Saturday, February 27, 2010
Antonio's in Wilmington, North Carolina is the real deal for good, inexpensive Italian in the Port City...
We had mostly survived on takeout during our two weeks in Wilmington. One of our best experiences was at Antonio's in Monkey Junction (on the way to Carolina Beach). We were surprised at the great Calamari Fritto which had a nice, light texture and was a large portion even though it was an appetizer. The staff there seemed very nice and were particularly good humored one time when we ordered very close to their closing time. Again, we didn't get much of a sense of more than a couple of dishes, but the ones we sampled were particularly good. There are two other locations in the Wilmington area. See the website for more information and menus...
Antonio 's Pizza & Pasta (Monkey Junction Location)
5120 S College Rd, Wilmington, NC 28412
Friday, February 26, 2010
If there is one trend that has puzzled me with regard to food over the last 10 years it is the New York embrace of Southern cuisine. Pork Belly, a fetish for bacon, and barbecue had taken Manhattan by storm in recent years. Having been born in the South and lived there for most of my life I might be able to get away with saying that this trend puzzles me because most Southern food is not that great. Worse still, if it is poorly prepared it can seem heavy handed and overdone (this can be a real problem with barbecue). Why then does Southern food still get romanticized in the Northern press? Well, I think it is simply different and exotic in a way that makes it (the South) seem almost like another country. Also, this trend might have been a corrective to the stranglehold of influence Martha Stewart had on lifestyle and food. Paul Deen with her thickset figure and ball busting earth mama twang must seem like tonic to people fatigued by Stewart's Connecticut Yankee scolding.
Our recent trip to Wilmington North Carolina did little to win us over to the glories of Southern food. (See posts from this month). However, there are a couple of exceptions...
Lottie Arnold is the proprietor of the catering and take out gem in Wilmington called A Southern Thyme. Lottie has a particularly sentimental place in Mark and Lynn's soul as she catered our wedding (almost ten years ago!) to great acclaim.
At present, her energies are going into her present endeavor. We stopped by and sampled some of her great red velvet cupcakes and peanut sticks (a particularly Southern delicacy). The cupcakes in particular raised the bar for cupcakes in the Port City; and with their being far less than 3.00 we realized that we were out of the 5.00 gourmet cupcake stranglehold of the North East.
We were so busy on our trip that we didn't have a lot of time to do more than catch up to Lottie, sample a couple of her wares and pick up some stuff (like her own stone ground grits) for the trip back to snowy Long Island. What we managed to remember as a result of our seeing Lottie again was that Southern food at its peak can be both truly exotic and truly earthy at the same time. This kind of thing makes Southern food truly special and if everyone was like Lottie then Southern food would be uniformly great. Of course not everyone is like Lottie...
A Southern Thyme
4540 Fountain Dr.
Wilmington NC 28403
Monday, February 22, 2010
The Hot Pink Cake Stand in Wilmington is a newly minted cupcake salon which seems to have a promising start in the Port City because of a) a Charming Owner (Jody Carmicheal) and b) the quality of her product and finally c) a strong, grass roots marketing strategy.
Lynn has a considerable sweetooth and oddly enough, cupcakes are not front and center with regard to desserts or treats on Long Island (heavy handed Italian desserts tend to dominate). So, the odd abundance of cupcakes in the Port City was a real novelty for us on our recent trip to Wilmington. The Hot Pink cake Stand had a very nice coconut cupcake that was particularly appreciated by Lynn who said the coconut had a nice texture and crunch.
The owner chatted with us a few minutes and admitted that Facebook was a strong marketing tool for her to communicate with her "friends" about the store and its offerings.
Ms. Carmichael did seem in possession of a sensible nature about her approach to her business and she seemed to have good instincts about marketing. However, it appears to me that she faces a couple of real challenges one of which is that Downtown Wilmington is a much more hostile environment than it was when I lived there in the 90's. Parking is expensive and draconian meter maids patrol the streets; there seems to be too many bars in the Downtown area which seems to have caused some nagging problems with vandalism and crime in general; finally, her space is attractive but cavernous (definitely not a "stand") and she will have to work hard to grow into the considerable dimensions of her storefront.
She seems aware of all this and she did mention plans to make the place a venue for parties/events and wine tastings. Again, Ms. Carmichael seems savvy and smart and we look forward to trying some of her handiwork later this year when we visit the Port City yet again...
114 N FRONT ST
Wilmington, NC, 28401
Mon - Sat:
7:00 am - 6:00 pm
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Rhodes and Rhodes (Distant Relations)
There is one superstar chef in Wilmington, North Carolina and that is the owner/chef of this fine establishment Chef Keith Rhodes (no direct relation to one of the founders of this sight). He is competely deserving of this title because of his mastery of one small Princess Street venue.
We had not seen much trumpeting of local food in Wilmington during our time here. However, the jewel of a restaruant called Catch practices an appreciatioon of local seafood and responsible fishing. When we were there the menu had Sneads Ferry shrimp (about 25 miles from Wilmington) and North Carolina catfish.
Lynn and I ate lunch there and thoroughly enjoyed the very fine fried NC Oyster seafood platter as well as the Buttermilk Fried Calamari. The atmosphere seemed right as well ( a rarity in WIlmington) with its surfboards and decorative fish. .
215 Princess St. Historic Wilmington NC
Mark stopped by the Goody Goody Omelet House since his grandson Jackson (see our photo on the homepage) had developed a taste for blueberry pancakes and I was getting burned out on the Dixie Grill. I don't know how many years the Goody Goody Omelet house has been around but I can't remember it not being at its bright orange location on Market street. During my mostly misspent youth and early adulthood in Wilmington I used to go there to salve any number of unfortunate rendezvous, disappointments, bad decisions, etc. with the giant, fluffy omelets, toasted grocery store bread and bracing coffee. (For that matter, I also used to go there to celebrate various lucky scenarios I had found myself in with the fluffy omelets, etc.)
What a strange experience to take my grandson there and have him enjoy the same fine southern cuisine as his papa did many years ago. Everything seemed the same which is a big comfort in the shell game culture of the Port City. However, I was shocked, shocked! to find out the Goody Goody T-Shirts had skyrocketed from 5.00 to the unbelievable price of $14.00. I guess it just goes to show you that nothing stays the same...
see the website: There is apparently a film about the place from 2005..
3817 Market St
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
A lot of the places that we go to in Wilmington are only for takeout which obviously does not give the whole picture for most restaurants. A take out place that we had a pretty good experience at was Thai Spice. We got some basic Pad Thai and Garlic and Pepper sauce on greens. The Garlic and pepper dish was a tad too saucy, but mostly pretty flavorful. The staff there seemed nice as well and hopefully we will be able to go there eventually and enjoy a proper meal.
5552 Carolina Beach Rd.
Monday, February 15, 2010
We had passed the Seaview Crab Company many, many times during our trips to Wilmington NC in the past few years but as with many of these kind of things we were not terribly interested in stopping for whatever reasons. Recently, however, we found ourselves in the mood for some seafood after falling into a fast food coma in Wilmington.
We could not have been more fortunate as the Seaview Crab Company had great, fresh seafood with a great minimalist vibe (the starkness was almost Oriental). The young tatooed man we dealt with there was meticulous in his fileting our beautiful and huge flounder. There were some beautiful varities of oyster (that looked like heaven on earth)l that we will hopefully get to sample before we return to NY.
Lynn cooked up the beautiful, local fish and it was the most perfect meal we have cooked in the Tar Heel State...
Seaview Crab Company
6458 Carolina Beach Road
Wilmington, North Carolina, 28412, USA
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Mark and Lynn went to the Front Street Brewery and it was weirdly bad. Mainly, the atmosphere was particularly off-putting. First off, one of the televisions was playing a mid-day soap opera. Second, the hostess seemed oblivious to us for a couple of minutes before she snapped to and seated us (without offering a booster seat-we were with our grandson Jackson).
The food was adequate, but not much more than that. I had the garden salad with seared tuna; the tuna was mealy and undercooked. Very forgettable. Lynn had the prize winning Chocolate Java Stout which was far too chocalately (I know, I know!).
My vodka martini was decent, but completely forgettable; not unlike the FSB itself.
Front Street Brewery, 9 North Front Street, Wilmington, NC 28401
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Caffe Phoenix is stuck in a rut, but are there worse things in store for the Downtown Wilmington stalwart?....
The last time we tried to go to the Caffe Phoenix in Wilmington, North Carolina we didn't even get past the point of getting seated. That was a couple of years ago and this time out we were brave (or foolish) enough to try the place again (our first choice the Dixie Grill was closed to make some repairs).
Our experience was ok, with a good server, and a decent, cheap South American house wine. The menu, however, seemed virtually unchanged since the time that Mark had frequented the CP. What was the same?: a hummus plate, "fire bird" (blackened chicken) and Spinach with Prosciutto. There was no sign of using local ingredients (this is the case in many of Wilmington's restaraunts which tend toward chains or franchises).
We read that the Phoennix was moving to another location on Princess street. This is unfortunate since the space and the restaraunt are one and the same. Is this the sign of the end of the Caffe Phoenix?...
9 South Front Street
Wilmington, North Carolina 28401
Barefoot Cellars has a great new Rose Cuvee offering that would a be perfect confection for Valentine's Day as well as a great beverage to welcome a new beauty of a granddaughter...
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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...