a southeast culinary hot spot: wilmington, north carolina

January 29, 2013
Brunswick Forest

A SOUTHEAST CULINARY HOT SPOT: WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA

Wilmington, North Carolina locals know all too well their restaurant scene offers nearly infinite possibilities when it comes to dining out.  However, to passionate foodies from larger metropolitan areas who are considering Wilmington for their retirement relocation, they may be wondering if they’ll have to give up the kind of eclectic and interesting dining options they are used to.

In a word, no.

In fact, many of our real estate clients who have chosen Wilmington and Brunswick County residential developments have relocated from large metro areas in the U.S;  Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, New York City, suburbs of Maryland and Virginia to name a few.  The variety and number of quality and unique restaurants in downtown Wilmington was a real plus factoring into their decision.

Wilmington has excellent restaurants to suit nearly every taste and mood, from informal to fine dining to upscale casual, and seafood to sushi to ethnic and almost everything in between.  And if you want to experience outdoor dining, you’ll find it nearly year-round at the beach, on the Intracoastal Waterway and downtown on the riverwalk.

If you are planning to look at coastal North Carolina for your retirement relocation this spring or summer, here are five local favorites you may want to try when you come to Wilmington and experience firsthand, this coastal city’s culinary heaven.

Portland Grille

Located in Lumina Station near Wrightsville Beach, Portland Grille feels like a restaurant you’d visit in a larger metropolitan culinary city like New York or San Francisco.  Serving progressive American regional cuisine, this fine dining favorite cleverly offers both “from the port” and “from the land” selections.

“From the port” options include such menu items as Pan Seared Fresh Wild Caught Grouper over Blue Crab Meat, with English Peas, Pancetta Risotto, and Butter-Wilted Baby Organic Spinach with a Roma Tomato, Saffron, Basil, and Melted Sweet Onion “Fondue” Sauce, and Fresh Local Flounder Lightly Fried with Four-Cheese Stone Ground Anson Mills Grits, and Ale & Malt Vinegar Braised Local Collard Greens with an Ancho Chili Remoulade & Tasso Ham – Creole Mustard “Gravy.”   “From the land” selections feature such menu items as Center Cut New York Strip Steak with Oven-Roasted Blue Cheese -Caramelized Walla Walla Onions, “Mashed” Potato Gratin, Grilled Asparagus and Horseradish Creme Fraiche, and  “Mongolian Style” Duroc Pork Porterhouse Chop with “Red Neck” Spaetzel, Roasted Butternut Squash, Balsamic Glazed Cabbage, Spiced Apples, “Bacon Jam” and a Sweet & Tangy Balsamic Plum BBQ Jus.

The restaurant also has an extensive wine list of more than 500 bottles with an emphasis on small production wines from California, Washington state and Oregon, and a by the glass selection of 5 champagnes, 20-25 red and white wines, and over 20 ports and dessert wines.

Catch

Some of the best, most inventive seafood in town, Catch is a must-visit for seafood lovers.  Catch Modern Seafood Cuisine, owned by Wilmington native Keith Rhodes and his wife Angela, focuses on wild caught and sustainably raised seafood with a modern twist.  Rhodes, a North Carolina James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef Southeast presents an innovative menu steeped in regional touches that will be appreciated by southern natives and those who long to be.  Such delicacies as Firecracker Shrimp with Spicy Cognac Cream and Toasted Sesame Seeds, and Pan-Roasted “Oriental, NC” Backfin & Lump Crabcakes with White Truffle Mash, Mixed Farm Greens, Pamlico Shrimp & Cognac Bisque share the menu with Pan-Seared Red Grouper, NC Shrimp & Grits, Seared Duck Breast and “Nam Sod” Spicy Pork, among others.  Catch also features a full bar and a small wine list.

And from the “only in Wilmington” file: Chef Rhodes was both a contestant on the ninth season of the hit Bravo show “Top Chef,” and has hosted several T.V. and film stars over the years while they were in town filming.  Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey, Jr. frequented Catch while they were in Wilmington shooting “Iron Man 3.”  In fact, Robert Downey Jr. enjoyed the fare at Catch so much he ordered takeout from the restaurant for his plane ride to Los Angeles on Memorial Day weekend.  And Gwyneth Paltrow received a personal cooking lesson from Chef Rhodes, which she documented on her website.

Le Catalan

If you’d like a quaint, intimate setting where you can sip wine, enjoy a French small plate and watch tourists stroll along Wilmington’s Riverwalk, all while watching the sun set over the Cape Fear River, then Le Catalan French Café & Wine Bar is where you’ll want to snag a table when you come to town to look at real estate.  Owners Marie and Pierre Penegre have operated their authentic French café in Wilmington since 2001.

A small but well-curated menu features soups, salads, sandwiches, and a daily hot entrée special, which might be anything from a classic French dish like Beef Bourguignon or Cassoulet to Shrimp and Orzo Gratin, Braised Salmon, or Smoked Gouda and Onion Quiche.  From the Saucisson Plate to Escargot Feuilletés to Tartines du Catalan and beyond, everything here declares its authentic French bonifides, and you just might forget for a minute that you are actually in coastal North Carolina while dining at Le Catalan.  Le Catalan features an interesting selection of beers, wines by the glass or bottle, and a full bar.

Manna

Manna restaurant is a fine dining option in downtown Wilmington featuring innovative food, a serious wine list, and a full bar. Serving American Cuisine, Manna uses local, regional and American ingredients almost exclusively, but only when they are of top-notch quality.  As their website makes clear, “we do not buy local for the sake of buying local.”

Manna’s chef specializes in French technique, but has a vast culinary repertoire which allows him to create unique flavor combinations and profiles.  The menu at Manna’s changes frequently to make the best use of ingredients as they are in season, and the chef will even prepare something off the menu if you ask nicely and the restaurant isn’t too busy.

Interesting menu options include Salmon Rillettes with Braised Leeks, Herbed Oils, Arugula Mustard, Grilled Lemon, and House Made Bread, a Peach Salad of Grilled Carolina Peaches, Bacon Lardons, Point Reyes Bleu Cheese, Truffle Vinaigrette, Basil, Radicchio and Preserved Lemon, and Tuna Seared in Vanilla, Confit of Beets, Batonet of Apples and Radish, Olive Oil and Verjus Blanc.

Indochine

From Thai and Vietnamese to Cajun, Caribbean and Cuban, not to mention German, Mediterranean and Indian and several others besides, Wilmington offers many interesting ethnic dining options to choose from.  But ask any local what their favorite place to nosh on delicious ethnic food is, and many will say Indochine.

Indochine offers authentic Thai and Vietnamese cuisine in a lovely setting.  In fact, local Encore readers have voted Indochine as Wilmington’s Best Asian Restaurant and Best Restaurant Atmosphere 10 years in a row.  If it’s warm enough out, you’ll likely find yourself drawn to the outdoor garden, featuring a koi pond and private dining gazebos.

Indochine’s stellar menu features such fetchingly-titled dishes as Galloping Horses – chicken wrapped around a prawn, deep-fried in thin rice paper and served with orange wasabi sauce;  Thundering Dragon – shrimp stir-fried with pineapple, snow peas, baby corn, bok choy, red bell pepper and mushrooms in hot tamarind sauce; and Buddha’s Feast in a Nest – snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, bamboo shoots, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, edamame beans, bok choy, asparagus and onions in teriyaki sauce served in a crunchy noodle nest.  Not to worry, you’ll find plenty of the dishes you’re likely used to seeing on a standard Thai restaurant menu as well, such as Pad Thai, Sweet and Sour Shrimp, Massaman and other curries, various Satays, Thai Fried Rice and so on.

While you might know Wilmington for its gorgeous beaches, lively downtown arts and culture scene, lovely historic homes, plenty of year-round outdoor recreation opportunities and outdoor festivals, and its frequent film making scenes which bring in top Hollywood actors and actresses, don’t be mistaken – Wilmington has some incredible restaurants, offering great diversity as they go far beyond seafood, which you would expect in a coastal city.

We thought we’d share a few Wilmington restaurants, personal favorites of Kimberly Houston, our Wilmington writer who is a connoisseur of good food and great wine.  For our readers and clients who will be visiting Wilmington communities and Brunswick County North Carolina master-planned communities, make a note of these restaurants for when you plan to be in town.

Article Credit given to: Southeast Discovery

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