Chef Clarke Merrell was, no doubt, shaking pans as fast as he could last night as he propelled himself toward winning Fire on the Dock’s Battle North Carolina Wine, but Merrell won’t let up during his break before the next battle.
The Morehead City Circa 81 chef, like lots of other Carteret County cooks, is preparing for Toast to the Coast Restaurant Week featuring dining deals at spots in Beaufort, Morehead City and Atlantic Beach.
Merrell’s top-scoring dish is a good example of the fine food Carteret County restaurants turn out all the time. Fire on the Dock gave high marks to his petite filet served with mushroom & RagApple Lassie wine sauce, toasted farro, rutabaga, sautéed haricot vert, and beets pickled with Cypress Bend Autumn muscadine wine.
I liked the dish, too, but I have to admit I, as professional chefs I spoke with in the dining room, was most impressed by the brave dessert effort of Merrell’s opponent, Shane Tyner of King Neptune restaurant in Wrightsville Beach.
Tyner served a striking mound of black sticky rice atop Childress Vineyards Starbound blueberry port sauce and a lovely coconut crème anglaise. The rice was topped with a crisp, slightly tart Asian pear chutney made with WoodMill muscadine wine.
I was lamenting the fact that Tyner’s rice landed a bit too dry when 2012 Fire on the Dock winner Andy Hopper approached me to ask what I thought about the evening’s offerings. When I said I was so impressed with Tyner’s attempt, Hopper beamed.
“Me too!” he replied.
Bravo Shane! All the pro chefs I spoke with in the dining room hope you’ll give the dish another chance on a menu soon.
Recalling Hopper’s comments, I’m reminded that when he won Fire on the Dock, he helmed stoves at Chefs 105 in Morehead City. Like I said, Carteret County hosts some great chefs.
Hopper has since sold the restaurant to take a job as executive chef at a new location for A Southern Season gourmet store in Charleston, S.C. Foodies know A Southern Season from the company’s delicious location in Chapel Hill. Hopper told me the Charleston store will open this fall.
Chefs 105 is now under the direction of its neighbor, Sammy’s Seafood House and Oyster Bar, another Toast to the Coast participant. Sammy’s chef is best known as “Fajita Mike,” who you might recognize from the Tru TV show “Full Throttle Saloon.” Yet, another star chef participating in Toast the the Coast.
Toast to the Coast happens March 3-9 and again in fall 2013. To celebrate the March event, I’ll host a food tour of the Morehead City waterfront. You can get tickets now, but remember that Carteret County has great restaurants in Beaufort, Atlantic Beach and other spots. Don’t miss this wonderful central section of the North Carolina coast. In fall, I’ll offer more food tours of the area in conjunction with Toast to the Coast Restaurant Week.
Meantime, catch Merrell’s next Fire on the Dock contest March 12, when he faces Blockade Runner chef Mark Lawson.