Readers of this site know that Lynn and I periodically go to Wilmington to visit our ever growing brood. These opportunities give us a chance to check in on the local cuisine and see what is worth mentioning and what is not. Unfortunately, on our last most recent trip there was not much worth mentioning.
We revisited three places we had frequented during past trips: Sweet and Savory, Port City Java, The Pilot House-We also ate at the Oceanic where we had eaten regularly during the late 90's but not since then. All of the places dissapointed.
Port City Java retains its stranglehold on Wilmington coffee and it is assumed that the many locations in and around Wilmington have kept Starbucks away on some level (this is the only chain that has not engulfed Wilmington by the way). The coffee seemed much worse this time around. Typically, Lynn and I got Cafe' Au Laits which were weak and lacked any real distinction. The coffee seemed watery and the preparation very inconsistent. The decor of most of the locations was depressingly last-decade and a couple of places actually smelled of mold.
Sweet and Savory, a surprise of our trip in February was a real letdown this time. The food tasted over-prepared and far too heavy. My tuna was ruined by a heavy, saucy concoction that seemed out of place. The drinks too were non-descript. The atmosphere, a bit too casual for the pricetag of the place was off-putting as there was a big screen television turned to an innapropriate (for a family restaraunt) soap opera where lithe actors and actresses cavorted in various states of undress as we were perusing our menu. The waitstaff was very inadequate (one of the waitresses forgot to take Lynn's order and food came out haphazardly).
The Pilot House was a big dissapointment as well. This Downtown mainstay had some of the best oysters we had ever had just a few months ago. Ordering them again we were surprised to find how ordinary they tasted ("They don't taste like anything" Lynn mentioned). To make matters worse, the waitstaff was decked out in a tackified outfit of Blue Polo Shirts and black shorts (quite short on a couple of the young women). This kind of thing is fine at Hooters I suppose, but at a restaraunt that bills itself as a fine dining establishment it seems comically out of place. Also, a weird footnote toward our dining experience is that the waitstaff kept trying to snatch our menus before we had even ordered. The view is nice enough with a look at the Cape Fear River (I suppose that they can't spoil everyting).
Finally, The Oceanic was our best dining experience by default. The view of the Beach is spectacular and the decor has some interesting touches (such as old Wrightsville Beach newspapers framed here and there).
The hostess was very accomadating, but the waitstaff was merely ok. (The hostessing in Wilmington is usually very good, but the waitressing is often very bad or at best amateurish and awkward).
How to fix Dining in the Port City
1. Rely more on local produce (In no restaraunt did I see any note on any menu about local produce, fish or anything)
2. Update the look of things-The Pilot House, The Oceanic and Port City Java all look as I remember them from the 90's and even the 80's-The result is that these places look worn out and unsophisticated-There is also the sense that the owners are coasting or are too cheap to put money into making something look attractive
3. Don't put all of your money into large screen televisions (this is a real problem with a lot of restaraunts with bars everywhere) and rely more on music to create ambience instead (if music was played in Wilmington restaraunts it was either too loud, too corny or tuned to some tacky radio station)
4. Train your waiters and waitresses to serve in an appropriately professional way. I appreciate the friendliness of servers but I don't need to necessarily bond with them-
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Links of note from M & L...
- 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...