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


Food touring in Carrboro with Taste Carolina

When I’m not eating out, writing about restaurants and leading food tours in Wilmington, I’m dreaming about eating out, writing about restaurDashboardants and taking food tours in other cities. As I often say, “I’m eat up with it,” and Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours fed my obsession quite well this past weekend.

The company is based in North Carolina’s Triangle area, and it offers tours in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough as well as Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

I chose the Carrboro brunch tour, which visited the community’s farmers market and some interesting restaurants. I found a lot of delish stuff along they way, as you’ll see here. A list of links is below.

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Here are links to the places I mention in the slide show:

Neal’s Deli

Carrboro Farmers Market

Chapel Hill Creamery

The Pig

Chickenbridge Bakery

Sweetwater Pecan Farm

Al’s Burger Shack

Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe

Open Eye Cafe

Posted on by lizbiro in Bakery, Brunch, Farmers markets, Local food, Restaurants Leave a comment

Cooking Classes: Vegetarian chili, holiday treats & more

I’ve got 2 hot cooking classes among a great fall lineup of classes at The Seasoned Gourmet.

I’m giving up my vegetarian chili recipe Sept. 26, and on Oct. 2 I share my recipe and ideas for my cranberry chutney, which was the most-requested recipe from the years that I operated the full-service Liz Biro Catering company.

Forget those vegetarian chili recipes that call for eggplant, mushrooms and all manner of vegetables to produce stews that are nowhere near chili. This version is one that has received many thumbs-ups from meat eaters. Rich and dark, full of texture, it’s great on its own or combined with other ingredients to create different meals. During the class, I’ll show you how to make  Chili Nachos with Salted Margarita Crema and Smoked Chili Mac & Cheese. For dessert, we’ll sample dark Chocolate Chip Dulce de Leche Corn Cake with Habanero-Sugar-Glazed Pineapple. No chili in that last one, of course, but leave the chocolate chips out of the cornbread and it pairs well with the chili.

Cranberry chutney is such a simple holiday favorite, but doll it up with special ingredients and incorporate it into yummy dishes and the chutney becomes extra special. The surprising twists on this cranberry chutney recipe put seasonal cooking on the creative fast track. I’ll demonstrate three recipes:  Cranberry Nut & Cinnamon Honey Cream Cheese Torta; Cocoa-rubbed Pork Tenderloin w/Cranberry Zin Sauce; and Spiced Cranberry Orange Bar Cookies.

I’m not the only instructor on the fall schedule.

Also check out 1900 Restaurant chef Kirsten Mitchell’s homage to her French cooking roots, Catch Restaurant chef Keith Rhodes’ seafood class and GRUB‘s Ryanna Battiste for a grass-fed beef session including gluten-free French onion soup and a gluten-free Thanksgiving class. Most classes happen weekdays and run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. but some morning and afternoon weekend classes are offered, too. Register for the classes at The Seasoned Gourmet at Lumina Commons/Lumina Station, 1930 Eastwood Road, near Harris Teeter.

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Thai chef back in Wilmington!

Thai-food lovers who miss Wilmington’s late Jessamine Thai will soon get a taste of their old favorite.

In August, Ragab Brazilian & International Cuisine closed its 7110 Wrightsville Ave. doors. Not long after, restaurateur Tom Trinh started moving his Shukai Thai & Sushi bar into the Wrightsville Beach-area location, bringing chef Patrick Tepnupa with him.

Tepnupa over the past few years has been cooking at Asian restaurants in Atlanta, but before that, he shook woks alongside Ann Veber, a well-known Wilmington area chef who was a partner in downtown’s late Rim Wang and who owned College Road’s former Jessamine Thai.

These days, Veber runs Asian Fusion Noodle House, a favorite spot of chefs (they especially love Veber’s kai soi with beef or chicken) at 4724 New Centre Dr.

When Shukai Thai & Sushi Bar opens, possibly as early as mid-September, Veber will be Tepnupa’s competition along with nearby Big Thai, the Landfall Center restaurant whose kitchen is run by Rim Wang alum, chef Charin “Big” Choti.

Describing Shukai curry dishes such duck, soft-shelled crab and lobster, deep-fried “naked,” in panang curry, Tepnupa expressed no worry over rivals. In fact, he said, Veber may join him in the Shukai kitchen for the restaurant’s grand opening.

Hailing from an area of Thailand near Bangkok, Tepnupa said he has been cooking professionally for 20 years.

Shukai’s 3,500 square feet will seat 85 diners, with patio tables available, Tepnupa said. Expect beer and wine, including sake, he added. Tepnupa said the restaurant is scheduled to be open daily.

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

Cooking Classes!

North Carolina summers for me have always been defined by fresh seafood, abundant local produce and hot grills. When I was growing up, my parents fished for a living part-time. Back in the 1970s, when formal farmers markets hardly existed in southeastern North Carolina, Mom and Dad roved  rural roads to find farmers and gardeners who might be willing to sell their harvest.

When our catch of seafood was sold in the little backyard market Mom and Dad set up on the patio, Dad heated the grill and invited the whole neighborhood. Sometimes, he fried fish in a giant cast iron skillet. Other times, he put the catch directly on the grill. Meantime, inside the house, Mom and neighborhood ladies gathered in the kitchen to prepare vegetables: potato salad with nothing but eggs and mayonnaise, salt and pepper; tender butter beans; corn, okra and tomato stew; summer squash fried with onions.

Sweet corn risotto made during the Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

Sweet corn risotto made during the Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

I’ll tap those times this month when I teach two cooking classes at The Seasoned Gourmet in Wilmington, near Wrightsville Beach.

My July 17 class features shrimp on the grill. We’ll learn why it’s a good idea to grill jumbo shrimp in their shells. We’ll stuff shrimp with fontina cheese, wrap them in bacon and put them on the grill. Shrimp will land in the best marinade I’ve ever found — think fresh basil — and end up with pasta.

Vegetarians and those looking to add vegetarian options to their meal plans plan on July 24 when I lead a class that goes in search of vegetarian flavor. I eat vegetarian most of the time, have cooked for many vegetarian friends and have taught vegetarian cooking classes before. The biggest challenge at the start of my vegetarian cooking experience was getting the full flavor that meat adds to dishes. Too often, cooks turn to salt, sugar and spices to jazz up vegetarian dishes, ending up with unsatisfying, overseasoned results. I’ve learned a few tricks that I’ll share, like how to use balsamic vinegar to add depth of flavor to dishes. One of the recipes will be my go-to mushroom crostini with roasted red peppers. Soooooo good!

The classes cost $45 each, include three recipes, hands-on cooking opportunities and, best of all, we get to eat what we prepare! Sometimes, guest chefs pop in. During my recent Italian cooking class, Hot Pink Cake Stand owner/baker Jody Carmichael stopped by to show us how to prepare strawberry Italian Swiss meringue. We layered the silky cream with fresh strawberries macerated in sweet wine and served in parfait glasses.

Cooking classes also happen nearly every Saturday morning from April to December in downtown Wilmington during my Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro Top Chef Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class.

Strawberry Italian Swiss meringue parfaits from my Italian cooking class at The Seasoned Gourmet.

Strawberry Italian Swiss meringue parfaits from my Italian cooking class at The Seasoned Gourmet.

After coffee and cupcakes at Hot Pink Cake Stand, I lead a tour of the Riverfront Farmers Market, where we sample tastes and learn about local farmers. We buy a few things, and then it’s off to Aubriana’s, one of Wilmington’s best restaurants, for a full-on, hands-on cooking class with top chef Tyson Amick.

Lately, we’ve been making sweet corn risotto, seared halibut with local vegetables and fried squash blossoms stuffed with local goat cheese. Lunch consists of what we prepare.  The 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. tour and class costs $65.

Pre-registration is required for The Seasoned Gourmet classes. Buy tickets in advance for the farmers market tour and cooking class, too.

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wrightsville Beach 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

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

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

Nikki’s comes to Carolina Beach

Inside the 50-seat dining room, sleek, black Parsons-style chairs play against the red ceiling and sleek sushi bar. Another 45 seats are available on the patio. Read more…

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

Gluten-free sweets at new bakery

Uprising specializes in baked good to suit people with dietary restrictions.

With the United States being the biggest buyer of gluten-free foods and the market projected to reach $2.6 billion in sales this year, it’s no wonder Wilmington’s newest bakery is touting gluten-free.

Take-out or eat-in is available at Uprising, which also taps into other good-for-you food trends. Local, organic and vegan join the bakery’s gluten-free selections.

“I just did our first vegan, gluten-free shower cake,” Bree Peterson-Resnick said.

Peterson-Resnick has a great story. Get the scoop and find out where this bakery is located in my full report for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

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

Mac & cheese fit for the gods

A recent lobster mac and cheese special at Nick's Diner.

Ooey gooey pile of unidentifiable white or orange stuff that smells so good it practically summons a fork to it. That’s macaroni and cheese, an American classic that U.S. chefs are spinning in new directions.

Lobster, truffle oil, bacon and goat cheese have each landed in “the new” macaroni and cheese. Find some those interesting variations on the recently introduced mac and cheese menu at Nick’s Diner, 127 N. Front Street, between Princess and Chestnut streets, in downtown Wilmington.

Served in 8-inch cast-iron skillets, the pasta casseroles feature everything from seafood to prime rib.

All the versions are named for Greek gods, as Nick’s owner Harry Pallas comes from a Greek family. The Zeus spotlights ham, bacon, provolone and prime rib.

Prices range from $7.95 to $15.95, and “they box to go,“ Pallas said.

“We haven’t had anyone finish one yet in house.”

Nick’s mac and cheese choices are a long way from the boxed variety Kraft introduced in 1937. That quick-meal version helped make macaroni and cheese a favorite in America, but the casserole’s reach in the United States dates farther back.

Historians claim the dish, as we know it, was created after Thomas Jefferson brought a pasta machine and a macaroni and cheese recipe back from his travels in Italy, where macaroni and cheese was likely invented. The dish was served at Monticello, using Parmesan cheese, but macaroni and cheese recipes also show up in the mid-1700s in England.

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