SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Lots of movement happens around the Port City when it comes to new openings and closings of restaurants, food trucks, bars and bottle shops, as well as the launch of organizational and nonprofit foodie events and festivals. While Port City Daily already covers the majority of such news, smaller shifts and changes sometimes fly under the radar.
READ MORE: Catch up on other food news of the week
“Small Bites” offers another way to let readers know what’s happening on the local food scene — what to expect when it comes to expansions of existing establishments or menu changes, temporary closures and renovations, added hours or grand openings, pop-up events and other newsworthy tidbits.
Cugino Forno Pizza cozies up to Hi-Wire
The Soda Pop District will get its first pizzeria when Cugino Forno Pizzeria opens in the adjoining building of Hi-Wire Brewing.
In 2019, Paramount Development Group bought the 1950’s-era car dealership that was operating as Carolina Carburetor Specialists. Built in 1946, almost 8,000 square feet of it became dedicated to Hi-Wire. The Asheville-based brewery opened in December 2020 at the corner of 11th and Princess, yet the Princess-facing side of the property, Suite A, has remained empty.
According to permits issued by the City of Wilmington, the 3,500-square-foot suite is slated to become another location for Cugino. The operation got its start in Greensboro in 2017 and has launched multiple pizzerias in the piedmont and triad regions of the state, the latest in front of Hi-Wire Brewing in Durham in November.
Three cousins from Turkey, Joseph Ozbey, Yilmaz Guver and Adam Adksoy, started the restaurant after studying the art and craft of making Neapolitan-style pizza in Italy. (Cugino means “cousin” in Italian and forno means “oven.”) “We picked up expert technique, embraced ourselves in the Italian history, [and] found the importance of quality ingredients,” they explain on the website.
The ingredients of Cugino wood-fired pizzas are sourced 80% from Italy, including San Marzano tomatoes and Caputo flour. Buffalo mozzarella tops each 16-inch pie (except the Marinara), and the pizzas are cooked in 900-degree stone ovens, which come directly from Naples. Cugino’s menu consists of 11 specialty pies, priced $15.95 and up, a handful of salads ($8.95 and up), as well as macarons, cannolis, cakes and gelato ($2.95 and up). The restaurant also serves beer and wine.
It offers pizza-making classes and soon will have frozen pizzas available to bake at home.
Andy Hewitt, president of Paramount, and the Cugino Forno founders did not respond to requests for comment; there has not been an official announcement or opening date disclosed for the Wilmington location. M.W. Willard Architect is listed on the permits as well.
Bagels on Pointe open second shop downtown
Having taken over the Mr. Bagel Meister spot in the Pointe at Barclay shopping complex in April, Bagels on Pointe now has expanded into downtown at 106 Water St. The shop moved into the former Tugboat Tony’s space — near River Place condos — at the beginning of December.
Owned and operated by John Monaco, originally from the Bronx, the bagel shop serves 20 or so flavors of bagels and a dozen breakfast and lunch sandwiches. The downtown location offers half the flavors currently but will add more as it assesses clientele needs.
Bagels on Pointe in Barclay also hosts a car show, Cars and Coffee, the first Saturday of the month. Operating hours are 6 a.m. – 2 p.m. daily (though only until noon on New Year’s Day).
After operating for seven years, owner Yvonne Inman of the Lunchbox on Shipyard announced the day after Christmas the cafe’s final day would be Dec. 30.
“We had actually been preparing to renovate our space,” Inman wrote to Port City Daily. She and her husband, Jeff, were set to begin the project the last week of the year but found costs were greater than anticipated.
Also a new opportunity arose. Inman had become certified three years ago to work with mastectomy prostheses and planned to follow the new career path while still operating Lunchbox. The idea was to put someone else in the management position to run its day-to-day operations.
“This factor, along with the increasing challenges facing all restaurants, and the fact that our rental agreement expired, made the decision [to close] easier,” Inman explained.
Inman will be working at the Pink Hope Mastectomy Boutique as part of Atlantic Prosthetic Services in the new year.
The Inmans said they have had several offers from others interested in buying the business since announcing its closure.
“We still may do a food truck in the future, but for now, we are taking a break from the food industry,” Inman said, who had been a waitress at the Lunchbox prior to taking over its ownership. She said the offer from its former owner was one she couldn’t let pass.
“We decided to take the leap into the restaurant industry in a time when running a restaurant was a bit more simple, and there was far less competition,” Inman said. “We have learned that being patient and consistent is key to keeping anything successful. We are proud that we made it through these past couple of years, and credit our staff, past and present, and our fantastic customer base.”
Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar closed through February
The Carolina Beach oceanfront restaurant and tiki bar announced on social media it will go into a brief winter hibernation as the offseason officially gets underway. The restaurant has traditionally closed every January and reopens by February ahead of the uptick of spring tourism on the island.
Ocean Grill management noted on social media the annual closure allows ownership “to take care of some chores and to give employees a much needed break.” Like others in the restaurant industry, it also indicated the many challenges faced during 2021, listing innumerable shortages in “labor, liquor, aluminum, umbrellas even.”
“We are grateful for your patience and understanding,” the post continued. “We would not have had such a great year without our customers, friends, and crew.”
The restaurant will announce its reopening in February on its Facebook page, which can be accessed here.
Local beer and cuisine pair together again in April
After a year-long hiatus, due to Covid-19, the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance will relaunch the annual Cape Fear Craft and Cuisine event on Apr. 2, 2022 as part of 2022’s Craft Beer Week, taking place Mar. 25-Apr. 3. The week features special releases, pairing dinners, the Ultimate Brewing Championship and culminates in the craft and cuisine event, the area’s premier beer and food pairing event in southeastern N.C.
Taking place rain or shine at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher (900 Loggerhead Rd.), event tickets run $75, available for ages 21 and up, and are expected to go on sale this month. There will be local chefs preparing unique, fresh dishes to pair with the local breweries’ best sips. The chefs and brewers will come together to discuss insight and flavor profiles that led them to the pairings as well.
More information can be accessed here.
Coffee in The Cargo District
On Jan. 1, the coffee and roastery container beside Alcove Beer Garden is rebranding. Blue Cup Coffee will change its name to New Town Roastery, according to developer Leslie Smith, who started the district in 2017. The same staff will hand out the same brew at the drive-thru or walk-up operation.
A block over behind Queen Street Barbershop, Drinx will celebrate its grand opening on Jan. 4. The cafe serves Lotus plant-based energy drinks, also caffeinated from the green coffee bean before it’s processed.
“It’s like 21st century coffee but refreshing,” April Walker explained to Port City Daily. “You still get the caffeine, energy and kick from it without the jitters and the crash.”
The cold drinks come in various “undertones” (flavors): red is tart cherry (“it’s the closest flavor to Red Bull,” Walker said), blue is blueberry and açaí, pink is tart cherry and raspberry, purple is elderberry and blackberry, and the purest form, white, has no undertones or flavor yet offers the same benefits.
The Lotus concentrate — poured over ice, choice of Torani syrup and soda or flat water — provides antioxidants and B vitamins for a healthier boost.
The drinks will be $5 and up. Drinx is located at 1605 Queen St., Suite 10. Read the full story here.
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