SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Lots of movement happens around the Port City when it comes to restaurants, food trucks, bars and bottle shops, not to mention organizational and nonprofit foodie events and festivals. While Port City Daily already covers most of this news, “Small Bites” offers another way for readers to stay in the know.
READ MORE: Catch up on other food news of the week
Weekly, this column will unveil newsworthy tidbits, from smaller shifts and changes to local menus, expansions of existing establishments, temporary closures and renovations, added hours or grand openings, pop-up events and, of course, openings and closings.
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Aye! Toro Tacos and Tequila now open on Oleander
The crew that ran the local San Felipe Mexican Restaurant in town has switched gears into a different concept. Aye! Toro is now open in front of Independence Mall, owned and operated by Antonio Colin, Pedro Llamas, Carlos Llamas, and Juan Zaragoza.
Conceptualized in 2015, the crew opened its first Aye! Toro in Sanford in 2016, where Colin lives. They expanded last year into Holly Springs.
When the Oleander Drive mall began renovations a few years ago, San Felipe, once located at the entrance near Ruby Tuesday, closed. Yet, Colin said rather than resurrect the same idea, he thought Wilmington would prefer an Aye! Toro of its own.
“It’s different,” Colin said, “different dishes from different parts of Mexico.”
The cuisine is inspired by areas like Madrigal, Puebla, Mexico City, and Yucatan. Colin said he lived in Mexico until he was 18, cooking and learning different techniques. Now in the industry for 20 years, Colin has owned and operated restaurants across North Carolina. He and partners still have San Felipe in some towns, such as Southport, Sanford and Leland, and he said Aye! Toro will continue growing in 2022, with Wake Forest and Greensboro eateries in the works.
The Aye! Toro menu focuses on fresh ingredients prepared with authenticity. The carnitas are slow-cooked for hours, the chorizo, guacamole and tortillas made on site.
“The Toro tacos are one of the most popular items,” Colin said, “filled with carnitas, guacamole, cheese and chorizo.”
Quesa Birria tacos also are gaining praise, stuffed with barbacoa shredded beef, cheese, onions and cilantro. It’s served with a side of consomé, the birria broth, for dipping.
The bar program focuses on tequila, with the Toro margarita consisting of fresh squeezed citrus and a spicy punch of diablo chile. Aye! Toro also features micheladas, a homemade tomato juice concoction served with Modelo beer.
The restaurant seats 100 people in its 3,000 square feet, featuring a modern, industrial interior. One wall pops with a colorful mural, created by Bucky Johnson. It features a calavera-painted face, in honor of dia de los Muertos — or day of the dead — celebrated in Mexico every Nov. 1.
Prices range from $10 to $25, and Aye! Toro is open for lunch and dinner. Colin said they will ease into offering specials once the restaurant finds its rhythm. The restaurant is open Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday, 12:15 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and closed Monday.
Vicious Biscuit coming to Wilmington
According to City of Wilmington permits, a South Carolina biscuit joint is making its way to The Forum.
Vicious Biscuit started in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, in 2019 and grew into the neighboring town of Summerville by the year’s end. Founded by Josh Lambert, George McLaughlin and Michael Greely, it’s first foray into North Carolina is slated to land at 1121-A Military Cutoff Rd., in the former City Mac space.
The 3,200-square-foot building is currently being upfitted into a restaurant, with Paul Waltz of L+P Architecture listed as the applicant on the permits, along with general contractor Lester Norville of Norville Construction handling renovations. Plans show indoor and outdoor dining, with 75 or so seats.
The Vicious Biscuit menu touts homemade buttermilk biscuits, sweet potato biscuits and beignets. Around 15 options are available — one topped with fried green tomatoes, signature pimento cheese and bacon, another with fried shrimp, Thai-chili slaw, Yum Yum sauce and cilantro. Even shrimp and grits are swimming atop a biscuit base.
Some unique toppings in the Vicious wheelhouse include a homemade maple-sausage gravy and accoutrements like “Cowboy Candy” — apple cider, sugar and tequila-pickled jalapeños. The restaurant has brunch plates, including chicken and Belgian waffles, and healthier options, such as an oatmeal bowl or egg white omelet.
It also has a butter and jam bar, with plenty of handmade spreads to slather on its fluffy Southern staple.
More information about the restaurant can be found here.
Moe’s BBQ reopens, planning next moves into The Cargo District
After experiencing a kitchen fire last November, Moe’s BBQ reopened its doors to diners Wednesday.
“We had a lot of smoke damage,” owner Robert Ray said.
Ray hired a restoration company to “scrub and sanitize every square inch and every surface” so diners could belly up to the bar or grab a table once again.
“I think we got opened about as fast as someone could humanly possibly do it,” Ray said.
On Nov. 13, a fire started in the smoker and quickly grew into an out-of-control grease fire. No one was injured, and staff and diners had to evacuate the building as multiple fire trucks arrived on the scene to contain the flames.
“It melted the back part of our restaurant space,” Ray said.
While the dining room is fully functioning, the kitchen section of Moe’s is still under construction. A new roof and air conditioning system needs to be updated.
For now, staff are cooking out of a mobile trailer and smoker parked behind Moe’s, which Ray purchased and had inspected.
“Had we not, we would be closed another four months,” he estimated.
Ray assured nothing has changed with the Moe’s menu — smoked wings and turkey, pork, brisket, and Southern sides still are offered. He’s also already thinking ahead for future use of the mobile kitchen once the construction is fully complete on the brick-and-mortar.
Ray has plans to expand the franchise and is considering parking the trailer in The Cargo District.
“Funny thing is, we were going to go there before Covid — where Mess Hall currently is,” Ray said.
He had plans to put a Mellow Mushroom there; in addition to Moe’s Ray also owns the local pizza franchises in town. The pandemic put a pause on the idea.
“But it’s just amazing how it came full circle,” Ray said. “It took us a fire to get here, but I called Leslie [Smith, the district developer,] and was like, ‘Hey, man, you ready to have us down there? We finally get to do what we wanted to do forever ago.”
Moe’s BBQ is open at 5818 Oleander Dr. from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., seven days a week.
Peach Cobbler Factory makes its Valentine’s Day debut
Valentine’s Day is getting a little sweeter on Pleasure Island. The new Peach Cobbler Factory is officially opening its doors Monday in the former Vinny’s Seafood Express location at 1010 S. Lake Park Blvd.
The concept began growing over a decode ago with Juan and Tammy Edgerton selling their cobbler at local markets in Tennessee before evolving their brand. Greg George joined the team to franchise the concept last year and told Port City Daily in December the goal is to operate over 30 stores in 10 states in its first year launching as a brick-and-mortar.
The Carolina Beach location will be the first of its kind in North Carolina; George is part owner with Vinny Doria and Corey Carter. They plan to also open stores in Leland, downtown Wilmington, Porters Neck, Hampstead, and Jacksonville in the coming year.
The Peach Cobbler Factory sells 12 flavors of cobblers, homemade banana pudding in five varieties (chocolate chip, Nutella, red velvet, Oreo, strawberry), and three flavors of cobbler-stuffed cinnamon rolls (Nutella, choice of cobbler or vanilla-cinnamon). It also stocks a specialty strawberry-peach tea and cold brew coffee.
“And we have what we call ‘cobbler magic,’” George said a few months ago. A cinnamon-sugar topping, featuring a few more secret ingredients, gets sprinkled on every order.
“It’s like crack for desserts,” he added.
George has been posting videos of the impending opening on social media over the last few weeks. One, highlighting a different kind of crack, garnered over a thousand views in the first few hours.
The dessertery will open from noon to 8 p.m. on Feb. 14 and will operate seven days a week.
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