You don’t have to be a sommelier to relish in delicious wines and eats at this South Front gem
By BRIDGET CALLAHAN » Photos by MICHAEL MOSURE
Wine can be an overwhelming subject for the uninitiated. With a whole vocabulary of unpronounceable names and a reputation for snobbery, not to mention the adolescent specter of cheap, sweet wines haunting our college memories, it’s no surprise that so many people find one or two bottles they like and stick to them. But Celeste Glass, owner of Second Glass Wine Bar in Wilmington’s South Front district, is bound and determined to make wine fans of us all.
“I try to make wine approachable because at the end of the day, it's grape juice,” Glass says. “I feel like when you try to overcomplicate it or make it pretentious, you make it unapproachable. That's where people get scared, and they shouldn't be scared. It takes the fun out of it. I love to introduce people to different varietals, different countries. Anything that's different.”
Glass had success for many years with her first venture, Fortunate Glass, downtown but her dream was always a full kitchen restaurant. When South Front began developing into a higher end mixed-use district, she jumped on the opportunity. Now the downtown location is under new ownership, and she is focused on building Second Glass into a destination spot not just for wine lovers, but food connoisseurs as well.
Executive chef Ryan O’Janpa has been working in the downtown food scene for years, with stints at Basics, Nine, and Pinpoint. Glass snatched him up for Fortunate Glass knowing she intended to open a larger restaurant down the line. In the interim, O’Janpa turned out gorgeous small plates assembled from practically nothing in the tiniest kitchen. Now in this much larger location, his inventiveness and playful love of food are on full display with a menu that combines Southern and French influences, but like Celeste’s wine list, remains approachable and fun.
Start with a sherry and roe-kissed she-crab soup, house-made pickle assortment, or antipasto board. If you're coming in for drinks at the bar, there are plenty of small bite options, from deviled eggs with trout roe and pickled onion to house-made chicken liver mousse pate with tapenade and grilled radicchio. One of O’Janpa’s personal favorites is the heirloom tomato salad that gets its glow up from cucumber, mint, and a coconut milk vinaigrette.
If you’re settling down for a meal in the simple but elegant dining room or on the spacious patio, the pillowy lemon gnudi, a ricotta-based sister of gnocchi, is a surefire choice, dressed with charred corn, okara, walnut pesto, and pistachio gremolata. Or you can go a bit more traditional with the duck fat fingerling potatoes, or mussels served with eggplant and yellow curry.
When asked for their favorite entree on the menu, both owner and chef immediately recommended the family style local fish.
“It’s a pretty traditional Southern dish, so we’ve tried to elevate it. We use a serrano velouté, which is a thickened fish stock that has roasted, pureed serrano peppers in it. And that spice in the sauce works well with the corn pudding, which is sweet. We serve it with just some really nice heirloom tomatoes, fresh crab, and trout roe butter,” O’Janpa says.
From the Brasstown Beef filet mignon to the Berkshire pork shank with dirty rice and black -eyed peas, there are plenty of options for the carnivorous. But another thing that makes this menu stand out is the numerous vegan options. There’s a house-made vegan mushroom pate, vegan eggplant fritters served with a pistachio cheese, a gravy dressed lentil loaf, and even a vegan olive oil cake served with whipped coconut cream and apricot.
“When I was younger, I was vegetarian for years, and I always got annoyed going to places and seeing the only option is some sautéed veggies on a plate,” O’Janpa says. “I knew I wanted good vegetarian options, so then why not just make them vegan? Then even more people can enjoy them.”
You’ll find the same options on the very popular brunch menu, where tofu scramble sits proudly next to the duck fat biscuit smothered in sage sausage gravy. The extremely rich and silk smooth cheddar grits were the undisputed star of breakfast and are worth the trip alone.
Each entree and small plate is paired with a suggested wine on the menu, making it easy to take advantage of Celeste’s expert opinion even when she's not on the floor (but she usually is). When she crafted the wine menu with the other expert on staff, general manager William Mules, the two of them wanted to encourage customers to try new wines. As a result, the wine list is easy to read, and broken into categories that include not only red or white, but region.
“I like to figure out people's palette,” Glass says. “Everyone is an individual and everybody's different. I love that moment where you can see that their eyes light up and they're like, yes. You have left brain thinkers and right brain thinkers - some people when they look at a wine menu, they know varietals. But then there's other people that know countries and regions, or they just know the color they like. So, we try to make it fun for everyone.”
And to get people excited about what’s new, Second Glass also hosts #CellarChats on Wednesdays at 5pm on Facebook Live. In this virtual wine tasting, hosts Kristin and Chris geek out on wine, hoping to help would-be wine connoisseurs expand their horizons.
Whether you're a sommelier or never had a glass of wine in your life, there's always something delicious to try at Second Glass. Second Glass is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4-10pm, and Sundays from 10-3pm.