Monday, June 27, 2022

Port City Small Bites: Dram Yard reopens with new chef, Port City Taste arrives

The shrimp bisque and Brussels sprouts small plates both have touches of Asian flair, inspired by the decor in Dram Yard, which the new chef Joe Wolfson said gives off Thai vibes. (Courtesy Dram Yard)

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.

“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.

READ MORE: Catch up on other food news of the week

Dram Yard has new chef, reopens after being shuttered for two years

When Dram Yard’s new chef Joe Wolfson first entered the restaurant — operated by ARRIVE hotels in downtown Wilmington — he said the decorative elephants on the door grabbed his attention. 

“They reminded me of a Thai restaurant,” Wolfson said. 

The elephants actually go hand-in-hand with century-old lore surrounding the property. As reported in papers nationwide, a circus train arrived in Wilmington in 1922 with Topsy the elephant in tow. After someone fed her a nip of tobacco during the show, Topsy escaped and tore through the city, destroying property over multiple days. She even stopped at the former Eureka Pressing Company and Dye Works on the corner of 2nd and Dock streets, where Dram Yard now resides. 

Joe Wolfson is the new chef at downtown’s Dram Yard, located on the ARRIVE Hotel campus. (Courtesy Dram Yard)

The restaurant opened in late spring 2019 but was forced to close by March 2020 due to Covid-19. After almost two years, it’s up and running again, with a new chef and staff.

Wolfson debuted his menu Thursday night, which includes numerous touches of Asian flair: nam jim jaew and toasted rice in a Brussels sprouts dish, and lemongrass, galangal, coconut and Thai basil in a shrimp and sweet potato bisque.

Yet, he isn’t concentrating on one style of cuisine, rather exploring worldwide flavors. It fits right into what the new ownership of ARRIVE also wanted. Parlisociety acquired the boutique hotels in January 2021.

“We were looking for someone who was creative, willing to change the menu often, and willing to work and partner with local farmers and purveyors,” said Brent Berkowitz, vice president of food and beverage.

Wolfson made his vision clear: to create food that is “super seasonal, constantly evolving, including a lot of global influences, making everything from scratch, and remaining vegetable forward.”

The chef brings vast culinary experience. After graduating from Charleston’s Johnson and Wells, he has worked across the South over the last two decades, from four-star Ocean Room at Kiawah to Montgomery, Alabama’s Ham and High. 

“While I was there, I was nominated and won the 100 best chefs in America by Food and Wine magazine and CNN,” Wolfson said.

Before Covid hit, he worked in Charlottesville, Virginia, at Tavern and the Grocery. Wolfoson arrived in Wilmington only a month ago and began designing the Dram Yard menu. Sectioned into “garden,” “field,” “sea,” “pasture,” and “dessert,” each features between three and five items. 

Wolfson said he likes to take classics and twist them up, showcasing daring flavors. One example comes with his uni carbonara — a spin on an Italian dish. It contains bottarga, guanciale, Calabrian chile, saffron, and spaghetti. 

Uni — sea urchin roe — replaces the eggs to make the dish creamy, and rather than using Parmigiano Reggiano, Wolfson grates in bottarga — salted, cured fish roe.

“It gives it that same umami flavor that you would get from a classic carbonara,” he said.

While the menu will constantly be in flux, the chef has prepared a few mainstays he thinks diners will appreciate. The beef tartare and burger both showcase Wolfson’s acumen for French technique.

“We actually take the beef fat and render it out in the tartare and emulsify it into mayonnaise to create the binding agent for the tartare,” he explained. It’s served with Meyer lemon vinaigrette, caviar and toasted brioche.

The burger — a double patty, bearnaise aioli, bread-and-butter pickles, and onion — is topped with homemade white American cheese. Wolfson takes a fine-aged white cheddar and melts it down with the food additive sodium citrate, “which basically turns anything into a Velveeta consistency.” Once it cools and solidifies, he slices it to top and melt on every burger.

Most small plates at Dram Yard are priced between $14 and $19, with a few larger plates, such the whole fish of the day and duck breast, topping out at $45. 

Currently, Dram Yard is open 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Reservations are accepted here.

Dram Yard’s Feb. 2022 Menu (scroll below for more small bites news):

 

Also open…

In 2017, Sabor Hispano opened behind Taste of Italy on South College Road, bringing the flavors of Honduras, Mexico and Central America to Wilmington diners for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Recently, it launched its second location on Gordon Road, in the Food Lion shopping center.

One of Sabor’s signature items is the baleada — essentially a Honduran taco. The homemade flour tortilla is pounded and grilled before being stuffed with choice of protein (eggs, steak, Mexican sausage), beans, cheese and sour cream.

Pastelitos can be found on the menu as well — a Honduran street food, like a smaller version of an empanada. Salvadoran pupusas are served, a raw corn dough filled with chicharrón, beans and cheese, and fried on a griddle. They go swimmingly with soups often on special at Sabor, including homemade beef or chicken, with weekend specialties featuring the popular Mexican hangover food: menudo (made with beef tripe).

The restaurant boasts botanas, a sampling platter of appetizers perfect to share among family and friends. It often features empanadas, steak, yucca, pork rinds, shrimp, rolled chicken tacos, pupusas and plantains.

All items are made from scratch, with the menu priced between $8 and $20; each Wednesday, baleadas are on special for $2. The second Sabor location is at 6932 Market St., with the flagship restaurant located at 4610 Maple Ave. The restaurants are open Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday until 10:30 p.m. They’re closed Sunday.

Over in Monkey Junction, The Greeks announced Friday it has reopened at 5120 College Rd., located in the Walmart Shopping Center near Indochine Express. Run by Yanni Papanikolaou and family, its other location on Oleander Drive has continued to serve diners seven days a week.

The Monkey Junction restaurant has dealt with staffing shortages, according to one of The Greeks social posts, noted on Jun. 29, 2021:

“We have the same issue that every single restaurant in town has — we cannot find staff. We have been spreading ourselves too thin, and in order to maintain the standards, we have to make that sacrifice.”

The Papanikolaous’ restaurant in the southern part of the county will operate, for now, Tuesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., with hopes to expand hours soon. The Oleander restaurant operates 11 a.m. – 7:45 p.m. everyday except Sundays, when it opens at noon. The Greeks is known for its made-from-scratch, authentic flavors, from tzatziki to taboulleh salad, gyros and kabob platters, to dolmas, falafel and more. The menu can be accessed here.

Further up the road in Kure Beach, Ocean View Restaurant officially opened on Valentine’s Day in the former Kure Beach Diner location on Pleasure Island. In the heart of Kure, near the Kure Beach Pier and Freddie’s Restaurant, Ocean View is owned by Josh Herring and Charlie McHone. It opens six days a week for breakfast and lunch, 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (closed Wednesdays).

The restaurant once operated on Kure Beach in the ’70s, run by McHone’s family. Pictures of the coastal town from yesteryear hang on the restaurant’s crisp ocean blue walls.

The menu is heavy on breakfast items, like Benedicts and green eggs and ham (eggs with poblano peppers), lemon-blueberry buttercream pancakes. It also boasts its fresh fried chicken for chicken and waffles and serves sandwiches, including burgers and avocado toast. The Ocean View menu can be found here.

Coquina Fishbar is offering a 3-course dinner for $33 as part of Port City Taste restaurant weeks, which kicks off Monday, Feb. 21. (Courtesy photo)

Restaurant week kicks off Monday

Starting Feb. 21 two weeks of local prix-fixe menus and specials will be offered across the region. Port City Taste — a program overseen by Port City Daily — will feature over 20 eateries, in an effort to promote local dining.

Why local? It helps foster a thriving economy through job growth — restaurants make up 10% of the workforce nationwide — while also supporting local agriculture, both of which strengthen the tax base.

The nonprofit Business Alliance for Local Living Economies breaks it down like this: For every $100 spent at a local business or restaurant, $68 stays in the community, as compared to $43 retained by a national chain’s footprint. 

Showing support for local dining has never been more important, as the industry overall has taken a hit throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Staffing shortages, supply chain issues, and inflation are among myriad problems businesses have had to overcome. That local restaurants continue to rise above the challenges thrown their way deserves praise. 

READ MORE: The Trickle-Down Effect: Restaurant owners pivot, adapt to rising food costs, inventory and labor shortages

Restaurant weeks celebrate these businesses’ dedication and delicious commitment to serving southeastern N.C. diners. Participants of Port City Taste will find a variety of offerings and prices, from a two-course lunch for $18 to a three-course dinner for $30. Smaller appetites will be sated with other options like an app and two drinks for $14 — perfect for a girl’s night out or snacks before a show.

All cuisines are covered during Port City Taste, from low-country seafood to Italian, Cajun to Canadian to French, even burgers, pizza, salads, soups and specialty sandwiches, not mention vegan and vegetarian options. 

No coupons, special passwords or tickets are needed. Just head to one of the listed participants below, ask for the special restaurant week menu and enjoy.

Click below for menus:

Artisano Pizza and Gelato
3-course meal: $20

Bluewater
2-course lunch: $25
3-course dinner: $40

Brasserie du Soleil
3-course dinner: $44

CAM Cafe
3-course dinner: $20.22

Coquina Fishbar
3-course dinner: $33

East
3-course dinner: $45

Elijah’s
2-course lunch: $20
3-course dinner: $30

Floriana
3-course dinner: $40

Henry’s
3-course dinner: $27

Hop’s Supply Company
3-course meal: $28

Italian Bistro
3-course dinner: $33

The Kitchen Sink
2-course lunch: $13

Mess Hall
Two specials: $15-$16

Might As Well
Special: $14

Oceanic
2-course lunch: $20
3-course dinner: $37

The Pilot House
3-course lunch: $25
3-course dinner: $40

Poe’s Tavern
Two specials: $16-$17

South Beach Grill
2-course lunch: $18
3-course dinner: $33

Steam
3-course dinner: $35

YoSake
4-course dinner: $30


Have tips or comments? Email info@portcitydaily.com

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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