Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wilmington North Carolina's Pilot House-An 80's Stalwart Hold its Own

The authors with Handsome Jack

As our family grows, Lynn and I find ourselves more and more hopping into our Element and heading down to the Tar Heel State where the majority of both of our families reside-My daughter Kristina and her husband David had a young son at the end of January who is as handsome and blonde as his grandfather (yours truly). While there, we kept close to Kristina and David. On a couple of occassions, however, we managed to get out and see what Wilmington might have to offer with its restaraunts and perspective on food.

The Pilot House in Wilmington, NC has been around since 1979 and was a very early first step in the re-birth of Wilmington's downtown. By the time I went to my prom in 1982 it was a well-established eatery in Wilmington and was considered a more sophisticated option than the long gone Marina down in Wrightsville Beach and slightly more exotic than Trails End which was nestled in the suburbs.

The restaraunt and its sister restaraunt Elijha's gave rise to the resurgence of quality dining in downtown Wilmington in the late 80's and early 90's. Restaraunts such as the Cafe Phoenix, Front Street News and Cafe Atlantique sprung up quickly with the promise of bringing a more interesting even edgier dining experience to Wilmingtonians. Edgier because in 1990 downtown Wilmington was only a decade removed from the downtown area being a particularly nasty mix of drugs, prostitution and general decrepitude.

Most of the restaraunts have gone (Cafe Atlantique is no more nor is Front St. News)-The ones that remain such as Cafe Phoenix stumble on with the same fare as they offered when Bush 41 was in office.

The Pilot House remains, however, a fairly pleasant dining experience. Much of this has to do with its location which is part of, but set apart from the real heart of downtown by a few blocks. It is situated in Chandler's Wharf, a series of boutique style shops surrounding the two restaraunts.
The insulation of Chandler's Wharf and the ample, free parking (parking is a real problem in downtown Wilmington suddently) are big advantages in having a pleasant dining experience.

Most of all, the restaraunt benefits hugely from its location on the Cape Fear River. The view of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and NC Battleship are striking day and night.

We ate there at lunch recently and the experience was good. The Oysters we had on the half shell were spectacular in presentation and plentiful. I had tuna which was ordinarily prepared and while not terrible was hardly memorable. The wine I had was a shade too close to room tempature (I have my own theory that wine is tricky to order in the south as the consistently warm tempatures make it hard to store effectively) for my taste. The service was ok, but, as usual in the south it was a tad too familiar for my taste (especially at a place that bills itself as a fine dining restaraunt). Worst of all were the plastic table cloths which were alarmingly out of place for obvious reasons.

Despite these shortcomings, The Pilot House seems to have insulated itself from having the dated feeling of some of the more so-called "hip" restaraunts in the downtown area mentioned earlier in this piece. Overall, the experience is a much more satisfying one. The restaraunt has remained comfortably the same without any noticeable drop off in quality.

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I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...


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