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New Kids on the Block

Posted On May 16, 2017

A wise man once said, “When one door closes, another restaurant opens,” ...or something like that. Our beloved waterfront town is flinging out foodie hot spots left and right, and we’re welcoming them with open arms and bellies. Here’s your lineup of the hottest new digs around. Dig in.

By FANNY SLATER

Betsy's Crepes

This new-ish downtown eatery is famous for folding thin pancakes—loaded with sweet and savory tidbits—into tasty little packages of happiness. Betsy’s offers numerous selections of batter (like gluten-free varieties for those who can’t tolerate wheat). The décor reflects the café’s Parisian charm and they’ve got a menu to match. Whether you’re slurping down a local craft brew, a cup of joe, or your own creation from the Bloody Mary Bar—there’s a perfect crêpe to cozy up to. In the mood for a spicy breakfast? Hit the Huevos Rancheros with scrambled eggs, black beans, and chorizo. For a picture-worthy plate, the Monte Crêpe (a tangy blend of ham, chicken, cheddar and Swiss) gets a stunning swish of raspberry and honey mustard. Sweet-toothers, you’ll be all over the Oh My Sugar. 910-833-7883, betsyscrepes.com

Bone & Bean

Smack dab on Carolina Beach Road now sits a quaint BBQ hut dubbed Bone & Bean. Follow your nose to the smoke and kick things off with a plate of sticky sweet Texas-style wings, whose marriage of spice and sweet are as satisfying as can be. To get all the meat bang for your buck, try the bountiful sampler platter boasting two ribs, a pile of brisket, half a pint of pulled pork, a poultry quarter, and two sides. Whatever you do, don’t pass up that brisket—it’s thinly sliced, expertly moist, slow cooked, and bursting with bodacious smoke rings. Sidewise, go all out for the extravagant bacon mac and cheese. It may seem unimaginable, but save room for the creative in-house desserts. 910-833-7383, boneandbeanbbq.com

Brent's Bistro

Brent’s “uptown casual” eatery has a romantic, friendly vibe with an upscale twist thanks to white tablecloths and elegant art. Fresh-off-the-boat seafood gets the highest praise here, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the bistro’s broad menu. For a winning dinner date, begin by splitting Brent’s spin on this classic southern staple: fried green tomatoes. His jazzed-up variation is topped with gooey Gouda and White Cheddar Pimiento Cheese (yes, please) and a cucumber relish to cut the heavy flavors. For a light bite, the Lemon Poached Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with its hearty and vibrant horseradish cocktail sauce is boldly refreshing. From the land, the steaks at this intimate grill are out of this world. Take it to sea-level by opting for it garnished with lump crabmeat. 910-839-3131, brentsbistro.com

Cast Iron Kitchen

Located somewhat off the beaten bath in Porters Neck, Cast Iron Kitchen’s buzz has been spreading through the Port City like wildfire. Sweet n Savory’s former head chef Josh Petty is the man behind this locally-inspired, country store-themed breakfast and lunch joint. The atmosphere is rustic and the big, bold, soul-soothing flavors are delivered to your table by friendly, flannel-clad hipsters. Diners lose their minds for the Deep-fried Cheese Grit Bites with Sweet Onion Aioli. For a true southern masterpiece, put your face in the epic Chicken and Waffles: crackly southern fried chicken, crispy waffle triangles, honey-bourbon syrup, housemade granola, and—wait for it—fig-bacon jam. The Shrimp & Grits (whose sauces are a duo of tomato cream and red eye gravy) are also worth every sinful bite. 910-821-8461, castiron-kitchen.com

Chop's Diner

Just a quick hop from downtown (Wrightsboro, to be exact) on Castle Hayne Road you can now find the newest addition from the Chop’s Deli family. Chop’s Diner guarantees wildly satisfying breakfast and lunch dishes without the hefty price tags. Although these sandwich savants are known for their handheld, bread-housed items, Chop’s owners prove that they are more than just meat and cheese. The nostalgic café has a chill, southern vibe and a daily meat-and-three special (drink included) that’s crazy reasonably priced. For a hearty breakfast that bodes leftovers, the luxurious Shrimp and Grits will burst your buttons in the best way. Collards and stewed field peas are a must, and the red eye sausage gravy will leave you licking the plate. 910-399-4523

Donut Inn

This specialty café is not only serving up sugary treats and savory eats, but has a sweet American dream story to match its delicious confections. Back in Connecticut, owner Phil Santomassi called it quits in the corporate world and leapt headfirst into the land of food. But it’s not all about the saccharine at Donut Inn. Craving salty while you’re on route to Wrightsville Beach for a beach day? Check out the Boar’s Head ham, cheddar, and freshly cracked egg sandwich on a buttery jumbo English muffin. As for the namesake—the donuts are fluffy, yeasty, and perfectly sweetened. For something stuffed, try the Boston Cream: a shiny chocolate-coated creation with an oozy vanilla filling. Don’t leave without inhaling a cigar: a long, windy phyllo-based pastry laced with cinnamon and capped with sugary pecans. 910-679-8420, thedonutinn.com

Dram + Morsel

Regardless of the three-story climb guests undergo to arrive at the front door, Dram + Morsel is worth every step. This hip, speakeasy-style bar and eatery sits atop Husk and Yosake on Front Street and boasts a vintage atmosphere, an elegant and original craft cocktail menu, and tasty tapas. Start off your small plates extravaganza with the Frites on Fleek: sticky sweet house-cut fries with candied bacon and smoked cheddar mornay sauce. Next, snack on the veg-friendly Floured Flower—deep fried cauliflower florets doused with parmesan gremolata and toasted pine nuts with smoked gouda ranch for dunking. For juicy, fall-off-the-bone chicken, the Moroccan Wings for a King with warm coriander and citrusy cilantro live up to every finger-licking expectation. 910-833-5999

Felix Café

It’s tiki bar or bust when you burst through the screen door at Sunset Park’s Felix Café. Belly up and grab a Key West ale and a menu before the weekend crowd pours into this Florida-infused paradise. Pair your craft brew (or fruity drink) with the Jerk Chicken Wrap featuring cilantro rice, corn salsa, and spicy ranch. The Monte Cristo is also a best seller, and it’s tough to beat deep-fried puffy slices of sourdough sprinkled with powdered sugar and packed with thinly sliced ham, smoky gouda, and Swiss cheese. On the side: the hand-cut steak fries and earthy Truffle Mac and cheese are both good enough to take center stage. Lastly, have your cake and eat it too. No seriously, finish with the layered Fusion Coconut Cake. 910-399-1213, felixcafeonline.com

Grand Cru

Executive Chef Kirsten Mitchell (former leading lady of Wilmington’s beloved food truck, Vittles) swung open the doors of this Lumina Station bistro with a determination to showcase locally sourced products in an elegant way. Mission accomplished, chef. In addition to the 300-bottle wine list, a broad collection of Champagne, and a 20-bottle, wine-by-the glass system, you can even enjoy specialty cocktails with your tasting of tapas. Start with the Deviled Eggs—three hollowed out hard-boiled eggs brimming with a piping of truffle-scented filling, cloaked with caviar, and drizzled with herb oil. For finger-licking sliders that are sticky, savory, salty, and sweet—the Korean BBQ with julienned veggies are highly addictive. Desserts, like the tart and fluffy Key Lime Pie, are also made in-house and not easy to refuse. 910-679-4013, grandcruwb.com

Italian Bistro

Calling all Porters Neck pizza fanatics! The newly revitalized Italian Bistro (previously Antonio’s) is slinging some seriously righteous pies and vino inside the garlic-perfumed walls of their inviting family restaurant. Everything from the hearty red sauce to the salad dressing is homemade, and you can regularly catch a glimpse of the owner—a veteran in the industry—tinkering with local ingredients behind-the-scenes. Check the chalkboard for daily specials, and don’t miss the scratchmade signature sandwiches on crusty bread (like the luscious Veal Parmigiano Hero with gooey cheese) and the enormous calzones for lunch. For date night, you can’t beat Italian classics like tender Chicken Gabriella with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and tangy white wine sauce over linguine. 910-686-7774, italianbistronc.com

Jamaica House

Get on island time at Vinel Bailey’s latest hot spot where you can dine on Jamaican street food (like beef patties) and native specialties like jerk pork and succulent ox tail while jamming to reggae. Don’t expect a quiet, dull dining experience here. Jamaica House is fully-equipped with jumbo televisions for sports events, live music, and upbeat weekend DJs. To pair with your curry goat or fresh Brown Stew Fish, rice and peas, sweet plantains, and crispy fried okra round out this delightfully traditional Jamaican feast. With tropical music ringing in your ears, live performers on the dance floor, and soft, fluffy coco bread at your fingertips—a visit to Jamaica House is sure to be the best staycation you’ve ever had. 910-833-8347

Low Tide Pub

Surfboards decorating the walls and a sunlit outdoor patio help this pub’s vibe to shout, “stick a lime in your beer and a fried pickle in some ranch.” This laidback restaurant (tucked away on Fountain Drive) calls to college students across the street looking for a midweek pick-me-up. If you can’t make it to Trivia Tuesday, swing by for Saturday’s karaoke night. Along with classic pub grub and nightly specials, Low Tide’s menu and atmosphere have a little something for everybody. The addictive Spicy Garlic Wings are zesty as can be, and the aptly named "Crab Tackular" Sliders are smeared with citrus tartar sauce, loaded with crab, and come in at just under ten dollars. Now that’s a meal deal steal. Save room for the award-winning cheesecake. 910-313-2738, lowtidepub.com

Nothing Bundt Cakes

Not only is the name adorable, but the bakery lives up to every bit of its hype. Founders Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz have been putting “the icing on the cake” together for nearly twenty years. Nothing Bundt Cakes is the mouthwatering result of two decades of partnership and experience. It’s all about high-quality ingredients in this business, and between the fresh eggs, real butter, and cream cheese—the decadent products speak for themselves. Although the brand has expanded and spread franchises across the country, Dena and Debbie are determined to make each nostalgic shop homey and reminiscent of NBC’s roots. Pop into their charming Military Cutoff location and browse their ten Bundt flavors and forty unique cake designs for any occasion you can dream of. 910-679-8797

Pinpoint

Pinpoint popped up on Wilmington’s fine dining scene, skyrocketed to the top, and hasn’t come back down since. I admittedly doodle their name in my notebook. Dean Neff’s New American menu is laced with local ingredients and undertones of the Lowcountry—and the prices match the sophisticated quality of the dishes. The oysters and housemade mignonette with citrusy yuzu are mind-blowingly fresh. The beef tartare is meant for sharing, but you probably won’t. Neff’s contemporary spin on this Parisian-style appetizer features tangy caper aioli, soy pickled beech mushrooms, and delicately woven potato crisps. Otherworldly entrees include the Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish with Leek-and-Corn-Creamed Grits and the voluptuously juicy fried chicken. Pastry chef (and Neff’s wife) Lydia Clopton rules the dessert menu like it’s nobody’s business. 910-769-2972, pinpointrestaurant.com

Platypus & Gnome

The first thing you’ll notice in this newer Front Street spot is a sizable medley of tapped local beers. Well played, P&G. If you’re watching your carbs, snag a specialty cocktail instead and a starter of Candied Bacon. This thick-cut, smoked meat is sticky sweet and drenched in a syrupy maple-bourbon glaze. To hit your pork meter for the day, order the Bacon Bacon Burger—a naughty combo of a pork belly patty, sweet bacon jam, smoked gouda, and yes—more bacon. The menu extends a hint of global flair, so try the Kefta Sandwich with gamey lamb meatballs, Harissa (hot chili pepper paste), red onions, cherry tomatoes, and tangy Greek yogurt. The lemony, garlicky Quinoa Tabbouli is a perfect pairing for this exotic dish. 910-769-9300, platypusandgnome.com

Poe's Tavern

For pre-or-post-beach suds, Poe’s is your one-way ticket for outdoor patio sippin’. Don’t be fooled though—this lively Wrightsville Beach restaurant bears a thoughtful menu chock full of homemade pub grub worthy of Mr. Edgar Allan himself. You don’t need an English degree to chomp down on Edgar’s Nachos: mounds of multicolored tortilla chips layered with a generous amount of creamy jack cheese, hoppy booze-infuse chili, Pico de Gallo, tangy guacamole, and spicy jalapenos. For the fresh catch, Poe’s hooks their seafood straight from Mott’s down the road. The tavern also treasures themselves on being a gourmet burger bar, and the brilliantly cooked, smothered beef (and veggie) sammies exceed every expectation. The craft brews and tacos—like the Buffalo Shrimp with Marinated Bacon-Blue Cheese Cole Slaw—hit the spot. 910-509-2739, poestavern.com/wrightsville-beach

Siena Trattoria

Exquisite Italian fare coupled with fabulous service and a comfortable environment is what Siena Trattoria is all about. Head down to Masonboro Loop Road and enjoy a date night (or any night) at this neighborhood bistro and pizzeria. Siena offers a superior menu at a sensible price, along with daily specials that are hard to beat. The kitchen prides themselves on entirely handmade items—desserts included—and the brick oven turns out crisp, earthy pizzas and calzones. On a warm evening, swirl a refreshing forkful of locally-sourced Seafood Pasta (layers of shrimp, clams, mussels and salmon with spaghetti, salty feta, and savory caramelized onions) while sipping on your favorite white. Before you say, “Ciao”, mangia the featherlight Tiramisu. 910-794-3002, sienawilmington.com

Smoke on the Water

If you haven’t heard of the new RiverLights community that’s semi-recently popped up in the Port City, you’re out of the loop. Inside this riverfront neighborhood, you’ll find a few novel spots to hang (and eat). Namely, seasonally-inspired Smoke on the Water—Fork N Cork founders James Smith and Allan Middleton’s most recent venture. On a busy evening, chill by the fire pit while you wait for your table. Then, begin with the Smoked Trout-Jalapeno Dip: a dreamy dollop of fresh catch, oniony shallots, lemon, dill, and peppers. Call dibs on some oysters (raw on the half-shell or fried in a Po Boy with true Leidenheimer French bread). Between the gorgeous water views, open-air patio, and familiar flavors from an already-admired Wilmington chef—Smoke on the Water is a summertime no brainer. 910-833-5069, smokeonthewaternc.com

Spicoli

Thanks to an enticing menu of burgers and pizza, a fun atmosphere, and attentive customer service—Lumina Commons newcomer Spicoli is on the right track. The retro, 90’s-themed spot is ideal for regulars’ late night cheeseburger cravings, but works just as well for dinnertime family meals. Did I mention they have some of the best wings in town? The buttery buffalo and Korean BBQ are jumbo and satisfying—especially when married with the housemade ranch and gently funky blue cheese dressing. On the burger end of the spectrum, the Mahoney with bourbon bacon jam is impossible to turn down. Pie-wise, you can’t go wrong; but the Ramps Locals—headlining clams and caramelized onions—is deliciously dusted with fresh oregano, creamy ricotta, bacon, and sharp provolone. 910-256-0339, spicoli910.com

Tarantelli's Ristorante

There’s no scarcity of solid spaghetti-centric fare in Wilmington, and all locals have a loyal soft spot for one. But between the live Italian arias and the skillfully prepared Tuscan-style cuisine, Tarantelli’s is inching its way to the top of everyone’s lists. The Calamari All’ Insalata (tender squid coated in a light, well-seasoned lemony breading) are a starter standout with house marinara and bright, vinegary pepperoncini. The Caesar salad is fresh, not overly creamy, and lightly tinged with salty anchovies and garlic. Each entrée reads more fabulous than the next (and can be made into a half-portion), but the Spaghetti al Formaggio Parmigiana steals the show as it’s prepared tableside in a giant wheel of Parmesan cheese and lit on fire with a hint of whiskey. Yep, you read that right. 910-763-3806, tarantellis.com

The District Kitchen & Cocktails

As the name implies, begin by saddling up to the bar and perusing the liquid menu. The District’s signature cocktails complement the restaurant’s modern, New York feel, but if nothing fits your fancy, don’t worry—the bartenders are armed with the classics. Get your Don Draper on with a smooth, slightly peppery and tart Old Fashioned swimming with Makers Mark, orange, and burlesque bitters. The District regards themselves as being masters of quality meat, so bring your steakhouse appetite. The charred ribeye is generously seasoned and flaunts a seared, crunchy crust with a buttery interior. The deep coffee-brown pool of the dish’s red wine reduction is thick and rich. Swipe all your sides through it—particularly the Fried Baby Potatoes with Crème Fraise, chives, and bacon. 910-769-6565, districtnc.com

The Famous Toastery

Despite being a franchise, this welcoming café was, in fact, started by two Carolina dudes in Huntersville over ten years ago. In addition to tasty brunch-time eats, Famous Toastery has its own customer service style known as “every server is your server” (which means you can grab anyone walking by for that extra side of salsa). The menu is laden with interesting benedicts, omelets, and sweet treats galore. For a lighter start to your day, the Sunrise Burrito—bursting with egg whites, brie, avocado, and tomato—is on point. The Corned Beef Hash gets plenty of love online, and the juicy in-house roasted meat, crispy chopped potatoes, and rich hollandaise will melt in your mouth. To get even more gluttonous, spring for the Mac and Cheese with sharp Gruyere, nutty Parmesan, and a toasted crumb topping. 910-256-7030, famoustoastery.com

The Foxes Boxes

Co-owners Randy Fox and wife Rachel are not only putting a new spin on the way the north end of downtown eats—they’re making the community a better place. Between Randy’s food chops and Rachel’s for-benefit business model, everyone is in for a treat. The urban setting is spot on with the Brooklyn Arts District’s trendy vibe and the whimsical chalkboard menus give character to the refurbished historic space. The menu’s concept: pick your protein from the left, and your side from the right. Selections are divided into three categories: The Gourmet Box, The Fox Box, and the Basic Box. And yes—everything comes in an environmentally-friendly box. The Kalbi Steak—sesame seed-dotted strips of tender beef that release Asian aromatics of soy, garlic, and ginger—is a fan favorite that’s reminiscent of Korean Barbeque. 910-769-0125, thefoxesboxes.com

The Porches Café

Located in the heart of the River Bluffs community, Porches is an organic gem that stands out above the rest. While a trendy bar is present, Porches serves up farm-to-table menu items with local, seasonal produce, all crafted by the talented Chef Wiley. You’ll find breakfast items (like homemade muffins, scones, and smoothies), but the majority of the menu shows off sandwiches and salads with high-quality ingredients and every sauce whisked from scratch. Between-bread, the Southern Staple—with its zealous portion of smoked ham, bacon jam, pimiento cheese, and okra pickles—is outrageously popular. To get your daily dose of greens, all salads are sourced from the garden around the corner so choose something starring in-season produce. 910-675-9090, porchescafe.com

Tugboat Tony's Bagel Cafe

Downtowners’ Sunday morning bagel prayers were answered when this cute little shop sprang up on Water Street. This immaculate brunch café is manned by master waterman Tony Savas and his family-filled crew. Although the dough isn’t formed in-house—Ogden staple, Empire Bagels, fill the baskets with well-rounded goodies. Northern transplants top their everything bagels with several sheets of paper-thin smoked salmon and a generous smear of cream cheese, but to each his own. The menu’s DIY theme offers customers the experience to create their own morning masterpieces. But it’s more than just eggs and bacon. Tugboat Tony’s also offers lunchtime fare ranging from Boar’s Head-stuffed wraps to pita-wrapped Greek gyros with thinly sliced lamb, crunchy cucumbers, and creamy tzatziki. 910-769-6570

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