Remember the sweet potato cornmeal cake with cinnamon sugar pork cracklings and chocolate-dipped bacon that Pine Valley Market served this spring at the chef competition Fire on the Dock? It’s on the menu June 14 at Cameron Art Museum’s new Café Johnnie, which starts regular Thursday dinner service this week.

The 5 to 9 p.m. menu changes weekly but always emphasizes fresh, local ingredients, Pine Valley Market co-owner Christi Ferretti said. Ferretti and partner Kathy Webb also run Cafe Johnnie, which opened in March at Cameron Art Museum.

The evening meals coincide with Cameron Art Museum’s extended Thursday hours. The museum is open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays.

You could start with dessert. That sweet potato cake is served with goat cheese whipped cream, blackberry coulis, cinnamon sugar pork rinds and chocolate-covered applewood smoked bacon ($9). Blueberry cobbler ($7)  and old-fashioned banana pudding ($6) are other sweet options.

On the savory menu:

* Beef and Brussels: chili-crusted N.Y. strip with Cuban espresso sauce and Brussels hash ($26).

* Grilled swordfish with beet and carrot slaw ($20).

* Baked chicken with rutabaga and potato puree, roasted tomatoes and red beard baby carrots and roasted garlic veloute ($18).

 * Grilled miso tuna with roasted savoy cabbage, quick pickled beets and duck-fat-roasted red potatoes. ($22).

 * Pan-roasted apple cider and honey-glazed pork chop with rutabaga and potato puree and red beard baby carrots ($20).

 * Joe’s Old Country Pasta: penne with roasted tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms, shrimp, scallops and roasted garlic cream sauce ($20).

Appetizers and salads on Café Johnnie’s lunch menu will be available Thursday nights.. The list includes fried green tomatoes with dill aioli, deviled eggs with crab and microgreens, and & crab meat and a grilled romaine salad with bacon, diced tomatoes, bleu and parmesan cheeses and balsamic vinaigrette.

For Café Johnnie dinner reservations, call 910-777-2363.

Posted on by lizbiro in dinner specials, Local food, Midtown Wilmington, New restaurants, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Real, real Italian at Waterford

Falcone's will open in about a week.

Ozario “Mike” Falcone’s thick Italian accent on the phone was a welcome sound enhanced only by Falcone’s confirmation that, yes, he was opening an Italian restaurant near Waterford in Leland.

Named Falcone’s and scheduled to open in about a week, the restaurant is an offshoot of Falcone’s Pizzeria in Whitehouse Station, N.J. 

For 28 years, the Falcone family also operated Falcone’s, a 300-seat Italian restaurant in Martinsville, N.J., Frank Falcone said.

Find out about Falcone’s menu, its award-winning cheesesteaks and exactly where the restaurant will be located in my report today for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.


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