Monday, April 15, 2024

In Photos: Seabird Restaurant opens for dinner, breakfast launches Wednesday

Seabird Restaurant is officially open at 1 South Front Street in downtown Wilmington, with chef Dean Neff leading the helm. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver) Click on the photo to open the slide show.

WILMINGTON — On Friday, Apr. 30, local chef Dean Neff officially opened the doors to his new seafood restaurant, Seabird, located in the heart of downtown Wilmington. Over the last year, Neff has been renovating the historic 3,000-square-foot building at the corner of Front and Market streets with the help of building owner James Goodnight out of Raleigh.

RELATED: Seafood, seasonality, sustainability: Chef Dean Neff talks Seabird, opening mid-April

A visual feast, Seabird’s modern decor — designed by Smith Hanes out of Atlanta — is filled with textures, in the tiles and lines of the space, from the historic windows to the columns and bookshelves that break up the main rooms, down to the draperies and fabrics used in its seating and bar stools. Nautical themes come to life in nuanced ways: porthole windows on the swinging doors into the kitchen, aquatic artwork on the walls, shadow boxes of marine life, and of course carefully crafted plates of fresh, local seafood.

“We wanted to do a soft opening over the weekend to see how it would go,” Neff said on Monday evening.

Seabird operates Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. and on Sunday, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. for dinner. Neff plans to launch breakfast at the restaurant on Wednesday, May 5, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Its coffee program, featuring Counter Culture sips, will run through 2 p.m.

“Sometime this summer we will start lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” he added.

According to the chef, opening weekend welcomed around 70 walk-ins Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening. By 5:30 p.m. Monday, diners were filing in quickly at every corner of the eatery. Window seats overlooking downtown’s Front Street, as well as at the first-come, first-serve bar, were full of chatter, drinks and bites. By 6 p.m. the main dining areas were populated by couples and families alike.

Diners shuffled into Seabird on Monday evening ealry enough to grab a window seat overlooking Front Street. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Seabird’s menu highlights the bounty of living in southeastern North Carolina and having access to copious seafood. North Carolina oysters — Stones Bay, Duke’s and Soundside Salt — are available by the half dozen, served with lemon, hot sauce, pomelo mignonette, sambal cocktail and housemade saltines. Oysters also come broiled with Hollandaise, barbecued or Rockefeller style.

A seafood tower is stacked with smoked tuna, pickled North Carolina shrimp, raw oysters, deviled grouper, blue crab claws, and little neck clams, served with a dollop of harissa mayo here, a bite of cucumber slaw there.

Six small plates make up the first portion of the menu, including a slow-smoked yellowfin tuna salad, as well as smoked catfish and oyster pie, a play on Britain’s fish pie. Six entrées feature more seafood offerings, including swordfish schnitzel, served with preserved lemon jam, cirtus-braised bok choy, braised sugar snap peas, spaetzle and mustard emulsion.

“I knew I wanted spaetzle on a dish because it’s something I grew up eating often,” Neff said. “I think, like most of the items on the menu, I made it because it felt like it was something that I wanted to eat.”

“The swordfish schnitzel has been selling well,” general manager Matt Krise confirmed. “And the pasta dish — Dean makes a spaghetti dough with plankton in it and it’s topped with crab.”

A taste of the South isn’t left off the menu either, as fried flounder and red corn grits are topped with lemon butter and kale pistou. Catfish pups and fried spring onions elevate normal fish-camp hushpuppies.

“The catfish pups are super popular,” Neff said.

A pea summer salad with succotash will fulfill vegan palates. Carnivores, too, will be pleased by the ghost pepper and sorghum ribs, as well as wings, served with schmaltz and fermented pepper sauce.

Neff works with local farmers, like Changin’ Ways and Seaside Oyster Farms, to bring the freshest ingredients to life on the Seabird menu. He told Port City Daily last month, “[W]e focus on season and relationships with people who bring us food.”

Click below to scroll through a gallery of Seabird photos:

The sign at the corner of Market and Front streets tips its hat to the Alessi Brothers’ song, “Seabird.” (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The chef’s table at Seabird welcomes folks front and center to the action in the kitchen. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
A nook in the corner showcases nautical artwork created by local and regional artists. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Another Seabird dining nook faces onto Front Street, overlooking downtown Wilmington. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Diners enjoy conversation while having cocktails at Seabird. Textures in the tiles, wall paneling and lines in the fabric are a visual feast in the modern space. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Framed sand dollars accentuate the creams and beige that pop against dark wood in the middle dining room at Seabird (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Seabird restaurant opens at 5 p.m. daily for dinner; reservations are accepted, though folks can dine at the bar first-come, first-serve. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
A hostess greets diners who enter the restaurant from Market Street. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Bar patrons can choose from specialized cocktails, including the Alessi spritz: Beefeater gin, Campari, lemon juice, and honey rhubarb simple syrup. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Raw oysters are served by the half dozen from Stones Bay, Duke’s or Soundside Salts. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The swordfish spaetzle is inspired by Chef Dean Neff’s upbringing of eating spaetzle. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Baked ousters are served four to an order and in three varieties: broiled in Hollandaise, barbecued or Rockefeller. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The slow-smoked yellowfin tuna is served over shaved cabbage and radish salad, with mango, toasted peanut-soy vinaigrette and local herbs. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The seafood tower is topped with raw clams. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Also on the seafood tower: blue crab claws with harissa mayo and deviled grouper. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Pickled North Carolina shrimp, homemade cocktail, fresh horseradish and smoked tuna round out the seafood tower’s offerings. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Smoked tuna from the seafood tower. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Ghost pepper and sorghum pork ribs are served with toasted benne seeds and loquats. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Seabird owner Dean Neff prepares an order during Monday evening dinner service. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Chef de cuisine Brett Levan tops fish with homemade harissa sauce. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Chef Dean Neff and general manager Matt Krise discuss a dish during dinner service Monday. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The Seabird menu ranges in price from $3 to $16 for oysters, $13-$16 for small plates, and $25-$30 for entrees. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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